The Objectivity Challenge (link and comment)

As you grow as a writer, you’ll naturally become better and better able to evaluate your work on the fly. Once you have a few years’ experience weeding your writing of tangents, flowery descriptions that sound nice but don’t really fit your streets-of-Detroit family saga, and the tendency to characterize every guy who wears his hair in a bun as villainous because of that one a-hole bunhead you dated, well, it’s a little easier to spot and eliminate those issues as you go. Still, assessing the good and the bad (and the ugly, the shameful, the repetitive, the stunningly worded, the aptly metaphored, etc.) of your work as a whole can be tough. Tough but possible.
—Hanna Eason
Tags: Writing, Writing Advice, Objectivity

I think it’s really difficult to disentangle one’s ego enough to be objective about one’s writing. Which is a pity, because I think it’s one of the most important skills for a writer to develop. It’s right up there with close reading. I like Hanna Eason’s suggestions for cultivating objectivity, they are a nice combination of “carrot and stick”. I believe that I’m reasonably objective, but I couldn’t tell you how I achieved that objectivity. Perhaps it’s because I read so much before trying to become a writer. Perhaps it’s because I’m a programmer and being objective about one’s code means that it is more likely to work, computers being far more unforgiving than any reader.I believe that a number of realizations on the part of the writer will contribute to their objectivity. Among these are:

  • You can’t write for every reader
  • The experience of writing is distinct from that of reading
  • Ultimately, it’s about the reader’s experience
  • Every reader’s experience is different

It’s not a coincidence that the reader features in all of the these realizations. Nor is it a coincidence that Hanna Eason’s advice for achieving objectivity revolves around reading one’s work in a context that disrupts one’s normal perspective of the work. It’s because we are the writer that we are so close to a work and our perspective is distorted.

Assume that everything about your story is open to an interpretation different than the one you intended. (I deliberately did not use ‘misinterpretation’ as it shifts focus from the writer to the reader.) This runs from the assumed genre to the freshness of the plot to the accessibility of your prose to the likeability (or lack there of) of your characters.

I’m going to assume that as a writer, like me, you include inside jokes and references that you know are meaningful to you that you hope will create an ‘aha moment’ with readers who read carefully and share some background with you. As an exercise, think about any given aspect or element of your writing falls into this category.

Wiki version