Familiarity breeds contempt appears to be an old concept. The notion apparently makes its way into print via Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales (1390 or thereabout).
Indeed, I think it’s a particular problem for writers: How does one keep going over one’s work—day after day, perhaps year after year—yet look at your work objectively, with a clear head (and eyes), and keep a critical perspective? At the same time, you do want subjective (emotional) engagement. For a writer like me, who writes almost every day, this is a problem.
In last week’s essay, I’ve suggested that doing nothing—that is walking away from that particular work—helps. Returning after an interval of time can bring some objectivity. I achieve some of this by alternating between projects.
Another major help is reading you work aloud—pen in hand. Amazing how reading aloud alters one’s sense of work. (Robert Frost: “The ear is the best reader.”) I recall learning that Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) had her husband (an accomplished actor) read her new work aloud to her. I confess, I find it hard to listen to other people reading my writing.
The first person I read my books to is usually my wife, a good listener with articulate critical skills. Getting someone else to read your work, and talk about it, gives you a different perspective.
I also go into favorite schools—with whom I’ve established a relationship—and read a new book (going in, say, once a week) pencil in hand.
Find a school which focuses on kids who have problems reading. Used to being read to, these young people are wonderful listeners, are really smart, and give great feedback. I’ve done so for years,
There some other tricks.
When working on a computer you can:
- Change the font.
- Change the size of the font.
- Change the layout.
- Change the screen color.
These changes will alter the way the manuscript looks, and force you to see the text in new ways.
Finally: Submit your work to a publisher. As Samuel Johnson wrote: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”