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The Clarity of Another Set of Eyes 3 min read
Brian Koppelman

The Clarity of Another Set of Eyes

The moment just after you hit "send" is when all the imperfections make themselves known.

By Cary Littlejohn

Yesterday I wrote about this lovely conversation between Brian Koppelman and Wright Thompson on Koppelman's podcast, The Moment.

Among many interesting moments, there was a small exchange between them on the moment when sending a creative work to another for review and feedback.

Thompson, speaking of his friendship with fellow journalist and author Seth Wickersham, said he would often send his work to Wickersham for review.

"I would send it to him and be like, 'Is this working or not?' But then I learned that the urge to send it to him is its own answer."

Koppelman lit up with recognition. He knew this experience well.

"When I was an A&R guy, and you'd be trying to get a mix right, or you would be working with an artist and wonder if the collection of songs was good enough yet to go make the album, sometimes what I would do, what one would do, is you would call one of the other A&R guys, your peers, into your office, and say 'Hey, I want to play you something.'
But as soon as you hit play, you, the person, knew. I didn't need the A&R guy to say shit to me. Or A&R woman to say shit to me. The second I started playing it, I could just stop them and be like, 'Thanks for coming. I got it. It's not ready yet.'"

Thompson then shared his version of that.

"I like to read over an editor's shoulder, because reading it without having my hands on the keys, I'm know—I'm just like, 'Stop reading! Stop reading! This sucks.'"

This all sounded familiar to something I'd just read in Dani Shapiro's book, Still Writing. I missed her when she came to Columbia, Missouri, for the Unbound Book Festival in April, but Skylark Bookshop had Still Writing, which was being rereleased for its 10th anniversary, on a front table, and I scooped it up.

In a section titled, "Read Yourself," she writes about the need to detach oneself from what's been written and read it as a stranger would. She says she pretends to be someone else.

"But that 'someone else' can't be just anybody. Just as in choosing other readers for your work, when you're deciding who to pretend to be, it is important to choose with care. You're looking for someone kind but honest. Smart. And inclined to be interested in the world you're exploring. You would not, for instance, choose as a pretend-reader of your science fiction novel, someone who finds H.G. Wells insufferable and has never watched an episode of Star Trek. You need a pretend-reader whose criticism will be motivated by genuine interest, generosity of spirit, and literary acumen. Someone beneficent and wise."

She continues:

"If you're doubtful about this method, think about what happens right after you've sent your story, an essay, a manuscript, out to someone for a read. Perhaps you've submitted it to a literary magazine, or sent a draft to your editor. Doesn't it aways happen that as soon as you've sent it, suddenly you notice something you want to change? You read your own work differently once you've shared it because you are—in that moment after you've hit the send button, or stuffed that envelope into the mail slot—rereading your work as the person to whom you've just sent it. The circle around your work suddenly grows wider. But now that you have a little more room in which to read it clearly, you've sent it out. It's too late."

So what's Shapiro's solution (or recommendation, at the very least)?

Find a quiet spot, she says, and close your eyes and become that pretend-reader, "the way an actor inhabits a role."

"When you open your eyes the words in front of you will no longer be your own. They will be alive, mutable, and new. You are no longer yourself—in all your intimate fallibility—reading your own chicken scratch. Instead, you are a lucid, kind-hearted stranger—open to the possibilities. You are someone else: optimistic and ready to be surprised."