Do You Let People Read Early Drafts?

Short answer? I don’t. I used to, back when my fingers were on fire while writing fanfiction and I was on the phone with my best friend Alyssa most nights, reading bits and pieces of every chapter aloud. She begged me to read her anything as soon as it hit the page. It was good motivation, I’ll say that.

These days, I don’t have a writing cheerleader constantly over my shoulder (although most conversations with Alyssa still include, “ARE YOU DONE WITH THE NEXT DRAFT YET?!”) And for that, I’ve shrugged off the tendency to show people my early drafts – even going so far to forbid it.

The beta draft of Paradisa from last June was, in actuality, the fourth draft of the book. The first draft was unfit for human consumption. The second and third could potentially be digested by my closest friends or my mother. Only by the fourth draft did I feel like it was ready for a variety of eyes, and even then, I did not allow anyone with a writing/English degree to read it. I had to turn down two willing readers for this reason – my friend Ashlynn , who is an English teacher by profession,  along with my copyeditor uncle Wes. I’m sure I will pass it along to them when the book is more ready, but in draft four it wasn’t.

On one hand, I do not want anyone reading my work unless it is borderline publishable. I want them to be able to compare it to published works within reason, or at least be able to see the potential. On the other hand, I deeply desire collaboration and interpretation to guide me, and it’s important to show people my works in progress while they are still….you know…in progress. It’s much easier to weave in good feedback when I’m still drafting.

I know when my book falls in the slot between “obviously still a draft” and “still capable of being enjoyed” when I’m unhappy with it for reasons I can’t sense. In every draft, I can usually sense problems, and I remedy them in the subsequent draft. I send it to beta when I know it’s not publishable yet but there’s nothing glaring that I’m positive about fixing.

Is there someone you’re okay sending your WIP chapter-by-chapter as you write? Do you write good enough first drafts for betas to enjoy immediately? Or are you a perfectionist who demands every page be immaculate before another soul reads? I think we all vary on how long we wait before we send our work to betas, which is interesting to me. Perhaps it has something to do with how willing we are to take critique, how able we are at sensing critique for ourselves, and how adept we are at getting it all right the first time. I must say though, even with a big beautiful outline to guide my first draft, that it still ain’t good enough for a reader.

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9 thoughts on “Do You Let People Read Early Drafts?

  1. You and I have similar writing styles and practices. I didn’t give my second manuscript to beta readers until after my fifth draft. I wanted it in as good as shape as I could get it on my own since it’s asking a lot for someone to read your book and critique it. I wanted to make it as enjoyable for them as possible. But as you say, we reach a point where we’re not sure what else to change without the opinion of an objective eye. I think regardless of the draft number, that’s the time to hand it off to an early reader.

    • Yes! I agree that it’s partially out of respect for our betas. We want to give them our best effort instead of a draft with a lot of “ah, yeah, I know that part sucks, just deal with it. And I know I use the word ‘bizarre’ on every other page. Sorry.” Like, if you KNOW those things are issues, why not take some extra time and fix it before your betas have to endure it? Plus, since I plan on doing multple beta rounds, I don’t want to force the same people through a WIP book more than twice. Some of my betas are really really good at critique and I don’t want to burn bridges with them by forcing a new, slightly different draft down their throat every two months.

  2. I only let certain people read my first drafts (my longer work, not my flash fiction). Otherwise, I never let anyone read my first draft. Though, to be fair, I usually call that first draft my personal draft, something meant for me. I call the draft I give to people my first “legible” draft. Afterwards, we go into the revised drafts, etc. I have a weird writing process…

    On the other hand, I treat flash fiction a bit different. Usually, I post stuff that is only edited and not actually revised, so I consider those things a first personal draft. I know that sounds like I’m a bit careless, but it’s meant to make me do stuff.

    So I guess I agree with you. There’s something extremely personal to the drafts. As if people were looking into your mind. And well, I don’t want people to look into my mind and think there’s something extremely wrong with it.

    • “Personal draft” – I like that :) It’s an accurate description, because I too feel like the first couple drafts are just unorganized brain matter, and for someone to judge those would be to judge my raw imagination/thoughts/process. And quite frankly, I’m too shy to lay that out for everyone to judge. I need it to have some polish to it. It’s like, you wouldn’t want someone just reading your mind – you want to have the filter of your mouth to control what people actually hear.

      I also think the terms ‘legible’ draft for your beta round and then ‘revised’ drafts thereafter are really good terms that I may steal for myself :P

  3. I love what you have to say here.

    But do you think there is a difference between someone who is “just” (and no insult intended) a reader and a fellow writer? Personally I do, so I trust a very small number of people, writers, to take a look at my early WIP. Even then after I’ve done come cleaning up. My first drafts are from stream of consciousness and…

    To be honest I usually need More than a few structure adjustments, spelling corrections, and punctuation additions. But hey, it’s a first draft, yes?

    So the long and short is; whatever the author feels comfortable with and how deeply he or she trusts the reader.

    I hope that makes sense.

    • WORDPRESS ATE MY REPLY, URGH.

      Okay, so the sum of it was this – Paradisa was the first original novel I’d ever given people to read. So I think I’m at a stage where I’m still testing the waters and getting people used to how I write. I want people to have faith in my abilities and to think that I CAN write. So I have to really put my best foot forward when I start offering beta work, because I want those betas to see the best side of me. Especially fellow writers. I don’t want to make dumb mistakes in front of other writers, which is why I’m saving fellow writers for my last beta round (with THIS book, at least).

      Down the line, when I have a core set of betas who enjoy my work and have faith in me, I may introduce those betas to my early drafts. I do have a couple friends who’ve become ‘fans’ of mine, and they’ll take anything I give them, no matter how rough, just because they get excited about the prospects. They’re not writers though, so…I guess I can be more comfortable with them.

      However, I truly see your side of it. It can be a good thing that writers are more critical. It could be good to introduce their harsher critique early, because it may save you a few drafts. Or maybe they won’t be harsh, but they can still see things others can’t. As you said, it comes down to how much you trust each other and how well your beta can acknowledge that it’s a draft. A beta that will not say “you can’t write!” just because you haven’t deleted your adverbs yet. Surprisingly, my dad (a non-writer) was one of the worst betas for Paradisa because he couldn’t see past the scaffolding. He was like “an agent would reject this! This isn’t fit to publish!” and I’m like “DUH, I wouldn’t have you reading it if it was!” Lol.

  4. I feel the same way too! Though I wish my Killer Orange would have gone into more drafts than three before sending to betas because now it feels like a bomb went off and I have to put back together the pieces.

    But your idea sounds like good practice. If you’re not ready to show it to others, don’t until you do! Makes sense.

    • It depends, I suppose. Perhaps the bomb is still a good thing if it’s based on stuff you couldn’t see before. I think the point of betas is to see our blind spots, and we can still have those in books we feel really confident about. It’s upsetting to have our egos deflated a little bit, especially with how much work awaits us, Ultimately, we should take care of the errors we see, pass it off, and whatever happens after that could turn out minimal or dramatic.Either way, we’ve done as much as we can do!

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