Archive for the 'Art' Category

Getting a Fresh Perspective on Your Work

October 6, 2006

Before I sent an article to my editor yesterday, I took one final look-see for polishing purposes. But before that, I changed the font and type size. I always, always do this. Changing the type reliably reveals bad word choices, clumsy constructions, pacing problems, even misspellings.

When you change the type size, you alter the line breaks; that redistributes the words on the page, allowing you to read with (relatively) fresh eyes. But it’s even better to change the font—the shapes of the letters themselves. Different fonts have different
personalities, and reading your piece in a different font is like
hearing a poem read in a different voice. You notice things that you’ve previously overlooked.

The single best way get fresh perspective on your work is to show it to someone else, of course. But sometimes, there’s no one available—or maybe the work’s not ready for critique. That’s when you need a trick like changing the font. My mother, who used to paint a lot, had a neat method for getting a fresh take on her art: she’d look at it through a mirror. When you look at a painting in reverse, it suddenly appears strange and unfamiliar; anything clumsy, out-of-proportion or poorly balanced leaps out in the most horrifying, obvious way.

I’m still looking for a way to get a fresh take on my songwriting.
Sure, you can listen through headphones, put it on the stereo, mess with the EQ, etc. But that doesn’t really accomplish the task of giving you a fresh perspective—it simply lets you listen through a different filter. It’s like the looking at your painting through
colored lenses: interesting, perhaps, but not particularly revealing.

I’ve been thinking about how this applies to self-examination and
appraisal. In a way, it’s pretty easy to get a fresh look at yourself.
Everyone’s had the shocking experience of hearing himself on a
recording, or seeing herself on video. For those who can’t get enough of this sort of thing, there’s even a one-day class at the Learning Annex—an adult ed operation best known for its courses in speed-reading and making a million dollars. For $30 or so, you can attend a session in which your fellow students tell you what assumptions they made about you based on their first impression.

You have to wonder, though, why anyone would pay for feedback from the kind of person who would enroll in such a class. And even a workshop like that can’t give you a fresh perspective on
what really matters—your character and conduct. So I’m still wondering, are there any “technical” shortcuts that can aid in honest self-appraisal, along the lines of changing the font?