Perilous Ground

It usually starts like this. “I’d really like to read your work.”

This comes from a casual acquaintance, someone who wants to read what I write. Me in particular. I don’t know why. They know me from the office or the gym. They aren’t people with whom I feel a deep spiritual kinship. They’re casual friends. Acquaintances.

I’ve struggled with those requests. I feel suspicious. Maybe it’s because I know that reading a manuscript is work. Depending on how well it’s written, it can be a lot of work. If I offer to read a manuscript I know what I’m in for. I’ll read it earnestly. I think carefully about my response. I separate my tastes from my critical analysis.

Given the labor of reading, I wonder, What exactly do they hope to get out of reading my work in progress?

I’m cautious in selecting readers. I won’t send my draft novel to a friend who says she doesn’t like reading novels. I wonder, If you don’t like reading novels, why would you want to read mine? Do you regard my work as a form of refrigerator art? An artifact to display with your daughter’s water colors?

I’m wary of those who want to know me better or understand me. You know those types. They’re the smarmy men who seem to peek inside your blouse when you bend over, or the prying women friends who are a little too earnest when they inquire about your tense relationship with an ex-husband. They hope to indulge in literary voyeurism, that they’ll glean from my written words the things I would never tell them.

These readers are akin to the vampire readers in workshops. Those are students who opt for writing over therapy. They act out issues with their mothers, daughters, or sons through the manuscripts they read. They commence their critiques with praise over some insignificant aspect of the work. Wonderful use of imagery. Or, they just love the way your character slices onions. Then they move to the constructive criticism, which is usually directed at the viscera, intended less to help as to disable. It’s criticism intended to knock you flat as a writer. The better the writer, the sharper the knife.

So when someone offers to read my writing, I think about it.

Maybe I’m just in a mood today. Clouds have moved in from the west. Maybe we’ll have a thunderstorm tonight. Consider this as a riff, a thought that rolled through my brain, now over.

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One thought on “Perilous Ground

  1. Editing is hard work and I don’t like to impose on the time of others. Nonetheless, I have accepted help from those I trust who’ve expressed interest. My own criticism hampered my efforts until I made some difficult discoveries. No matter how good my intentions, I cannot control the responses of others. Furthermore, optimizing my efforts requires me to accept that even my best may be flawed. I must accept it and move forward.

    Per your allusions, understanding the impetus of criticism can be important. If a person is subjectively berating something for personal reasons, I’m going to ignore the criticism. If the criticism is valid, I’ll accept it as a learning opportunity because a quick sting is preferable to the persistent throbbing of an irrevocable error.

    Like

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