This post is part of a series examining the core habits and tools of the writing life. Join the conversation in the comments section or on Twitter.
Writing, like all art forms, is meant to be shared. Writing to and for yourself is a good practice to cultivate. But, at some point, you have to get your work out in front of an audience.
Fear and trembling. Yes, I know. This part of the writing process is daunting, particularly for first-time writers.
Fortunately, you can make this process easier on yourself if you build a support network of sympathetic readers. This is your first audience — a hand-picked group of friends, family, network connections, or even total strangers who will support and encourage you through your first formative stages as a writer. Think of it like an exclusive club, and you control who gets an invitation.
Consider the following factors when choosing who to include in your first audience.
Who has, or who will, encourage you to write?
Do you have a buddy who’s been nagging you to start a blog? Has your mom always suggested you try freelance writing as a side gig? These are powerful allies to have on your side. They’ve seen something in your writing, and they want you to develop your skills further. These folks will give you the needed push to get through the tumultuous highs and lows that accompany the writing life.
Also, don’t restrict your audience to people you already know. Some writers feel much more comfortable writing to complete strangers than to family and friends. If you’re one of these folks, connecting with readers is as close as the nearest online forum. Check out The Write Life’s list of Facebook groups for writers for some places to build connections, get advice, and find potential members for your first audience.
Who are your editors, and who are your cheerleaders?
Some of your readers may have writing experience, and they may want to use their skills to help you make your work stronger. Others will want to be on the sidelines, cheering you on. Each type of reader is a valuable addition to your team.
A word of caution: When you ask someone to read your work, be honest, both with your reader and yourself, about what your true needs are. In some cases, you may want a critical eye to help you chisel out the rough spots in your work. In other cases, though, you may simply want a sympathetic reader, not an editor. Confidence takes time to mature, so be careful to not submit your writing to critique until you’re ready to receive criticism.
Be upfront with your reader about whether you’re seeking constructive criticism on your work. Doing so will save you and your reader injured feelings.
What’s the best place to connect with your audience?
Thanks to the Internet, there’s no shortage of places to share your writing online. Many of these platforms also allow you to make your blog inaccessible to everyone except pre-approved readers. These semi-private forum is an ideal place to connect with your first audience.
You can also create a private page on Facebook and invite your audience to engage with you there. Or, you can use an email marketing service like MailChimp or Constant Contact to create a newsletter and send it to your audience. This kind of self-publishing is inexpensive and is adaptable to almost any kind of writing, from book reviews to poetry.
Do you know other ways to connect with readers? Do you have some insight on who to include in your first audience? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
In the final installment of “The Writing Life” series, we’ll look at the most important, yet most often overlooked question: Why should you write?
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