It’s been said that every writer needs his/her ideal reader. Not the reader or readers who will eventually enjoy the book, poem, short story, essay in its final form, but the reader before those readers, the reader who the writer trusts to be kind, constructive, complimentary, but also brutal, if need be.
I have been searching for my reader since I started writing, hoping to find all those elements in one human, only to be too complimented by one, or too criticized by another. I started to think that the ideal reader is a bit like “the one” concept for love: there is only one person for us, and if we don’t somehow find that person, we might as well pack it in. Over time, I shifted my thinking a bit to acknowledge that maybe there was more than one reader for me, just as I came to acknowledge after my first heartbreak that there is more than one “the one” for me.
What I need from a reader varies, depending on what I’m writing. For poetry, I need a reader who knows something about poetry. It’s all well and good to give a prose writer one of my poems and ask for critique, but odds are, I’m not going to get the kind of line by line, genre analysis I’m looking for. So, if it’s poetry, I send my work to a dear friend of mine who has wrestled with this genre himself—he’s insightful, witty, and brutal, in the best sense of that word. It’s because of him that I renamed a poetry chapbook I’ve been working on for ages—to paraphrase, he told me the title was crap. It’s also because of his critique that I buried that same chapbook for nearly a year, because I couldn’t bear the thought of renaming it. I exhumed it recently, told myself to get over my title-related strop, and re-title it. And I did, and it’s way better than it was.
I also need a reader who will catch my grammar and punctuation errors, and give me a more bird’s eye view of my work—someone who enjoys reading and knows good writing versus bad. This position is shared by my parents, but depending on if I need a soft touch or a brutal one, I go for one or the other. I’ll take the 5th on identifying which parent fills which role.
And lastly, I need a reader who can just tell me that everything I write is awesome, it’s the greatest thing ever created, it rivals Shakespeare, Hardy, King, Atwood, and Oates, and every single letter should win a Pulitzer. That role goes to my husband. He’s the ego boost that I need, as a writer.
Each of these readers fulfills a necessary role for me; sometimes all four of these people see my work, and other times, only one or two. Often, my husband sees my work right away, because it’s important for me to receive that initial thumbs up to push forward into more rigorous editing. He puts an extra glow on my work, before I allow it be eviscerated, if need be, by my other readers.
Have you found your reader or readers? What qualities do you look for? Someone who will praise you ‘til the cows come home, or someone who’s got the red pen ready?