You don't have to look far to find someone saying that you shouldn't place much value on the opinions of your friends and family on your writing. In fact, in some places you'll find people openly mocked for statements like, “My mom loved my novel!” Which kind of upsets me, because it's important to me that my mom enjoyed SHADOW. But the true value in mother's feedback wasn't when she said she loved it, it was when she told me what she didn't love.
When my mother first asked to read the book I kept talking about, I'll admit I was worried. Scared even. I kind of expected her to give me a quick, “That's nice, dear...” and not much else. Sort of like when my eight-year-old babbles out a tale that makes no sense to me and I smile at him while trying to edge away. I had no idea if she'd like it or not and I was worried I'd never even really know. I mean, my mom's a really nice person. Plus, you know, she's my mom...
Turns out, I should have had more faith in her.
My mother's an amazing woman, someone I've always admired. She's strong. Smart. Brave. You have to be brave to call up your daughter and tell her, “Yeah, that's nice, dear. But....”
I've given much more beta-reader feedback since I sent Mom the second draft of SHADOW to read than I had prior to that, so I have an even better understanding of how much guts it took to give me the help I needed. When I write notes for other writers, I spend hours staring at them before I hit send, trying to see if it all really needs to be said, hoping I'm not going to hurt someone who trusted me, praying I'm not going to say something that's going to make this other writer give up on their dream... How much worse would those fears be if I were talking to my child?
She considered the easy route, just metaphorically patting me on the head and saying she was proud. She even called my sister and asked her if I'd really meant it when I said I wanted to know the flaws in my novel or if I just wanted her to give her support. I suspect she more than half-hoped my sister would let her off the hook. But my sister writes too. No pardon was granted.
So my incredibly awesome mother got on the phone and told me all the problems she had with my story. At first, she sounded as uneasy as I've ever heard her, like she was certain I was going to yell or cry or call her names. When I instead ate up everything she was saying, she started getting into it. By the time she was critiquing the ending she was downright gleeful suggesting alternatives to what I'd written. (I'm going to assume that's because she relaxed. Not because she got to the bit where she insisted someone who originally lived needed not to... ;)
SHADOW wouldn't be what it is now without my mom, it would be something much weaker. I've had a lot of other beta-readers, several of them writers and many of whom said really helpful things, but none of them came up with nearly as much to work on as Mom did. She pointed out plot holes, she brought my attention to problems with characterization, she let me know the sections where the mood was off. She came up with a whole slough of things that no one else had mentioned. She was hands-down SHADOW'S MVB, Most Valuable Beta.
So, yeah, my mom loves my book. She loves it so much that she was willing to man-up and tell me which parts of it could be improved. She gave me what my novel needed, even though she wasn't certain it was what I wanted until after the fact. It's one of many things I love her for.
This slightly sentimental post brought to you by Mother's Day.