Sunday, October 17, 2010

Feedback From a Small Reader

Tonight, I asked my son to read the first chapter of a children's book I have been working on for about a year.  Three weeks ago I picked up the second draft of the story and began polishing and editing it, chapter by chapter, trying to make it perfect the way I would polish a thesis for college, the way I would lovingly paint a mural on my baby's bedroom wall, or the way I would gently add spices to my homemade peach-blueberry pie until it can't be better. 

I am very happy with the first three chapters.  For the first time in my life, I feel like a writer, like I could say that out loud to people I don't know when asked what it is that I do. They always ask. I usually stumble over my words and gesture toward my toddler, not wanting to say out loud that I spend a lot of time coloring, playing with Play-Doh, and swinging in the back yard while singing Kumbaya out loud.

So far, I have allowed my teenage daughter and husband to read the first three chapters.  They loved it, offered a few grammatical suggestions, and mostly have given me amazing support and encouragement.  My daughter told me that her substitute teacher quit her full-time teaching job to write; she told her teacher that I was a writer too.  How awesome is that? 

As I result of my family's encouragement, I was brave enough to read the first chapter out loud in my writing class to a group of strangers.  It was difficult (not a difficult as reading poems out loud), but very liberating.  Hearing the feedback was hard, but I accepted it and took into consideration what everyone had to say. 

Tonight, I was very excited that my son was so eager to read the chapter. The story is intended for nine-year-olds, so he is the perfect audience.  My nine-year-old is a lot like me and can be brutally honest.  He held the pages in his hands, looked at it without reading yet, then looked up to me, and told me the first chapter seemed really long.  I told him the next chapters are shorter.  He asked if he could read one of those chapters instead with a sly grin on his face. I explained he had to read this chapter first to get the next chapter, so he agreed.  I told him to circle anything that didn't make sense or words that were too hard and put a pen in his little hand. 

I hovered over him for too long and watched him start reading it.  I nervously started pacing, not knowing what to do with myself.  I left his room, fidgeted in another room, paced down the hallway, went back to his room and hovered over him again, fiddled with the volume on his radio, cleaned up the mess on his floor, told him again it's OK if he doesn't like it, walked to my daughter's room and announced that I am an absolute complete failure if my son doesn't like it.  Holy crap, what had I done?

After what seemed like an eternity, he brought the chapter back to me with no marks at all.  Like a tiny book editor, he said he liked it in a serious, matter-of-fact manner.  He asked me if I could change the name of the hedgehog, the character that was based on him, to Mr. Fudge Pie.  I told him I would seriously consider it if I could figure out how to make that work.  I told him I wanted to change the family's last name to a name of a flower, but not a very obvious one like Pansy or Tulip.  He agreed and gave me some ideas.  I asked if any of the words were too hard.  He looked at me like I was nuts and said no; apparently, I had insulted his intelligence.  I gave him a summary of what happens in the next chapter, and he seemed very eager to read it tomorrow night. 

Whew. I am not a failure after all.  That could have been bad....

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