• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Someone Like You Makes It Easy to Give Never Think About Myself

Last week at our agents’ lunch, we bid farewell to one of our founding members who is leaving the agenting fold. It’s been a decade since we first got together to commiserate and offer support. What unifies our group is that we were all editors, now agents. I think it’s a very strong bond because we all take an editorial approach to our work, for better or worse. In any case, someone asked our departing agent what he was going to miss most. “Being a writer’s first reader.”  We all mewed with identification. It is a sacred position to hold.

Some writers will share their work with fellow writer friends, or spouses, or their editors first. But for some writers, their agents will be their first readers. And there is something magnificent about that. Not always, of course. Sometimes it’s a slog. But when you are in the presence of truly great writing and you get to read it first, it’s not unlike falling backward into a drift of pristine snow and spreading your wings. Ew, did I really write that?

Who is your first reader?

33 Responses

  1. My father. He’s currently writing a novel, too. Plus, he’s the one who inspired me to write. If only he had inspired me to get one of those “real” jobs people are always jawing about…

  2. My husband. The ultimate reader. But only in the final hour. He’s seen many an essay and short story, but my memoir remains under wraps. Until the right time.

  3. My beloved. He’s kick ass smart and I trust him with my life.

  4. My hard-edged best friend. She tells it like it is and I need that. My husband is another first reader but he’s far too nice to me to be at all constructively critical … or maybe it’s just that my evil twin can’t help watching him out of the corner of one eye and turns into a wild, manic animal if he so much as yawns once in 300+ pages.

  5. I am my first reader.

  6. My daughter was, but I made her buy the first copy on Kindle.

    She said, “You didn’t write the sex scenes like you were an old lady.”

    Damned with faint praise.

  7. At the very beginning, my husband read everything. Then I cut the cord as I didn’t need as many keep going’s and I started feeling a bit more…secretive? protective? crazy? about the book.

    When I’ve done my work, he’ll get to read it. But he and I are both aware that the next time will be the real time and he’ll have a red pen with orders to make it better, god help us both.

    The trick is that he’s poetry and I can’t get anywhere in under a thousand words. This will either be a stroke of genius or a stroke of madness.

  8. What do you mean by “reader”? Do you mean a person who reads or a person who fully sees and appreciates and thinks the writing is good enough for serious attention? My man is not a big reader and my friends don’t read me, for various good reasons. Through my blog, I have found some faithful readers and friends who say nice things and offer support, but I don’t have anyone who actually helps me see what isn’t working or how I might improve. So I guess I, like those up there, am my own reader.

  9. An amazing group of writers I’ve met with weekly for many years. They get me, know my characters, and know when I’m short-cutting and call me on my crap. Sometimes I want to kill them.

    But, I love that I get to read and opine on their shit first. That is way better than snow angel making.

  10. My mom. That probably sounds ridiculous but she’s very critical and smarter than anyone I know and she doesn’t hesitate to tell me when something doesn’t work or is just plain crap.

  11. When I took my first writing class in 2006, my teacher said, “You’ll learn a lot from me, but the real benefit of this class, and other classes you’ll take after this one, is that you’ll slowly start to amass a handful of like-minded writers who will pay close attention to your work and comment incisively.” Flash forward: 5 years later. I have three: one, a fellow PEN EV recipient; another an amazing YA writer I met at a conference; and one invaluable penpal, an anonymous writer from this very blog. I consider myself very fortunate. Also, I just started a new PEN fellowship and I’m pretty sure my mentor, Alan Watt, is the writer whisperer. Fingers crossed.

  12. My Wed writing group who I have met with for over 11 years. I am blessed to have them. I hope I have helped them as much as they have helped me.

  13. I have yet to meet a like-minded writer, an unpublished one, I mean, who might understand what I’m trying to do, and offer useful thoughts. I have a mentor I can bounce ideas off. He’s perfect because he never responds to them. I seem to need a first listener more than a first reader. Although I never tell him my ideas, I only write them to him in email, because in person he never stops talking. He’s from the south. He only listens to me when I write. I adore him.

  14. I’m having a moment here. Suddenly, Betsy’s the dreamer and I’m the realist.

    I’m remembering how I felt the very first time I had my work reviewed. Vulnerable. As in naked in the middle of Harrod’s vulnerable. And not at my best weight. To borrow your phrase, it was fugly. And believe me, it was no pristine snow experience for the talented author/teacher who reviewed it.

    But I carry what I learned from that experience with me and apply those lessons to my work to this day. And when appropriate, I share what I learned with fledgling writers. Or at least more fledgling than me. And hopefully I do so with the same respect and encouragement I was given.

    Snow angels, indeed.

  15. I’ve let friends read my work and they’ve been critical but kind (“It’s pretty good, but maybe this should be a question mark instead of an exclamation point?” “The only thing I’d change is the word, ‘albeit’. Reminds me of something you’d hear on a game show or something. Otherwise it’s pretty good.”). My wife is brutal. She’ll go over everything completely and give me advice I argue with her about, all the while knowing she’s right but if I follow her suggestions I’ll be doing a total rewrite. Damn! For my current piece I’m thinking of asking someone I barely know (friend of a friend) who has excellent literary judgement. She doesn’t really know me, so that could be helpful. I’d give her some money — not much, but something for her time. So, in other words, I’m still searching for my first reader.
    ps– snow angels are cool. Trying to make one without footprints leading right up to it — a major leap of faith — is even cooler.

  16. MWL seeking FRWLB. H but not B.

    (Married White Lesbian seeking First Reader with Literary Benefits. Honest but not Brutal)

    No pina coladas or getting caught in the rain. But yes, Must Love Dogs.

  17. Potential agents are going to be my first. I’ve done my best to make it as pain free as possible.

  18. i have one reader whom i trust. she calls me on my bullshit and is thrilled when the magic’s present, reminds me to work harder, work harder. she doesn’t mind it when i curse.

    then we have a cup of tea and a chat.

    i don’t believe in synchophantic readers and suggest they do more harm than good. it’s all business for me.

  19. I crave a real first reader. I have a few commenters out there, but I haven’t yet found the ONE. (Yes it’s harder than finding a lover.)

    But then, I am also wary of beginning to write for a specific reader. It seems a little constricting.

  20. Reading certain writers has been like that for me, writers I came to on my own. Mavis Gallant, Andre Dubus, Antonya Nelson, Dana Spiotta, even the better-knowns like Katharine Mansfield, Richard Yates and Pete Dexter. My first experience of reading their work felt private and singular…almost subversive in the pleasure it brought – like finding a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk. I can’t imagine the thrill of being the actual first reader of something great.

  21. Darling editor friend and then darling writer friend. And then when I’m feeling a bit braver: my mentor.

  22. My agent. She has a new project of mine, right now, and I’m waiting….waiting….crickets….

  23. Betsy Lerner. Always, always Betsy Lerner.

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