Getting Trustworthy Input

During my university years, a writing instructor made certain to drive home the point that it’s extremely important to find someone you trust to read your work. Luckily for me, I married that person. Kimmy is not one to shy away from a harsh critique. After finishing a novel shortly after college, I printed it off and loaned it to anyone who would take it. My wife (then girlfriend) was one of those unlucky victims of my coma-inducing writing. I had to prod and prod her to read it, and since I was wearing some pretty blinding pride goggles, it took me much longer than it should have to realize she didn’t like it. No, no–she hated it. If I had covered it in gasoline and set it ablaze, I imagine she’d have applauded, her hand claps fanning the flames. That novel has become the Voldemort of our household. It is the novel whose name we do not speak, and in those rare moments when it is spoken, Kimmy lets loose an audible groan to remind me of my malfeasance.

Her loathing of this novel was and is completely justified. I thought I’d just created the Mona Lisa of modern, satirical novels, but in reality I was nothing more than that ambitious old woman who ruined that centuries old fresco of Jesus. My writing was dry, inconsistent, and outright terrible. I didn’t see it, but Kimmy did and when I was able to separate myself from my work, I was able to see it as well. After that, I vowed only to show her my stuff if I met higher standards. This meant not only spending much more time crafting a story, but also knowing when to throw something out entirely. It’s one of the worst feelings to trash months worth of work, but in the end I have benefitted from it. Anyway, I’m a huge fan of rewrites and will often opt to start with a blank slate rather than try to salvage the bits of pieces of goodness from a train wreck of writing. And speaking of blank slates, just today my wife told me that she’s my tabula rasa. She’s the one I can go to to bounce ideas off of, so when I’ve over thought a plot or character, she can make suggestions to send me down the right track.

Perhaps the hardest part of a story for me to write is the ending. And in my current novel, the final pages are fine, but they’re far from great, and so today, while taking a stroll down a street shaded by tall trees, my wife gave me the direction that I’ve searched for but had been unable to find on my own. In fact, for the last few weeks, anytime I’ve had thoughts about my project, I’ve been able to discuss them with my wife. This is the first time I’ve really been able to do something like this, and I’m quite grateful for it.

Kimmy is someone I can trust because she’s not afraid to tell me when what I’m doing is bad. She’s also a prolific reader and casual writer herself. And if there’s one thing I need, it’s for someone to tell me when I’m on the wrong path. In the past I’ve often fallen into brilliance blindness–when I think what I’ve done is so good that anyone telling me otherwise just doesn’t get it. Kimmy has motivated me to put a lot more time and thought into what I write. Gone are the days where I come up with a gimmicky storyline and clichéd narrator, or stories that are nothing more than shocking tales with two dimensional characters. At least, I hope those days are gone, and one of the people keeping me on my toes is my toughest critic, my tabula rasa, my wife, and someone whose input I trust just as much as my own.

Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.

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