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A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reading With Which Eye?

The right eye? The left?

Nah. Not what I meant at all, even though the blog title produces just such a visual.

I refer to a writer's eye, or a reader's eye.

Just this morning, I had a conversation with my son and his girlfriend; it produced the question.  And, thank heaven, they don't run when the conversation turns to writing, reading and the ever-changing publishing landscape. They patiently listen and then offer their own thoughts and ideas.  Thank heaven--because I so enjoy and appreciate gaining a glimpse through a reader's eye.

My daughter, Zigzee, who does some writing, has a degree in English.  When she first began to read my work, she commented to me that she had a tough time shutting off her "writer's eye".  The grammar and punctuation mistakes were glaring to her.

I didn't understand, at first.  But after nearly a decade of studying the craft, and writing, writing, writing, I too have developed the "writer's eye".  But, thankfully, my writer's eye is not so dominant that I can't still see out of my reader's eye. I think that helps me to read work that has been less than professionally edited.

Online, I interact with a lot of writers and authors, sharing opinions, ideas, and views.  But to me, this personal interaction--like this morning, is even more telling--and arguably even more important: the view of readers. And when you get readers to talk with you--people who look at books using their "reader's" eye, you hear opinions that are rather different than having someone share their thoughts while looking through their writer's eye. After all, the readers are the end users of a writer's product. And if they aren't happy with the product, then they aren't buying it.

When this morning's conversation got to specifics, it turned to bad ebooks.  And we proceeded to dissect just what makes an ebook (or any book for that matter), a disappointment, or a "would never recommend" book.  What makes us decide that it is not very good?

My son's girlfriend, Bobbi--who reads tons and tons of books, told me that it is the sense of story that she values most. It is not punctuation errors that influence her opinion--with the exception of books that contain so many that they become a distraction.  She said that if a story is good, she will read it. But she does read excerpts--to check the nuts and bolts of the writing.

Then my son added that he reads excerpts of books when deciding whether to buy, too.  But, he is looking for a story. Not looking to see if mistakes were made in the writing.

POV...unless it is blatant head-hopping with shallowly developed characters, it does not bother Bobbi, either.

Then the discussion delved into punctuation, mostly.

I shared my experience of interacting with frustrated authors who aren't sure how to find their way out of the ebook glut--many written to a lower standard.  This was specific to grammar and punctuation, by the way.

During the course of discussing different books that we liked or didn't like, we had to admit that some of them included less than stellar punctuation, and a few even had misspelled words.

But, it came back to the story. Did it grip us?  Did the characters resonate with us?  Punctuation be damned (to an extent) <smiling> , we would even buy sequels by the same author.

Even so, for the errors to not become distracting, we both said that we required the author  to have a certain  level of proficiency in written English.

But...just what is that "certain" level?

A conundrum?


Perhaps not.

Our conclusion was this: writers who are well-educated in proper grammar usage, proper punctuation, and all other elements of our written language, are the most likely to hold in disdain, writing of lesser proficiency.  And we wondered if a side effect of that education and then increased practice of the craft, created a "writer's eye"?

Disclaimer: I don't write this with any kind of judgement of those writers.  How could I judge them?  I learn from them all and am quite grateful for that. I bow to their knowledge--and the hard work it took for them to acquire it.

Nor do I judge any writer--I like to think that we all write to the best of our ability.  And if we are lacking, we constantly strive to educate ourselves...to enable ourselves to produce better and better writing. There is always an audience to be found. The karma is this: the size of that audience is likely determined by just how well we write.  But, it seems that "how well we write" might be judged just as much by the story itself, as it is by the vocabulary, sentence structure, and punctuation.

Above, I freely admitted that I don't buy books or read books containing so many errors that they are distracting to me.  And to those who hone their writing craft to perfection, perhaps, while viewing with a writer's eye-- the work of other writers, they are just as distracted by the mistake that writers such as myself-- and other less proficient writers, make.

The answer we came up with this morning is this: we rarely notice the mistakes of those more proficient than we are.  We aren't educated to a comprehension of when a mistake is even a mistake.  I really don't mean for this to sound like a tongue-twister.  To be thorough, The mistakes of those less proficient in proper writing... jump out at us. We see them because we comprehend them.

Now, to extrapolate from that,  it might help us when we are frustrated--to consider our audience.  The vast majority of readers, book consumers, and those who determine the popularity of any given book or author, are not holding degrees in English.

Thus, the difference in the eye one reads with.  Writers who read, readers who write, and flat-out readers with their wonderful reading eyes might all see things differently.

I know it hurts to accept that with the changing market due to ebooks surging, a lesser quality of writing (speaking of grammar and punctuation) might become the new norm.  But ultimately, the consumer drives the market.  Your thoughts?


  1. Hi Teresa.Interesting post. As you know I'm from The Netherlands and English is not my native tongue, and English is not my field of expertise.

    I believe there is a difference in reading a book, sitting on the couch and on-line reading. Apart from the use of language that's being used on the internet, the readers average time of concentration to read on-line seems to become shorter and shorter.

    Very seldom you will come across blogs with pages upon pages of text. Very often they have a picture / text / picture /text format to make reading easier for their readers.

    The spelling that's being used is 'Free Format English' as I like to call it. Punctuation is almost non - existent. In my native language (Dutch) the same is happening and I sometimes have trouble reading the sentences our 'younger generation' produce.

    But I believe writing - in it's purest form - will continue to evolve according to the time we live in. After all writing is art.

    1. You're welcome. It's the same in The Netherlands. Twitter, MSN, on-line communities do not contribute in any way to 'proper' writing. At work I sometimes receive e-mails, written by managers that are riddled with spelling- and grammar errors.

      I can deal with the change in a language because of different times. After all, who had heard about 'Googling' 20 years ago?

      The spelling- and grammar errors really get me sometimes. ;) <- and here is another example!

    2. I am guilty of this one--often ---> :-) I know it is unprofessional. I know it is improper in a written communication, but I don't want to stop using it. I generally am smiling when I am online kibitzing with someone, lol, so I want them to know. And without tome and inflection...Oy! Meanings can be so misconstrued :-)

      See... there it goes again. I think I use it as a punctuation mark. lol... I have actually put it in emails to my boss and to his boss... Oh well. Life is good, and damn-it, if want to smile...I am just gonna smile any way I can ;-) And wink too. !

      Have a good week, JB. Tell your sweetie I said, "Hello Julie!"

  2. HI Jan :-) I think you do a wonderful job of writing English. Many times I have thought that your English is so much better than those who speak it natively.

    I do agree about the difference in where and what you read. Online seems to be much looser. Perhaps books remain the bastion of proper writing--and now that that has begun to fail, people have noticed and are making noise about it? Or...maybe it is just about money...I don't know.

    The younger generation? Texting is the road to grammar hell... And Twitter opens the door once you get there. :-) The limited characters of both are driving written English in a different direction. For my generation, it seems bad. But...is it the future?

    And the limited attention span...I imagine that all technology contributes to it.

    In your native language, do you see the same type shortcuts on sites-- and when using devices that limit the number of characters per post? I cannot imagine how it is any different in any language.

    Picture / text / picture... *hanging my head* but I really did look for a free photo online; nothing caught my eye for this post. :-)

    Thanks for the read, my friend... and for sharing yoru opinion. Always interesting-- and sharing something I had not thought about. :-)

  3. I hate bad grammar. I will admit that I don't always write everything perfect. But, when I buy a book I do expect it to be correct.
    I don't read e-books because I like holding books not mini computers. But, I do notice that grammar across all social sites like Twitter or Facebook is getting worse and worse.
    A few spelling errors are OK. Again, I am not perfect. But, if there are a lot, that's not OK with me.

  4. I hear what you are saying, Ruth. I truly believe that our level of intolerance for quality of writing is just as unique as each of our own comprehension of such.

    I don't advocate poorly written books. I wished that everyone wrote as if they had a degree in English. But that is not the case. I don't see it so much in print. But digital publishing has opened the door for anyone to publish their work.

    Yes...social networking grammar is tough to read. But, I think it is the wave of the future.

    I still like to feel a book in my hands. I love the feel--and the sound, of paper as I turn the pages, the dogeared corners, and how a really old book has yellowed paper. I hope that they never go the way of the dodo, but understand that it could happen.

    :-) I breathed a little sigh of relief when I read your post. I keep expecting to get lambasted by someone who is thoroughly unhappy about the state of improperly written books. I don't like to see them, but just wanted to share my thoughts about them. I don't think that all readers even recognize mistakes when they read them. I am positive that there are some that don't register with me.

    The publishing world is currently tumultuous, at best. I read on an author's blog about a traditionally published (paper)book that contained some errors. The author pointed out that even the big six let mistakes slip through. On another of the same author's blogs, there was a post lamenting the glut of poorly written ebooks--and suggesting that there should be a gateway--a nominal fee charged to publish ebooks. There is a commonly held belief that because it is free to publish ebooks, that is why the poor quality has prevailed. It might be true. It might not. I don't know.

    But that author's blog --the duality of opinion, exemplified the current state of confusion about what is acceptable and what is not.

    I am pretty sure that Amazon/Creatspace doesn't care. They make their money on sales--and they know that. Cutting down the volume of books offered in their Kindle store by charging a fee to publish does not make monetary sense. At least not that I can see. And if authors are asking Amazon/CS to do this--to benefit them (the authors) and to raise the standard of writing... suffice it to say, I would be astounded if Amazon/CS agreed to such.

    Thank you for stopping by--for taking the time to read and to comment! :-)

  5. Another good one, Teresa, interesting how you always manage find those debate-worthy subjects. That's a great quality for a blog!

    Anyhow, let's get to my two cents then, shall we. I don't think that the oversupply of mediocre or bad writing will damage "the written word" or the literary genre itself, quite the opposite. The pressure is up, because nowadays everyone constantly competes with everyone else, the best with the worst and vice versa, and it's all about selling volumes - and the numbers don't lie.

    These days, even part-time readers have much more insight and knowledge into what's good and what's bad ergo what they like and what they don't like. Everyone reads reviews before buying anything, be it a washer or a book. Websites like metacritic are high on demand for movies, books, even videogames or anything "entertainment". Look at what happened to TV series over the last 20-30 years. An absolute excess supply. And with time (and more and more channels and fierce competition for audience ratings), TV writing has gotten much better since the good old days of Dallas.

    But back to books: I actually agree with your assessment on our judgement of writing. The tragedy is that, as a writer, I really wish I could turn on my reader's eye, when looking at my own stuff. But I can't. Because I have a certain scenario in my head when I read it - and it never goes away. That's when I need to check with my husband for input, to verify if my intentions really have found a way to appear on the page or if they are still lingering solely in my head. Unfortunately, most of the times, it's the latter. But I hope it'll get better eventually, when my level of skill manages to catch up with the more advanced level of ideas. Training ideas is a human condition, everyone does it in life from birth on, finding strategies, at least that's what I would define as an "idea". It's also what constitutes and melts into the reader's eye, the way we enjoy these ideas, and how the level of judgement evolve with them.

    On a side note: Had to look up the word "proficient" in my dictionary :D

    1. You always lend excellent insight into a discussion, Daniela. Thank you for reading--and for the wonderful comments.

      This might ruffle some writers' feathers, but...like you said, "...and the numbers don't lie." Writers who have their books professionally edited--and are great grammarians themselves, are usually the worst offended when a book of "lesser writing quality" becomes popular.

      Having said that, I would respect any writer who insists on perfection--as close to it as possible, in a published book--for the sake of improving and bettering understanding of proper written language. To lament poorly written books as a decline of civilization...I can even accept that one. But, when a writer slams another writer's work because their own book can't crawl up out of the pile of ebooks out there? Misguided notion--that thinning the ranks will somehow make their books better and more appealing to buyers? Oh boy...I had better stop and get down off of this soapbox now.

      So true about the reviews. We read reviews, we compare prices and heckle salesman for better prices. It has become a world of informed consumers. Now, I do acknowledge that there are problems with the rating systems. Usually, though, as the number of book sales increase, the legitimacy of the star-rating becomes more valid.

      On amazon, the first 20 or so reviews are often a little higher than the average reviews after a 50 or 60 or so. The reason is, almost everybody has 20 friends and family members who read a book and leave a review. And their reviews are usually a bit biased. I suspect that most times, that is really incidental--not premeditated. Consider--when my old boss and another co-worker read my first book, they raved, said it was great...but I think they could not help but silently qualify their review with *not bad for a lab technician* And I think that anyone who reviews a book, fights with that--if they know the author. But I have read blogs where authors complained of shill accounts being opened to either pump up a star rating average, or to rip a book review to shreds-- of an author they don't like--or have had an online argument with. I don't doubt these things happen. As much as people can be good and kind to each other, I know they are also given to jealousy and getting even for a perceived (or real) insult.

      It is nearly impossible to take an objective eye to your own work, Daniela. I have read this advice--and tried it, and it is amazingly spot on...after you finish a novel, set it aside for a couple of months. Work on something else to pull your mind away from the story. And when you pick it up and read it again, plot holes become visible, things you left out-that your mind knew but the reader won't unless you include them--the information omissions just jump out at you. You can read it out loud to your dear hubby. :-) Or just read it aloud to the silence around you,. Reading out loud uses a different part of your brain than silent reading does. When we read silently, our brains words that we omitted--typos are skimmed over. But when you read it out loud--eureka!

    2. That is hilarious--above, lol, "When we read silently, our brains words that we omitted--typos are skimmed over." I omitted the words "add the" between "our brains" and "words" lolol... completely unintentional. My mind was distracted thinking about how many words are allowed in one comment--and that I am so long winded I would have to make a second one. :-)

      I have also discovered that changing the file type helps to find plot issues, typos, missing words... I think it must trick the mind into seeing the story differently. I was astounded when, quite by accident, I started to edit a PDF version I had made to load on my Kindle. I have always written and edited on .doc files.

      Alright then...I still have paperwork to do for work in the morning, so I will be up a couple of hours yet. Ten P.M. here. I have to go. I am going to send an email in the next couple of days with some information about a chapter I wondered if you would take a look at and tell me what you think. And I would be honored to do the same for you when you are ready.

      Proficient? Kudos to you for looking it up. I always think it is a good day when I have learned something. Most days are good ones :-) Have a great Monday, dear girl.

  6. Momzee,
    I would just like to share a few thoughts as well. Despite my degree, I am very insecure about what I write! A few of my former English Professors are my Facebook friends. Imagine my anxiety when I post a status from my Blackberry, only to discover later on that I missed an apostrophe in a very crucial place!

    Speaking of :)and LOL… I was taking a written essay exam in a 400 level Literature course once (and I was using pen…of course). Now I can’t remember exactly what I was writing, but I amused myself and I actually wrote “LOL” on my exam. Yes, in pen. When I became aware of what I had done, I actually did laugh out loud. Then I scribbled over my “LOL” and tried to hold back a subsequent eruption of giggles.

    All Lol-ing aside, because of that piece of paper from Clarion University…sometimes people fear me.
    Ok, so I don’t quite instill dentist-type-fear or police-officer-fear. But people “warn” me when they send emails to me or want me to read over something.

    “I just typed this up really quick.”

    “Don’t mind my typos.”

    “I’m not a grammar genius.”


    I never do unsolicited grammar-police work. I am more like a private detective. I’m not going to arrest you for writing, “your welcome” instead of “you’re welcome.” But if you ask me to get out the red pen, I’m going to do my best to help you improve upon what you have already written. After all, you wouldn’t hire a private eye to find out if your wife is cheating and then pay him to not tell you what he found.

    I have my strengths and weaknesses as a writer too. Commas blow my mind. I never know where to put the damn things. I’m sure I knew at one time, but now, not so much. I just throw them in where I think there should be a pause.

    I also love using subordinate clauses as sentences at times. Hey, that’s how people talk. Moving on. (See?)
    Speaking of how people talk, if the English language never evolved, we would all be speaking like Chaucer or Shakespeare, right? Furthermore, if language itself never changed, there would be no such thing as the English language.

    Of course, there are purists out there who desperately cling to “proper English.” On the other side of the spectrum, I have seen a few Facebook statuses from teens that read something like, “heeeeyzzz youuuu guyyzzz Im like goingz to da mall tamorrowz.” (Somewhere, an Oxford Professor just died a little inside).

    Language is this amazing, beautiful gift that has the power to keep us humans apart or bring us together.

    In a way, I get why the purists are dedicated in their attempts to maintain a standard form of written language. But I also realize that the beauty of language is that it does evolve because we as humans have been gifted with creativity.

    Oh, and Mom? You could be a college professor. You always come up with such polarizing topics for discussion. You’re also open to change, and that is very cool.

  7. P.S. I also meant to add this thought. To me, the most important aspect of written language is literacy itself.

    I value writing that communicates clearly to readers. So maybe someone makes a few spelling errors or perhaps they're mixing up their "there/their/they're :-) I would much rather read a piece that speaks clearly to me than read some verbose gobbeldy gook that forces me to consult a dictionary every two minutes. That kind of writing just seems so condescending. What's worse, it's boring! Also, I don't like to "rewind" when I'm reading. You know how you start a sentence at the top of the page and by the time you get to the end, you're not really sure what you just read? Yeah. That. Annoyance. (I also love one word sentences. Concise.)

  8. Zigzee, I adore you. I have learned so much from you... "Speaking of how people talk, if the English language never evolved, we would all be speaking like Chaucer or Shakespeare, right? Furthermore, if language itself never changed, there would be no such thing as the English language." That is an excellent observation, I think.

    And punctuation evolves too--and people resist the change that that evolving entails. A good example is the serial comma.

    I like one word sentences. Really. ;-)

    This is beautiful: "Language is this amazing, beautiful gift that has the power to keep us humans apart or bring us together."

    I am always so proud of you, dearie. I am waiting for you to cut loose and write that book...but, you have a lot of ground to cover just living life. You will just sit down one day and start writing...no planning. It just happens.

    Rewinding? I like that term for it.

    Thank you for weighing in. This was really "neat"...getting your perspective--that of a person with a reading and a writing eye--who holds an English degree. Watching you work your way through school taught me just how hard-earned a college degree is. And it gave me much appreciation for those who pledge their time and dedication to the task of earning one.

    College professor??? :-) Another time, another life...perhaps. :-)