Seeing our writing as others see it

O wad some power the giftie us
To see oursels as ithers see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion

I feel a bit sorry for the woman in Robert Burns's poem 'To a Louse.' There she is, minding her own business in church, and not only does she have a headlouse viewing her as nothing more than his next meal, but there happens to be a poetic genius around to immortalise her decision to wear a nice hat. Still, I suppose nits and poets can happen to anyone. They like clean hair, apparently.

Wouldn't it be useful to be able to see our writing as others see it? Such an ability would have saved me a lot of angst over the years. I could check at a glance whether my work made sense; whether it was cringeworthy; whether a naff simile was actually original to fresh eyes; whether I used semi-colons when commas would do. The clarity would enable me not only to avoid the blunders, but perhaps to stop mucking about with the good bits too.

Heaven forbid that this ability should be innate, however. It would have to have kicked in when I was at least 25 and had been round the writer's block a few times, because if I had possessed such a talent during my teens, I would probably never have written another word. Awareness of our own failings might be an admirable state, but I reserve the right for my teenage self to churn out as much woeful adjective-filled tut as possible, and to be pleased with herself for having done so. If you can't have a few foolish notions when you're 16, when can you?

When I wonder what it would be like to view my writing from another reader's point of view, my first instinct is to want to spot any technical failings. On a practical level I do try to make my writing look as unlike my own as possible, by changing the typeface or converting the file to PDF. (Turning things into PDFs immediately makes them look better for some reason – maybe I should try this for my face!)

Technical details, however, are not what I'd really like to know about how other people view my fiction. I don't ask readers what they think of my book because I firmly believe it's none of my business. They have every right to like it or not like it – and if they reckon it's lousy, there's not much I can do about it anyway. But out of pure nosiness, the thing I'd find fascinating is to know exactly how people picture my characters and settings. It would be amazing to see photographic images of someone else's perception – how different would the characters be from the way I see them? Would they be clear or indistinct? Would they look like people the reader knows, or would they be purely imaginary? Would they change the images I hold in my own mind and make me see my work in a new light?

If you could see your writing as others see it – what's the first thing you'd want to know?  


Hayley N. Jones said...

Whether it's any good! Pathetic, but true. I have trouble knowing what works and what doesn't - not helped by my general lack of confidence - so knowing instantly if it's rubbish would save a lot of time and stress.

Sandra Davies said...

I'm with Hayley - very occasionally I write something that I can see is quite good but in general I totally lack any sort of critical facility.
As for how the reader sees my characters - I don't want to know, which it why I'd say no to any offer from Hollywood (though that's a mite premature perchance!)

Fionnuala said...

I'd just want them to feel like reading on! X

Caroline Green said...

That's a great tip about turning the ms into a PDF file. Thanks for that - will definitely be nicking that one! Like Hayley and Sandra, for me it's just knowing what works and what doesn't. I'm still really hopeless at this.