Following a lively conversation on our members-only Facebook page about whether and how to share your writing with your partner before publication, Canadian novelist Francis Guenette, who has a degree in Counselling Psychology, shares her own experience, from which she's learned the best way to harness her husband's feedback.
To Share or not to Share? That is the Question…
Whether you have written a dozen best-sellers or have jotted down your thoughts in obscurity, sharing pre-published work with someone close can be an up-and-down experience. You may end up with all you need from the process or take a painful ego hit. Innumerable stopping points between these two extremes are possible. When feedback from an intimate partner goes off the rails, it is not necessarily related to the writer’s ability to take criticism. Other factors come into play.
A Resident Beta Reader?
If you already take your pre-published work to someone special and get exactly what you need, then this post is probably not for you. Picture me waving you off with a big smile on my face. Truly, we are all happy for you though some of us may feel ever-so-slightly green with envy. If you have not made an attempt to share your work or you are struggling to find a way to manage the process, read on.
We writers are a sensitive lot, and no more sensitive than when faced with the opinion of someone close. A small chuckle as the person reads can warm us with delight. A frown or raised eyebrow can cause our hearts to thud. Remember, this individual is not an anonymous reviewer or an easily-dismissed reader who cannot be expected to understand our brilliance. Those close to us are intimately acquainted with the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into our work. What they say matters to us.
Right Time, Right Style
Timing is an important factor. My husband reads my pre-published writing and over the course of work on four novels, we have discovered that I don’t take detailed feedback well in the conceptual, early-draft stages and he doesn’t appreciate reading anything that is not clean copy.
The way feedback is served up can also be an issue. I’m the type of person who can take a lot of constructive criticism if it is presented in a layer-cake fashion. By that I mean affirmation (the icing), then constructive criticism (cake), then more affirmation (icing between the layers) and then harder-hitting criticism (more cake). There can be as many layers as necessary as long as the icing comes before the cake.
Give and Take
My husband and I have had several discussions on this issue. Sometimes the people close to us see the affirmation part as a given, easily set aside in order to get along with what matters: the critical stuff. Practically speaking, giving and taking feedback is a time-consuming process and I know from experience that my work improves more from getting serious with the cake than it does from licking the icing. All the same, it’s a good point to discuss.
Horses for Courses
Sometimes the trick is in knowing what type of feedback to request. My husband gives the best technical advice, and I highly value that input. I prefer not to hear his thoughts on sentence structure, as I have an editor who is skilled at providing this type of feedback. But he tells me he doesn’t like being asked to stick to one area of expertise. Recognizing how much I want his input, I nod and say, okay.
Sometimes an intimate partner may not feel any attraction to your subject matter or the genre in which you write. You can ask this person to look beyond that, making it clear that you do not write for an audience of one: him or her.
People have greater or lesser ability to manage such a request. My husband struggles with the parts of my writing he doesn’t care for: things that make him wrinkle his nose, parts he finds irrelevant or doesn’t get. I am learning to deal with this by balancing his opinions with my own gut instincts and the feedback of others. He agrees to struggle on.
The Write Relationship
Sharing pre-publication work with an intimate other can be a challenge but it is one that both my husband and I have found worth taking on. Getting it right is dependent on compromise, understanding and effective communication – the very strategies that apply to every relationship dilemma we face.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Francis has recently reissued both novels under a new imprint and with new ISBNs, so if you're planning on reading either of them, please pick the editions with the latest publication date.)
OVER TO YOU
So, how about you? Do you take the plunge and share with someone close? Does it work for you, or is it taboo? Pleaes join the conversation via the comments box!
EASY TWEET#Authors - how to share your work with your significant other with falling out - great advice from @FrancisGuenette #AuthorALLi #amwriting Click To Tweet
This is a great topic! I think everyone will view this differently. For the people who are very sensitive and don’t react well to criticism it may be best to stick with editors. You don’t want to hurt your relationship!
[…] Francis Guenette’s thoughtful post on how to share your writing with your partner, we’ve been chatting on the ALLi Facebook forum (open to ALLi members only – another […]
I think it’s time to give my fabulous husband some baking lessons. He keeps trying to force-feed me cake that gets stuck in my throat like a bone-dry rusk. Time to start adding some icing to sweeten this recipe for disaster!
Oh Jay, that comment made me take a second look at my cake analogy and gave me a good laugh. Let them bake cake – right?
My husband is a professional editor for non-fiction, and has in the past also been a writer for non-fiction. I very much admire his ability to put the most punch for his narrative into a brief space. When I began my novel writing career, I thought: “How lucky I am to be married to a professional editor. It will save me so much money.”
Um. No. The cost in ego is not worth the money. The reason it doesn’t work for me is threefold. First, he has read fiction perhaps three times in our marriage. It’s not his thing. He’s a historian and linguist by training and thus approaches fiction looking for the “facts” as they relate to the real world. Needless to say, my fiction doesn’t relate to his real world.
Second, he is a “fixer.” That means he approaches my manuscript with a I’m-going-to-fix-this attitude as he does when he’s paid to do that. The problem is I don’t want to be “fixed.” I want feedback that I can take or leave. He has “heard” me explain this, but he has as much difficulty letting me handle the fixes without checking that I did it “right,” as I have difficulty being fixed. 🙂
Finally, he would never choose to read what I write–romance, science fiction, fantasy–which it makes it very difficult for him to provide good feedback according to genre expectations.
Though he loves me to death and is very proud of my accomplishments, and repeatedly tells everyone we know that he admires my ability to make up entire worlds/stories out of nothing, we together agreed that having him edit or even beta read was not healthy for either of us as individuals or for our marriage. And I am happy with that.
Of all the authors I know, I know of only one couple who shares this process successfully. In that couple, both are writers and enjoy the same genres. In fact, they write books (and scripts) together all the time. To my knowledge one has not tried to write something completely without the others significant input. They decide whose name goes on the cover based upon some analysis of who did the most writing or who already has an established brand in the genre.
There are days I’m envious of that relationship, but most of the time I’m happy with what my DH and I have worked out. Independently supportive.
Yes – indeed – independently supportive! I like the sound of that. How great to come to a point where you know what works and what doesn’t and you make the best relationship and writer’s choice based on that knowledge. It’s so easy to fall into an all or nothing mind set – he or she has to read everything, know the story as well as I do, love all my characters etc. etc. etc. True support might mean a partner never reads a word. There is room for so many, many variations on a theme. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Maggie.
I write across genres. I’ve found that my husband will read F&SF, mystery/thriller–anything with a plot or world-building–and, if it’s very short, children’s stuff (with less enthusiasm). Romance, no.
He just likes plot. And that’s okay.
Yup – it’s really about finding what works for both of you.
Hi Fran. I love this topic. My own husband is not really very interested in the writing world, but he is so helpful to me as a writer. First, he listens quietly to my endless talking about my current project, offering thoughts as they occur. Next, he doesn’t read the manuscript but listens to it … We have always read aloud and a year ago, we used ‘open to the skies’ aka ‘Saving the Landing Church’ as our book. He gives solid technical advice and tells me if something doesn’t sound right. He also provides comments on my paintings and poems as I work on them. He is my first best champion and my ‘alpha’ reader!!! Jane
Hi Jane – thanks for popping over to the Alliance blog! I love the idea of reading the manuscript aloud – it’s something I find a must for catching all kinds of slip-ups. Having an attentive listener would be a major bonus. And of course, that technical advice is not to be missed. It’s wonderful to hear about times when the sharing works.
I do not give out my manuscripts to any of my boyfriends, though I had tried.
First one would lie about having read it, and then get angry when I had follow up questions, the second, when I asked for his opinion on one concept, told me the entire idea was awful. Then he was surprised later when I refused to talk about it with him.
For the most part though, they don’t ask, which makes it easy, but I’ve found the men I date have a competitive edge with me, and so their feedback tends to be more about proving their expertise than examining what I’ve done. Any time I’ve worked with one of them in a artistic manner (I’ve dated mostly actors and would cast them in productions I produced), it would reveal a little too much about how they respected my opinion and usually be the factor that brings the relationship to an end.
So I’ve made the rule to myself, he ain’t reading it no matter what.
Thanks, Charley. You’ve made some great points that emphasize the need to carefully weigh risks versus benefits. If the result hastens the end of a relationship – hmmm – it begs the question – does one really want that kind of information? Stick with what works.
[…] Please pop over and check it out. How to Share Your Manuscript with Your Partner. […]
My hubby will read what I write, piecemeal, as it is written. He points out spots he thinks don’t work, but also suggests word and style changes that suit HIS writing style. He writes both poetry and policy/business type documents, So the style suggestions usually don’t work for me. That said, he is very supportive and proud of me.
Reading the comments here and thinking about the many members who weighed in on this subject on the ALLi Facebook page – I’m amazed at the varied types of feedback and support we writers can make use of. Seems like we take what we can use and leave the rest and always enjoy a cheerleader in our corner.
My husband is supportive in principle, and touchingly proud of me for writing books, but they are not remotely the sort of thing he likes to read. He would prefer me to be writing stories full of murders, sex and car chases, and that is not going to happen! At the same time, I have stopped pretending to be interested whenever he reads me a supposedly fascinating fact from the scientific textbooks that he devours with all the enthusiasm of an eight year old on Enid Blyton. On the positive side, I could turn him into a character in one of my stories, and he’d never know. Same happens with my blog – I can make any number of jokes at his expense there and he’d never know! Attraction of opposites, I guess…
The silver lining is definitely being able to write about the partner with no fear of reprisal. Too funny, Deb. And, by the way, don’t be too hasty to reject the whole murder, sex and car chase theme. I sense we might do a great collaboration there. Love the way you set the whole piece up. Many thanks.