We've all had one, maybe two or more. Those people who come up on your backside as you furiously type your story into the laptop. They stand just far enough back that with your intense attention on the words, you don't notice them at first. Then they strike...
"I wouldn't say that. I think Alicia should slap his face and tell him to get lost."
Or "Really? The old back massage to sex routine? Poor imagination."
The person could be your child, your spouse, a friend, a lover, a total stranger depending on where you are at the time it happens.
My wife is subtle. She will read over my shoulder and rather than comment directly that she doesn't think it will work, she does the ambush. "What you working on?" When I explain then she reveals that she has been reading over my shoulder and this or that just doesn't make sense.
Huh? If you've been reading over my shoulder for the last 10 minutes, then you probably figured out what I was working on.
My friend has a son who will read over her shoulder then give a critique, as he sees it from his intuitive sagely body of twelve years. She had the perfect reply. "Go write your own story."
I was writing on the bus one night when I was tapped on the shoulder. "Don't you think Barry would hide from the guards rather than attack?"
A total stranger. She was polite enough to apologize for reading over my shoulder but my tapping on the keyboard caught her attention and then she shifted so she could see the laptop's monitor and started to read.
This is not the first time. I write whenever I can -- totally disregarding where I am; be it a doctor's office waiting for an appointment, sitting in a hospital while surgery is being performed on a loved one, riding a bus, a train, a plane, or even just sitting in a coffee shop or airport terminal If there is time to write, I write.
So, yes, I get a lot of "shoulder edits" from everyone. Expect them.
Now, here is the secret. Use them.
There is a caveat to my secret. Use them IF it seems to improve the story. I will come clean, the "old back massage routine" was in a story and the woman who read it and made that comment also suggested a different gimmick to get the girl. I liked it and I used it. Thank you Cassie of Downriver Bus Route 810.
I have come to use shoulder readers more and more. Unfortunately, I am retired, so I don't travel as much on planes, trains and buses. But I do, sometimes, still get to visit a coffee shop, a hospital waiting room, or some other place. Plus my loving wife still offers advice from time to time, as do my four sons, their wives and, of course, my grandkids.
The first couple of times I was interrupted by a shoulder editor, well, I was a little irked. How dare they read my stuff without my permission. Now they are my first line of edits before I start sending it out to my close writing friends and finally to the big-time, pay-for-it editors.
Of course, there is a fun moment in shoulder editing. If you catch them before they make a comment -- ask them what they think. The little old lady sitting beside me on the bus kept looking at the screen, reading from time to time. I asked her what she thought. She prefaced her comments with "I don't normally read rubbish like that with all those fairies and things." She bought a copy of my rubbish when it was published.
Until next I ramble on...