Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

I'm ready to find out what others think about my poems, but I'm afraid to share them. How can I get past this?

Sharing your work—whether in a writers’ group, among friends, or in the classroom—can be daunting. Poems and other genres of creative writing are highly personal. Even if you’re not writing about your own experiences, you’ve invested your creative energy and imagination. It can feel like you’re sending a part of yourself out to be judged.

Showing your work to others, however, is an important part of the writing process. It gives you an opportunity to see your writing through the eyes of others and to learn whether you accomplished what you intended. Good readers might even give you direction in revision and point out issues you might not have seen on your own. Many writers also find a deep satisfaction when readers connect with what they’ve written. With all these benefits, the fear of showing your work is certainly worth overcoming.

Set yourself up for success by finding a positive, constructive environment in which to share your work. Start with a situation that seems comfortable to you. You might have a few close friends read a poem and tell you what they like about it. Focusing on this kind of feedback will make the first experience a good one and help you build courage to venture deeper into this practice.

At some point, you’ll want to invite suggestions and perhaps even get involved in a more structured environment. Seek out like-minded writers or a workshop that’s geared toward your skill level. Find a group that values both support and the importance of challenging each writer toward his or her own best work.

When you receive feedback, keep in mind that other writers are trying to help you improve. Not all comments will make you feel warm and fuzzy, but being able to recognize weaknesses will help you improve. Approach all comments with objectivity. Some may seem harsh or make you bristle. Still, a suggestion to ditch the end rhyme scheme delivered in a snarky tone may be good advice. Of course, it may also be hogwash. Give yourself the opportunity to evaluate the content of the comment instead of reacting emotionally to the tone. Some writers find it useful to take notes during a discussion of their work and then return to those notes when it doesn’t feel so fresh and emotions aren’t running as high. Separating comments from who said them—or how they were said—can also help with objectivity.

Remember that the feedback you receive is about this particular poem and the choices you made in it. Just because meaning was obscure in this poem doesn’t mean it will be in every other poem you write. Separating the individual piece from the much larger questions you may have about yourself as a poet—Am I any good? Will readers love my poetry?—will make sharing your work more productive and enjoyable.