I am writing this as a writer and a mother of three. I noticed when my kids were little they were always so excited to show me their art work. I, on the other hand, had no idea what they had just drawn and I found it very helpful to ask them to explain their picture to me. This was usually accompanied with squeals of passion, as they explained their pictures giving me a little bit of insight into just how much time and energy that child had invested, to say nothing of the fact that I now knew the black figure in the middle was a cow. This method was of course sandwiched between gushing waves of praise.
I have found that as an adult I appreciate the people who are good at asking neutral questions. They not only make me evaluate my story but they also give me a chance to explain just how much of myself I put into that piece of writing. I am trying to come up with good questions to ask myself because I know that asking questions is a key to becoming a good writer. I am usually my own worst critic. Perhaps questions like: What part of this story was the hardest for me to write? Why? Or is there a place in the story that I felt lost? But when these questions make me feel a need to explain a piece of writing it limits that piece of writing to the audience for which it was intended and it restricts the reader in the same way that I was limited to viewing the black figure in the middle of my child’s art as a cow.
I was a junior high school writing teacher for many years and some of the things that I did to encourage my students are the very things that as an writer, I long to hear. Not because it will stop me from writing because I have to write. It is a need that originates from a far deeper spot than my desire to be liked. I will write. Perhaps that longing is the very reason I write, to explain myself in some subtle way to the world around me. Sometimes I do have a strong desire to explain my writing to people before they read it. Just like my kids who wanted me to see the cow and if I didn’t see it they wanted to tell me about it.
I am always somewhat impressed with myself when I manage to reach a different audience then I intended. Perhaps that is the beauty of art itself. It is experienced through the lens of the artist and then through the lens of the observer. They may or may not be the same experience. Maybe that is better….maybe it would have been ok for me to just experience the black figure in the middle of my child’s picture as a wonderful, free form figure, without the knowledge that it was a cow. Just thinking!