Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Could You Repeat That?

post by Jennifer Carter

A couple of months ago when I quit my "real" job, I went from sitting at someone else's desk, and quite frankly not working very hard, to sitting at my own desk and putting in my own "real" hours. I had some freelance proofreading projects coming in, but I also knew at the time I would need a back-up plan, which came in the form of an online medical transcription course. So for the past two months when I haven't been proofreading, I've been studying.

When I got into it, I didn't see much of a connection between it and my writing, other than typing fast, but the more time I have spent with it, the more I see how it is actually quite relevant. And timely. Not only have I had a lot of fun expanding my vocabulary and learning things about the human body I didn't even know were possible, the brief glimpses into life that come as a snapshot with each case are inspiring in themselves.

I'm to the point in my training where I'm typing actual reports for practice. All names, places, and dates are covered over with beeps so I have no idea where these have come from, and the training provider has made a point of using recordings from a variety of regional and ethnic accents, which can be extremely difficult.

Take, for example, one of my new arch enemies--the Australian doctor who I can only assume is talking with the tape recorder in his armpit and a koala bear in his mouth, nevermind the accent. What I can only make out as "Ma sinks fur BEEEEP" turns out to be "Many thanks for referring so and so." Seems quite simple after the fact, once I see the answer key. If I go back and listen again I can grudgingly acknowledge maybe he did say that. Maybe.

My frustrations with this doctor happened to coincide with my own submission of a short story to my critique groups. My story's subtle nuances seemed so clear and obvious to me, but pretty consistently, 80-90% of readers "didn't get it." I was humbled.

I believe in the advice I received somewhere down the road years ago--never, ever confuse the reader! My story felt good to write, but I clearly had more work to do. I would hate to think my overly subtle nuances would have the same effect on readers as the Australian doctor's recordings have had on me. In a way then, I guess I can learn from him. Even though he probably doesn't consider me to be the most important part of his job when he's talking into the recorder, it would be really nice if he did and then enunciated a little more clearly. Part of the "ripening" of my stories is making sure I am not confusing, and therefore alienating, those who have taken the time to read them. They shouldn't have to have an answer key to get the point, thus, the lesson I took from that experience is that subtlety is great, but I would rather be understood.

Have you ever written a piece that inspired mass confusion? How did you learn from it?


Patricia Stoltey said...

Goodness, yes. I was most annoyed at the critique group who had no idea what I was talking about.

That's one of the great reasons we should take our "final" drafts and put them on a shelf for a few weeks. When we go back to do another read, confusing passages and omitted information will be more obvious.

pam2spicy said...

I have to say just one thing. All my writing is confusing. At least initially. It is because I 'brain storm' on a page till it all gets out, then I fall in love with it, bad as it is. But thanks to Pat Stolte's Revision Class (among others) I am doing better. I first lerned of my resistance to revision when I was writing poetry. I thought it was cool to make people guess what I was writing about. Wrong. I learned a lot from writing poetry.

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