We all learned in kindergarten that sharing is caring, but when it comes to writing, sharing your work can be downright scary! The decision to share your work depends on a lot of different factors, and the sharing itself can take many forms.
The Writing Group
Joining a writing group can be a great way to create community with fellow writers and also receive feedback on your work. Writing groups can devolve quickly however, so be sure to set some clear ground rules around respect and honesty to ensure that everyone is getting truly constructive criticism.
If you are part of a writing group, be sure to take the time to polish what you bring to the table. Your feedback won't be as useful if you force your fellow writers to pick through all your careless typos. The second you hit "save" is not the moment you hit "send" on your email; give yourself at least a few days, if not weeks, to sit with and polish your first draft until it's ready for other eyes.
Alternatively, you may be the kind of writer who needs lots of encouragement in the beginning stages. If that's the case, be clear to your peers that you'll be submitting rougher work or even outlines, and that you'd like a more free form critique that focuses on overall ideas and inspiration as opposed to sentence tweaks and suggested edits.
Depending on your current needs, you may want to meet with your group once a month, or you may find yourself swapping sections with a like-minded peer on a weekly basis.
The Submission Cycle
Once you're ready to start sharing your work with a larger audience, it's time to consider publishing. There are differing opinions on whether a fiction writer must first write stories before composing a novel, but what's definitely clear is that you'll be able to either submit your work more frequently if you have a handful of stories to send out to traditional sources. Stories typically take less time to produce than a novel, and you may find yourself encouraged by getting a few of these pieces picked up by literary journals. Not sure where to send your work? Try sites like Duotrope, or check out the classified section on the website for Poets and Writers magazine for the classic opportnities. And as we have promoted for years, there are many, many places to share and promote your work on your own and get the recognition you deserve...
For some writers, spending time on shorter projects only serves as a distraction. If you have a larger story to tell, then you may want to skip the constant loop of submission and rejection that many short story writers are all too familiar with. Instead, devote yourself wholly to the book length work that's bringing you to the page each day, and worry about sharing it with the world, or even your writing group, only when you're good and ready.
Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!