Think back to when you were a child. An innocence, where magic and fantasy filled your world. The tooth fairy somehow always knew when you lost a tooth, and you stared in amazement (though not disbelief) how such a tiny car could fit twenty clowns in it at the circus.
Then you grow up, and you discover why. You were taken backstage and saw how the magic was done. And like that *snaps fingers* the magic is gone. You can’t ignore it. The next time you went to the circus you looked for the trap door. Even if the magician guesses your card correctly, you wonder how he did it. ‘What’s the trick’, you ask yourself. Not, ‘Wow, that’s incredible’. You want to know the trick… Because there is no such thing as magic.
You discovered the Great and Powerful OZ was just a charlatan behind a curtain using smoke and mirrors to play God.
Okay, I’m getting a little melodramatic, I realize that. But it makes my point. Critiquing is habit forming.
Since I’ve joined this underground society of writers I have done a lot of critiquing. There are days I prefer it to writing. But it is not without its drawbacks.
Even though my daughter is in high school, I recently started to read to her again before going to bed. Sure the titles and topics of what we now read have drastically changed. Little fuzzy woodland critters dancing gleefully in meadows have been traded for teenagers stranded in a town entranced by some dystopian virus outbreak, but still quality time is quality time…right?
I like to think my daughter enjoyed the times I’ve read to her when she was a little girl, but I’m not so sure this is the case now.
“I looked down the street. All the houses had the same exterior brickwork, same mailbox, same landscaping…” I pause after reading that last sentence.
“What? Why did you stop?” my daughter asks.
“Exterior brickwork? The author would have been better off saying ‘façade’. It flows better. ‘Exterior brickwork’ drew me out of the story a bit. Don’t you agree?”
A sigh and eye roll later she replies, “Not as much as you analyzing every sentence.”
Critiquing is a wonderful tool. I believe it helps me improve my writing as I become aware of other people’s issues in theirs. But I recently noticed that I can no longer just read a book for the sake of reading. I critique as I go.
I’m not saying I’m a master wordsmith, merely that critiquing helps sharpen your skills since you train yourself to look for pitfalls even experienced writers can fall victims to. Like ending sentences with prepositions.
But like the grown up now looking for the trap door the tiny car parks on top of, there is a part of me that misses the freedom of reading without looking at word choices and inconsistencies. Wires, pullies, smoke machines, and mirrors have replaced magic.
I still can enjoy reading, but it has become easier to get pulled out of it now that I read it from a more technical viewpoint. I would never have noticed that a word appeared three times within a four paragraph stretch. Head jumping never bothered me, and I would gloss over any semi-colons barely aware they were there.
Maybe it isn’t such as bad thing. After all, those semi-colons have no place in modern society…