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To Love, Cherish, and Critique?

I asked my published writer friends if they show their writing to their spouses or loved ones, and out of twelve writers, five of us only rarely, if ever, show our work to our spouses, and seven of us regularly do.  A few of us show our spouses our writing every day and depend upon their feedback as an integral part of the writing process.

Showing your writing to anybody always involves trust, and when you show it to someone you respect and love enough to be your life partner, the stakes can be high.  So can the rewards.

My writer friends who show work to their spouses count on their readers to be respectful and honest.  Gentleness counts, too, and being clear about what is really wanted from the reader.  Stephanie Burgis, who is married to another writer, Patrick Samphire, swaps her writing with him every day, and she says they are careful to be only positive about first drafts.  “Then the draft gets finished…and the rules change,” Stephanie says. “At that point, we become each other’s toughest critics, because we care so much about each other’s work, and we want it to be the best that it can be. Every critique starts and ends with something positive and true, but in the middle we are ruthless.”

Some of us writers who don’t confer so closely with our spouses still depend upon them for help with brainstorming, whether with plot sequences or details in our spouses’ areas of expertise.  My husband is a professor of physiology and neurobiology, so when I have questions about suppressor genes, he’s the one I consult.  I’ve shown him specific passages for reassurance I haven’t bungled anything, and I find such input invaluable.

Beyond that, however, I don’t ask him to read my work, and I’m not alone on that.  Some of my writer friends have spouses who genuinely have no interest in the types of books we write.  Some of us are so sensitive that we take even the mildest suggestion as a harrowing criticism, and don’t want that stress to trickle over into our marriages.  Some of us enjoy keeping our jobs separate from our private lives, especially if we tend to get lost in our heads and depend on our spouses to keep us grounded in the non-writing world.  Without exception, even those of us who never seek out our spouses’ input on the nitty-gritty feel their devoted support.

Support is the key, no matter what kind it is that we need.  Each writer has to discover what works best for him or her in terms of seeking spousal feedback.  I’m going to throw out a radical idea here: I think we’re married first and writers second.  You know, like those people with other jobs.

2 Responses to To Love, Cherish, and Critique?

  • Thank you for writing on this topic. As a yet-to-be-published writer of women’s fiction, I have struggled with my loving husband over this issue. At first, he was clear that he did not want to read my material, and I accepted that because I was new to writing and not overly confident. Knowing how sensitive I can be, I knew it was better that he not read my writing. Then, when I got closer to the reality of being published, he did want to read my material, and he had good comments. Now I’m all excited that my writing feels good, and I want to share it with him, but he’s back to not wanting to read it. He’ll listen to me as I develop my characters and plot line (after all, we as writers walk around with our characters in our heads all day whether we’re at the keyboard or not). But he has all but refused to read the finished work because he sees it as a lose/lose situation. He feels like he had no option to say he doesn’t like it – and truth be told, he may not. Most recently, after a few go-rounds, I have corrected him – I am not “desperate” for him to read my material (as he had not-so-politely suggested). In fact I have two trusted women writer friends reading for me. My college daughter also reads my work to correct my word choices / actions so that they are true for my young-adult characters. I really do not need him to read it. I do, however, want him to be part of my work life the way I am part of his (How many times have I listened to him talk about what happened in his work?). But for now, we have drawn the line between talking about and actually reading. I’m sure this too will change.

  • Davetta ~
    It matters, clearly. Thanks for your honesty. A lot of us think there’s something wrong with us if we can’t or won’t share our writing with our spouses. It’s such an important side of us, right? But as you point out, sometimes it doesn’t work. We have to fall back on honesty and clear communication and muddle onward, just as you’re doing.
    Take care,

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