Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Fricassee

I'm in the middle of visiting my sister and her Brand New Baby (doesn't get much better than that!), which is a perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic about my early writing days--and the dangers of not letting anyone except family members read your First Novel.

Looking back, it was magical.  I was smack in the middle of writing the cringe-worthy YA fantasy I've mentioned before: The Seeds of Perin Faye.  This was before I understood POV, before I knew what a plot arc was, before I'd written anything remotely resembling a fictional story.  And in the headiness of creating my first world and falling in love with my first characters, I offered up chapters for my sister and her husband to read while they were visiting.

Actually, I offered them to my sister, but my brother-in-law is the highly-creative, let-me-be-involved type (I adore him), so he asked to read them, too.  Both my sister and her husband enjoyed the chapters.  I mean, for real.  They weren't just being nice.

My sister doesn't do "just being nice."  I think it must be genetic.

We discussed the chapters over glasses of wine.  And then (here's where it gets annoying), my let-me-be-involved brother-in-law started telling me what he thought should happen next.

Yeah, that.  And I was supremely annoyed.  As in, "I can't believe he is trying to write my story for me."  Of course, I smiled and listened.  (I'm good at doing mental eyerolls instead of real ones.)  But it wasn't exactly the response I wanted.  Or needed.

All that aside, the worst thing about all this was how much they actually liked what they read.  Not that they thought it was masterpiece material (they're intelligent humans, after all), but they got excited along with me and dove into my world as though it were a wonderful place to be.

From an encouragement standpoint, this rated high!  It's what families are for, right?  But from a writing standpoint, it was deadly.  Because the chapters stank.  And there wasn't anyone in my life to tell me that.

We all need a place of safety from which to launch our first, tentative words.  But if we don't move away from that safety place into the terrifying but very necessary Real Critique From Real Writers place, we'll never become good writers.

We'll remember the sparkles in our family members' eyes and think we're terrific.

I surely do love my sister and brother-in-law, and I'm thankful for the memories of their positive response to my fledgling novel-writing attempt.  But I'm also thankful that I eventually acquired enough wisdom to know that I needed Other Eyes.

(Well, okay.  There was always my husband.  But I tended to not listen well when he tried to tell me something stank.  The irony?  Agent Josh has said things along the way that Mr. A said first.  So, yeah.  Mr. A is crowing a little bit and I'm EATING crow.)

What about you?  Has your family been a source of encouragement?  Have you taken the leap and shared your work with critical-eyed colleagues?

I wouldn't trade those early experiences for anything.  But I'm thankful I've moved beyond them.  And I'm pretty sure my sister and her husband are thankful, too.


  1. I'm lucky to have positively brilliant and HARSH family members tear my darlings to shreds. My friends have been super-positive, typo-finders. Of course, I have my writer friends in a different genre.

    My sister and my husband have beaten my story to a bloody pulp, and I love them for it. My husband, a video-game designer, uses his background in story analysis to help me shape the moment-to-moment stuff that I never saw as "the big picture". Without him and his "Do it again" type comments, my MS wouldn't be half as good.

  2. Congrats on the new baby, Auntie Authoress!

    Having family & friends cheer you on as you're writing is great, up to a point. In the early stages of a project (or one's path as a writer in general), getting harsh (i.e., honest) criticism can stop a writer in their tracks. So yay for the cheerleaders early on in the process! But yeah, once you're ready to put your work out into the world, it's essential to have clear-eyed critiques. It's just like having a friend who will tell you when you have something stuck in your teeth, or how you *really* look in that outfit before you hit the town. :)

  3. This post cracked me up -- I used to e-mail chapters to my older sister, with detailed questions about word choice, or is the tone clear, etc. She always discussed it with me in great detail and LOVED whatever I wrote 'cause she loves me! But after a string of auto-rejects, I knew it was time to get feedback ("tough love") from inside the writing community.

  4. My family is not allowed to read my writing.

    They're aware of this rule, not because I've told them, but because they're always complaining about not getting to see it. But, the second they've seen something, I am told a long list of Things Wrong, and not the things I want to hear wrong.

    I want to hear: spelling mistakes. Plot holes. Logic errors.

    I hear: Why was there swearing? It was so good at the beginning, which introduced the world and MC; I have to delete the middle and end because they're not full of school shenanigans. Those names kinda suck.

    I let my family read one story four years ago. I'm still hearing that type of deal from at least one family member. To this day, I've only let online friends critique it, because I can shut them up better. Working on that.

  5. I turn to my husband last, because his critiques can leave me in tears. Not because he says anything worse than what my critique group & partners say, but because I want to impress him so badly!

    The thing is, when he reads something of mine and tells me he really likes it, then I really believe him. Because he's not the kind of guy to pull punches, I can trust him.

  6. Oh, my husband cringed at my first draft - and thankfully told me why. He is absolutely the passive voice police and I didn't even know what passive voice meant. Now I cringe as much as he does reading a lot of passive voice.
    But the other family members? They like fluff, my mom took it personally when my mc's mom had to be dead. So now, the more they hate it, the better it must be!

  7. I've had the same experience as you. My dad would tell me what he thought honestly, even if he didn't like it. But yeah, I'm his little girl so it's hard for him to tell when it stinks. :)

  8. My husband says he won't read any of my "stories" until I'm published. But hopefully he means it in a motivational way, lol.

    My daughter devours everything I read, and I respect her opinion because she's a teenager, my target audience. She tells me honestly the things she likes and the things she thinks "are weird" - and as a bonus, she actually catches my typos!

  9. Yup, my friend and my husband both read the horrific first draft, which clocked in at nearly 100k. And they loved it, and encouraged me to start querying that very second. And that's when I knew I needed to find some critique partners...

  10. None of my family reads, or writes so I don't really go to them for advice or encouragement. I did have the discussion about what my book is about and they did the same thing, trying to finish it for me, or tell me what should happen. :)

    My work is definitely in the hands of CPs. ;)

  11. I tried to go to my family, but they never really got around to it. (Way to support the interests of your only child.)
    But after that, I gave up on them. However, instead of going to my friends for reviews, I went out to the internet. One of the first sites I found, fortunately, was Miss Snark, and I realized just how horrible everything was. So I took the plot, strengthened it up, typed up the new outline, and then scrapped every single word of the first manuscript and began again, and I've never looked back. Best decision I've ever made, moving on from that first atrocity.

  12. I actually like it when people tell me what they think happens next. I'll probably never use it, but it gives heaps of information about what they're interpretations and expectations are :-)

  13. Way to go Mr A!!! Just cementing your awesomeness in the minds of the MSFV followers.
    I have never let any of my family read my work. For one thing none of them read the genre and never would if they had a choice so I am not going to make them.
    I have let a friend read one of my stories and I supplied her with a list of things to look for. She was actually really good. She did do the whole "love it" routine but then also made really good suggestions.
    Now I have a couple of critique groups who are very honest and tell me the tough things I need to hear. Definately the way to go.
    My family can wait until I am published :-)

  14. Wow, I'm glad to see that I'm not the only member of the harsh-critting-hubby club! (HCHC?) The first time I let him read my book we were on a bus, and he kept falling asleep trying to get through the first few chapters. I should have known right then that I needed to work on the beginning, but it took another couple of months to sink in. He doesn't pull the punches when he thinks stuff isn't working, and it's made me cry, but his instincts are right on.

    Luckily, I have several other CPs who are better versed in the sandwich-rule school of critiquing. =)

  15. I once shared outline-level ideas with a new boyfriend, and he WROTE my first chapter for me as a favor to "help [me] get started." Can't even tell you how angry that made me.

    I have RL friends who help me with plot and scene mechanics, but none of them have offered any critique of the writing itself... so, they're both judgmentally helpful and unwaveringly supportive. I had to exclude on of their husbands, though, because he's definitely the "here's what you should do next" type. He's on the hook for critiquing when the entire thing is finished. He has a good eye, but only at a certain level of development; otherwise, his strong personality runs roughshod over everything that isn't set in stone.

    Actual family gives me support but no critique. I can count on my sister to gush and hang it on her fridge next to my nephew's drawing of the family dog.

    For real critique, when I'm ready, I know I'm going to have to seek a critique group or online betas--people who aren't afraid to hurt my feelings.