When It’s Time to Re-See Your Writing

Re-See Your Manuscript with Feedback on torn paper for One Lit Place at onelitplace.com

When your brain is fatigued from seeing the same words over and over, it’s time to seek help from an editor or fellow writer. Getting deep constructive written feedback on your writing helps boost your writing to the next level– every time.

Surely it’s happened to you too: you’ve written a word- “thorough,” for example- and then, after reading it a few times, it slowly begins to look like a foreign object, bearing almost no resemblance to its true self, as if it were spelled “Bls9lURs!n”.

There’s actually a name for this phenomenon: Semantic Saturation. (Don’t you love it when there’s a name for things?)

Psychologists first wrote about this phenomenon in The American Journal of Psychology in 1907. “If a printed word is looked at steadily for some time, it will be found to take on a curiously strange and foreign aspect. This loss of familiarity in its appearance sometimes makes it look like a word in another language, sometimes proceeds further until the word is a mere collection of letters, and occasionally reaches the extreme where the letters themselves look like meaningless marks on the paper.”

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Remember when John Lovitz in a Friends episode got high and repeated “Tartlets” until “the word lost all meaning”?


Even sober, we’ve all been there. The brain simply gets tired from the repetition (which may also be why we lose our marbles when we have to say the same thing six times to our selective-hearing spouses and children).

We can chalk it up to brain-cell fatigue. When the cells in our brains are called upon and they’re fresh, they respond with no trouble. However, the second time they are slower, the third time even slower, and the fourth time the cells don’t even pick up unless you give them a bit to refresh. Tender buttons, those cells!

Semantic Saturation is not limited to single words, however. It happens for whole documents as well.

When we work on an entire manuscript, business plan, memo, blog, website page, project description (shall I go on?)- basically any piece of writing- we become familiar with it. Too familiar. (Hey, baby) (Stop that)

We’re workhorses, so we keep plugging away. The problem is the longer we labor over the document, the more desensitized to its various issues we become and the less effective we are at giving it its due.

That’s also when mistakes slip in, we leave things out. Or we throw our hands in the air and call the whole thing off.

Writing is Re-Writing

When Hemingway famously said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting,” he was right. As part of that process, when his eyes glazed over, for example, when he reworked the ending of A Farewell to Arms 47 times, you can bet he benefitted from the wisdom and advice of his peers who read his manuscripts and offered him salient feedback on how to make them better. One could argue that Hemingway was no slouch, which in large part he can thank his peers for. Feedback from Gertrude Stein? We should all be so blessed.

glasses manuscript for One Lit Place at onelitplace.com

Photo by James Sutton

New Eyes Can Make a Manuscript

When we are working on a piece of writing, and its clarity and details are fundamental to its success (whether that’s publication, others’ enjoyment or information, or sales), it’s imperative we are not the only set of eyes ever to see that writing.

In my blog about blogging, I’ve spoken to how important it is to have your final version proofread by another person to catch errors at the line level: comma mistakes, missing words or misspellings, and other glitches in clarity or correctness.

But during the work’s development, because it gets harder to see and finesse the big issues that make for good writing, it’s pivotal you get another pair of skilled eyes on that emerging work.

Editors and fellow writers have the practice and acumen to enable them to go underneath and inside the work and explain to the writer their experience of the existing material and their ideas as to what it could become with some adjustment and application of craft. Their insights can help us “re-see” our work from a whole new perspective.

That insight can be thrilling: indeed, sometimes we have to leave home in order to see it more clearly.

Wonderfully, there’s a name for this too: Developmental Feedback

What Is Developmental Feedback?

Developmental Feedback is a holistic assessment an editor or fellow writer provides on a piece of writing to help the writer understand what is happening in the manuscript and how the writing is coming across; further, the feedback is crafted so the writer is given suggestions or tips for how to bring the work into its better next draft.

rough notebooks for writing workshops at One Lit Place onelitplace.comIn the online writing workshops offered by One Lit Place, we recognize that part of the learning process is learning how to go inside of a piece of writing to see how it is built. We learn how to do a “deep reading” of works published and emerging so we can appreciate the craft of a successful piece and identify how the piece benefitted from the writer’s deft hand in certain areas; we also learn how to be sensitive to the construction of a piece in order to articulate to the writer where a developing manuscript may have holes or veer off track. Where it would benefit from stronger plot and why, greater character development and to what end, a re-ordered or tightened paragraph for clarity, etc.

This two-fold approach strengthens a writer’s acumen for her own work as well as puts her into the particular position of being part of a vibrant community of peers- people who come to trust one another’s eyes and thoughts on their work- to see into what they’re trying to say in ways they in their semantic fatigue may not be able to.

Up Next: What is Developmental Feedback and How It Benefits All Writing

In my next blog, I will talk about what Developmental Feedback is, what it isn’t, and how it serves as a detailed roadmap for a piece of writing to give the writer specific concrete tools and suggestions to break her familiarity with the piece and give her a solid entry into the revision process.

One Lit Place will get your work to the next level in two ways:

  1.  Get feedback on your work in progress in a One Lit Place online course.
  • Have a look at our upcoming online writing courses HERE. Our writing courses are 100% online, which makes them perfect for busy writers.

     2.   Fast track your work with one-on-one coaching, mentorship or editing to get the individualized instruction and manuscript evaluation you need. Our team of skilled editors work with business, academic, and creative writers on their projects and customize the work to meet the writer’s needs.

Contact us any time to talk about your work! 

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