Yesterday, among other Christmas gifts, I gave my husband the same small item he has received from me 28 times before. The story why, which includes candy, dashed teenage dreams, manipulative gift-giving, marriage, tradition, and enduring love, made it into a seasonal essay this year.
Often, nonfiction writers discuss handling the intricacies of writing about loved ones. To let them read drafts or not? Make editing suggestions? Vote with a red pen? Do they get to veto certain subjects? Does it depend on the intended publication/readership? Use real names or made-up ones?
As my children became teenagers, my own *rules* changed, and now I check in with them before I write about them, while I am writing about them, and before I publish anything about them. They get to read, react, refuse. (Selfish reasons, really; I still want them to talk to me.)
I have a different arrangement with my husband, who only chimes in before publication if I'm unsure of a piece of our shared history, or if I want to know what he really thought about something. This is partly because as an essayist, I want to stay inside my own head when writing, hear my own voice most clearly. But I also suspect it has to do with him being an infrequent reader, one who can appreciate a finished piece of prose, but finds drafts and revisions tedious. (Perhaps he also sees a different bargain: I write what I want, he watches as much football as humanly possible.) Which means he generally doesn't read anything until it's published and others are reading it too.
I do hold my breath a little, hoping he'll like what I've written (which usually happens with the short personal essays in mainstream media) or at least understand why I've written it and what it means to me (more often a concern with my longer essays that appear in literary journals). Either way, it doesn't alter our system the next time around--I write, publish, then he reads--which often strikes other writers as both freeing and slightly dangerous. It works for us.
Frank did not read "The Gift I Keep on Giving" until it appeared on Christmas Eve. I was able to quickly exhale.
Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons-Dan Taylor