In this guest blogpost, BWW member Cynthia Gomez reflects on what it means to be a good critical reader. Cynthia is a native Vermonter with roots in Spain, and she’s been a teacher of English and history for two decades.
I have done a lot of critical reading, and I honestly think that I’m a better reader than I am a writer. I get a lot of pleasure from reading, and I care a lot about making a full response. I approach reading as a creative act.
I love BWW. In a few short months, I’ve met some great people, read and written about some wonderful work, and I have been privileged to have my own work sensitively considered.
I made some mistakes as a reader at first, like doing my teacher-y thing and serving as the grammar and syntax police. That’s an editor’s job, and we are not in these rooms with our colleagues to correct spelling. Now I mark up pages with what I like and why, with questions—in short, with matters of style and substance.
I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with being honest, expressing confusion, or suggesting improvements, but before we do so, we must put in some time and thought. I think we have to find a way to enter in to a writer’s purposes, and support those. At these workshops, we are here to be whole-hearted readers and sounding boards and allies.
In my experience, it’s not so important whether I like a piece or not; no piece of writing is going to be to everybody’s taste. What is important is that I find the strengths, and speak to those, that I listen to what the writer wants me to look for as a reader, and that I resist the urge to make the piece over in my own image.
I believe that reading is a creative act. It takes me more than one reading, and more than one day, to craft my response to a piece. And I do mean craft. We are writers, after all. It’s a matter of reciprocity, isn’t it? If I want others to carefully consider my work, I put some time and thought into theirs. I read a person’s contribution, and just let it rest in my mind for a time. After I read it once more, or even once more, I have something helpful to say.
Here’s a thing: being a careful reader makes me a better writer. I have learned a lot from others’ writing and our discussions. I care about being part of a writing community, and I am immensely grateful for it.