Essential to being a good writer is finding a good reader. There are those special people you find that read your work with genuine interest and enthusiasm, and even, it appears, pleasure. They become a true partner in your writing. Finding a good reader feels like winning the lottery. You buy the ticket every week, hoping you’ll get that lucky, but knowing the odds are completely against you. There may be plenty of people who read your work, offer you criticism, constructive or otherwise, or even praise, but somehow they are not that reader for whom you are searching. You are searching for the reader who seems to really understand what you are trying to accomplish, and can help you find your own writing path again when you inadvertently wander from it. It’s that person who somehow knows how to gently take this thing you have labored to create, that you feel as protective toward as your own child, and help you see it with some objectivity and figure out what you need to do to strengthen it. They manage to do all this without making you feel defensive, or angry, or like a talentless shit.
A good reader careful reads your piece and does not necessarily immediately react. They seem to digest if for a moment, maybe even re-read. They quietly work through what the piece made them think and feel, then email you/call you/text you/look up at you, and with sincerity and some intensity, tell you something they really liked about what they just read.
Then they pause. Maybe they tell you how the piece made them feel or what it made them consider or remember or wish. They pick out some detail that moved them or challenged them and tell you about that experience.
Now they take a breath and they gently begin to ask questions about the piece. Maybe they’ll point out a word or a line that caused them to stumble and they’ll ask for you to clarify what you were trying to express there. Maybe they’ll tell you the rhythm of the piece seemed to shift in stanza/paragraph three, and did you want that effect? They may provide a suggestion, or two, or seven. But each one is offered in a kind manner, a bit tentatively, but at the same time, with poise. Every comment presented as something for you to consider only. Maybe this? Maybe that? But maybe what you have works perfectly well too, if you just change this one line or word. They do not try to “fix” your writing. They seem to ponder it. Like an excellent midwife attending a birth, they know they have been asked to share a precious and intimate moment with you. They are unwavering in their respect for your labor and your effort to push this fragile thing into existence. They encourage you to keep going. They offer you ice chips of support and counsel.
Oh, my kingdom for good readers. I cannot grow as a writer without you. You are the wind beneath my — words. 🙂 Thank you.