Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Sunday, March 7, 2010

First Readers

Most of us writerly types need an audience. It takes readers for us to feel complete. We aren't content to just write, put it away and write some more. We need feedback, we need readers, we need validation. Since it takes courage to show our work, we often start with those guaranteed to be supportive, like family members.

I remember a scene from a film of about 20 years ago, when the main character (a journalist) played by Chevy Chase, moves to the country where he plans to write a novel. When it's finished, he takes his wife out to a wonderful inn for their anniversary, and then leads her to a comfortable chair next to the fire for the big surprise. Voila! He hands her his finished ms.

"Read it!" he says.
"Right now?" she asks. She's all dressed up for a night on the town.
"Yes!" he replies. "Go ahead. We have all night. I'll wait right here." And he watches her every move and expression while she reads the entire thing.

Yep, that's us writers! Almost pathetic in our eagerness to get readers. I used to read my stories out loud to my kids, picking those choice moments when they would be a willing/captive audience. Like when they didn't want to go to bed. "I'll let you stay up longer if you listen to this story I wrote!"

Once that final draft is done, the writer needs a reader. It's a must have. For Stephen King, it's his wife Tabitha. He writes all his books with her in mind, and she's the first one to read his final draft. Mine is my daughter, who is also now an editor (I guess I trained her well back in the day!)

Who is your first reader? Who makes up your favorite first audience once the final draft is done?


  1. My first readers are my critique group. Usually we only read a chapter at a time, but a couple of them have read my full novels. Then my mom and my sisters and a select group of friends (who I feel sincerely want to read my book and aren't just being nice) and my children. I had to laugh at that scene from the Chevy Chase movie. It reminds me of when I finish a blog post, set my laptop in my husband's lap, and then find something to do out of the room until he finishes reading because I can't stand watching him read it.

  2. At this stage, only my workshop group gets to see any of my work. I would love to foist everything onto friends or family, but I'm too afraid they'll feel obliged to read it and like it, even if they find it really really boring/awful!
    Sometimes I even worry that my workshoppers are being too nice.

    You're lucky to have an editor in the family!

  3. I've read King touting the idea of a single ideal reader (his wife) and yet I don't think I have one. My first readers have changed on a number of projects-so no one person has been first for everything.

    Though lately M. Gray has seen the last 5 short stories first.

  4. My writing group is first. If they approve, I might show my work to my husband, who is my worst critic. (I really don't understand why they say that telling an agent or publisher your spouse likes it is a no-no!)

  5. Ooooh!

    I have two super duper friends whom I trust with my writing. Both very writer-ly and super honest and very helpful.

    I bombard them endlessly - and they are unafraid to tell me what works and what doesn't. In the nicest possible sense of course! They are still my friends afterall.


    Take care

  6. I would love to get hubby to be first reader, but that will never work if I'm writing stuff for pre-teens. Especially if it gets to be a bit on the girly side of things. :P

    So I don't really have one. Right now I'm using my younger cousin, but she won't be the right age forever.

  7. Hi Karen - first of all, thanks for following my new blog! Much appreciated.

    My first readers are generally people in my writers' group, since I know they won't pull any punches. I'm too scared to send it to friends/ family for fear of them wondering what on earth I'm doing with my time all day... besides the coffee/ wine gig! :)

  8. Talli, You're welcome. Your blog looks like fun. and thanks for following me as well-- you put me past 75-- woo hoo!

  9. For my picture and MG manuscripts, my children were my eager audience, sprinkling me with compliments. If only that counted for something in the publishing world! Now that I've written YA, the subject matter has gotten a little too mature, so I've held back.

    My father's girlfriend has read almost all that I've written. So has my mother, mother-in-law, and sister. Now I use my father-in-law to fix all my errors. Here and there, a stray person reads one. But I don't use any of them for feedback. That's for critique partners. The longer I've been a writer, the more willing I am to share.

    An editor daughter? What an influence you've been!

  10. I am fortunate. I have a group of readers. I belong to a site that reads and edits my book. THey are the best group in the world. The next big writer.


  11. My first readers are my critique partners. Then it changes once the final draft is complete. Sometimes my sister.

  12. My little sister is my Ideal Reader. She and I thirst for the same types of stories. So now I'm writing them and she's telling me how to make them better. She *gets* the genre and mood I want to achieve.

  13. Really, I'm with Miriam. I think family members can make excellent first readers, even unofficial editors. Hey, if Stephen King makes it work, why not?

  14. My daughter and my sister. They tell me "what for".

    I loved that movie with Chevy and how he explained things.

  15. For me it is my sister in Dublin which can be a bit difficult as I email my stuff to her and she returns it with comments. Except of course when the computer gets sick and eats the piece before she even gets it!!!

    My blog friends and my writing class teacher are my other first readers.

  16. Hmmm. Interesting. I, too, want feedback, validation, all that. But I am really, really hesitant to let something out of my hands. My husband is probably the one whose opinion I care most about and yet he has never read even one thing I've written. Nor my children. I guess I only let people read who I value their intelligence but more so their detachment. I don't want to know what my relatives think until I've written a best seller, you know? Pride goeth before an unpublished author, no?

  17. I have a regular writers' group I meet with on a weekly basis. We trade current pages via email the day before meeting, then come to meeting having read the pages and offering critiques or comments. It's an invaluable process. If I didn't have the Reedy River Rats, I'd never have gotten as far in my novel as I have.

  18. I usually finish a first draft (and the first round of revisions) while my critique group is only halfway through the novel. I let them continue critiquing chapters while I send the full manuscript to my official first reader, a cousin who loves to read but is not a writer. That gives me a better sense of how a regular person who reads for fun will feel about the plot and the characters. Then I do the next round of revisions.