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Agony Editor: Sometimes the truth can hurt the person hearing it, and the person telling it

Brian Francis

Dear Agony Editor,

My husband recently retired and is fulfilling his dream of writing a novel. In my opinion as an avid reader with an English degree, his writing isn’t very good. Should I continue to support him in completing his book, or tell the truth and save him the pain of the inevitable rejection?

Tormented spouse


Dear Tormented,
The only thing more challenging than dealing with a recently retired spouse is dealing with one with a dream. While dreams can get us through dark days – especially if we’ve harboured those dreams for years – they also can leave us unprepared for the cold slap of reality. You don’t mention your husband’s end goal: is it writing the book or
publishing it? For many aspiring writers, the pursuit of writing is enough. If, as you say, his writing isn’t up to snuff, it’s doing him no harm to keep it up, so long as he’s being somewhat reasonable.
(If he starts wearing floppy hats and asking, “My lily-breasted maiden, would’st thou replenish my coffee?” there might be trouble.)

As a creative-writing instructor, I’ve had students who were talented and others who were less so. Does that mean the dreams of the less-talented writers aren’t as important? Nope. My role is to suggest ways they can make their writing better. Your role isn’t so different. If he’s lacking talent, you don’t have to be the one to tell him that. Besides, do you really want to have the memory of that conversation? Save that slap for strangers – in other words, the publishing business. That way, you still maintain your role as his No. 1 supporter. If he asks for your opinion about his writing (and I suspect he will if he hasn’t already), remind yourself that literary merit is in the eye of the beholder, that lots of books are published every year by writers of questionable talent, and that it’s ultimately better to spend your days alongside someone who has dreams than someone who has none.



Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.