My baby, otherwise known as Dragonfly Summer, has left the nest. It’s now in the hands of my editor, otherwise known as my alpha reader.
Lots of people have read my work over the years, and they’ve all been helpful in their own way. For instance, The Boy has a Masters in English, and no one is better at finding typos, misused punctuation, and word repetition. Which is fantastic, because everyone else who offers to read my work usually prefaces the offer with “but I’m not great with punctuation and grammar”. This includes my alpha reader.
My alpha reader has no formal training, unless you count a communications diploma, which didn’t teach us much about full-length fiction. He fully admits that he’s not an editor per se. But none of that matters, because he has a remarkable grasp on story. He also knows what I’m capable of, and is not shy about telling me when I’ve fallen short. He has no qualms about being brutally honest, which is what one needs in an alpha reader.
We’ve been working together for fifteen years, off and on. Dragonfly Summer will be the fourth book he’s edited for me. Our collaboration started in college, when he expressed an interest in reading my suspense novel about a rash of kidnappings in the United States. His first comment perfectly illustrates why I need him:
“Where’s the FBI?” he asked.
Where, indeed. Clearly that book was destined for the landfill, but no worries–I followed it up with a better one.
My alpha reader (AR) has spent countless hours improving my novels. He’s never asked for a thing in return, and his unwavering faith in my ability has carried me through ugly moments of self-doubt, hopelessness, and rejection. There’s only one problem….
At one point–six years after we began our working relationship–he was also my fiance. Understandably, this has caused some issues with the men I’ve dated since. It’s only natural to want to be everything to your significant other, so the fact that my ex is often the first to provide critical feedback on my work never fails to cause some discord. Even the idea that his opinion is important to me is enough to cause an argument or two.
But I don’t send my work to AR because I used to be in love with him. I send it to him because I know that he can make my book better. Yes, so can other people. I see no reason to reject this invaluable help because I have other help available. To me, that doesn’t make sense.
Besides, being in a romantic relationship actually hurt our working one. When you’ve written a novel, you want the brutal truth. You need honest–even harsh–criticism. But when you’re in a relationship, the last thing you want is a partner who’s always telling you how to improve. Unconditional love is what we strive for, and that means accepting (and rejoicing in) the partner as-is. I’d be hurt if The Boy didn’t want to read my work. It would be devastating if he didn’t like it, or if he didn’t support my dream of being a full-time novelist. But he does, and that’s what I need. I don’t want him to be my number one critic.
My six year relationship with my AR ended amicably, but I feel damn fortunate that he’s still willing to work with me. I’m glad that the fact we weren’t lucky in love doesn’t mean we also had to lose a very successful creative partnership.
How about you, dear readers? Have you ever balanced love with criticism? How did it work for you? Or, alternatively, is your ex still connected with your work/hobby/passion? If so, how do you handle it? Has it ever caused problems in your other relationships?