Hey Young Writers, Don’t Expect your Significant Other to Read your Stuff Necessarily

Hi young writers. This post is going to be loosely written (and it’s late going up) because this week was … whew. Well, it was a week.

This is just a little tip for how to be happy (happier, at least) in your life as an artist or novelist.

You may or may not end up having one of those amazing literary marriages where the person you married is also a writer, or at least an avid reader, and where they “get” books and specifically your genre, and where you get to bounce ideas off them, they read your drafts, and they are your harshest, most loving critic and your biggest fan.

Such marriages do exist, I am told. Stephen King has said that his wife does this for him. I think it would be tremendous to be in such a relationship, and when I hear about such marriages, I admit I am a little jealous.

But this is not a must-have for your writing life.

Some people are readers and some just … aren’t. If the person you are with does not happen to be a person who reads fiction for fun, then trying to force them to read your stuff is a ticket to misery.

Unless they are conversant in fiction (and preferably in your genre), they won’t get out of your novel what you were hoping. And you won’t know whether this is because your novel has failed to communicate as you had hoped, or whether it’s because your s.o. is not among your intended audience. So you could end up in despair over a novel that’s good (or has the potential to be good) because your s.o. didn’t enjoy it, or you could end up discounting legitimate criticisms on the basis that “he/she just doesn’t get me.”

Which leads to the second point. Showing your work to close family members puts an awful lot of pressure on the relationship. We all know how much of ourselves we pour into our works of art, how emotionally charged they become. We all know how hard it can be to accept criticism from people we see only occasionally, let alone people we have to live with. Even if your s.o. is capable of giving informed feedback, do you want to make the relationship about his or her opinion of your work? Are you that emotionally strong, that capable of detachment?

Some people are, apparently. But, “know thyself.” Perhaps you aren’t. This is especially true if you are younger rather than older, and it is especially true in the early days right after you have finished a manuscript (or while you are working on it). I don’t know about you, but my tendency is to show my work to others too soon, at which point it is still a little rough and also I am still a little too excited about it to think clearly.

Another potential problem: if your s.o. is concerned about what other people think, then your work may be emotionally loaded for him or her as well. They may be thinking, “What if this is published before the world? Will it be misunderstood? Will it make my spouse look bad? Will it make me look bad?” This might always be an issue, but it’s going to be exacerbated if you are showing them early drafts, when all they can see is the roughness, not the glory that is in your head.

But, you ask, why in the world would you date or marry someone who doesn’t “get you”? Well, first of all, while your work is very important to you, it is not all there is to you. Secondly, it’s possible that the same s.o. who does not “get” your work when he or she sees it in draft or idea form, will manage to enjoy it when it has been vetted and edited by people who know what they are doing, published in all its glory, or made into a Hollywood blockbuster (ha!).

Thirdly, consider that if you are an author or an artist, there might be benefits to marrying someone who has a different calling … perhaps one at which it is actually possible to make a living, for instance.

I always kind of assumed that I’d meet some poet type in the English department in college and marry him and we’d go on to live a Bohemian poet life together. I’m frankly really glad that didn’t happen because I am happy not to be in academia right now. The man I married does share my values and many of my interests, and he does enjoy a good story, but he is not a reader. He’s got social skills and practical skills that I don’t have. I am happy to have him. We like each other. We can build a life together, raise our kids, go on camping trips without bonding over my writing. (He also doesn’t get the point of visual art. He is never going to rave over one of my paintings. I don’t expect him to. I hope for that from other visual artists.) When I do publish my books, maybe my husband will read them or maybe he will wait for the audio book, but I don’t expect him to get super excited because he does not normally go around reading sci-fi or fantasy or any fiction, really. He takes in stories through audio and movies. He is not part of my intended audience.

I hope this is helpful to you.

And to any family members who have read my drafts and are now trembling in your boots: It’s OK. I’m over it. I’ve moved on.

17 thoughts on “Hey Young Writers, Don’t Expect your Significant Other to Read your Stuff Necessarily

    1. Yeah, it obviously depends upon how much else you have in common and how invested you are in the relationship. Once kids are in the picture, saving the relationship becomes really important …

      Great avatar, by the way. My son wore an unintentionally prophetic Plague Doctor mask for Halloween last year.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! I’ve been using it for years! Reading anyone’s work is genuinely tricky; no-one can ever know what an author has invested in writing, and it’s so easy for a reader to cause offence. Finding a good, trusted, understanding reader is like gold dust; I think Stevenson’s wife burned the first draft of Dr Jekyll on the fire!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This is important! My S.O. is not much of a reader either. However, he is incredibly supportive of my work and, whenever I’ve been down about myself, he always provides practical advise. He doesn’t share my literary passions but he understands and respects that this is something that is important to me. I try to do the same with his projects which include homestead-related activities such as gardening and engineering type stuff. He is the analytical mind while I tend to be an idealist.

    I think as long as your S.O. isn’t outright dismissive of your ideas and your dreams, you can make it work. If your S.O. cares about you, they will respect your passions even if they don’t share them.

    I agree about sharing your work with others putting a strain on the relationship. Although, I have more often experienced it the other way around as the recipient and critic of the work rather than the the one receiving the criticism. I have thicker skin when it comes to literary critique because I have more experience dealing with and receiving criticism. My other friends, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more sensitive. I’m not cruel with my evaluations, but it sometimes feels like I am placed in an awkward situation because they aren’t used to the same level of scrutiny that I have become accustomed to over the years. The last thing I want to do is discourage them, but I also want their stories to be the best they can be (I have the soul of an editor).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for chiming in!

      Yes, I agree they can be supportive even if they don’t fully “get it.” And I try not to create a persona that is too outrageously weird so I don’t embarrass my more mainstream s.o. 😉 I have to be a little bit weird, but I hold back ha ha!

      Yeah, I definitely agree that it can stink to be asked to look over someone’s work ha ha! (Although last time I was asked to do that, it went well.) When we were dating, my husband wrote me a poem and my first response was panic. I was so relieved when it was good enough that I didn’t have to pretend!

      Good on you for having the soul of an editor. The scariest thing I ever hear someone say is, “Someone showed me something, and it was such a mess that I just didn’t say anything and told them it was fine.” Like, PLEASE, TELL ME! Don’t let me go outside without my pants!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never understood the writers who give their works to family and friends to critique. It is like asking them to beat you and then expect to have no consequences 😦

    A complete stranger is always the best. No attachment means they can look at the text with a clear gaze and they’ll see things the writer even thought of. Of course, those kind of people aren’t cheap, or they’re mean sadistic son of a guns who enjoy dishing out the pain. While I’d love to get paid to rip apart the dreams of widdle iddy biddy kiddies, I just don’t see that happening. And I don’t have the patience to be the second kind, so I guess I’m stuck being me doing what I already do 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you saying you are not a mean, sadistic … never mind.

      I don’t take quite as extreme a position as you. I’ve given my stuff to friends and family. I have friends and family members who I know read in the genre and whose literary judgment I trust. It would be nice to ONLY pay strangers to do it, but I can’t afford that. Plus, I’ve been writing since I was tiny and when you start out, the people around you are the only people you have. But I do take your point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. hahahahaha, you caught me! I thought I’d try to slip that one by 😀

        My position is one of “This is the Best”, not something that can always be done. I tend to look at things in black and white, so solutions get the same treatment 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Beth Carpenter

    My hubby is a reader, but when I showed him a YA cozy mystery I wrote years ago, he suggested making it more like Michael Crichton’s books, because that’s what he likes. Since then I’ve switched to Romance, and the only things I’ve ever asked him to read are scenes in which he’s an expert, such as a white-water rafting or fly-fishing scene, to make sure I’m using the terms correctly. Meet-cutes and dark-night-of -the-soul scenes are not his forte.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You make a lot of good points here. I mean, personally I just wouldn’t want to be with someone who wasn’t immersed in my work. He helps me do research. We spend Saturdays at the library together researching for my medieval fiction. He happily reads every single thing I write. I probably wouldn’t be nearly so prolific if it wasn’t for him constantly supporting and encouraging me.

    You’re right that there is more to a person than their writing. For me, I just couldn’t see myself in a relationship like that.

    But that’s something everyone has to figure out for themselves. Like I’d date someone with different political views, someone with a different religion, someone from a different background, someone with disabilities that I don’t have. But someone who doesn’t want to be my writing partner….I don’t think I could do that. That relationship just wouldn’t be enjoyable to me.

    For other people, I’m not judging if they make that choice. It’s when they complain about it all over reddit that I’ve got to roll my eyes and think ‘why didn’t you think about this before you committed to them?’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad you are in a good situation. Sounds like you’re livin’ the dream. 😉

      Naturally, if this kind of thing is a deal-breaker for someone, they should make it a priority. This post was written for the people who are still struggling this problem (perhaps like the complainers you mentioned). I think if every writer expects their s.o. to be their sounding board, it could ruin some relationships that are otherwise good, or it could prevent some young writers from finding a partner who might be really good for them in other ways. It’s hard enough finding a good partner. We don’t necessarily have to narrow the field even further when we could be getting writing feedback from other relationships.

      Like you say, it’s a trade-off that everyone needs to weigh. I think this issue of not being understood or appreciated comes up a lot with creative types when we are young, and it’s important to get settled in our minds that whether someone can appreciate our work is largely a function of their personality and interests, not of their love for us. Otherwise it can cause us trouble within our families of origin as well. At least with a romantic partner you have some say in who you end up with, whereas with family of origin, you get what you get and you pretty much have to learn to give/receive love from people who don’t get everything about you … but I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here.


  5. Oh my goodness YES to this post!! this is not a “must have” for a writing life OR a relationship. Maybe I’m coming at this from a bias, but my bf doesn’t read fiction full stop, so why would I make him read mine?! I didn’t “hire” him to be my critic lol. Same goes for my family/friends. It’s never really been an issue for me (though I know that it is for a lot of artists).
    Also I wouldn’t take as an extreme position as bookstooge either- I do give it to the family and friends who are interested and don’t think that complete strangers are always the best to go through for feedback for various reasons. Eg a lot of people don’t do something for nothing, so they might want like for like aka become a critique partner and consequently will likely become a friend. They might just not care enough to test run something aka be a beta. Basically, unless it’s published, I don’t think that kind of honest feedback comes along. Sorry went off on a tangent, cos it’s an interesting point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not a tangent at all. Everything you said was totally relevant.

      I think a lot of artists do struggle with this, especially when they are younger. If you have the kind of mind where fiction/art seems important to you, it can be hard to accept that something such a big part of your mental world isn’t even a blip on a loved one’s screen. But we really do have to recognize that some people are just not readers (or just not into our particular kind of art), and it will just make us all miserable if we try to change them.

      It can be hard on the artistic person’s loved ones too, if we start talking as if the only important thing in the world is this whole world of stuff that they just can’t summon interest in. (Not saying you do that; you obviously don’t; but it’s a temptation for many young artists & writers.)

      I have found that people, almost universally, respond to story, but maybe with their learning channel that needs to come through movies or games or something.

      Your comment about no honest feedback until a thing is published … I think there’s an insight there, but it’s a very scary one! Greatly increases the odds that we as writers will find ourselves wandering into the town square having forgotten our pants!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes absolutely! I definitely think that this was my mindset when I was younger. And I can understand it sometimes having truth to it (I had a bf years ago that did read fiction and showed no interest in my work… but then he also didn’t show much interest in any of my interests 😉 so yeah, it could be a symptom something’s not right- but it isn’t always!) Completely agree!

        Haha yes that’s true!

        And I do agree that most people will find *something* to latch onto (and show their support in some way, even if that’s not reading everything/helping edit etc).

        Haha well I didn’t really mean “no honest feedback”, just that I think honest feedback from strangers is a myth (before publication). I think it’s more useful to cultivate friendships with people who will be honest about your work- and yeah, they might give you that feedback in a nice way, but I honestly think that’s better (things like “compliment sandwich”, which may not be brutally honest, are far more encouraging and useful to authors, cos they can actually take the criticism and improve- and not just be reduced to a puddle of despair 😉). Hahaha!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah, I do agree that if you and your SO have NO artistic/story interests in common, that could be a red flag. I know for many people it’s not having a similar sense of humor, since our sense of humor cuts so close to our values.

    And yes, excellent point about the compliment sandwich. We do need to hear feedback in a form we can take, especially early in the process when there is still a chance to fix it. (And hopefully, we are seeking it out at least partially for that reason?) Worst-case scenario would be that the first time someone points out the gaping plot hole, the thing is published and not only are they not pointing it out kindly, but revisions are now impossible and so author almost cannot take it as constructive feedback.


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