Reading Comprehension

One of the most frustrating things about writing is dealing with readers. We writers love our audiences, otherwise there’s a solid chance that most of us wouldn’t write. However, there are some readers who religiously miss the point.

As a novelist, I had one beta reader who focused so much on the grammar and punctuation in my story that she missed several key plot points. I’d like to point out that my grammar and punctuation are damn near perfect, so that made me think I didn’t clarify my plot enough. On the flip side, another of my beta readers caught on everything immediately. My duty as an author became finding a way to split the difference–how could I make my writing clearer without beating my readers over the head with obvious details?

As a corporate employee, I’ve had several colleagues who fail to grasp the gist of an email. I make a point to keep my emails short and sweet. They’re under 250 words 99% of the time, and if I can manage, they’re under 150. I don’t like to draw things out. You’ll notice my newer blog posts are significantly shorter than my old ones because there’s no need to be long-winded. People have things to do, places to go, people to see.

Back to the emails.

I sent an email which contained all of 20 words, and it was completely misinterpreted. I read it. I re-read it. I re-read it a third time just to see if maybe I said something out of place that could have been read incorrectly. There wasn’t. 20 words, for God’s sake. Even my attention span isn’t that short.

That brings me back to my work as a novelist. I’ve gone through the book again and again, looking for places where I maybe was too vague about the plot, but I’m not finding them. Maybe the plot needs to be adjusted, but that’s not the same as the details being absent. There is no reason someone should have missed that Character A has a sinister side when there’s an entire scene dedicated the woman breaking into someone’s house.

The moral of the story is this: writers, sometimes readers just don’t read. Remember those reading comprehension tests in school? These are not the people who scored high, and a lot of times, poor reading comprehension goes with poor listening skills. If you have to explain yourself in painstaking detail when speaking to someone, this is someone who is going to read a sentence, jump to conclusions, and disregard the rest of your carefully crafted world. This is not your fault, but it’s a reminder to be wise in choosing how you communicate and with whom you share something as important as your work.

Have you encountered any particularly frustrating moments when someone has misinterpreted you, either personally or in the work environment? How did you handle it?

Start A Conversation

What is today? Wednesday? Hrm.

You know, back when I started this blog it was part of a class assignment. We had to write three times a week, so I did Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I don’t think I’ve done that in at least a year and a half. I wish I could promise getting back into that rhythm, but I’ve learned not to make promises I can’t keep.

(You know who else makes terrible promises? Groupon sellers. That’s another rant somewhere down the line.)

Part of my frustration with keeping up a blog is the interactive side of it. When I started, my classmates were required to comment and suddenly there was an interactive community. We were having conversations with people we otherwise would have stayed several seats away from in the classroom. For the most part, those students I connected with have disappeared from the WordPress world and I’ve never been able to cultivate that sort of community with people who weren’t getting graded.

Please don’t take this as whining. This has been a great platform to be able to go and meet other writers/mental health advocates/awesome people. It’s just been frustrating to write and feel like my words are falling into the abyss. It concerns me because I don’t want that to happen with my book, and I think that’s what scares me more than anything. I’ve poured so much passion into writing that I don’t want it to be for nothing. (I’m not saying I need it to reach the NYT Bestsellers List, but if it could cover the moving expenses from my stint in Seattle, that’d be awesome. That would mean people are actually reading what I wrote.)

What about you guys? Anything frustrating you? For my writers, does your social media presence hearten/dishearten you with regard to your future success? For my mental health peeps, how has the conversation on your blogs helped/hurt your growth as relates to anxiety and/or depression?

(Brett Eldredge’s “You Can’t Stop Me” just came on. Thanks for the mood boost, Brett.)

Edit: If you’re reading this in 2025, you’re still welcome to comment on this or any other post. Like I said, this is about starting a conversation. There’s no time limit on when that can happen. Although, I imagine if you’re commenting around 2091, it might be my grandkids responding since I’ll be a centurion centenarian (who the hell knew that was even a word?).

Jealousy v. Success

This question has been posed twice in the last week: What will I do if one of my friends gets published before I do?

The honest-to-God truth is that I’ll be fine. I’ll even be happy for them.

This sounds like I’m giving the “right” answer rather than the “honest” answer. My mother and I had a pretty lengthy discussion where she didn’t believe me at first, but I convinced her in the end.

Here’s the deal: I am friends with amazing, talented people who are all working towards the same goal. We all want to be authors. We all have a need to share our philosophies with the world. We’re all weird, and we’ve all taken turns being “the next one” who might get published.

I’ve worked for this for 12 years, rewriting the same story over and over and over. One of my friends has been piddling around with a couple of ideas for about 10 years and finally settled on one focus a couple of years back, but hasn’t put a single word on paper yet. What if he gets published two years from now and I have to wait another five? That’s okay.

Patience is a magical virtue that some people really can’t grasp. One colleague ripped into me about not chasing my dreams–“You’re not going to get published if you don’t start working toward it.” I waited for her to let it all out (took approximately 10 minutes; that was a test of patience right there) before I told her that I had in fact finished the novel twice and rewritten it because of feedback gained from others. I had moved 1500 miles to study my other settings. I had gotten specific jobs and studied specific disciplines just to improve my writing. She didn’t realize how thoroughly my 12 years had been dedicated to this craft because she can’t grasp the concept of patience.

That patience is why I’ll be okay. I might get upset for a minute, an hour, a day, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Someone else’s success doesn’t detract from mine. Hell, if one of one my friends moves forward faster than I do, he can start dropping my name.

I believe in a world built on “my success is your success and your success is my success.” I don’t adhere to an “I deserve this more than that other person” mentality–anymore. I did for a long time and it got me nowhere. It got me further from Nowhere; I actually went backwards. It took me about six years to pull my head out of my ass and see how immature I was being.

If you put in the work, you deserve success. It’s not up to me to decide who gets there first.

Damn.

Ever have one of those mornings where you’re working on a project and you realize that the perfect consultant for said project is someone you swore to never speak to again? Because I have.

Today’s shenanigans include researching childhood illnesses that may lead to relatively severe vision loss (remember: we authors love doing terrible things to our characters), but I need the vision loss to be something that can be mitigated by contact lenses. Said research means reading a bunch of optometric and ophthalmologic jargon. (Would you believe I knew how to spell ‘ophthalmologic’ without looking it up? No? Good, because I definitely missed the first ‘l’, but I did get the rest of the bleeping consonants.)

I can piece my way through the jargon, but it takes a lot of brain power. Wikipedia and I are close friends, plus there’s a file buried deep in the back of my mind titled, “Things I Learned While Listening To My Ex Talk About Work.” As I started going over these articles, I’m going, “It would be so much easier to just ask the optometrist I nearly married,” and then I remembered: oh right, that’s not going to happen.

Oy. The PsyD says moments like these are to be expected for awhile longer. It’s funny how he just pops into my mind at random and completely disturbs all of my thoughts. At least I know how to write that into a character now.

As for the poor character recovering from her childhood illness, I’m thinking measles, but I have to research the long-term effects first. I don’t want to change her character dynamic too much. It’s one thing to add a daily regimen of medication; it’s quite another to write in ramifications of encephalitis.

I swear I’ve learned more researching for my novels than I ever did in Biology class. Anywho. That’s the random brainwaves of today.

Brief Update

The briefest of brief updates:

1) There’s no way it’s been a month since I last posted. I’ll remedy that here soon.

2) I just sent out my first queries in years so I’m a tad nauseous and slightly exhilarated, which is converging in this massive migraine.

Dear agents, welcome to my humble abode. The “VHAMA” page listed under the “Writing” tab above will give you more of an idea about the novel I just inundated your inboxes with. The rest of the blog is merely a chance to see that I’m clinically nuts.

I’m going to go hunt some ibuprofen and tea. See you soon, friends.