When to Share Your Work
A chat with Casey Johnston
A little housekeeping before we get started:
*Tomorrow the first letter from my new newsletter, The 52 Project, will go out. That letter will be free, but after that it will (mostly) be for paid subscribers with the occasional free letter going out. You can sign up (free or otherwise) here. I am super excited about it and also do not even really know what’s going to exactly unfold over the next year of it. But the not-knowing sounds fun to me! In general it’s about being a middle-aged broad, though. And that sounds fun, too.
*I just spoke at Sarah Lawrence College and had an incredible time with everyone there. If you are interested in booking me to speak to your organization about living a creative life, my agency is Blue Flower Arts.
Happy Halloween from one of Leo’s best friends, Ziggy
I got an email from my pal Casey Johnston aka She’s A Beast also aka Ask A Swole Woman this week. Casey’s been writing a collection of essays called A Physical Education and she is just about to deliver her book to her editor. She had an important question that I thought might be relevant to some of you out there and she said I could share it. Here’s Casey:
Hi! Long time no talk though I read every single one of your newsletters :)
I feel like the following info has trickled in there at points, but wondered if I could ask directly (or even request that you write about this!): how much and when do you have peers or friends read your book drafts? I'm not an experienced book writer and have been working on this current one almost totally monastically, but finally printed it out and I'm reading it and having my first glimmers of good feelings and feeling like I wouldn't be totally ashamed to show it to someone else!
The actual draft is due to the editor in about four weeks. I've had a couple of people offer to read, and know at least a few folks who would read, but I'm wondering if it will feel like too many cooks in the kitchen.
Appreciate any insight you have!
Here’s what I wrote back to her:
I would totally show it to someone you trust! It's absolutely time.
Here’s a little excerpt from the 1000 WORDS book about it.
What I think would be helpful for you is to be discerning about who you ask. Be strategic. Like just as a quick brainstorm (and you can totally choose to ignore this but just to give you an example) I would think you would want any of these kinds of people to read:
1. Someone who is super knowledgeable on the topic who will give you honest and critical feedback. They don't have to be a writer necessarily, they just need to know their shit. (And it is helpful if they are a READER, someone who really loves books.)
2. A writer with a real commercial sensibility. I am sensing you want this book to reach a lot of people and be accessible. They don't necessarily need to know a lot on the topic, but just how books should flow and end up being really readable.
3. A writer you admire who won't let their ego get in the way of giving you feedback. It's about how to make YOUR writing and YOUR book the best that it can be. It has nothing to do with how they would write it.
At this stage, I would honestly not give it to more than three people unless you just feel like showing off your work! Your editor is going to give you notes, and you're also going to have to go through copyedits and I would guess a legal review, too. So the cooks are definitely coming. But still, I think having a few readers before you turn it in can be really helpful.
I'm so excited you're done!! I want to read this book!
Of course my answer is specific to someone who has already sold a book, has an existing brand, and access to a community of readers. But what about those of us who don’t necessarily have all that? I’m leaving the comments open today on the off chance someone is looking for a new reader for their work. Because if you feel ready, I am excited for you.
A final thought for the week:
I want the best for you. And I want you to be able to focus and write.
Early in the pandemic I had a therapist tell me, “You can’t help other people if you’re a hot mess yourself,” and I cling to that daily. I try to remain calm. If I remain calm I can sit down and write through things and that helps me process everything and also maybe I can make a little art, too, but if I don’t make art right now that’s OK, too. Remaining calm isn’t for everyone, isn’t always possible, but this is my letter, and this is what I have to offer you.
The subscription donation this week will be going to Doctors Without Borders. Every morning I pray for a ceasefire. I call my representatives. All these small gestures we hope add up to something.