I've been workshopping a new novel, one that has less than 20,000 words so far. I haven't let so many people see my words so early before. I always thought that I needed to get a story into decent shape before people could have something solid to critique. However, now I realize that showing an early draft to critique partners can help you create that shape.
I sent my first two chapters for critique last December, and I asked the group to focus on character, not plot. I had an idea of how the plot would reveal itself, but at I wanted to know if my characters were compelling. And my workshop told me who they liked and who they didn't. What they were curious to know about each character's background and what details they didn't need to get weighed down in.
At the end of the critique, the group speculated about where the story was going and what could happen next. A few folks picked out the plot path I was heading on, but what was more interesting to me was hearing new possibilities of what could happen to these characters that I'd never dreamed of. They gave me some potential directions to investigate.
I'd been hesitant to toss pages out for critique so early before, but now I'm going to get early stuff out there sooner. And in my notes I submitted with my pages, I asked the group to focus on a certain aspect (character) that I needed the most help with, and the group kindly obliged.
Once you have a full first draft, it might be harder to change direction and press that delete key so often. It has been for me at times. But now that I'm sharing these early pages, I feel like making changes won't be as gut-wrenching because I'm not tossing away so much time and effort.
What have your experiences been with getting critiques at various stages in your drafting process?