To share or not to share?

In any drawn-out labour, there comes the time when you need to ask: ‘How am I doing?’

Writing is not amenable to an annual assessment and review.  You can’t ask your boss or your colleagues what they think.  So one of the questions I faced after completing that first draft: should I show it to someone and, if so, who?

It was pretty pointless doing that if all I wanted was a pat on the back.  I realised that having my ego stroked, while undeniably welcome, wouldn’t help Grosse Fugue be as good as it could possibly be.  But if I wasn’t planning to publish, why reveal it?  What could it gain?

Well, the truth was simple.  I might have started off with noble intentions of purity of purpose, my high artistic ideals never to be sacrificed on Mammon’s altar.  But the more I wrote, the clearer became the notion that the world should not be deprived of such breathless brilliance, that I owed it to my fellow humans to share my work.  Or, more seriously, that maybe, just maybe, it would no longer be satisfying enough just to write, now I had to be read.

It’s only fair in this sort of confessional to be open and honest.  I did harbour huge ambitions for the book.  Once it was sitting there, I wanted it to make a difference, to challenge as well as to entertain and move.

Two Russians were banging around in my head.  Myakovsky remarked that “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.”  Perhaps more appositely, Zamyatin said this: “There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times.”

Well, I wanted my novel to explode a thousand and more times. 

I had decided to postpone the sharing thing until I’d completed a first draft.  Then I started talking to people and, if they seemed genuinely interested, I’d give them a print-out to read.

And then I waited for a response.

I don’t recommend this approach.  Silence can only be interpreted as judgement-by-cowardice.  Some commented constructively, others were enthusiastic.  But I lost count of the number of people who said bugger all.  This was hideous.

So, in the end, I decided to see how literary agents would respond.  That was fun.

Ian Phillips is a freelance writer for businesses whose first novel, Grosse Fugue, will be published by Alliance Publishing Press on April 3rd.  He’s tweeting developments @Ian_at_theWord.