Advice for New Writers in an Age of Interactivity

One result of the dominance of social media is what I’ll call the socialization of creative activity and an escalation in the need for immediate feedback. It has always been (and it remains) a good idea to write a first draft in solitude, to create an entire work that stands on its own, though it may toddle at first. Once you have a complete manuscript, sure, expose it to a few trusted souls. But your first readers, your alphas, need to be people you trust, people who care about you as a writer.

Too many new writers bypass the alpha-reading stage, often because they don’t know who they can trust or they suspect the kind of alpha I’m advocating won’t be “honest” enough. They go straight to what they call “beta” readers for feedback. But online groups, including most Facebook groups, are not comprised solely of good beta readers. Social media offers, at best, a cross sampling of writers and readers of various levels of competence, maturity and decency.

Baby Herakles strangles a snake sent to kill him in his cradle.

Baby Herakles strangles a snake sent to kill him in his cradle.

We don’t give birth to a child and send it to public school the next day. We may have to wipe it clean at both ends after every feeding, but we also need to spend time utterly enthralled with it. A new mother is careful about who gets to hold her child. As proud as she may be, she worries every time somebody wants to touch her child’s face with an unsanitized finger. With a second or third child maybe she’s a little less over-protective, but not much. What parent doesn’t instinctively distrust anyone who thinks it appropriate to “discipline” an infant?

Think of your early readers as care-takers, not critics. The existence of brutality in the world at large does not require you to value brutality. Instead, value those who have your best interests and the best interests of your work at heart. Both you and your work will get tougher with experience, but that toughness comes from knowing yourself and your work and from understanding and valuing your strengths as a writer, not from getting beat up.


  1. I never called my first readers Alphas, though they would probably grin from ear to ear at that label, but I do have just a few people who I trust with my newborn. Some of my newborns remain in baby state for years after they are first viewed by the Alphas, others immediately grow into a child. It’s not that I don’t love the newborns enough to make them grow, it’s that sometimes the feedback shows me that a particular infant is going to need a lot of effort to bring to maturity.

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