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!
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