THE YELLOW HAT SYNDROME
(Colors have been changed to protect the innocent.)
I loved my yellow hat with the little ball on top. When I saw it gleaming in a bin at a thrift shop, it called to me. “Hello! Ain’t I sunshiny!” I picked it up. No doubt, someone’s granny had crochet it. And now it would be mine. MINE!
I tried the hat on. Oh, yeah, baby! Don’t I look fine as sunshine dancing on a dewdrop! I couldn’t stop wearing it.
Then one day, my dear friend (and she’s the kind that will tell you ANYTHING) saw me wearing my bright-as-daylight find.
With eyes focused on my hat, she frowned and said, “Never wear that again. Never.”
“What? Never? You don’t like it?”
“No,” she said.
“But look at the color! And the little ball on top! And the way it slants to the side, like a French beret! You really don’t like it?”
“No. It’s…it’s… Well, it’s…ugly.”
“Ugly!” I said. “I don’t think so!” And I pulled the hat tighter around my head.
I was hurt. Offended. Angry! How dare she call ugly what I love!
I had loved it when a little girl at the grocery store peered over her mamma’s shoulder and said “Hat! Hat! Hat!” and her mother said “Haaaatt.” (Mom liked it so much, she would
craft one later. I was sure.) I loved it when at the library folks did double takes. (They liked it so much, they were trying not to stare. I could tell.) I loved it when a workmate said “A new hat, eh?” then belly-laughed. (She liked it so much, she was jealous. I knew.)
I loved it then. And I loved it still! Something was wrong with my friend (and the rest of the world) to think my hat ugly. End of story.
Little did I realize it, but I was inflicted with the YELLOW HAT SYNDROME.
On the way home, I calmed down. (It was, after all, only a hat.) And then I began to reason: Was it possible that, because I loved my hat, my objectivity about its aesthetic value was clouded? Was it possible that my hat was not all sunshine-and-skipping-through-the-meadow? Was it possible that my hat was not all that? I had to admit, it was possible. My friend did have fashion sense, the kind I never had. My friend did care about me. My friend did only try to help.
When I got home, I looked myself over and tried to see my hat through my friend’s eyes.
And it was then, and only then, that I began to rethink the yellow hat.
And you know what? I decided my head-topper needed to be removed from my wardrobe. The hat needed to be history. The hat needed to be deleted.
I’ve noticed a similar tendency in us writers. Oftentimes, when a critiquer doesn’t join us in loving what we’ve written, we tend to get defensive and dismissive. Sometimes we get fuming mad. Sometimes we hold on to what we’ve written and refuse to reevaluate its place in the manuscript. Objectivity may be obscured by our love—The YELLOW HAT SYNDROME.
Of course, a critiquer’s opinion may simply be proving the truism that one person’s ugly is another person’s beautiful. Who knows? The critiquer may simply have an aversion to the color yellow. And so, after graciously thanking them for sharing their opinion, we may decide not only to keep our yellow hat but wear it loudly. That’s what owning our own voice is all about.
Either way, viewing our work through the lens of a thoughtful critique can increase our objectivity. It can cause us to pause and ask: Is what I’ve written as beautiful as I imagine? Is my yellow hat all that? In that case, we’ll be willing to re-write, revise, re-order, or retire those yellow-hat darlings. After all, don’t we all want our manuscripts to be as sunshiny-beautiful as my yellow hat?
Dionna L. Mann, an SCBWI Mid-Atlantic PAL member since 2005, considers herself more of a re-writer than a writer. Her current work-in-progress is a nonfiction picture-book about a surrogate owl papa that has helped no less than 30 owlets pass mouse school. Dionna can be found celebrating all things kidlit at www.dionnalmann/blog.