DR. WRITE'S REMARKS ©
[Originally Broadcast on
W A M C
Northeast
Public Radio]

The Proof is in the Reading© DrWrite.Com 2005

Flip Wilson used to tell a story about a woman who boards a train with an infant in her arms and sits down next to a man reading a newspaper. After a few moments, he puts down the paper and, upon seeing the baby, gasps. "What an ugly baby!" he says. "That baby is so ugly it's making me sick. You ought to cover up that kid's face before he scares someone."

The woman, of course…is indignant. She waves at the conductor who comes down the aisle and asks what's the matter.

"I'll tell you what's the matter," she says. "This man has insulted me; he is rude and obnoxious and I won’t stand for it. I paid good money to ride on this train and I shouldn't have to be subjected to such behavior."

The conductor nods and begins looking around the car. "Of course, madam," he says. "Just wait here one moment and I will find you another seat. And while I'm gone, I'll see if I can find a banana for your monkey."

So…the moral to the story, if there is one, is that to every mother, their child is beautiful. And my point is this. Writing is like giving birth. Anything you write is YOUR creation. It's your baby. And you don't see the flaws, the warts and wrinkles. That's why it's always so easy for someone else to proofread. They don’t know what you MEANT to say. All they know is what they see. And if your baby is ugly, they will see it.

But the real problem is that when most of us write we usually don’t have someone to proofread. We have to do it ourselves. The result is usually something like this, from a paper submitted by one of my college students: Drama is all about mistaking yourself for someone else and sometimes you are not the person though, but some people might not be mistaken.

So how can we get past the point where we've given birth and look at out baby objectively, as if it were someone else's? Well, folks, it ain't easy. But if you care about your writing, here are a few suggestions.

After it's born, put it away…preferably overnight. It's like sending the kid to summer camp. Ten weeks later she's a whole different person. What's needed is time enough to forget what you meant to say.

Or if you can find someone willing to help, strike up a deal; I'll read yours if you read mine…an e-mail proofing buddy or the guy in the cubicle next to yours. (Of course, you'll want him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.) Writing can be a very personal thing and I'm asking you to lay your work out there in front of someone and have them criticize it. But there's no other way. The same thing would be true of any learning situation. You don't know if the cake you made is any good until someone tastes it. And the person who is polite and lies to you to avoid hurting your feelings doesn't make you a better cook.

Or read it aloud. Even better, get an inexpensive recorder, read it, then play it back. That'll scare you into being more careful. And it'll drive that guy in the next cubicle crazy.

One other tactic; if you're using a word processor, highlight the whole thing and change the font and the point size. That way it doesn't look like the original and you won't feel like you're reading what you just wrote.

Writing can be a very personal thing and laying your work out there in front of someone to have them criticize it is asking to be embarrassed. But there's no other way. The same thing would be true of any learning situation. You don't know if the cake you made is any good until someone tastes it and tells you if it is or not. And the person who is polite and lies to you doesn't make you a better cook.

The bottom line is this: don't take that baby out in public until you've cleaned it up and made it presentable. Otherwise, somebody will have to find a banana for YOUR monkey.