Pep Talk: Sharing Your Work – Matthew Phillion

Whenever someone asks me for advice on writing, I panic just a bit. Telling someone how to write is a bit like telling them how to paint—there are techniques you can share, but in the end, everyone will do it a bit differently, and the world tends to belong to those who break the rules.

But the one thing I do always tell new writers is: don’t be afraid to share your work in progress.

We have a tendency, as writers, to be perfectionists. We want to write the perfect book, the perfect paragraph, the perfect sentence. And the tough part is there is no perfect string of words. There is the best you can do at a given moment. Ask any writer, from a first-time novelist to a Pulitzer Prize winner, and you’ll find someone who wishes they could still go back and improve on a few things. The old saying that art is “never finished, only abandoned” is very, very true.

And yet writers—and not just new writers—have a tendency, either because we are self-conscious or because we are perfectionists or something in between, to avoid sharing our work until it’s “ready.”

And of course we know that words are never ready. I had an old editor who used to say “done is good,” meaning, if you have a beginning, middle and an end, send it over—we’ll see what we can do with it. Nothing is ever perfect.

Words don’t flourish much behind closed doors. They need fresh air. They need fresh eyes. And while we, as writers, might be afraid of criticism or embarrassment, we also don’t thrive in a vacuum. Words are meant to be read and heard.

And if you’re lucky? Test readers can be your best encouragement.

When I was working on Book 1 of the Indestructibles, I didn’t wait to even finish a draft before I invited people to read it. My main reason for doing this was to make sure the story itself made sense—I wanted a few readers to help me make sure the plot was consistent, to give me an idea if I was on the right track.  But as I wrote, those readers grew more interested and invested. Their questions made me think about plot points, and thinking about plot points got me writing more, and knowing there were readers waiting for the next chapter helped me sit down every single night to write. It was a bit like writing a serial. They were depending on me to get the next chapter to them.

But you don’t necessarily need the same beta readers. Everyone needs a different type of audience.

The other old saying, that you should write first to entertain yourself, also applies here. You should. If you entertain yourself, you’ll entertain your audience (or if not your intended audience, certainly a new one). And if you’re entertaining yourself, why keep it hidden away?

Don’t be afraid to let your story stretch its wings. Choose people who will offer both encouragement and help… but remember, you write because you love your story. Don’t lock it away. Let others share in that love, and it can only help carry you forward.


M J PMatthew Phillion is the author of the Indestructibles, a Young Adult superhero adventure series. He is a writer, actor, and film director based in Salem, Massachusetts.

He has appeared in feature films including the sci-fi romance Harvest Moon and the independent horror flick Livestock, and his screenwriting and directing debut, the romantic comedy Certainly Never, premiered in 2013 at the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, where it was nominated for five awards including best screenplay and best New England film.

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