Sometimes it is hard to hear what other people have to say about our writing. Sometimes we want to say, ‘No, that’s not what I meant at all.’ Sometimes we just say, ‘Well, I like it like that.’ We may well like it like that, and we may, as the writer, decide to keep everything absolutely as we first wrote it. However, when people respond to what we have written, they give a chance to see how they read it. And if we feel that they are not seeing what we wanted them to see, well, we might just think about ways of making it easier for them to do so. We might!
Peter Elbow makes all this much easier for me. What he says is that the reader is always right and always wrong. You are always right in that no one else is able to tell you what it was you experienced when you read something. You are always wrong in that there is always something you don’t see or cannot get. We have to work at that.
.And the writer also, is always right and always wrong. Here is what Peter Elbow has to say:
You are always right in that your decisions about the writing is always final. They give you their experience, you decide what to do about it. You are in charge. You are the only one making decisions.
But you are always wrong in that you can never quarrel with their experience -never quarrel even with their report of their experience. And you must assume that you are never good enough at sharing their perception -shedding your blinders, getting into their shoes.
Like the reader, you must be simultaneously sure of yourself and humble.
Peter Elbow (1973) Writing Without TeachersOxford University Press: New York
That position, simultaneously sure of your own perceptions and understandings and aware that you cannot always get it right, is very liberating. Be quiet and listen. Think about what your reader tells you. Think about what you might do as a result of hearing that.
Peter Elbow is immensely practical and encouraging. If you would like to know more about his ideas he has a generous website.