When Your Partner Reads Your Work

May 302011
 

Last week at a panel on writing at BlogHer Food in Atlanta, David Leite said he never asks his partner to read his drafts.

“My husband cowers in the corner when I ask him to read something,” he confessed. He suggested people find someone else to review their writing, or just read it themselves.

“Do not give it to your partner to read,” he cautioned. “They’ll either fawn over caca or critique everything.”

I took the mic and respectfully disagreed. My husband reads almost every blog post I write. And I’m thrilled that, after 23 years of marriage, he is still willing to critique my work in a constructive manner.

It takes discipline to be just as respectful as he delivers the news, however. I’m still working on that. If I get out my annoyed voice and say, “What are you talking about? Of course readers will understand,” it doesn’t help.

Here’s what Owen reads for in a blog post:

1. Am I talking to myself? Sometimes I assume readers know, and he has no idea what I mean. In the rewrite, I back up and explain a situation or fill in a gap.

2. Is he bored? My post is exciting to me, but I notice if he’s not getting into it. While he is not my target reader, if he finds it difficult to concentrate, I figure out how to pump up the language, make the beginning snappier, or tighten the delivery. (Miraculously, he found this post riveting.)

3. Do long sentences need untangling? Sometimes he trips over them. That lets me know that I need more variety in my sentence lengths, to establish rhythm and interest.

4. Do I have typos, spelling or punctuation errors, or  extra spaces? He’s great at finding them.

I don’t ask Owen to read everything. For a cover story on food writing for the May/June Writer’s Digest (sorry, it’s only available on a newsstand), I enlisted two colleagues, both bloggers and freelance writers, to review a draft for me. I promised to read something for them in return.

Ironically, I realized recently that Owen doesn’t ask me to read his stuff (he writes product reviews for a Mac website as a hobby). When I asked him why, he said I’m too busy editing other people’s work. Sweet!

If you don’t have someone to read your work, try reading it out loud to yourself. And if you do use a partner or spouse for feedback, I’m curious to hear how, or whether, it’s worked for you.

Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  81 Responses to “When Your Partner Reads Your Work”

  1. My husband reads my work, but we met in a creative writing program when we were both in university so we’ve been critiquing the each other since before we were ever together. I find it tremendously helpful to have him review things for me, but I don’t know if I’d rely on him the same way if he didn’t have that background. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of being too effusive just because the other is your spouse, so I might prefer to have another writer or editor read my work if he didn’t have actual critical insight.

    • Yeah, that’s a good point. I spent years editing Owen’s work and he got the jist of what an editor looks for, so I think he’s pretty competent.

      • Knowing “what an editor looks for” is the most important thing. An editorial eye is invaluable!

        • I wonder if people know that? I discuss it in my book. It comes naturally to me after so many years. I guess the main things are the items I discussed in the post, but there are always more subtle things too. Like when he tells me the photo is absolutely wrong for the post.

  2. I tried giving my writing to The Husband in my early days, but he looks at everything through the eyes of a commercial lawyer and it led to, er, disagreements – mostly about the length of some of my sentences. He likes them short, sharp and direct.
    I now give anything I want proofed to one of two or three good friends, all of whom have writing or editing experience.
    And marital harmony is (more or less) restored.

    • Aha! How fascinating that your husband likes those kinds of sentences. Because lawyers are not exactly known for short, sharp and direct sentences. More like longwinded incomprehensible ones filled with jargon. But good that you have worked out a system.

  3. Thanks for an interesting subject! I actually don’t ask my husband to read my posts, but he does read them all once I’ve published them. Thankfully he is very encouraging…maybe too positive at times, but I’m not about to complain. It’s nice to have someone around so positive/optimistic. I probably should ask him to pre-read just so that he feels needed… As an engineer I do a lot of product drawings and my colleague challenged me and always asked me to find 2 things wrong with the drawing (placement, dimension, other dorky criteria). Maybe I’ll do that with my posts. ;-)

    • Whoa! That’s brave. We’ll see if he’s willing to find fault with you. Sounds like an awfully nice guy.

  4. Huh! My husband is also a writer, and he reads everything I write, just like I read everything he writes. We have two completely different styles, but we are both grammar Nazis (having studied English as a first/or a second language, we do argue at times about proper use of a coma:)
    As much as he loves me and my writing, he puts good writing above all, and I will always trust him, even though I will not always like what he has to say:)

    • Yes, I don’t always like what Owen has to say, but I have learned not to argue and to try and look at it objectively. I don’t always succeed or agree, but yes, I trust him.

      • LOL! Trust, yes: agree, not always; and therein lies the beauty. My husband never interferes with the content or style, but punctuation and (dreaded) articles get his attention! And I LOVE arguing grammar with an equal opponent:)

  5. My husband will read something if I am submitting it. He is a great editor and finds mistakes that I easily gaze over. If I publish a blog post and he sees an obvious error in fact or grammar he will let me know. He doesn’t comment on subject matter and that is okay with me.

    • That makes sense to me. He can be a proofreader or copy editor — sounds exactly like what they do. How nice for you.

  6. I do ask my husband to edit some of my writing for typos as much as anything. I have a hard time editing my work for typos because I know what it’s supposed to say instead of reading it for what it actually says. Plus, I genuinely dislike going through multiple readings of my work. After I’ve written my piece, I’m excited to get it published….until I hit the publish/submit button. A small panic attack ensues.

    • Really? I don’t mind multiple versions. I make small corrections over and over, until I think it’s good enough. I have small panic attacks every time too. I guess it never goes away.

      • Oh, I read my writing over and over. In addition to writing about food, I’m a storyteller. My blog posts are composed of stories about food memories in addition to recipes. I feel my writing is best when it comes from my heart and I keep my brain out of it as much as possible. The more I read it, the more I have a tendency to want to change it. Before long, I’ve wound up with “analysis paralysis” and start second guessing myself. I try hard to maintain the essence of my original story and limit the amount of content rewrites that I do.

        • That is a challenge, Jackie, to edit without losing the heart of the story. I do my best to tighten and make sure the order and flow makes sense. Those are my main types of edits.

  7. Well, my husband subscribed to my blog, so he eventually reads everything I write. He likes blog posts that are humorous so if I hear him laughing, I know I’ve hit home. Now, on the other hand, my 95 year old mother also subscribed to my blog (on her own), so that’s the one I worry about. She reads every post and then forwards them all over the country. Seriously, she’s 95, has a MacBook Pro and nothing gets by her. I cringed when I saw that she subscribed. Life is interesting, isn’t it? =)

    • Your mother sounds so cool! You are lucky she takes an interest. It could be worse — what if you were writing about adultery or S&M, for example, instead of gluten-free foods? And how satisfying to hear your husband laugh when he reads your post. That would make me happy.

  8. I have been editing my husband’s work for years. As a retired child psychiatrist, he is increasingly drawn to writing and we are a good team. He never looks at my “stuff” but have veto power on food photos. Good eye, Larry!

    • I guess I used to edit Owen, now he knows what to look for and edits himself, and he’s satisfied with that. That’s great that your husband can say he doesn’t like a photo. I hate that, especially if I’ve already got it placed in the post. But he’s always right.

  9. Like some others commenting, my boyfriend reads all my posts eventually, and always offers any comments he thinks of (usually typos, grammatical errors, or vocabulary missteps). I often write and post when he’s at work, so I can’t pick his brain; when he’s working from home, I always ask him to read before I post.

    I’m just insecure enough to need that second opinion before I hit the “publish” button, and sometimes wish he’d offer critique about the content, as opposed to just the form. He always insists that every post is good; but since I know that not everything I create can possibly be golden, it makes me feel he’s embellishing the truth a bit. Sweet, but sometimes I wish I had a more ruthless editor at my disposal.

  10. My husband I have a unique relationship,we have been business partners for 20 years, living and working together everyday. He is the logical one, I’m the artsy one. He want me to stay on topic and write a business like blog, I want to have fun, be creative and off the wall. Most of the time I have him check grammar before it goes out but he always wants to trim my wings content wise. So lately I’ve posted without his check! Call me “Rebel”.

  11. Dianne,
    As always, I love to read your posts and find myself not waiting for your newsletter. They are educational, entertaining and of course always thought provoking.

    In my place it used to be a family affair, but you really need to be ready for heated after dinner discussions and it is a good idea to use plastic dishes. Nowadays we are located around the world, which makes it impractical to wait for the coordination of the clocks. So, from time-to-time, I used to ask my daughter to look at it, but her response is a sample auto responder: “it is great Mom! The best reviewer I had was my granddaughter, who used to send back the copy without my writing.

    • Thank you Jayne. I guess you’ve given up on your daughter and granddaughter, eh? Maybe you need a complete stranger.

  12. I found myself nodding in agreement as I read through your article. My husband reads my every post first for the same reasons you state. I love hearing him laugh as he reads; I know I’ve gotten something right if he does. His criticism is always constructive, which I think is key.

    • How delightful if you can make him laugh, Sharmila. And your’e lucky that he’s constructive. Not everyone knows how to do that. A woman on Twitter said her husband is “brutal.” I’ll take constructive every time.

  13. Since my husband Charlie is also a writer, I’d be a fool not to take advantage of his expertise. We each have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. I’m better at the long form. With his advertising experience, Charlie is a genius at titles, subtitles and taglines. I don’t, however, always take his suggestions. What does he know?

  14. I guess, like you, I’m lucky that my husband reads my work. And he’s my best and unbiased critics, whether with praise or criticism. Unless I specifically ask him to read a draft, he mostly reads my posts after I’ve published them but he always gets back to me with feedback.
    My husband is an academic so there’s always plenty of his stuff to read and edit and I have been doing it for the past 18 years, much brfore I started writing my blog. :D

    • I don’t know if I could read academic writing and comment on it, Aparna. You have more patience than I do.

  15. My husband and I have been in business together for over 25 years. He is the better “talker”, and I am the better writer, so we kind of complement each other. I have edited every brief he has written and he has helped me to feel more comfortable speaking in public. I don’t usually bother him with my blog posts and newspaper columns because there are so many. I do, however, always ask him to proofread my magazine articles, mostly to get a fresh perspective from someone who is not in the food biz. If he “gets it”, then I’m confident that the average reader will too.

  16. My husband is an engineer and could no more sit down with my youth plays and figure out how to make it more immediate and jucier than I could critique a drawing and program management plan. He reads my blog posts – after I posted. I have a group of playwright friends and we read each others plays looking for the moments when we would lose an audience. That said – when my husband goes to productions – he is astute about noting where he may have gotten lost and what needs to be tidied up. Unfortunately in playwrighting, sometimes it takes a production to see the needed work. Think this is a fascinating topic – all writers need a support system – sometimes I cannot see the forest for the trees and an extra pair of eyes is helpful. Of course – as you noted – you did need to gulp – and swallow the info given graciously.

    • Oh yeah, that is key. Accepting criticism gracefully. Is it really true that you have to produce a play to find out where you lose the audience? That sounds like a long and expensive process. I’ll stick with my husband getting bored during a short blog post. I’m too impatient!

  17. I never ask my husband to read my writing. He would be an excellent editor from a technical standpoint, but he just doesn’t understand my obsession with food and recipe writing.

    Years ago as a practicing Obstetrician/Gynecologist, I wrote a newspaper column on women’s health issues for my local paper. I used to ask him to edit my articles, but he didn’t get that either, which really tainted his input. It seems that when women talk about their health issues, or foodies get into talking about their food, my husband is just not on the same page.

    After reading your post, I am feeling a bit jealous that all these food writers have in-house editors as a resource. Should I give him a second chance?

    • Sure, why not. You will have to manage up. Tell him what you want him to look for, and watch him to see when he loses interest. It’s definitely worth another shot.

  18. I don’t have a partner or a friend willing to read my new posts, so I often read them aloud to myself, trying to find typos and – after the reading of your book – paying attention to “delicious”, “mixture” and sentence lengths.
    But I do have an effective reader of freshly published posts, my father. As soon as a new post is up, in 15 minutes or so I’ll receive an e-mail from him is there’s a left typo or a misspelling, or if a sentence is not so clear. It’s never too late!

    • That is so great! How cool of your dad to help you out. To tell you the truth, both Owen and I missed a typo in this post, and a fellow blogger sent me a DM on Twitter to politely point it out. I love that.

  19. I love all the comments and partner types reading posts: lawyers, psychiatrists, journalists and engineers. My husband is an engineer and on occasion I ask him to read and/or help me with a piece. He has excellent ideas and gives unbiased critics. I should ask him to review my work more often as he reads pieces from a layman’s perspective. If he doesn’t follow me or understand something I figure there are lots of people out there who will have the same response so we work through it.

    • Yep, that’s what I think too. And my hubby’s an engineer as well. Also after hearing me blather on about my favorite subjects for years, he knows quite a bit about them.

  20. This is great advice Diane. I belong to a writers group in my state and this is the exact same advice given in their critique sessions.

    By the way, it’s amazing how many errors I catch by reading out loud.
    Sam

    • Really! How nice to receive this validation, Sam. Yes, I agree about reading out loud. I just don’t always remember to do it.

  21. Excellent post, Dianne. Whenever I speak about writing I urge everyone to BOTH read and reread their posts/articles aloud and find someone reliable and honest to read any that are difficult or that they have doubts about. My husband refuses to read anything I write: since everything I write is very personal he is afraid that I will hold back, too self-conscious to write so emotionally for his eyes. On the other hand, as a former journalist, editor and publisher he often will take a look at my blog (yes, yes it still needs a lot of work) and he’ll make suggestions and give advice on how to make it more readable (font, colors, layout, etc). When I need a reader, I send what i have written off to one of a handful of friends, all writers whose work I respect and whose honesty I can count on. We all need people like that in our lives!

    • Your husband sounds like an eminently useful kind of fellow, even if he doesn’t read your posts for contents. Better is to have this handful of friends to count on.

  22. As always your piece got me thinking. I put a quick note out to some fellow food bloggers asking for feedback on typos. The comments are exceptionally good here especially from glutenfreeforgood and Juls – how wonderful to have such support and interest from your family.

  23. The ex (a writer/editor by profession) will still weigh in, when asked, on my copy. He has a good eye, and while I may quibble (some might say argue) with some of his suggested cuts or changes, I usually wind up making them. Our son — who abhors being edited by either of us and swears he’d never consider writing for a living — finds it amusing.

    • You are lucky to a) have a good enough relationship with a professional that he will look over your work and b) smart enough to take his advice. Yeah, we can quibble, but in the end we suck it up and make the changes. You’re being a good role model for your son on how to solicit and respond to criticism.

  24. My husband is good about proofreading, but I tend to save him for paying work rather than blog posts. I wish I had someone to read for my blog because I hate finding typos after the fact (sometimes months later). I like the idea of swapping with someone else. I’m going to have to give that one some thought.

    • Yes please do. A fellow blogger would be grateful to have your eye going over her post and might want to return the favor. It could be an excellent match.

  25. I found your website while writing a post about you and your book Will Write for Food. Loved this topic and question. My sweet husband does read my posts if I ask him to. All too often, I am in a big rush to get my post on my site, so I don’t hassle him into looking it over. He isn’t a grammar specialist, but he does catch many mistakes. Like you mentioned, he also notices if I haven’t explained something well enough… or if I have over indulged in a subject. =)

    • Oh good. I’ve been so delighted to hear from bloggers like you whose husbands help them out. Oh yes, overindulging in a subject is a good one. Writing tight is so much harder than writing long.

      Now I will go look up this post you mentioned. Thank you so much in advance, Tracy.

  26. Most definitely! I love for my husband to read my work, and I value his feedback. He’s a professional in the business world and writes all the time too. Why wouldn’t I want to hear his opinion? We’ve got 16 years of marriage this summer. FYI, I don’t always take his advice. :)

    • Congratulations, Lori, on 16 years. You’re right. If you value his opinion, why wouldn’t you want to hear it? And you don’t always have to implement his views. I certainly don’t do everything Owen suggests. I’m too stubborn.

  27. My husband isn’t my audience. Although he does read what I write from time to time, and would willingly respond to a request for feedback, he is someone who reads numbers like I read text. There are others I would ask to review my writing, and provide specific guidelines with respect to content so that I’m able to receive constructive feedback. I have former colleagues whom I can rely upon for that. I suppose if I was concerned that someone would misunderstand what I was trying to convey, then my husband would rise to the occasion, but my content, although very thoughtfully constructed, does not warrant that sort of attention.

    • I guess the message here is that you have other people who review your writing, and you respect them, so that’s what counts. My husband isn’t my target audience either, but I’m lucky that he’s always willing to help me.

  28. I just let it rip for my blogs and hope for the best. Usually my sister or one of my friends will point it out if I’ve said something stupid or have a typo.

    Cynthia
    http://coffeeonthepatio.com
    http://www.cynthiasblog.com

    • Ha ha. That makes me laugh. No self-consciousness here. I let’er rip too, but only on the first draft.

  29. I have a spousal editor/critic too. My husband is an attorney and like another “poster”. He possess a critical eye for grammar but our voices are different. But we do brainstorm. I think it’s more my talking out my idea that gets me on the right track.

    I like your idea about swapping out work!

    Sorry to have missed meeting you in Austin at the IACP conference. Just not enough time.

    • Hey Francine, sorry to have missed you too. Thanks for dropping me a line here.

      You’re right that an other great thing to do with a partner is bounce ideas off them for future posts. I have done that too. I have to manage the details, though, in precise amounts. Owen always lets me know when he’s bored.

  30. I’m late to the conversation, but awesome topic, as usual! A writer I really admire, Adair Lara (who happens to be my editor’s wife), says not to use your partner as your writing partner, so to speak. I trust her advice, but I very often read my posts and stories to Andras anyway. In many cases, it’s just to read it out loud myself to catch for pacing and rhythm. And I too watch to see if he’s been grabbed, or if his eyes and thoughts seem to be wandering (aka bored!). And sometimes it’s just because we all need to feel like at least one person is reading our work. But it’s my sister who is my toughest and therefore best critic (and a much better proofreader than I). If she had time, I’d read every piece to her before it went out to the world.

    • I know and adore Adair, as well as her husband Bill Leblond at Chronicle. I wonder why she says that? I like how you watch Andras’s reactions when you read your posts to him. Plus, you’re reading out loud, so you get a two-fer in terms of evaluating effectiveness.

  31. My husband is not only a good writer, but a good reader. I know how lucky you are to have someone in your house, who knows you, who can give you some honest feedback and commentary. It’s a Godsend.

    Last week, David said that something I had written sounded like “the rotary club yearbook”. He was spot-on. Thank God for good husbands (in more ways than one!)

  32. My husband and I edit each others work. He’s a photographer and I go through almost every photo he takes, rejecting the bad ones and encouraging him to feature the ones I love. He edits everything I write. We quibble about things from time to time, but overall, the arrangement works out perfectly.

  33. My husband always reads my work. He’s a novelist (http://codenamecarla.com) and can certainly write better than I can, so when I’m feeling stuck, I turn to him. And he always seems pleased to lend an ear/eye/hand.

    • How wonderful, particularly that he seems pleased to help you. It sounds like you two have a terrific partnership.

  34. My blog is very much a collaboration with my husband. I do the cooking, writing and “artistic direction” (his words) and he photographs. He also reads every post for me and I find his help in that area very valuable. I guess I’m lucky to have a husband like yours that is helpful in that way – the blog is so much fun for both of us.

    • I just love that, Nicole. How great that you can do this project together. I know a few other couples who work the same way.

  35. I’ve noticed that many bloggers have built sort of a team with their significant others – I found it rather cute. As a 20-yr-old, I don’t really have this dilemma, but I have tried to keep my posts away from my parents :) I finally gave them the url yesterday, and my mom has been showering praise about every post – thankfully not all online!

    • Oh dear, that does sound embarrassing – but you’re probably secretly proud that your mom is heaping praise upon you. Maybe she can be your secret editor, since she’s enjoying your blog so much? It’s not like you’re blogging about your sex life (or at least I couldn’t see any evidence of that!).

      • Haha, in a limited way. But I’m getting there. I’m at the cusp of adulthood, and one day, I won’t cringe. One day. And goodness, I really hope no one blogs about their sex lives, but after going through all the blogs and finding all these different people… that’s one Google search I’m definitely going to avoid.

        • I just joined StumbleUpon, and the settings ask for my preferences on adult-related content – in several different fields. Guess that answers the question for me.

          Ugh. I think I’ll go back to my little food world.

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