Learning to See

We all know how hard it is to see mistakes in our own writing. Sometimes even when someone points it out to us, we still can’t “see” it. We can see the mistakes where they flagged them, but we can’t see the same mistakes elsewhere in the manuscript.

I’ve struggled with this in my own work. For months, my critiques have included “boring verbs,” “generic description,” and “telling rather than showing.” With my brain, I understood what the critiques meant. Where the critquers marked passages, I saw the problems. But I could not see the problems where they had not flagged. I knew the same problems must exist in every scene, yet try as I might, I could not see them for myself.

How frustrating!

The reason those critiques are problematic is that generic, telling, boring words do not create a visceral connection with the reader. Instead of pulling the reader into the world of the story, making the reader feel what the character feels, the reader feels as if someone is reciting the story to them. This distance between the reader and the story is not what you want as a writer.

Still, the critiques kept coming in. I kept studying what they had to say. Then just this past week, something weird happened. As I prepared this month’s submission for critique, I said to myself, “That’s a blah verb.”

A little while later, I said, “Wow, that’s really generic.”

And then, “Geez, that’s totally telling.”


Could I finally be “seeing” what my (incredibly patient) critique partners have been pounding into me for months? Maybe. I hope so.

The other part of the equation, of course, is: If I am seeing the problems, do I have the skill to fix them? Can I dig deeper, stretch farther, and make that elusive connection with my readers?

This possible breakthrough has me very excited, and I can’t wait to see if this marks another step up the ladder in my writing.

Have you ever suddenly “seen” flaws in your writing when you were not able to see them before?


  1. Yes! I love this post, Ms. Gans, because it hits home.

    Usually, I don’t see my writing flaws until I’ve had significant distance between the writing (revising, etc.) of the piece and a subsequent “cold” reading.

    When I let a few weeks pass between intense focus on a written work and a new reading, so many issues jump out with utter clarity that I wonder how I ever missed them previously. This is true, too, if feedback from peers comes to me after enough time for me to see clearly again.

    Of course, this is frustrating because I, more often than not, lose confidence in a piece and end up publishing far less than I’d like to.

    For my student writers, I’ve always encouraged them to build time into their process for this settling period, so revision can truly come with new seeing.

    I don’t know what that ‘fog’ is that clouds our vision during the making of a piece, but I’m grateful it eventually lifts.

    Happy writing (and revising)!

    • Kerry Gans says

      Thanks, Katherine! Happy writing to you, too! Leaving time before revision can definitely help catch mistakes. Reading the ms. aloud helps me catch things, too.

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