Therese here. Author Randy Susan Meyers first turned me on to Betsy Lerner–author, former editor, and now an agent with Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency. Betsy wrote a book that Randy raved about called The Forest for the Trees, so you know I had to check it out. Here to tell you, it’s just as fantastic as Randy said it would be. Newsday said of this book of advice for writers “Brilliant…Cleverly disguised as a sensible reference work [this] is in fact a riveting safari through the wilds of the writer’s brain, as well as an honest and unpatronizing guide to publishing from every angle.” It is, in all honesty, a book I wish I’d had two years ago, before my book deal.
As it happens, Betsy’s book was just released in a second edition. I invited her here today to blog with us, offer up a touch of her wise advice. Enjoy!
Do not show your writing to your mother or your lover
Do not show your writing to your mother or your lover. And here’s why: they either love you too much and cannot be honest, or they are ambivalent about you and will hurt you. The most popular post on my blog was when I wrote about hurtful things people say to writers. In the comments were the most cruel stories of writers at the hands of parents.
Another reason not to show your work to loved ones and lovers is that they often don’t know that much about writing. It would like asking me to look at your plumbing just because I was the closest person around.
Another reason: you presumably want to have a continuing relationship. Nothing hurts more than comments about your work. It’s worse than comments about your personal appearance, and no one takes more liberty with these than loved ones and spouses.
What you want, what you need, is a writing workshop. A group of similarly dedicated people who do not owe you anything, who do not sleep with you, who did not push you out of their bodies. Even better if the workshop has a leader who is a published author and has a few books under their belt. I’m not saying you need to get an MFA, but you probably hunger for and do need feedback. Of course, all feedback is not created equal and there could be dolts around your workshop table who might make cousin Minnie look like a rocket scientist. But you get the idea. Feedback in a professional setting. Feedback from people who think about structure and character and pacing and syntax.
One last point: relations will always read your work autobiographically, which is another reason to keep the lid on the cookie jar. You don’t need those kind of projections when you’re working. You need the freedom to write what you want the way you want it without censorship of family intrusion.
I know there are exceptions out there, writers who claim their spouses are their best readers. Joan Didion said as much in her memoir, My Year of Magical Thinking. Of course, her husband John Gregory Dunne was a professional writer as well. Even so, I think it’s skating on paper-thin ice when you ask a lover to be your first reader. They don’t let doctors operate on family members. I rest my case.
Readers, you can learn more about Betsy and her must-read book, The Forest for the Trees, on her website. So let’s discuss: Do you share your work with loved ones? Why or why not?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Wonderlane