I'm so reluctant to ask this question. The reasons to refrain from doing so multiply the longer I wait.
"I can't ask X because...
- He/she is so busy
- It's not ready to be seen yet
- What if he/she hates it and is too polite to say?
- He/she writes very different stuff from mine...
- I'd rather take my clothes off and run down Bourke Street than show this to anyone"
The worst experience of all - after all this procrastination and excuse-making - is to ask someone to read what you've written and then never hear from them again. Oh, the shame! And if you do hear from them on another matter, the thorny issue of your current manuscript is not even mentioned. Nothing. I for one don't have the courage to say 'Anyway, did you ever get around to reading the chapters I sent you?' What good could possibly come of this? The optional answers are:
- Yes I read it and thought it was rubbish
- Oh no, sorry, I forgot all about it
- Well yes, I started it and then sort of got sidetracked
I ran a complex plot-problem past my spouse once when we were out walking the dogs, explaining my dilemma in detail. We walked on in silence for a while and then he said "Have we got any of that white crusty bread left?" So no, family may not be the answer for everyone.
I love reading other people's work. This week I asked a friend and fellow-writer if I could read her whole manuscript - well, as far as she'd gone. I've been acquainted with random bits of it via writers' group workshopping sessions for a while now but could never get my head around who was who and where they fitted. So she sent me the lot and what a thrill it was for me to read it all. She was pleased too. It's very good. There are characters I immediately sided with, some I hated and others I was wildly curious about. I'll probably nag her a bit from now on to see where it's going. I hope I don't become a pest.
But I've totally solved the problem of who to get to read my Work-in-Progress. I get one of my best friends in the whole world who is also helplessly honest and—best of all—a voracious reader. The fact that she's as busy as a bunch of bees in a bottle doesn't deter her. She doesn't give the time of day to a misplaced semi-colon, repeated words or the odd dangling modifier. What she sees are plot-line hazards, discrepancies that I've missed and possibilities that might never have crossed my mind. And she makes suggestions fitting to a reader who's used to having her reading needs satisfied.
- What if X did come back in the end?
- Instead of Y being unable to find the stalker, what if there was no stalker?
- I think everyone will want to know more about Jack.
I value it more than I can say and I hope one day it all pays off, for both of us.