Many people don’t know this, but in high school, I believed I would one day be a musical theater star. I auditioned for school plays, joined every performance group I could find and just generally had fun singing all the time. I loved to sing. I believed a record deal was in my future (and at one point it almost was…). I KNEW I was going to be on Broadway, just like I now KNOW I’m going to publish a book one day. But, the difference between knowing then and knowing now was my age and the depth of my experience. I wasn’t meant for Broadway. Broadway singers often have two other major abilities that I find myself lacking in – they can dance and they can act. I can do neither. So, one day realism caught up with me, and I realized that my musical theater dream would never end up becoming a reality. Sometimes, your dream is just never meant to be. Sometimes it is meant to be, but not in the full glory you were expecting. But that’s an installment for another time…
There’s a reason why few people know about my presupposed-illustrious singing career. It’s because there is a very strange compulsion that comes with being told information like this. If you tell a person you can sing, you get asked to sing. It doesn’t matter where you are, most people will ask you to do this. The problem with that is, just because I once wanted to sing in front of a sold out house at the Winter Garden Theater, does not mean I want to sing to a crowd of you and two others in your closed office.
The same thing goes for writing. People tend to assume that, because I am a writer and intend on being published one day, I want everyone to read my work and comment on it. Please don’t get me wrong. I love hearing feedback regarding my work, but I want to choose the people I ask to read my work before it is ready to reach the masses.
When a person performs a song on demand, they haven’t had the opportunity to warm up properly. They may sound a little off, much like music would sound if you picked up a guitar that was out of tune and started playing it. They weren’t expecting to sing, the acoustics of the room might not be optimal and the expression of the art may be off simply because the person is uncomfortable and, as such, cannot sing with the feeling they normally would have sang with.
When a person asks me to read my unfinished work, they are doing the same thing. Unfinished means something. It means it is in a raw stage, hasn’t been through a slew of edits, hasn’t been looked at with another set of eyes. As a writer, it is important that I choose who is reading my work and under what conditions. It is important that I choose when the world is ready to see my art.
There is no feeling like the feeling of creating something and then showing it off to the world to be judged. It is a wholly naked feeling. Everything is on display. This is something so deeply personal, so internal and important to you. There is an intense fear of judgment, that the person reading will wonder what the hell was going on in your mind to make you write that, or worse, that the piece may leave the reader feeling completely unmoved and wondering what it is you sit around and do all day if this is what you produce. So it needs to be perfect when the artist shows it to others, or at least as perfect as the artist can make it.
It is often easier to read your work in a room full of strangers than it is to read it to two or three people that you know personally because those strangers do not expect anything of you, and when it comes to their knowledge of you, they are a clean slate. Also, with strangers, you will not need to think of any judgment that has been passed after you leave that room. This is the same reason why one may want to perform to a sold out Broadway theater, but not play karaoke video games on your couch.
If a writer sends you their unpublished work and asks you to read it and let them know what you think, that’s a sign that you are a trusted part of their support team. They are sending you something that they created from the deepest parts of themselves. Treat it with the respect that it deserves and never ever expect it from someone. It’s a difficult step for any writer to take.