In response to the post “Do You Know Who NOT to Ask for Feedback,” Paige McKinney commented, “My first response to the post title was ‘my family’…”
Joel Canfield commented on the first post in this series on feedback, “What’s hardest for me has been the silence from my family. Not my wife; she’s my biggest fan. But siblings, my mother: zero interest in my business books, my mysteries, my music. Useless criticism from non-fans? I’ve taught myself to shake off the sting and ignore it. But indifference from people I love is hard.”
Can your spouse, partner, parent, sibling or child give you useful feedback? I know some writers whose spouses are their first and best readers. I know more writers who are reluctant to share their writing with family members, at least at the beginning of a writing project.
“Now that I’m nearly done with the revisions, I’ll let my husband read my novel,” one client told me. Not because her husband was a jerk, because the novel wasn’t ready and she hadn’t clarified what she really wanted from him.
Get Clear What You’re Asking For
In my opinion and experience, some family and friends may be able to give you excellent responses to your writing, but not be able to give effective feedback.
Unless your family members are writers, they probably don’t know what feedback to give or how to give it. Clarifying how the levels of feedback work and exactly what level you’re looking for is essential if you invite non-writers to comment on your work. And even then, their comments may not help.
Are you sure you really want feedback from your partner and family? If you don’t know what you want, you can’t expect others to either. Maybe what you need isn’t feedback on the writing, but something else entirely.
What Do You Really Want?
As I write in Around the Writer’s Block, “Some partners are gracious enough to be great fans, energetic promoters, discerning readers and skilled editors all rolled into one, but that’s a tremendous burden to ask your partner to carry, even if she/he is qualified to do all those things. Consider what your partner can realistically give you.” The same is true for any family member.
Are you looking for permission to spend your time and energy on writing? Are you consciously or unconsciously hoping your partner or family member will say, “I think it’s a good idea to spend our money and invest your time in taking writing classes, hiring a coach or editor, or cutting back your hours on the job so you’ll have more time to write.”? Are you waiting for someone in your family to affirm your right to write memoir or autobiographical fiction?
Do you need support? Do you wish your partner would volunteer to watch the kids, walk the dog or handle the laundry so you could focus on your writing? Or just stop bugging you when you’re trying to settle in? Have you asked for what you need?
Are you looking for encouragement and enthusiasm? Are you waiting for someone to tell you they believe in you, that you’re a great storyteller and s/he knows your next project will be awesome? Do you wish your family would congratulate you on the small successes?
Would you settle for polite interest? Do you resent the fact that you’re expected to listen to endless stories about other people’s work life or to family gossip, but no one even thinks to ask how your writing is going? Or do you hope no one will ask “So, have you published that book yet?” because they’re clueless about how hard it is to finish writing a big project, let alone find an agent and publisher?
How to Help Family Help You
You might be able to gently train some family members how to talk about writing. Start with figuring out yourself what you want and need. Share that with the family members most likely to understand.
Consider what’s reasonable given your family dynamics. How much does your family know about writing, publishing, etc.? What are their beliefs – do they believe writing is worthy, do they want to spare you disappointment? What can you reasonably expect from them given those beliefs? Do they usually express encouragement and enthusiasm for anything you do and if so, how?
In Around the Writer’s Block, I highlight the significance of making any agreement with family members “mutually beneficial and mutually agreed-to arrangement. That way you won’t feel small, dependent or indebted every time your partner gives you support and your partner won’t been resentful or rejected every time you disappear into your writing.”
You may need to recognize that some family members are never going to get it. You can either adjust your expectations of them or be perpetually disappointed.
To ensure your own happiness, give thanks for all your family gives you, even if none of that has anything to do with writing.