Although there are many things a writer can do to improve upon their skills with the craft, analyzing comments and constructive criticism from reviewers can contribute to this process. While writers often possess the objectivity necessary to accurately analyze their own work for strengths and weaknesses, other individuals may provide them with insights that deepen their awareness of how the literary contribution in question is being received. This may entail writers modifying their work-with respect to either form or content-in a manner that makes their book or novel qualitatively better.
One of my biggest challenges as a writer has been “dumbing down” my work to reach a broader audience. (I am fully aware that people who do not like academic work are not necessarily “dumb.” I also know that “dumb” is a culturally loaded and equivocal term not capable of describing the mental state it claims to represent. Yet I employ the phrase “dumbing down” because it seems to best represent the reality I am attempting to convey, which is the act of removing erudite language and concepts from one’s work so that individuals unaccustomed to such inclusions are not left wondering what ideas you are attempting to delineate.) As I have told many friends and family members, I loathe “dumbing down” my work and feel it speaks to our society’s proclivity for anti-intellectualism and academic mediocrity. Yet on various occasions I have found myself using simple language and omitting critical theory from my writings because I do want to be able to share my ideas with people who are not members of the world’s academic communities. However, after carefully considering a review about my novel Erudition, I have concluded that my use of learned language is not received poorly by everyone. In analyzing my work, Gary Sorkin said thus: “As many authors may “write down” to the common denominator of the anticipated audience, Jocelyn Crawley writes to the best of her ability each sentence, allowing her readers to catch up if necessary to her train of thought.” I have thought critically about this statement, particularly Sorkin’s assertion that I write to the best of my ability. In context of other arguments he makes regarding my proclivity for academic writing in narrative format, he seems to be suggesting that the use of learned language contributes to-rather than detracts from-the quality of my work.
While Sorkin seemed to appreciate my use of academic language in Erudition, another reviewer made statements that alluded to the idea that my fifty dollar words engendered a bit of mental stymying. In articulating this thought, reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott wrote: “At times, she uses so many long words that the reader cries out for a few simple ones, but as one reads more deeply, one realizes that this somewhat stilted means of expression mirrors the thinking processes of Veronica and Grace.” Here, Scott categorizes my mode of expression as “somewhat stilted.” Thus even though she argues that my use of long words is perhaps justified on the grounds that it exemplifies the thinking processes of my central characters, her assessment still seems to connote the notion that my academic language is unnecessary textual baggage.
In carefully considering the ideas of individuals who have reviewed my book, I have concluded that I will continue using academic language when I write in certain spaces but employ simpler words and concepts in other spheres. Although I understand Scott’s arguments regarding how doing so can make a written work seem choppy, I do use erudite language to make the concepts I am attempting to convey as plain as possible to the reader. Yet appealing to a broad audience is important to me, so I will continue implementing less learned language in certain works with the end goal of appealing to a wider readership. Irrespective of how one views the use of academic language in literature, the point here is that carefully contemplating feedback from my reviewers has caused me to critically examine the way I do my work and will likely contribute to me diversifying my audience and/or improving my content. And this is why I encourage writers to take the assessments made by their reviewers very seriously.