PAGE BLINDNESS: Choosing (and using) your readers wisely

Some writers like input at every phase of their projects. I tend to keep my work close until I really feel I’ve worked out the major issues. But at some point, I reach a state that I’ll call “page blindness.”

When you go page blind, you start to miss little mistakes and, more importantly, you know so much about your story that you miss what may be serious holes in your story. It all makes sense in your head, so you’re not noticing that it’s not on the page.

BEFORE: Choose your readers wisely

Because of page blindness, it’s essential to have a few good readers review your work before you send it out to agents. As excited as you may be to get your manuscript out there, do NOT skip this step.

GOOD READERS…
— Don’t have to be experts in your genre but should be able to appreciate it.
— Don’t have to be writers, but should be able to articulate what worked or didn’t work for them.
— Must be able to read and give feedback without their egos or their own styles getting in the way.

Fundamentally, good readers understand what you’re trying to accomplish and appreciate the qualities of your style. They can be honest but gentle. They can identify and discuss what did and didn’t work for them in a story.

Ah, but how do you find these magical readers?
Join local writing groups. Take workshops. Become part of a community of writers. Check out web sites like AbsoluteWrite.com and the local chapters of the SCBWI. I also recently saw on #kidlitchat on Twitter (another good resource) that someone had found her critique partner through Writercon.

AFTER: How to take notes with grace

You chose your readers wisely, now trust them. My readers, Michelle Chihara and Josh Kamensky (he guests on Josh Malbin’s blog here), happen to be talented writers, voracious readers, and great editors. I trust their knowledge, their skill, and the fact that they won’t beat me about the head and shoulders unnecessarily. Trusting them means that I have to listen to them even when I don’t like what I’m hearing.

Even for experienced writers, listening to notes can be difficult. Here’s the important thing to remember: You have all the power. You can decide which notes to take and which to disregard.
So…

–Don’t argue.
–Don’t get defensive.
–Don’t explain.

Your job is to nod, smile, write it down and then let it sit. I often find myself saying things like, “Interesting” or “I hadn’t thought of that” while, inside, I’m screaming, “No, no! You don’t understand my genius!” I’m usually glad I kept that thought to myself. (Also wise to keep to yourself: “They laughed at me at the academy!” and “You’ll be sorry. You’ll ALL be sorry.”)

It’s easier said than done, but ideally, you want to approach review and revision with curiosity and confidence. Stay open to possibilities that may better your work. Have faith in your ability to fix what’s broken. Trust your readers, then trust yourself.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “PAGE BLINDNESS: Choosing (and using) your readers wisely

  1. I was honored to read your work, Leigh. You’ve always been one of my favorite writers, even before you got published!

    And you never seemed like you were screaming I WILL COME FOR YOU IN YOUR SLEEP inside, at all.

    One thing I wanted to add: It’s good to ask your gentle readers for praise!

    I always remember to start with what’s working, when I’m giving feedback. But I often then get caught up in trying to articulate everything else, and I forget to keep going back to the good stuff! Sometimes *especially* when I love what I’m reading — the good stuff seems OBVIOUS.

    Josh K. is actually really good at asking: “What worked? What was your favorite part? Which character did you fall in love with, and why?” Hearing that stuff is extremely important. It helps you understand your reader’s vision for the work, and it helps you build on what’s working instead of getting frustrated.

  2. Have I mentioned that you are totally wonderful?

    This is a great point. Joanna once told me that some editors express their enthusiasm for a work through extensive notes i.e. “If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t bother.” A good thing to keep in mind while taking/giving notes.

  3. I find that positive feedback helps with blogging as well. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate finding a comment on my blog like

    Quite excellent post,all the details are consequently positive and priceless in us.presentation associated with article will be attractive,so I should bookmark this in spending it with my relatives and with the neighbors.Merit for telling fine and pretty post.

    It helps me understand my reader’s vision for my work.

  4. I like it when you “tell it fine,” too. That’s going in the lexicon.

  5. Gosh, thanks for writing this. Also, for reminding me that every first draft looks like crap. I am in the “GAH WHY AM I EVEN TRYING TO GET PUBLISHED WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY MORE TALENTED INDIVIDUALS OUT THERE” stage of hair-pulling and gloomy manuscript staring.

    Right now, my main reader is an illustration student (who loves to read and makes a habit of telling me exactly what I’m doing wrong). I was wondering if it is really necessary to find a critique partner “in the business”.

  6. Hey, Kaye! I know what it’s like to wrestle with the first draft, but you’ve got to try to shut that voice down. Tell yourself you’re just writing it to see if you can do it. Put ambition and ego aside as best you can. I know it’s easier said than done🙂
    As for the reader… that upsets me. A bad reader can hurt your confidence WITHOUT helping your work. Is there a local SCBWI chapter near you? You might be able to find a critique group through them or a critique partner through AbsoluteWrite.com. OR… you could put all critique aside until you feel the draft is ready.
    Good luck! You can do this!

    • I’m in NY, so yes, there is a SCBWI chapter here as far as I’ve heard, but one author told me I ought to have a draft finished before I join in with them. >< Not sure if that's true or not.

      Thanks so much!🙂

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