Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fresh eyes

First readers are an important part of my writing process. I’m not talking about preschoolers, or first graders, I’m talking about friends and family who read my novels before anyone else. Before it’s an actual printed book, when it’s still in process or finished (supposedly) with plenty of errors—typos, missed question marks, fuzzy wording, maybe even fuzzy characters or situations. After I’ve read the book at least a billion times it still needs reading by kind volunteers.

Readers are the people who “make it work,” as Tim Gunn might say on Project Runway. When I’m writing a novel I can be too close to see it as clearly as a friend who hasn’t been mulling this story over in their head for a couple years. Fresh eyes!

When I wrote Intentional, my first readers all got paper manuscripts. For A Bird in the House some readers said they’d prefer the book in digital form. I did that. After all, reading my blemished manuscript is doing me a big favor. But the problem with reading a book digitally is that errors found are errors that have to be written down somewhere (or not), and it turns out mostly Or Not applies. So the next novel will only be shared with early readers in printed form.

The exception was John (husband) who read it in PDF Expert on his iPad. He was able to mark it up in red on the screen with his Apple pen...he’s so fancy.

When I give a reader the printed copy of the novel I try to include a red pen. “Please,” I say, “write on it. I want to know where you like it, and where you hate it. If you see a typo, or what you think may be a typo—mark it.”

You see, I’m putting these friends to work. Help me, I’m begging.

However, sometimes readers don’t want to mess up the paper. Sometimes they use a pencil and write faintly to keep the manuscript clean. But how can I whine when they were nice enough to read the damn book. After they finish with it, they nicely tell me that they liked it. Thank you.

My own mother would be harder on me. Brutal. I miss my mother.

When Kristen Schoettle read Intentional she inserted little hand drawn emojis on the margins. Smiles. Frowns. Tear drops. Grammar corrections. “Ha-ha” here and there. She had suggestions for additions—especially climate related. It was wonderful. Exactly what I longed for.

When I was only a third into writing A Bird in the House, I reached a scary point where I was feeling vulnerable and exposed—frozen. So I asked Kim McLott, my friend since the third grade, to read what I had. The next day she called and told me to hurry up, “Get writing, and don’t come out of your room until you’re done.” (French author Colette was locked in a room by her husband Willy until she produced something salable.) Kim wanted to know what happened next. I might never have finished without her enthusiasm.

And then there were long phone calls with Lynn Bell, helping me solve the problem of a four-year old who was smarter than she should be.

Carol Winslow brought me a stack of research on social services, and read and reread scenes that I struggled with.

Ed Sharples, retired professor of literature, was as tough on me as my mother would have been, and I am grateful.

My daughter Sue said, “You write better than the author of Fifty Shades of Gray.” Whew! That’s a relief.

Ann Amenta said, “You can’t play Fur Elise if you’ve never had piano lessons.”

Barbara Aylward listed comments
on a sweet note with her grandsons photo.

There are many others—each finding a blip here or there, but all commenting in supportive ways.

They say that writing is a lonely endeavor, but its outcome is so much better with a little help from your friends.


  1. Please give me a paper manuscript and a red pen. I will strive to approach your mother's reputation!


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