It’s one of those basic things I’ve read about so often when it comes to editing and/or before submitting your stuff. I’ve lost count the numbers of sites telling you to get your family reading what you have. Get them reading your work, because you’ll get some useful criticism from people who care for you, and will give their honest opinions.
I question this logic.
I question it because I’ve come to realize that I am a very different human being from my parents and extended family. My interests are mostly different, the way I think about people and society is different, the things I enjoy watching and reading are VASTLY different.
So, what good would it do me to have my family read something of mine, when they’re definitely not the intended audience?
(Unless I got married someday…my hubby might be the one exception to that rule.)
Perhaps that’s limiting, as I haven’t figured out my “intended audience” yet with my stories and book ideas, but I know deep down they’re not it.
Now, criticism hurts, and one could argue that I’m just trying to avoid feeling like crap because somebody didn’t like what I had to write, and they’re in the position of telling me, to my face, loudly and clearly, because they know where I live and always have.
That’s a fair argument–heaven knows I pondered that possibility myself.
But it’s more than that.
I’ve learned–in the few times where I DID let family read what I had–one of three things happened. On a couple of occasions they were totally disinterested in reading anything that day (I guess) and just said “it’s okay” and threw it back. Nothing helpful there, except me wondering why I bothered.
Then there’s the other extreme–the psychoanalyzer. I let this person look at a few poems and they proceeded to read into it all kinds of things I never considered. I understand that sometimes and with some projects the subconscious comes to play, but this was NOT one of those times. I remember one of the poems was a straight up silly parody of the writing life and why somebody would get into it. I was making fun of my inability to do a lot of things (because anybody who watched me play sports or get on stage would get a great laugh, and I knew it).
Instead of letting me know if the structure worked out or the rhyming made sense, she used the page like a Rorschach ink blot test to analyze me (and she’s not very good at it). So, since she clearly couldn’t see the black humor in it and instead started up on how maybe God could help me find my path, I just stopped showing her anything.
And then there’s the makeover critique. I was heading out to the coffee shop to work on a draft (I still haven’t finished said draft, now that I think about it), and when I got there, realized I didn’t have my printed out copy. I’d left it on the counter and somebody read it. Oops. Let’s just say he thought it was good, but gave me a laundry list of things to change in it while I tried to hold in my embarrassment at him reading what was a very early draft and acting like it was a finished product.
All the changes he suggested would’ve changed the total nature of the story, a nature I was still trying to fix and work with. Even when I said it was an early draft and I was still working on it and it was nowhere near finished or tuned up, it didn’t do much good. His suggestions might’ve made a good story, but in that case, he should’ve wrote it himself, for himself. It wasn’t a story I wanted to tell.
Would’ve been better than listening to his list of changes that would’ve meant the only thing I would leave alone would be character names. Ugh.
I think any creative has that dividing line in their mind of people they will or won’t allow to peruse their work. I’d let my Sister By Choice do it for sure if she wanted (and she’s got a crazy schedule, so I’d want to make sure to leave myself plenty of time and let her take her time getting into it). Yes, she’s practically family, but knows my nature far better than my biological family does, and won’t psychoanalyze me to death…unless I ask for it.
As a creative herself, she’s all about expression and being positive, and putting your best self out there. If there was something that didn’t make sense or could use tightening up, or she had questions, she’d be ideal to ask. I’d get actual answers from an audience perspective.
So, I made the choice not to send anything out to family to read. I have two copies of my Master’s Thesis on my shelf, a second one I made for my mom or somebody in the family to have if they wanted to see something of mine in print.
It’s been sitting there since 2015. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I initially did it because I was so happy to finally finish that thesis and it was my way to celebrate–get a copy for me, one for mom. But then when the excitement wore off, I remembered that when I brought up my research every time before, I could hear her eyes glaze over on the other end of the phone… and that made me keep the book.
And then there’s things she wrote. She’s sent me copies of her self-published books, and I haven’t read them… and don’t know if I will.
Feel free to call me an asshole, I wouldn’t blame you.
As a weak defense, she never said for me to “tell me what you think” anyway. And I’d have a hard time doing it. I might at least read them some day, do more than thumb pages and get a feeling for what’s on ’em and how long they are.
That’s another reason I won’t send my work to her or anyone else. I don’t want to read hers.
I did thumb through one book, and what I saw on browsing was a text so chock-full of Bible quotes, I lost all interest in trying to read it in moments. Another book seems like a short autobiography. Perhaps someday when I’m less bitter I’ll pick it up…but I have it patiently sitting and waiting on my counter for now.
And I won’t even tell her about my works (which are all in progress, but I wouldn’t send her a copy even if I got a book finished–part of the reason I’m considering a pen name). I don’t think she’d enjoy them at all.
It’s part of that “intended audience” schtick, and the way certain family members are with their interests, lifelong views and prejudices, etc… I highly doubt these family members would ever pick up the book themselves anyway. One would be wondering about my mental state, the other about whether or not I’m going to hell and need a God-squad intervention.
And that’s not the kind of person I want to read my short stories or books, when they come out.
I don’t fit well in others’ neat little boxes, nor do I want to.
Strange as it may sound, I don’t want them “supporting me” by buying my book because I’m “family.” I’d want them to get it because they think it’s worth reading. It just feels insincere otherwise, and like false hope that I’m doing great work that people want to read.
I feel like Blanche DuBois, in that “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” True, strangers can be freaking ugly too, but at least I don’t have to deal with the same ones face to face every day. I think it’s easier to write for people you aren’t related to. There’s no baggage there to weigh your self-worth against or your personal experiences.
That’s why I doubt I’ll ever let my family read my books, when they come. If they pick them up on their own and read them, I’m good for that. If I have a pen name, I won’t even say I wrote them.
I’d rather the work speak for itself, and let those who want to read it do so, instead of doing it out of a perceived obligation.
So, they won’t read mine, I probably won’t read theirs. Or if I do, I’ll keep it quiet and not critique it to death…because I know how that sucks.
On the other hand, should I become published (other than on a blog), I’m okay with giving you guys a heads up and a quick synopsis, kind strangers.
Happy writing and reading, strange friends, even if the process isn’t always so happy.