Reader Anxiety

Library EphesusWhenever we speak, my mother asks ‘how’s the book going’.  Usually she gets the briefest response (‘fine, thanks’) in a tone that suggests a follow-up query is neither necessary nor advisable.  Don’t get me wrong, my mother and I have a great relationship.  But the book is my book, and I confess, I’m over-protective.

Yesterday, buoyed by my progress through the line edit and with the end in sight, my normally well-concealed enthusiasm leaked out.  I told her it was almost finished.


She has, on a few occasions, hinted gently that she’d like to read my draft.  Hinted gently; in a way that could be passed over, as if it had been whispered in a voice too quiet to hear.  But yesterday the gentle hint became an insistent plea… please let me read it… I know it’s not my kind of book, but I’d love to read it… because you’ve written it… because I’m your mother…  Ah, yes, that final trump card.

My mother is 78 years of age and quite something (in a good way).  In the last 15 years she’s written and self-published two non-fiction books – both thoroughly researched, serious works which have been well received in their niche sectors; a history of her family from the time of the Inquisition to the present day, and a history of the music publishing business which has been in the family since 1863.  She’s a woman of culture who loves the stimulus of learning, classical music, art, history and travel.  In case you haven’t realised, I’m hugely proud of who she is and what she’s achieved.

My novel – I’ve called it Singled Out – is a psychological drama set on a holiday in Turkey, which I expect to sit firmly on the quality general fiction shelves (positive thinking… see?).  In a beautiful setting, bad stuff happens.  It’s gritty, because I found I liked writing gritty stuff. I take a few of my characters on a day trip to Ephesus, but that’s about as cultural as my story gets. It isn’t the sort of story I imagine my mother selecting from the shelves at Waterstone’s.  Even so I understand why she wants to read it.  And I’m pleased – of course I’m pleased – that she’s not only interested, but keen to read it.

But it matters, what family think of you, and I think my writing might come as a surprise.  Actually, perhaps even a shock – at least in parts. So when my mother reads it – and this will happen –  I will await her response to the more visceral elements of the narrative with considerable apprehension.

Will she be nice about it?  Yes, she will, I know it.  She’s my mother, isn’t she? But I know myself, and I know that whatever she says, in whatever way (and it won’t be her fault) it will somehow be the wrong thing, and it will set me on a spiral of self-doubt and angst.  There’ll be something I find to fret about in the tone, or the words, or it will be that thing she doesn’t say, or perhaps a momentary hesitation, a seeking after the most appropriate descriptive.  It might be an ill-judged platitude. It could even be her fulsome, wholehearted praise; since even that will disturb me, because I won’t believe my story deserves this.  She can’t win and that has nothing to do with her, and everything – everything – to do with me.

So for now, I can’t, I just can’t.

19 thoughts on “Reader Anxiety

  1. Gah! My thoughts exactly! We have very different mothers, but a very similar situation. I couldn’t imagine letter my mom read my novel in progress! Or nearly anyone in my family for that matter. They are too close to me to read my work; they are the ones that mean the most to me and their responses will thus be the most potent.

    1. Families… They’re too close, much too close. Their approval is too finely balanced a thing. Let’s hope we both find a way to deal with it when the time eventually comes.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. Love my mom, love my family, but allowing them to read a book in progress is a road I don’t like to travel. They’re definitely too close to be objective, as in, whether they liked it or not, they would be hard pressed to say anything bad about it, for fear that they might hurt me, or I them when I say that they are wrong about something. Then, like you said, what if they don’t get something, or a subtle hint goes right over there head. Does that mean I should fix it, make it less subtle, or should I keep it the way it is because someone else might get it?

    Aside from that, I don’t like showing my stuff off when it’s in that raw form in general. I don’t want my family to see the steps I took in fixing the meal, I just want them to enjoy it. Another way to put it would be, like a magician, I don’t want to give away my secrets, I just want to wow them with the final act. Other writers reading my work is fine, because I know that they will be objective and give feedback that will help the book. I can’t say the same for my family. All they would do is make me worry and stress out over whether I did something wrong.

    1. I agree about not showing off the raw-form writing. But last week it went to three test readers, and there are a few minor changes as a result. I co-opted my long-term writing buddy (who is the only person apart from my mentor to have seen the rawest of my raw-form writing), and two others who read books of the kind I’m writing, one man, one woman. It’s a modest start, but so far the response has been positive and the feedback valuable and remarkably consistent. Next week, perhaps another couple of readers who know me less well. However, like yours, my family will have to wait.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I thought others would identify with this, particularly when it involves family. Sooner or later one has to share ones work – and I’m now doing this with a few carefully chosen readers – but family… family is for later!

  3. I let mine read my story straight out of the gate and I sort of regret it. I’m new to writing (except in the form of bad poetry, I’ve been at that since high school!) so I’ve taken bits and pieces from my own life, turned it on its ear and got creative with it. My mom can’t separate out the me from my story and gets herself in a tizzy over it! Sometimes it’s just fiction, Mom. 🙂 Good luck in your decision. I bet your mom will be proud, proud, proud because she’s your mom and that’s what moms are supposed to do. Be proud of their babies. Best wishes!

    1. Thank you! I know she’ll be proud, and it will all be alright in the end. It’s just the bit in between that worries me!

      1. I understand. 🙂 I tend to read criticism where there is none with my Mom. I think it’s because I am a bit nervous that I am fighting to keep it all together. I think with writing it’s a constant inner war between wanting to be good, to be read far and wide, but also to keep our treasures protected at the same time.

  4. Yes, I agree, family members are much too close and would be polite but the nuances that I read and over-react to would devastate me – even if secretly they were thinking what a genius I was.
    I don’t think I would let them read it until after it was in print with “This book dedicated lovingly to my mother” inside the pages.

    1. I doubt my mother would let me delay until it was in print. I think I’d be happy to let it into her hands once I have a contract with an agent and/or publisher – where someone who knows what they’re doing in the publishing industry deems it worth their commitment. Of course if this never happens – and given the crowded market and my novice status, that’s entirely possible – I’ll have to reconsider… one day.

  5. I found this so delightful. I could not help but think that perhaps you may be just a little off with what your mom would think about your book, but then again she is your mom and who would know her better than you? I love it! My family book writer passed decades ago so I have no one in my family now to collaborate with, and no one in my family even likes or desires to write, and get this some of my children don’t read my blog at all. I bet they will want to read my will however. Did your mother act to same way with her books when she was working on them? Bill Pokins

    1. When my mother was writing she asked me to read early drafts and help with feedback editing, which I happily did, though I knew less about paring down word counts than I do today. Her books were about family and heritage in which I had a personal interest too and I enjoyed playing a very small part in her seriously impressive achievements.

  6. It’s a tough call. I’m writing my third mystery novel and family opinions pop up a lot in my mind as I write. You’ll know when it’s time to share it, and it’s important to follow your gut until then. Enjoyed your humor, thanks.

  7. As much as I love my mother, I think she would have to wait for the book to come out to the world before reading it. I don’t think I would ever be able to handle publishing anything that my mother looked on negatively or said she didn’t like, and i know my mom doesn’t care for anything in the genre that I write. I would do the same, keep it to myself for a little while longer.

    1. That’s the problem, when your close family are unfamiliar with your genre, or your style. My mother would never pull #myfirstnovel from the bookshop shelves and that underpins my reservation.

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