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When do you show others your work?

Last night, I went to see the novelist Maggie O’Farrell in conversation at Waterstones Piccadilly in London. She was witty and fun, observant and gracious. I shall probably talk about things that arose from the conversation for a good few posts yet.

One of the things she said last night, and in this interview in The Observer, was how her husband, who is the novelist William Sutcliffe, is her first reader. She doesn’t tell him anything about what she’s working on and she has no idea what he is working away on either. But it reaches a point when they read each other’s work.

She keeps a plastercast of his teeth (!) on her shelf where she works and said that, looking at them reminds her to keep her more ‘flowery overblown tendencies’ at bay, just thinking of what he’ll say. She said he was ‘brutal’ and ‘mean’ but who wants someone who will just say, ‘that’s nice, dear.’ He tells her what’s working and what isn’t and she trusts his judgement implicitly. The novelist Esther Freud, who I saw speak last year, said something similar about showing her husband (the actor David Morrissey) her novel Lucky Break and he said she had been too hard on the acting profession and she had gone back and rewritten parts.

I am very secretive in the way I work and my husband has yet to read a single word of my novel The Make Up Girl. When I first started writing it, way back when, I kept asking him random things – what happens exactly when an airline loses your luggage, how much would a brand new, top of the range mountain bike cost, but after a while I gave up.

I’ve been thinking about why I don’t want him to. I think he wants to – at least he joked to a friend who asked if he’d read it that I hadn’t let him. We talk about most things but my interest in books and writing is one he doesn’t particularly share. It’s my thing, just as he has his. He did have a chance not long ago when I needed a copy and our printer wasn’t working (and still isn’t). He very neatly printed out the whole thing – 80,000 words – at work and brought it home in a transparent wallet, the chapters neatly pegged together with bulldog clips. But as far as I know, he didn’t read a word. It’s different from alpha and beta readers and critique groups somehow. Scarier in some ways. Frightened that he’ll think it’s shit and that all those hours I’ve spent on it have been wasted. Or that he just won’t get it. And yet by not letting him read it, I’m cutting him out from a major part of my life. I like this post by fellow writer Suzy Norman about the support she gets from her writer husband.

And now when I need another extract printed, or the odd three chapters, (I try not to to save paper but sometimes you just have to) I take it on a memory stick to my local printers. The guy knows me by now and gives me a wry smile.

This post by author Nathan Bransford has lots of interesting comments about at what point you let other people see your work – not necessarily writing but photography, music, and art etc. It can be confusing if you let other people have their say on it as you’re going along, like writing by committee, and yet we all need feedback otherwise you’re writing in a vacuum.

At what point do you let your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/mother/father/friend read something you’ve written or created? If you keep a blog, do they read that?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Alison – Thanks for the insights on Maggie O’Farrell. I’m sure her presentation was terrific. As to when I share what I”m writing? Usually I do that after I have a draft done. I’m lucky because my husband is very supportive of what I do, so his comments are always truthful but encouraging, if that makes sense.

    February 27, 2013
    • That’s the perfect combination – truthful but encouraging!

      February 27, 2013
  2. I hope she does another talk soon; I missed this one – would have been great to finally meet you too. There are three trusted people I show my work to, other than my agent: My husband, a writer; a good friend who’s an editor; and my friend who’s a reader. All contribute really usefully in their own way. Sometimes the reader spots something that’s invaluable, such as ‘Suze, I’m not really sure who’s supposed to be speaking in that paragraph.’ These are just the pair of grass-roots eyes I need,

    February 27, 2013
    • Would have been great to meet you too. We will one day at something I’m sure! That trio sounds like the best of all worlds. O’Farrell said she didn’t speak to her husband for two days after he said she should rewrite a section of one of her books!!

      February 27, 2013
  3. Haha, that’s the problem….

    Lots of writers are really sensitive to criticism (not saying that’s true of O’Farrell mind, but lots are) and it’s a bit crazy. For me, it’s about improving and making your work the best it is to take to market. Be brave Ali, show your man! SX

    February 28, 2013
  4. I’m struggling with this one too at the moment. I have shown my work in progress to a couple of trusted friends who’s point of view I respect, but have to say that so far I have not had the nerve to show my husband. Not sure if I will, either; partly it’s because yes, I am very nervous about what he would say but mainly, I think, I actually like have something that is totally separate from my home life. Control freak, me?

    April 7, 2013

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