Slate’s XX Blog had an article by Will Allison about his relationship with his wife as his first reader and editor. I am intrigued by this dynamic, because I thought that most of the writers I knew had the same relationship with their spouse or significant other — that their SO functions in the role of first reader. I thought I was the outlier in that my husband doesn’t act as my first reader.
Little did I know but it’s not as common as I thought, going by the comments on my Facebook page. Herewith a sampling:
“LOL…you’re not alone. My wife is not a speculative fiction fan in the slightest, so she will read my work if I beg her, but when finished usually just gives me a strange look and says “I don’t get it.”
“I usually read my wife’s early drafts. I mark typos. She otherwise ignores my comments which is why her books are so good ;)”
“My wife will read my plays, but she’s not much of a genre reader, so my sf/f stuff she isn’t too connected to.”
I can think of a million reasons why I could not have a person with whom I have such a complex relationship (husband, partner, co-parent) to have that kind of input into my work. I especially wonder about the separation of creative energy. And also, would the editor-spouse try to take credit for the work? If a husband edits a wife’s novels, does that become a Svengali-like dynamic? If a wife edits her husband, is that displaced creativity? I have to admit, in the Slate article, that was the first thing I thought of, because the wife had given up her own promising writing career to be an editor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — editing is a different skill set and hugely rewarding in its own right — but still, I flinched when I read the article.
There was another red flag that came up in the article. There’s a lot riding on Allison’s second novel, for his wife as much as for him. This is the novel that will supposedly let his wife step back and take a break from the constant financial pressures of the marriage. Eek. That’s a lot of pressure, and it’s naive to boot, although for all I know, the novel will do well — it’s called The Long Drive Home and looks pretty good. But now, the marriage, the novel, their financial situation, are all tangled up together, and that just makes the marriage-and-novel just that much more fraught.
Would I have been more amenable to sharing my first drafts if my husband had been a writer himself (as opposed to a guy who can build anything and gets deep into the arcane world of clocks, Stirling engines, and other amazing mechanical devices)?
Probably not. I am both competitive and insecure about my writing, and I couldn’t stand to be married to another writer. I see it working for other people, and I’m just not grown up enough to imagine how it could work for me. Also, man, when the kids were little and I was fighting for writing time? Yeah, no.
Where do you stand on spouse as editor? Does it work for you? I’d love to hear your comments.