If you tell a close friend or family member that you’re writing a book, it’s highly possible they will ask to read it.
Maybe they feel obligated to ask. Or maybe they genuinely want to support you. But whatever the reason, showing your work-in-progress to close friends or family can introduce some non-trivial complications, both for your book and for your relationships.
In this post, I’ll talk about how to decide whether or not to share your work, and if you do decide to share it, how to set boundaries for the review process.
Why share your work-in-progress with friends/family?
Most writers share a work-in-progress for one simple reason: to improve their book.
Soliciting feedback on a work-in-progress can help you learn which parts are confusing or illogical, root out plot holes, identify “bloat”, and many other things that can be hard for you to detect on your own. You can use that feedback to sharpen your editing pencil and write a clearer next draft.
But criticism is not the only goal of sharing a work-in-progress.
Some writers share drafts with friends and family to build accountability into their writing process. If you know that someone is waiting to read your next chapter, you may be less likely to skip writing sessions.
You can also share your drafts to get encouragement or motivation. Writing is a lonely business, and a little confidence boost from time to time can be lovely.
The trouble with family editors
If soliciting feedback is your goal, family members and close friends are not usually the first people that come to mind.
The chance of your family member being a good editor is slim. Perhaps they’re not active readers, or only read a genre that’s completely different from your work-in-progress. They may even be openly hostile or judgmental about your writing practice.
Or worse, they may think they’re good editors and try to tell you how they would have written it. (Yeah, no thanks.)
Even if by some miracle your family member is a good editor, critical feedback can be difficult for them to deliver and for you to hear. Case in point: I recently asked my husband for feedback on a work-in-progress, and when he told me he was confused about a character’s motivations, I got annoyed and argued with him about it.
It wasn’t my finest moment.
The point is, mixing your personal and editing relationships requires a certain degree of maturity and objectivity that’s not always easy, especially with a significant other. Years or decades of a relationship will influence how that person reacts to your writing, and how you react to their reaction.
The obvious exception: writer friends
If you’re lucky enough to have a group of writer friends who share work and support each other, you’re very blessed.
Personally, I prefer to discuss my work-in-progress with writer friends, but not necessarily share it. They’re all busy and important and working on their own books, so I try not to pressure them to read mine too. But commiseration sessions? Going to each other’s launch events? Reading the final book and leaving glowing reviews? Yes, yes, and yes.
Many writer friends do share early drafts and find this a critical part of their writing process. These relationships work well because writing is often what brought you together, there’s mutual admiration and respect, and you share the same expectations for editing and feedback. Also there’s usually not a ton of relationship baggage.
Setting boundaries for the review process
If you decide to share your writing with a close friend or family member, it’s critical to set good boundaries upfront. This can help prevent harm to your relationship before the review process even starts.
For example, when I gave my work-in-progress to my husband for review, I should have been honest and said, “I just want to hear what you like about it right now. I’ll get edits from you later.”
But instead I said, “Let me know what you think!” Not a clear and candid communication.
Be explicit about what you want. If you are looking for critical feedback, tell them what kind of feedback you’re looking for, whether it’s high-level critiques or just line edits. If you need to hear back from them by a certain date, communicate that. This conversation can help your family member understand that you don’t share your work-in-progress lightly.
It’s also perfectly OK to tell your family member that you don’t want feedback and you’re only sharing to let them read it. Tell them you’re hiring a freelance editor or getting critiques only from select writer friends.
This has the added benefit of removing any pressure for them to actually read your book. That way, if they can’t get around to reading it, you won’t end up feeling hurt and frustrated (i.e. “my book is so boring that not even my sister will take time to read it?”), and your family member won’t feel guilty and over-burdened.
If you read any writing how-to manual or attend a writer’s workshop, they’ll tell you how important it is to share your work early and often.
But recently, I’ve been keeping my work-in-progress private for longer. It’s nice to be alone inside the world I’ve created for a little while, before I invite anyone else in. When I do share, the first person to read my book is a freelance editor, not friends or family, after I’ve already gone through many, many drafts.
Obviously this is a very personal decision. There’s no one right answer about sharing your work. But know yourself as a writer, and don’t feel pressured to share just because blog writers like me or writing how-to guides tell you to.
I’d love to hear your comments — do you share your work-in-progress with friends/family? Has their feedback been helpful, or do you share for other reasons?
Art: Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl – Family Portrait