Family History: Look at your writing through a reader’s eyes

10-16-2014 5-23-50 PMBy Barry J. Ewell

When I first started writing, I found myself becoming very defensive when someone made an edit or comment about the writing. I took it very personally. That “filter” was keeping me from seeing how my writing was being received by others. Often the editing and suggestions others made were minor, but they really made a difference in how the writing would be received. Even if I didn’t agree with the recommendation, it gave me a chance to rewrite a sentence or paragraph and make it much clearer. Thus, when you read your writing, it is very important that you try to see the writing through the reader’s eyes. The following are a few techniques to consider:

Read your writing from the perspective of someone who has no interest in what you wrote. Writing the personal history is something you care about. Your first draft is essentially writing to yourself. It’s easy to skip important facts simply because you already know them. When you read your writings from the point of view of someone who has no interest in the subject, you start asking questions or making comments—”Where’s the proof?” “That’s a lame statement.” “Why is that important?” “What was the date?” “What was it like to live in the city at that time?” You are able to more easily see any omissions, and this process gives you a direction of what to do to strengthen your writing.

Read your writing from the perspective of a doubter. Our personal histories are filled with experiences that are personal, spiritual, and sensitive in nature. When you read your writing from the perspective of a doubter, you find areas where you can add more proof and expand on details. If you wrote something negative about someone, when you read as a doubter you take on the opinion of defending the person who was not shown in the greatest light. I have found myself “toning down” or simply leaving out my own opinion in some instances, and instead just presenting the facts.

Have someone who will give you honest feedback read your writings. The two techniques above are based on you pretending to be the audience. This technique focuses on giving your writing to someone else and having them give you honest feedback. The first level of feedback that is most important is their reaction to your writings. Were they bored? Intrigued? What did they like the most and why? What do they wish you would have expanded on or simply left out? When you ask people for their real, honest feedback, do so with the understanding that you will take their feedback seriously. You may not agree with what will be said, but you will listen, not be offended, and view it as an opportunity to write a great personal history that generations will cherish.