“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” —Samuel Johnson
My own paraphrase of this favorite aphorism is: When a writer knows his/her work is about to be read by someone else for the first time it concentrates her/his mind wonderfully.
It’s not unusual for kids, in school, when they receive a critique from a teacher, to say, “But I know what it means.”
Fine if you are writing a journal or diary.
(And even then if you come upon a diary entry a few years later you might well say, “What did I mean by that?”)
No, it doesn’t matter how long I work on a book, the moment I decide I’m going to share it with someone, my wife, an editor, or a friend, my mindset changes.
It’s not overly complicated as to what happens: the work is no longer something in which I am engaged alone but now I have the realization that someone else—a reader—will react. Does what I have written work? Makes sense? Bring about tears, laughter, interest? Will they care? It’s that simple. It’s that vital.
Hence my mantra—cited here many a time—writers don’t write writing, they write reading.
I myself, am sometimes stupefied by my own ineptness when I go over a manuscript knowing that in two days my editor will have it in front of their eyes. I discover even simple mistakes (grammar, punctuation). Or, far worse at times: plot failure.
My favorite way of resolving this is by reading the work aloud to someone, a person, or a classroom of kids—I’ve even read a text to a dog. In the process, I see and hear things I hadn’t noticed before. Reading aloud turns me into my own audience.
I’m currently reading a new book to my wife—my toughest critic. Today she asked, “Do you feel better about the book now that you are reading it to me? “No,” I reply, “I feel better because you say you like it.”
(Now, if you really have courage get someone to read your work to you. I can’t bear to do that. I even find it hard to listen to professional recordings of my books.)
My point here is: When you work on a book you are writing it for yourself. But ultimately, you are not the most essential person engaged.
Your reader is.
75 thoughts on “Sharing my work”
The power of reading aloud!
Oh, what a cool mantra! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mr. Avi 🙂