We often think of writing as a solitary endeavor, picturing authors tucked away in some version of Walden Pond chewing on the end of a pen, or sitting alone in a dark room with only a computer for company while a highball sweats a ring onto the desk. Think Virginia Woolf in The Hours, William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, Mort Rainey in Secret Window (Don't know that one? It's based on a Stephen King novel about a disturbed writer, played onscreen by #1 on my laminated list, the delectable Johnny Depp. Psst, Johnny, call me.). And, yes, at some point every writer has to sit down without distraction and put pen to paper. But just scan the acknowledgements page in any novel, and it's clear "Writing" (with a capital W) is a collective effort.
So, even at the early stages, when your characters just begin to come to life, share them with others. We didn't do that when we first began writing The Pecking Order (fearful, I suppose, that this fragile little piece of art we'd carefully sculpted and polished and protected would shatter under criticism) and it was a lesson hard learned. Believe me, it's better to hear something doesn't make sense from a friend, over Pinot and manchego (and maybe some tangential discussions about Johnny Depp), than from a prospective agent declining to represent you. This time around, we're sharing chapters of Done Fell Out as we write it, and it's invaluable. So far, we've not only learned a pivotal plot point was confusing, but also that a peripheral character interested readers and may warrant a bigger part. And yes, in case you're wondering, just like every Kindergartener knows, sharing is easier said than done. You need to find encouraging people (family, friends, other writers) who are comfortable expressing their true opinions, but also gentle in their delivery. And, if you're the type of person who feels bad saying no to telemarketers, and thinks you've done something wrong if a stranger doesn't smile at you, you'll have to develop a thicker skin (although, if you 've been sending work out and receiving rejections for any length of time, your skin could probably already deflect bullets). Maybe start by reading to your dog. Most of all, you need to have a well-working internal filter, so you can take in the useful comments, and expel anything that is harmful or doesn't further your vision. Remember, all consumers of art have different tastes and, ultimately, it is your work.