Posted by: Kathleen Mix | May 1, 2014

Seeing Our Mistakes

Human nature makes us see others’ flaws more clearly than our own. For writers, that self-blindness extends to our work. We can read a paragraph a dozen times and not realize we’ve left out a word. We can have a detailed picture of a character in our minds and not realize we’ve failed to describe her in our text. We may overuse our favorite words or a character’s name. Some of our sentences may be awkward or rambling. We may have included subtle breaches of viewpoint, but we’re too close to the work to see the mistakes.
To get our work in front of a pair of fresh eyes, we join a critique group, pay an independent editor, or ship our manuscript off to a beta reader. The problem arises when we have the wrong person, or persons, critique our work.
Not all first readers are helpful. My mother, for example, loves everything I write. Words of praise are usually her only comments. While praise is good for my ego and always welcome, it doesn’t help me improve my manuscripts.
A beta reader or critique partner who gives useful feedback is difficult to find. Some readers are unfamiliar with story structure and the mechanics of writing, and their lack of knowledge means they are less critical of craft issues than necessary. Some readers are too harsh or downright vindictive, sometimes because they dislike the genre you write, sometimes because they read while they’re in a foul mood and fail to be objective.
On the flip side of the problem, a critique partner who is perfect for one writer may be completely wrong for another. Not all writers have thick skins and want a no-holes-barred, tell-it-like-it-is critique. Some people are more sensitive and want gentler comments. We have to communicate our needs to our first readers or they won’t know what level of feedback we expect.
When we search for a good first reader, we’re a little like Goldilocks. Our quest is for insightful feedback rather than perfect porridge. We’re looking for a critique with not too much vinegar, but not too much sugar. We’re seeking a first reader whose critique is just right.

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