I've talked recently about the importance of writers sharing their work with others - for feedback, for objectivity. Today, I wanted to talk about the down side of sharing, the risk that writers always take when they make themselves vulnerable to someone. If you're new to this sharing thing, here are two types of people to avoid as readers of your work:
*note - for even more insight on this topic, take a look at the comment Gayle just posted - very spot-on and eloquently-written.
1) Plagiarists. This sounds like an obvious one to avoid, but it's tricky because at the time, you don't KNOW they're stealing from you. These people look at your work, decide it's pretty good, and rip it off from you - an exact passage, a central plot, a quirky character, a specific idea. Maybe in their minds, they're only "borrowing," but it's stealing, all the same, and you need to protect yourself. These people are difficult to recognize until after the fact, after you've already trusted them. Bottom line - unless you fully TRUST the person, don't share your work (or even your brainstorming). Better to be safe than sorry. Now, I don't want to fill you with paranoia or make you start questioning your most trusted friends (because, most likely, if they're trusted, you can indeed trust them). But it never hurts to be careful with whom you share your work. For instance, if you post a poem on the internet for all the world to see, there's a high chance that someone will read it, like it, and post it as his/her own. Just be smart about where and with whom you share your work.
2) People who give extremes in criticism. If the reader you've chosen is overly-flattering, it could be disingenuous. On the other hand, if the reader is overly-critical, with nothing positive to say, you might even question his/her motives. Perhaps that person is envious of you and wants to knock you down a few pegs. Perhaps he/she is just a negative personality type and simply can't see the good in things. If that's the case, you won't get the full picture of your work, anyway. You'll only get a narrow view. Because sometimes, it's good to know what someone likes about your work, so you can know that you're "doing it right," that a particular plot/character/piece of dialogue works.
So, do your best to avoid the "dark side" when selecting a reader. It's a shame that trust has to be an issue between writers - there should be a code of honor that stands with all writers - but this is the real world. So, we have to be smart and protect ourselves the best we can, while still being open enough to share. A delicate tight-rope balancing act, but it can be done. And, it's worth it to try.