Finding Clarity – It Was a Perfect Seinfeld Kind of Day

In the last post I broached the idea of working from my “comfort zone”. One comment made in the preliminary assessment of my manuscript related to how ideas and assertions were supported. At first I thought the comment  related to supporting evidence as provided by references and notes, so there was clearly a mismatch between my concept of support and the reviewer’s. If the preliminary review had highlighted this deficiency, the developmental edit would certainly address the same issue. I needed to understand what the reviewer meant before the feedback from developmental editing arrived. That need to understand was fulfilled in a most unexpected way.

The reference to Seinfeld in the title of this post is borrowed from a friend who was visiting from New York. She and her husband, along with my wife and I, had just finished a day of touring some vineyards in the Niagara wine country. The day was marked by purposeful wandering from vineyard to vineyard, and thanks to my dyslexic approach to driving, taking a somewhat circuitous route, punctuated by left turnings that should have been to the right, and visa versa. There were two meals at good restaurants and sunshine when we needed it. There was lots of meandering conversation and laughter. Our guest’s comment was perfect, for like an episode of the Seinfeld Show, it was a day about everything and about nothing at all. It was a day of being relaxed and being together, and about all of us being in our comfort zones at the same time. This simple idea defines the relationship between writer and reader. As an author, I must make sure that the reader is in a comfort zone with the text, so he or she can enjoy the reading experience in the same way we had enjoyed our day in wine country. I set out to examine my manuscript from that point of view

The supporting evidence was there for all to see in the form of end notes and bibliographic references. Although supporting evidence was present, the words themselves did not clearly support the substance of the text. Paging through my manuscript with that thought in mind, I saw the problem. The ideas presented in the manuscript were clarified in a very academic way, but readers were not likely to flip back and forth between the printed page and the supporting end notes to understand the text, and there was no way they would look up any of the supporting documentation contained in the bibliography. I needed to:

1. Write in plain language whenever possible

2. Be more generous with words when explaining ideas and concepts

3. Recognize my readers are not reading from the same knowledge base from which I write

4. Make sure to select words that contribute to understanding

5. Present complex thoughts in a straight forward manner

6. Avoid ambiguity in word choice

I observed, as I read my most recent efforts at written expression (this blog), that the language was more direct. Writing for a reader that could potentially could read and process my  ideas as soon as the PUBLISH button is clicked gave the act of writing a sense of immediacy my manuscript lacked. My posts appeared to reach out to the reader more directly than my manuscript, but there was still evidence of being too much in my head, and not enough on paper. I plan to  make a conscious effort to be as clear and engaging as possible as I continue to post, starting with the idea of working in my comfort zone.

Writing from my comfort zone means that I can work at a comfortable cognitive level without too many new concepts cluttering my thoughts. Writing a fiction just had too many new ideas to deal with, while non-fiction writing made it easier to control in my formative efforts at writing for others. In other words, I could enjoy the comfort of having associative processes at my beck and call, while I focus my cognitive energies on writing clearly and engaging my readers.

Here’s an example to help you understand what I mean by cognitive processes and associative processes. Imagine you are driving a car down and familiar street that has only light traffic. The weather is good, the radio is playing a favorite and your passengers are talking and laughing at an acceptable level. At that moment you are enjoying the drive in a state of associative thought bliss. You are able to maintain the right speed, keep a good distance between your car and the next, and maneuver your car with skill and ease. You make a turn to the right, and now you’ re on a much busier street where you need to be observant and ready to deal with an problems that may result from driving in congestion. You have to think more and can’t drive as automatically (associatively) as before. Now you place a greater demand on cognitive processes in response to the new demands of driving in traffic. Suddenly you feel that the radio is a bit loud and distracting, so you turn down the volume or turn it off. You arrive at your destination where you and your friends plan to have lunch, and you have to parallel park. The traffic makes its way around you without regard to the maneuver you need to make. You really start to concentrate going into full cognitive mode. You even ask your friends to keep it down at bit so you can concentrate. Associative thinking bliss has been replaced by cognitive thinking stress.

This example might seem to be more than was required, but the point is that the writer (me), has taken some time to make sure the reader (you), understand what he means by using a particular idea (in this case comfort zone) in the text . In the next post, I will clarify the developmental editing process.

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