Monday, June 30, 2008

First Readers

When I handed him early drafts of my manuscript, Tommy (pictured with Buddy) didn't know he was supposed to say, "This is wonderful!" before blurting, "I hate the title."

My husband was also unaware the statement, "This chapter is better than the last," is unwelcome.

So although I shared with him the first version of my memoir The Division Street Princess, I've kept the manuscript for my upcoming novel far from his pencil.

Then I got to wondering: What about my author friends? Do they ask their partners to read early drafts? Do their partners want to read the raw pages? Or, are my friends as thin-skinned with the opinions of their spouse, partner, or significant other as I, and keep their work away from the person on the other side of the bed?

I asked three friends, who are well-known authors, to share their experiences. Here are their answers:

Elizabeth Crane
Author of You Must Be This Happy To Enter
Ha! That's so funny. My dad has a little bit of that problem, insofar as he'll point out grammar mistakes before praising. (But - he's my biggest fan, so it's okay.) Ben generally seems to understand that praise comes before anything else, thankfully! I'm probably a bit thick-skinned when it comes to this stuff, but because his input tends to be positive, it's hard to say what my reaction would be if it weren't. I might be like, Hey! You're supposed to say it's genius!

Kevin Davis
Author of Defending the Damned
My wife Martie does nothing small. When I asked her to read the manuscript for my latest nonfiction book, I should have known to expect more than a few comments and half-hearted suggestions.

I watched her sit with the manuscript, stopping, staring and scribbling. It was maddening. She began to fill a yellow legal pad with notes. She wouldn’t say anything to me while writing her critique, so I stewed. What was she thinking? Who the hell does she think she is? I don’t have to listen to her stupid comments. What does she know? I wondered if I made a mistake.

Martie is an actress and performer, skilled at crafting her own material, including writing monologues and stories for the stage. So I knew she understood drama, conflict and character, all of which applied to my book even though it was nonfiction. But this would be the first time I entrusted her with a big piece of my writing.

She handed me the full yellow legal pad, and said she had some ideas. She offered a generous critique with sharp observations, pointing out not just what she thought was wrong, but celebrating what she thought was right. She gave me invaluable insight into female characters and suggestions about what to ask them in follow up questions. We argued over some points and agreed on others.

My book is better because of my wife, and she has earned a solid place among few people who get to read my unpublished works. Still, I’ll take a deep breath each time she offers critiques, even when it hurts. Soon enough she’ll ask me for feedback, and I’ll break out the pen, legal pad and Post-It notes, take my sweet time and let her sweat it out a little.

Amy Guth
Author of Three Fallen Women
Hmm, let's see. I do ask him to read initial drafts. His feedback is usually a little on the vague side ("Great!" or "Coming along") so I tend to ask specific questions, which I come up with by asking myself, "Why am I asking him to read this?" Usually the questions or issues in the writing that I'm iffy about will come clear after I ask that of myself. So, I'll hand the writing over with a specific question like, "Is this language too flowery, or do you see I'm trying to accomplish x, y, or z?" or "Does this character seem like a jerk, or is it clear that he's just reacting to what happened before?" When I frame it that way, it's easier to process feedback, I think.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for including me in your blog message. I am not a published author, but frequently I write small stories about my childhood, etc., and I have my daughter read them for me. She always tends to be very complimentary and really gives me a lot of praise. She, herself, is an aspiring author, but she has never asked me to read hers. I think your husband is probably going to be your worst critic; so, don't feel bad. Evelyn

Susan K said...

Hello, Elaine! I always love your take on the process of writing. My husband read my started-last-centruy-and-still-working-on-it (oy) novel, but gave up around page 250 because nothing was happening. That's when I found out he hasn't read anything longer than a magazine article in the past 25 years. No attention span. Ah, well. It didn't discourage me. Hang in there!

Kris Cahill said...

Such a fun post today. My husband and I bounce ideas off each other all the time, and are each other's best fans and critics. I am a painter, he is a filmmaker/storyteller/actor. I will, however, keep to myself my new ideas until I am ready for anyone to see them, including him. I need the space to create a new idea without anyone else's energy in it. Then, when I want feedback, and am ready to share, he is usually the first one I go to.

Renee said...

Although I'm a photographer not a writer, the art of critique is a hard one for all of the arts so I understand completely. It's all in the presentation.
Looking forward to more of your writing.

Renee said...

Although I am a photographer I understand that the art of critique can be a tricky thing. Keeping a stiff upper lip or biting your tongue is not always the easiest thing.
Love it that you're back to blogging.

Anonymous said...

That was fun reading. I too have experienced that with my wife. She has a journalism degree from Purdue,
and when I first started asking her to look at my writing, her edits change my meaning and intents so much that I
said, "forget it."

Anonymous said...

Congrats Elaine on the completion of your manuscript! Be sure to let us know when you'd like to have the launch for the new book--we want it to be here!

Linda Bubon
Women & Children First

Anonymous said...

Oh, Elaine Muriel, I am so happy for you. Can't wait to hear more about this new book and its journey to the book stores and! Don't know what my son, David, does now, but at the beginning of his publishing career, he shared his writings with friends in his writers' workshop and the entire family including his 3 young boys.

Beverly Elaine