What to do when the one you love hates your writing?

I’ve been with my wife for a long time. In fact, this year marks the twentieth anniversary of our first date. I love her unconditionally, but there’s one thing that really gets under my skin: she hates the things I write about.

This is a tough one to tackle because she likes the writing itself. It’s the subject matter she can’t stand.

I just finished a second draft of a new story and I gave it to her to read last night. She got two sentences into it and said, “Oh, not another science-fiction-fantasy story!” They way she said it made it seem like I’d just asked her to rip out her own eyes and drink a gallon of gasoline.

And I suppose in context that’s what I did considering how much she hates speculative fiction.

Now, you might rightly ask why I even bother to give her stories like this to read. The answer is that she is my wife and I value her opinion. In addition, because she hates speculative fiction, her opinion about the more esoteric elements of my stories can be quite valuable. If there are sections that she just doesn’t get or can’t follow, I know that perhaps I ought to think about the way I’m leveraging certain concepts.

For example, this story has a near-future tech bent and she got lost in the thorny forest of virtual realities I created. I’m pretty sure a dedicated reader of SF will have no problem with the technique. In fact, I’m counting on them being interested. But I’ll definitely take her comments into account when I go back through the story, looking for places where I’ve jumped the shark and skipped important details.

What to do when the one you love hates your writing?

But this doesn’t deal with the larger issue, does it? I mean, what do you do when the thing you are bleeding out your soul for is the equivalent of a dead rat on a birthday cake to the person with whom you share your life?

My initial reaction is usually to remove myself from the room and take a few deep breaths. Last night I stayed up late and finished a book – All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson. That was relaxing in a way since the main character, the shadowy Repairman Jack, spent the last 50 pages putting the fix to all the bad guys.

Of course, that’s only avoiding the problem and it’s not really fair to the other person. There’s nothing that says she has to like speculative fiction. Nothing at all. Of course, the fact that I’ve applied to the Clarion West workshop and will hopefully spend 6-weeks of my life completely immersed in speculative fiction could be the tip off that new stories I write are going to have some sort of SF/F bent.

Petty? Ok, I’ll admit to that.

It’s just tough when you hear that sort of pain in a loved one’s voice, especially when they’re exposed to a bit of art you thought might be good enough to share with others.

Ok, so after all these years, I should have some sort of list for “dealing” with this most personal of rejections. Here it goes:

1) People are entitled to their own opinion. If you don’t want to hear it, don’t share it. (sorry)

2) Try to see it from their side. My wife likes historical fiction, so being asked to read a story about dragons or robots or the general impact of technological advancement on humanity is not exactly a recipe for marital bliss. (sorry)

3) Warn the person and explain why you want them to read it. This particular story dealt with the relationship between two women (a young artist and an old one). I was hoping to get some reaction to that part of the story, but because I was a pouty baby I didn’t get that information. (sorry)

4) Thank them for reading it. If you want them to read another one, thank them for going through the pain this time. (sorry)

5) Don’t take it so personally! Easy to say but hard to do, Captain Obvious. (sorry)

Hope this helps! :)

4 thoughts on “What to do when the one you love hates your writing?

  1. You aren’t really giving her your writing because you value her opinion – NOT if you know IN ADVANCE that she isn’t interested in SF. When you know this in advance it means that receiving her irritation at the content is SERVING you in some way.

    If her opinion is never acquired because bias is engaged prior to the delivery of story then what you are enlisting is a form of pre-emptory rejection. Move on.

    Share with your wife the things you both care about and appreciate – this isn’t one of them.

    If you don’t have a set of beta readers – find some – people who DO appreciate SF and who will be able to give you a solid opinion on your work’s issues. It is perfectly reasonable to have different people in your life who meet different needs – it isn’t cheating or something. The person you love should not be expected to be expected to salve every nook and cranny.

    And take a look at how a known negative jives with what is happening with your writing – sometimes we carry these screwy little messages about everything we do is crap – when it isn’t – but we seek that out because it is what we were taught to believe – and that was a cognitive error.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mallory.

    I have a few friends who are into SF. One in particular would be an awesome editor. They all provide great feedback.

    That said, there is definitely truth to what you say about provoking irritation in service to myself. I tried to make light of it later on, explaining that people are entitled to their own opinions, but really it’s all about me.

    This site in general is a bit of a wasteland, celebrating and joking about failure. Just look at the post I put up tonight. It’s about quantifying failure, and while some people might think it’s cute, I suppose it’s really more sad than anything else.

    I know that isn’t the point of your comment either. Hopefully others who come across my post will see the errors of their own ways.

    Not really sure what I’m going to do yet myself, but it’s definitely something to think about long and hard.

  3. I have to disagree with you. You say this site is a wasteland focused on aspects of failure but…

    You have gone to some effort to create this site and this stream of examination which argues that this topic is quite important to you and that you are actively working on it. Failure is a really challenging issue, like a gouge to the core of self esteem and its probably fair to generalize and say that everyone confronts it but most people do so in a less frontal or more hidden way. You have chosen to take it on by the horns which again argues that it is *for you* a large issue.

    I won’t presume to ‘guess’ at your personal history beyond complimenting you for your determination to engage this topic in a transparent way. Failure or our concept of personal value based on measuring systems is a large part of our cultural disempowerment mechanism – when or as we grapple with the dogs eating our soul we will take back the parts of ourselves we allow failure to feed on and in the process truly move more directly toward our personal potentials.

    My only suggestion for you might be to ask yourself questions like – where and when did I learn to think what I think about failure and does that underlying meaning remain valid for me today and if not why am I allowing it to inform my life today.

    I will now butt back out :)

  4. “where and when did I learn to think what I think about failure and does that underlying meaning remain valid for me today and if not why am I allowing it to inform my life today.”

    Can you come and leave a question like this every day? :)

    The direct confrontation of failure is a core aspect of my personality. The root of this confrontation is the absolute rejection of non-action. I simply cannot fail to act in the face of something that needs doing/correcting (such as editing this sentence).

    And yet, I obsess over my failures or, as you put it so well, feed the dogs eating my soul.

    I learned to obsess over failure in the most common way: I grew up in a family that was ambivalent about success. Doing well wasn’t a cause for celebration or even kind interest. It was an opportunity to mock and make light of that success. Failure on the other hand was met with a very sharp tongue.

    As a result, I’ve acquired some rather nasty skills. Thankfully, my exuberant nature is good at suppressing them when dealing with others. I just haven’t quite got the knack of keeping the dark light off of myself.

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