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.




Audrey Lockwood · April 28, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Nope, my husband doesn’t read my first drafts. My first reader is a trusted critique partner who knows how to make me feel awesome about my book even as she’s tearing it apart. My husband doesn’t have the critiquing skills to do that. He reads the second or third drafts after I’ve done enough editing to make them presentable. And he does have good suggestions! But he doesn’t exactly give sandwich method critiques.

maria ragucci · April 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm

“Competitive, insecure, not grown up enough”. I think that description is more significant than whether it is two writers married to each other, two lawyers (as my husband and I are) or two practitioners of any other career or interest. I am in the same boat as you, Patrice, and find it difficult to “share” common passions with my husband without the afore-mentioned qualities kicking in!

Patrice Sarath · April 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Maria: yeah, it’s awful — I know I bring it on myself.

Audrey, I also have my writers group for first reader feedback, which is great. I think it’s really valuable to have that first feedback be from people who have no stake in the product. But then again…see the blog post in which I am insecure, etc.

J. Kathleen Cheney · May 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm

MC reads my drafts, although I generally wait until the second draft to inflict it on him….

Patrice Sarath · May 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I knew that I was an outlier. I just can’t see how it would work, being that entwined with my spouse and yet having to separate those emotions from the emotions that are invariably aroused by having my work critiqued.

Bethe Ann Bugbee · May 2, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Usually my critique group sees my writing before my husband, though once in a while I show it to him first. He is a creative type – but his focus is music. Sometimes he knows where something is wrong with my writing, but he can’t tell me what it is that needs to be fixed. Often his comments are things like “Ohh – a dead body. That’s a good guy thing.” or “There’s too much about the clothes here for me – it’s a liitle too chick.” (Considering some of the books I suggest he read – and that he really enjoys – I find the whole guy lit/chick lit thing highly amusing. It’s amazing what he will read and enjoy on the Kindle where there is often no influencing cover photo. But that’s another discussion…) I have noticed he puts more thought into commenting on my work and discussing other books we have both read since he started coming with me to cons. When we first started dating, he hardly read any fantasy. Now he’s begun to understand the genre and actually gets excited when certain authors have new books out. All that has helped him give me more useful critique. But, to be honest, I do still listen more to what my critique group has to say…

Martin Owton · May 3, 2011 at 8:08 am

My wife has never read any of my work. I can’t complain too much as she reads very little fiction, but it would be good if she read some of it just to give me a reader’s view.

Patrice Sarath · May 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm

To Bethe: Having the guy point of view (and vice versa) is very helpful for the writer, I agree. Especially if your writer’s group is all women or all men.

Ah, cover art. So many ways in which it can steer the reader wrong.

To Martin: My husband also reads very little fiction, but I’m beginning to think that he needs to read some of my work. Again. I understand why he doesn’t — it’s just too fraught — but maybe, just maybe, our marriage can handle the truth. : -)

Patrice Sarath · May 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Here are the comments from another friend, who wished to remain anonymous. I think she makes some good points, both pro and con, regarding spouse as editor.

“His feedback was very helpful for me; I didn’t always agree with his suggestions, but usually I could see why he gave the feedback he did, which was useful for later revision. One of the many factors in my difficulty writing since the divorce is that his critique was such a large part of my writing process — and that’s one reason why depending on a spouse as your writing partner can be iffy! If the marriage tanks for other reasons, your writing will suffer.

When a friend or writing acquaintance is your writing partner, it’s not as loaded when the friend says “hey, right now I’m swamped; if you still need a reader in a month or so I’ll be happy to look at it.” When it’s your spouse, it’s easy to start feeling like critiquing is one of the things they’re contributing to the marriage (rather than something they do to help you), and if the situation changes so that they don’t have time to critique, it can be hard to deal with that

So on balance, while a writer/critiquer marriage *can* work well, I’d recommend caution to a random writer looking for a critique partner in their marriage partner, and if they do marry critique partner, I highly recommend having a second crit partner who they don’t live with and won’t lose if things go south!

Sandra Kayser · May 11, 2011 at 8:39 am

I always have my husband read my writing, but he just enjoys reading it and rarely spots the flaws. Even if he’s not a useful critiquer, at least I know I have one fan!

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