When many of us begin to write, it’s a private activity–we scrawl poems and stories and hide them away. But stories are meant to be shared, and after a certain point, it’s hard to improve significantly without sharing your work and getting feedback on it. Putting your work out there can seem incredibly daunting, especially to the shyer among us. As a middle schooler, the thought of reading a poem to my friends or family made my stomach flip, so I guarded my notebook with my life. For writers, though, it’s paramount that we exchange ideas and give each other recognition, and sharing your writing with an audience can be incredibly fulfilling.
So how do more anxious writers build themselves up to the point where they can share and get feedback on their work successfully? In my experience, it’s best to start small and share your work with someone you trust who’s willing to support you as you take the step towards sharing your writing. Ask for just a little feedback to start, then build yourself up to being able to take more substantive criticism from them. Remember that when someone gives you constructive criticism in good faith, they’re not criticizing you as a person, but trying to help you be the best possible writer you can be.
Having a group of other writers to look over your work and discuss possible improvements is invaluable for writers, especially one who’s looking to eventually publish their work. An important next step is to find such a group, which can be found at many schools and libraries. If a local one isn’t available or being in person truly seems too daunting, there are tons of writing critique groups that can be found online. Scribophile (https://www.scribophile.com) and Critique Circle (https://www.critiquecircle.com), for instance, are free platforms on which writers can post their work to get feedback and critique others’ work in return.
Once you feel you’ve gotten feedback that sufficiently improves your writing and have practiced sharing your work with a group of people, you will be ready to start sharing your work with the wider world. There are many ways to do so, including by publishing writing work online. I think reading your writing in real life is crucial to coming out of your shell, though. It can be nerve-wracking, even for experienced writers, to read their work out loud in front of people they don’t know, but it can be incredibly rewarding and expose you to other writers. Most cities have open mics that are great low-key settings for emerging writers to showcase their work. Coffee houses, bookstores, and libraries often have open mics, so those are good places to start. It also may help to sit in on an open mic before performing in it.
Another great way to expose your writing is to submit to literary magazines like Levitate or to apply for awards. You should prepare yourself to experience a lot of rejection–even if you’re a stellar writer, bigger literary magazines get huge slush piles, and editors have differing tastes– but this can help build resilience. In addition, if you do get published or win an award, having your work recognized is exhilarating. When I first heard the news that my chapbook was going to be published, I was ecstatic for days, and the experience turned out to be extremely rewarding.
In the end, sharing your writing is an exercise in pushing yourself. While you shouldn’t force yourself to do something you know you’re not ready for, going out of your comfort zone is imperative as a writer–that is, after all, where some of the best writing comes from. If you take small steps towards sharing your writing with the world, you’ll likely find that it’s not nearly as hard as you thought it would be.
Caitlin Hubert is a junior at the Chicago High School for the Arts and the co-lead of Levitate’s poetry team.