Reading published and unpublished poems at the Tenley-Friendship Library
in Washington, D.C. The audience's reactions, preparing
and then reading the poems all help the editing process.
What did you write about? Is the reader mentioned or involved in the material on any level? If so, you might wait until you feel comfortable and confident with the draft. Or, you might decide that you need this reader's input early in the drafting process to further your writing and memory. Either way, decide how much you are willing to change based on the reader's reaction.
For more on this potentially complicated subject, Washington, D.C., area writers might consider the class I co-teach at Politics and Prose bookstore with Martha Ertman: Memoir Writing: Legal, Ethical, and Moral Concerns (next offered Tuesday, Feb. 16, 1-3 pm). We recommend reading Family Troubles: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family.
Editing is about both confidence and craft; readers can help you with both. Try to foster and maintain readers who offer you different kinds of feedback and support. For example, when I'm feeling less confident and need a boost, I will show my work to my mom. She's always ready to encourage me. (If you're reading, "Hi, Mom!") When I'm not sure if I've strayed from the world I've created or the grammar isn't right, I ask my (former journalist) husband to look closely at the sentences and ideas. I have a fiction and memoir writing friend with a good eye for filling in gaps when something feels incomplete.
Aside from family and friends, I strongly recommend that you take classes with writers experienced in your genre. This can be helpful at any stage. Instructor's feedback and the feedback of peers in a workshop class can offer you the necessary craft, plot, idea and creative input to push your work to the next level. Even if you don't agree with their feedback (they are unlikely to all agree with each other), you can see what seems to work and what areas trouble readers.
And of course, if you are asking folks to read and respond to your work, offer to do the same for them. If you are considering forming a workshop group, you might find these tips helpful.
When do you show your work to readers?