Postcard from Columbus, OH: Blind Spots

Columbus, OHAmandine and I are in Columbus, OH, this weekend visiting friends. It has been a pretty low-key visit so far, mostly just hanging out, chasing Amandine around, eating, and reading. I figured I might as well take advantage of not having a job yet to get a little traveling in before I start work.

The most exciting thing we’ve done so far was the Columbus Race for the Cure yesterday morning—it was fun to walk around the downtown area (my friend and I were both pushing strollers, so it was definitely a walk, not a run) and see all the buildings, hear the bands play, and get high-fives from all the biker-dudes and -dudettes who parked their motorcycles on the sidewalks and revved their engines for the last stretch. Afterward we had brunch at a place called the Northstar Cafe, which I really liked.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about some of the similarities between writing and parenting. The friend I’ve been staying with was a single mom for several years, and so is full of constructive tips and advice about how to manage. In general, as a parent, one gets all kinds of advice from all directions, sometimes conflicting or contradictory. Be more laid back. Be less laid back. Be stricter. Don’t hover, or your child will be too dependent on you. Do hover, or your child will end up kidnapped.

Likewise with writing. You have your anti-adverb people, your show-don’t-tell obsessives, your pro-purple prose people, and so on. There are people who profess to love your writing, and people who, given half a chance, will stab at your pages bloodthirstily* till your manuscript is soaked with red ink.

The trouble is, with both writing and parenting, I have blind spots where I need advice. There are places in my manuscript where I know that I don’t know whether or not there’s something deeply wrong with it. The only way to get a better sense of the major flaws is to get input from other people. It’s frustrating, because often when I look at other people’s writing, their mistakes stand out glaringly to me, and these turn out to be the same mistakes I’m making with my writing.

And with my daughter, I have a sense of where my faults as a parent lie (tendency to be a pushover, absent-mindedness), but it’s hard know the best ways to counterbalance them so as to make sure I don’t accidentally ruin her life and render her forever socially inept. Having so little experience at parenting, sometimes it’s hard to gauge when your countermeasures go too far (e.g., being extra strict to balance one’s pushover tendencies, or being extra attentive to make up for one’s absent-mindedness).

And then, with both writing and parenting, sometimes your critics disagree with each other, and sometimes their criticisms just sound wrong. So where you have these blind spots, you end up having to do a complicated triangulation between other people’s opinions and your own instincts, paying careful attention to what’s coming from which source.

I wonder if the best writers—and the best parents—are the ones with the fewest blind spots, or if even the best ones still need outsiders’ perspectives, but have just gotten very good and quick at doing the triangulation on those outside opinions to measure them against their own judgments. In any case, I’m hoping I can improve over time both at having fewer and smaller blind spots and at making the best use of other people’s advice. I’d love to hear what others think  …

*Take that, anti-adverb people!

2 thoughts on “Postcard from Columbus, OH: Blind Spots

  1. Ooh, interesting parallel! One connection I see is that, in both writing and parenting, you have to develop a style that’s meaningful to you AND that resonates with the person on the other end of the interaction – reader and daughter. That’s why, I think, sincerity and authenticity serve you so well in both areas. Readers can sense when you feel that a story is worth telling – regardless of the exact words you use – and daughters can tell when you truly don’t want them to, say, fall down a well (or when you really do think something is beautiful, and worthy of their attention). One difference is that you get direct feedback from a child, who is (in that moment) your one and only recipient of parenting, so it’s clearer which sorts of communication work and which don’t. There’s more guesswork in writing… if your goal is to communicate one specific thing. That’s why you have to please yourself first & last.

  2. I loved your analogy. I don’t know much about either topic. I am certainly not a writter (and please don’t hold me accountable for my poor style or spelling!), and although I am a parent (you know me :-)), I do not feel that I am either a good nor a bad parent. I only consider myself a parent.

    My feeling on both topics, is that you don’t need to be good you just need to make it work for you, your child and/or your readers.
    I read many books that I loved but that my mother, sister or friends couldn’t stand. On the other end my love ones often recommended me books that I wouldn’t even finish because the style, the story or something else didn’t agree with me (it’s like food, I don’t finish my plate if I don’t like what’s in there). And so do I look at parenting.
    I think my role is to work on the balance between what I feel good teaching my son, what is social requested from me to teach my son, and what he is happy learning from me.

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