Making sense of sensitivity in writing
For the first time, I turned to a new sort of editor to help with my writing. A ‘sensitivity reader’. With the two lead characters in my next story being elderly New York Jews, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t causing offence or falling back on stereotypes to tell their tale. So I called in a favour and got in touch with a brilliant comic and writer and begged him to give my manuscript a scan.
I was nervous about this. I’d never had anyone read my work from this particular angle, and the idea of someone picking over words that might inadvertently cause them offence made me feel vulnerable. I didn’t want to be criticised or told off, but I knew that if someone could see things that might offend a Jewish, then I should listen to them.
It’s too easy to use stereotypes in your writing
The guy I worked with has written for radio and TV and runs a hugely helpful comedy script writing course. He knows what he’s talking about. He read my story and gave me feedback – all of which I took on board, embarrassed at how easily I stepped into stereotyping even with my sensors on full alert. Most importantly he assured me that I hadn’t offended him and gave me some nitpicks he insisted nobody would pull me up on, but if I wanted to be correct, I could use them. I took them.
Taking this kind of edit onboard feels more and more important. Nobody wants to be called out as insensitive, racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic. But more than anything, it made me realise how important sensitivity readers are in publishing today – not just for writers from minority groups themselves but also for people like myself who don’t belong to those groups but want to write about them anyway.
For my next book, I worked with Bennett Arron and highly recommend his services.