by Jenny Hansen
Many authors are afraid to let their friends and loved ones read their writing. They use pseudonyms, join Reddit discussions and fret endlessly about "What if my boss / mother / [insert name] reads this?"
Many of us started reading and writing as an escape from our everyday lives. I always joke that "writers are not born, they are made."
Life and love and trauma made us.
Shyness made us.
Abuse made us.
Loneliness made us.
For many of us, writing is the valve we open to take the pressure off when those feelings bubble up too strongly. Part of why writers are special is that they take those feelings -- good, bad, scary, ugly -- and translate them into a gift to bring others enjoyment. In other words, even if your writing is born out of a scaredy-pants place (especially if that's so), writing your story is an act of love and valor.
Would it be so terrible if friends, co-workers and loved ones DID read your writing?
Maybe. Maybe not. You know how personal your story is or isn't. However, I hear anecdote after anecdote of people who aren't in a book thinking that they are in the story. More often, even if they're in your books they don't see themselves at all.
It is actually quite rare for someone to recognize themselves because YOU see them in a way that's unfamiliar to them. This phenomenon is well-explained by the Johari Window, created in 1955 by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham.
That Blind Self quadrant, and even those in the bottom row, contain things about you that aren't readily apparent. And since writers are both observant and creative, we might watch someone's behavior and make guesses about their Hidden and Unknown selves. For many of us, that observing and extrapolating are our favorite parts of spending time in public. (Can I get an amen for "people watching??")
An interesting fact about the Johari window: The more self-aware you are, the bigger your windows on the left side of the pane will be. Conversely, the less self-aware you are, the larger the two windows on the right will grow.
When can it get dicey for others to read your book?
Pseudomyns are easy to crack and personal information is rarely private in today's world. The following situations could result in discomfort if when someone you know reads your book.
1. Are writing a memoir or tell-all book you didn't prepare them for.
Writing about real people can be a sensitive thing. Many non-fiction writers and memoirists get release forms from anyone they include in their book, worried that they will get sued for libel, slander, or defamation of character. Sometimes changing the name is not enough, and sometimes you have to wait until people die to tell your truth.
If you cannot get a signed release for some reason, change the person’s name. Change any of their uniquely identifying characteristics. This is okay, even in true stories like memoirs.
Example: I had an obstetrician treat my husband and I abonimably during the week I gave birth to my daughter, to the point that I was ready to change hospitals and medical groups at 41 weeks along. This person is absolutely in my memoir - they are an integral part of my story. But in the interest of self-protection, I've changed name, height, location and all the doctor's names, just to make sure I'm safe from a defamation suit. (It really was that bad.)
2. Invade someone's privacy
Sharing private information that is embarrassing or unpleasant is not necessarily an invasion of privacy. It was interesting to me when I read the resource above that "any conduct in public is not protected." With the plethora of cell phones with cameras, privacy is pretty hard to come by.
In the way-back, we could do all kinds of stupid things with no permanent record of it. Sadly, the world no longer works that way. I tell my daughter all the time: "Don't do anything in public that you don't want to share with your college admissions counselor."
You can still tell your truth, even about painful experiences like rape, abuse, illness or addiction, through a fictional character. That's the protection fiction provides. But you cannot do it in a way that identifies a living person, especially if it harms their personal or professional reputation.
What if my parents (or grandparents) read this?
My mother passed away in 2004, so I actually don't have to worry about this one. She would have loved any of my stories...because she's my mom, and she was awesome. But there are aunties. And cousins. And my bosses and clients.
Depending on your genre and what you write, there are reasons to be nervous about having people you know read
your innermost thoughts your book. Perhaps they will read:
- Sex scenes
- Deep twisty thoughts
- Characters who could be family members
- Something else entirely
Or, as S. Hunter Nesbit says:
"What’s the only thing worse than having a stranger read your diary? Having your mom read it!"
But the real reason most writers worry about these loved ones reading their work? What if they don't like it??
Y'all know I talk to a ton of writers and it is stunning how many of them show their work to no one. Seriously. No. One.
Matthew Turner did a post on Dan Blank's blog with some thoughts about why most writers would rather show their work to a stranger at a bus stop than with their mom. He listed The 5 Fs: Fear, Feedback, Future, Forgiveness, and Friendship.
It's a seriously great article - I recommend you go read it!
The Real Truth
Your family is probably dying to read your book(s). So many people want to write a book, but you are doing it. It's true that a few of them might be jealous, or irritated at how many family events you miss due to writing deadlines, but most families are beyond excited to have a bona fide author in their ranks.
Plus, we all need beta readers.
So, if your family asks to read your book, you're certainly allowed to say no, but how great would it be to say "yes?"
Do you worry about your family/boss/friends reading your book? How do you handle this? Do you have any suggestions for other authors who feel this way? Please share them with us down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
- Everything linked in the above post. Plus...
Top Photo from Deposit photos. Caption: "How most of us feel when our moms read our book..."