When my son got lice a few years ago – quite common among the elementary school set – I came to appreciate the true meaning of “nitpicking”. Plucking those tiny, disgusting nits from the roots of his baby fine hair was tedious, but necessary work.
Page by page, I review the comments of my last insightful readers, checking their suggestions against one another and my own, trying each tiny shift in sentence construction this way and that, pausing at each question to consider their confusion or ideas, all the while pushing my ego out of the way to be sure that I make the right decision for my manuscript.
It’s tedious work, but invaluable and necessary to give my novel its final polish. These carefully chosen readers each know and love literature in a slightly different way. They each offer intelligent and careful observations. Each of them has slightly different thoughts, and different places that bring them to questioning. That is a comfort. In my classes, I often say, “Don’t worry too much when one person is confused. If two or three are questioning, go back and check. If the whole room is befuddled, take their suggestions seriously.”
So I’m grateful that no one particular thing has troubled or confused everyone who has read the manuscript in the last month or so. Still, each reader has made suggestions and asked questions, some I hadn’t even thought of before. That’s the value of good outside readers. They don’t know your world or your intent, so they see the work fresh and with an open mind. They’re also sympathetic, giving you the opportunity to clarify what’s confused them. Some writers use outside readers after nearly every draft. For me, I like to wait until I’m certain that I can’t get any farther without an outside opinion.
So here I am at the end of my literary journey, giving extra care and attention to each query, no matter how small. I know that my readers’ confusion and insights will help other readers I may never have the chance to meet. Once it’s published, our writing must communicate for us. We don’t often have the luxury to explain.
I embrace this kind of nitpicking with far more willingness than another round of lice. It’s tedious, but in the end I know it will make my novel transparent, gripping and ultimately enjoyable to anyone who chooses to read it.