Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Importance of an Unbiased Eye
She spent some time moaning about the impossibility of the assignment and about the general pain and suffering of her life. Then she sat down and typed up her essay, 236 words in all.
"Okay, mom. You can read it," she said.
I sat down, read her paragraphs and was blown away. When I finished I sat at my desk for a moment in awe of the genius that had poured forth from my child's fingertips. I re-read it. Yep, still genius. Maybe I would have changed a few things but, overall, the essay had pathos, tension and a clear talent for manipulation of the written word.
Later that evening I told my husband to read the essay. "Amazing, right!" I said when he'd finished.
"Yeah, it's nice," he said in the same way he might say tulips in a vase on the breakfast room table are nice.
You would think I would be a good editor. Me, the person who makes a point to read every fiction book on the best works of the year lists. The person who ruthlessly rips out chapters, characters, pretty prose and plot points in search of her own best writing. This person should be a good judge of writing, right?
You know how people in the writing industry advise aspiring writers to seek feedback from people other than their mother? Shockingly, there appears to be some truth to that nugget of advice. In the tone of my husband's voice, I could hear my daughter's writing was not genius, perfect, destined for greatness. I sat down and re-read her essay, all 236 words. I still couldn't see it. It was pure perfection in prose.
Apparently, where my children are concerned I lose all ability to read critically.
This is an important discovery. It tells me something crucial about those amazing readers who spend time slogging through my fresh work. First of all, those people can't be my mother. Much as my mother would happily volunteer to read my early drafts, my own inability to critique my daughter's work tells me this wouldn't be productive.
Writers need to be critiqued in a way that's productive. Readers who see genius in our every phrase aren't helpful. Reader's who can't find any redeeming value in our work aren't helpful either. In an ideal world, our first readers will push us to grow without cutting us down to the ground.
This is the writer's happy medium, the bowl of porridge that is just right (or write). Many of you commented on Monday about ways you've found constructive feedback through critique groups or other means. On Friday I'll talk a little bit about my first readers and the importance of careful listening.