by Deren Hansen
It's my own fault,
really. And it goes all the way back to those childhood practice
sessions I either skipped or muddled through until I'd done my time.
You see, when I play, what the poor folks forced to listen hear is nothing like the music I think I'm playing.
like the illusion that the moon on the horizon is much bigger than the
same moon riding high in the sky. You might swear that it really does
look bigger on the horizon, but if you take a picture of the moon in
each position (taking care, of course, to keep the camera settings the
same) and measure its size, you won't find any significant difference.
there's help for people with my musical affliction. It's called audio
software. With a composition package I can set down the notes and refine
them until what comes out of the synthesizer matches the music in my
head. While this doesn't guarantee that another person will have the
same emotional reaction to the music, it does guarantee that my lack of
technical proficiency no longer creates a gap between what I intend and
what they actually hear.
We have a similar but more
subtle problem as writers. In this day, when the vast majority of
writing passes through computers, the legibility of our writing is
rarely a problem. We take it for granted that most people will see the
same words we put down on the page. If they see the same words, they
should understand the same things when they read those words, right?
arises from interpreting the words and the ideas you associate with
those words. What may seem like a perfectly innocent statement to one
person could have offensive connotations for another. We say reading is
subjective--that readers bring their own baggage to the story--without
appreciating how deeply true it is. If you stop to think about
it, it's a miracle that we understand each other as well as we do.
of which is why we think (though most of us are too polite to say
it) that our writing is better than most other peoples: we know what our
words mean when we put them down. With another person's writing, all we
have to go on are the words on the page.
One of the
reasons we might call other people's writing bad is if we can make no
sense or get nothing meaningful out of it. It doesn't matter what they
intended the words to convey. It only matters what you get out of them.
This is why, no matter how certain you are of your writing's perfection,
you need editorial feedback--you need to hear how other people react to
The music in your head may be astonishing and sublime, but no one will ever know it if they can't hear the same notes.