Camp NaNoWriMo & All That Jazz [aka: an explosion of all my craziness about my WIP]

April Camp NaNoWriMo came to a close last Monday, and I’m happy to say it was a successful month for me!

[Warning: Kat from Sparks of Ember gave me permission to just be myself here on Penprints, so the proverbial hair is coming down. Prepare yourself for a super casual post full of run-on sentences and my explosive excitement for my WIP.]

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Now, for those of you wondering what Camp NaNoWriMo is, here’s the short version: “NaNoWriMo” is slang for “National Novel Writing Month”. National Novel Writing Month is a virtual event that takes place every November where writers around the world try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Camp NaNoWriMo takes place in April and July and has a similar idea except you can join virtual cabins with nineteen other writers where you can chat, compare your goals, word war and such. And speaking of goals, you set your goal any way you want for Camp. Lines, hours, minutes, words, pages, etc.


I had planned to continue pulling teeth working on Beasts for Camp NaNoWriMo, and I set myself a goal of 55 hours. Three days before Camp started, I decided that Beasts and I needed to take a break and come back to reevaluate our relationship after we both had some time away (why, yes, I did just refer to Beasts and I as a “we”, as if Beasts was another person and not a figment of my imagination. #unashamed) Unfortunately, at present, it seems like it’s a toxic relationship. Hopefully this detox from each other will bring us around to a better state of mind and heart. Hopefully.

So I had to scramble for a project for Camp. Should I just write a bunch of flash fictions? Finish a sci-fi short story that’s been rolling around in my head for months? Revisit Flickering Lights and finally make decisions about its fate? Not do Camp at all??

Ha. None of that happened.

Instead, I went straight for False Gods, the novel I drafted last November (during normal NaNoWriMo). Because I’d been dying to get back to it (no, I have not been mentally cheating on Beasts, hush) since December 1, 2017.

So I stowed my Beasts notes and playlist and pulled up the False Gods Pinterest board, the character playlists, and the embarrassingly rough first draft that I somehow still adore even though it’s a complete mess.

An Example Of What A Mess This First Draft Is:

*second week of NaNoWriMo 2017*

*in the midst of drafting False Gods for the first time*

*my small group was also in the midst of a study on the book of Acts and we had just finished the part where Paul is on Malta, a snake comes out of the fire, bites him in the hand, the natives expect him to swell up and die, and then he doesn’t die because God*

Me: *whining* I don’t know why this character is going on this trip with them! I don’t want him on this trip! He ruins the whole dynamic!

Daddy: What if a viper bites him, he swells up, and dies?

Me: Haha, psh. You’re cute. No, I would never do that. *laughs* That would be ridiculous.

*literally 20 minutes later*

“… So-and-so let out a sharp cry. A viper hung from So-and-so’s calf…”

And yes, this character definitely swelled up and died on the spot. Problem = solved. Don’t worry, kids. I’m a professional.

Anyway, April began with a huge bang and kept right on steamrolling. About halfway through, I lowered my goal from 55 hours to 50 hours because there were a few days when I had far better things to do than work on False Gods (and if I’m saying that about The Novel That I Love, you know it’s true).

With the help of my amazing cabin, I made it to my goal of 50 hours by the end of April, and I made so much progress!… sort of… okay, so, looking back at where False Gods was at the start of April, I’m like, “Woah!! I’ve done so much work on it! It’s come so far! Woohoo! FULL SPEED AHEAD!”… but then when I think about having spent 50 hours (50 HOURS) of work on it, I’m like, “How is this all that’s gotten done in 50 freaking hours of work??!”.

So here we are.

I’m going to briefly share a few things—we’ll  call them fun facts—that have happened with False Gods over the month of April.

  • I read and annotated the first draft.
  • Existing plot points and new plot points went on index cards and were arranged into the semblance of a plot. (Side note: why the heck do we even have plots? Who needs them? *distant sobbing*)
  • I dug into Asha (my main character who I adore) and his past, figuring out more of his history and emotional wounds and such. (Hint: hurt people hurt people, people.)
  • I dug into Adele (my secondary POV character) and her past a little more, but she’s been in my head longer than Asha, so I already knew more of her history, but I was able to smooth some things out with her.
  • Asha and Adele were classified and explored according to their personality. Asha’s a rebel according to the four tendencies and a ESTP according to the Meyers-Briggs system. Adele’s an upholder according to the four tendencies and an ISFJ according to Meyers-Briggs. (Yeah, they ended up as almost complete opposites. #oops.)
  • While working on Asha’s brain, I compiled a list of his flaws and his virtues because that’s what professionals do. It turns out that he has eight flaws and counting. His only virtue is his wicked sense of humor, which I don’t think actually counts, especially since “wicked” describes it perfectly.
  • Despite how depraved it turns out Asha is, I still like him, and I think other people will too.
  • Adele, on the other hand, has seven virtues and counting with only three flaws.
  • I cemented down some of the major history for my storyworld (particularly, Asha’s heritage).
  • I finished sorting through an entire book of baby names and compiled a complete list of characters and why they’re there.
  • I revised the first sixteen chapters (part one) of False Gods.
  • A rough map of the storyworld has been drawn.
  • I did some focused work on Adele’s POV voice and settled on a tone that suits her.
  • 47 hours into Draft Two, I finally came roaring out of the honeymoon phase with False Gods (meaning: I started to despair about how much work it needs, began to hate it, etc.).
  • 52 hours into Draft Two, I zipped right back into the honeymoon phase. (Something about these characters, people. I can’t hate them or ignore them.)
  • I realized that False Gods is indeed the correct title for this story. If you remember from my recap post from NaNoWriMo 2017, I wasn’t sure if it suited Asha’s story after I brought Adele out of her story and into his. Spoiler alert: oh, it works.
  • Speaking of Asha’s story, I also figured out that Asha is indeed my main character. One would think I would have already known this, but alas. For a while there, I wasn’t sure which of them was my main character because they both have so much at stake, are so dear to me, etc., etc.. But then I realized that this isn’t about the mortal who goes toe-to-toe with an immortal pantheon; this is about the immortal who gets defeated by a mortal. This is about a dude who actually thinks he’s a god and all the lies he believes that have to be unraveled for him to become truly great. So, yeah, that was just nice to finally get sorted out in my brain.
  • False Gods is not subtle. At all. Most of my flash fictions have been fairly indirect in how they reflect Christ. That’s not at all the case with False Gods; the themes are very direct, born from a season in my life that’s felt like a spiritual wilderness. I’ve come to terms with the fact that while I want to write subtle fiction, False Gods is just not one of those stories. It never has been, and it never will be.

Anyhoo. That was a crazy long post, and it’s not even helpful or anything like that. It’s just me spazzing my way from one thought about April and False Gods to another like a rabbit on caffeine (Out of Time series reference, yo).

Part of me is like, “Oh, this level of hyper is probably incoherent and/or annoying”, but then the rest of me is like, “Lol, do it anyway.”.

SO. This is one of the things I’m super jazzed about right now. What is something you’re excited about right now? A project? A trip? A novel?

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – thanks again to Kat for telling me I don’t always “have to be on” here on the ol’ blog.

P.P.S. – don’t forget to sign-up for the 2018 Penprints Flash Fiction Dash and check out the giveaway that’s currently running.

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The 2018 Penprints Flash Fiction Dash [sign-ups are open]

It’s that time of year again. Time to announce the 2018 Penprints Flash Fiction Dash.

This is where you get allllll the details.

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A brief explanation of flash fiction:

Definitions of “flash fiction” vary, but for the purpose of this challenge flash fictions are stories that are 1000 words or less. They are not always easy to write, but they are often rewarding.

I’ll share some helpful posts about flash fiction at the end of this post.

The general gist of how this works:

If you want to give flash fiction a go (or if you’re already a flash fiction veteran), it all starts with you signing up here. Using the information you give me in your sign-up (genre and prompt preferences), I will pick out a prompt for you (usually from the depths of Pinterest) and send it to you.

Then, you have just over three weeks to draft and edit a flash fiction using the prompt as a springboard. If you want, you can post your story on your blog.

After you’re finished with editing and such, you send me your story (or a link to your story), and I compile ALLLLLLLLL the flash fictions written into one final wrap-up post so that everyone can know where to find them all.

Same as last year–it’s a challenge, not a contest.

This is about getting people writing, not about picking which story is best. There will be no ranking who’s stories were better than whose, or anything like that.

My hope is that this will challenge you to venture out into a new story, have fun with writing, and exercise the art of telling a story in a very small wordcount.

Why you should totally be interested:

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a Very Convincing And Not At All Like Last Year’s list of reasons why you need to sign up right away.

  • I say so (as always, this is the most compelling reason on the list).
  • If you’re in a writing slump, this is a great way to get your creativity rolling again.
  • Writing a story in a 1000 words or less will grow you as a writer (even if you’ve written hundreds of flash fictions).
  • You and your writing can get a little more exposure.
  • I want to read your stories!
  • It’s. so. much. fun!

(Okay, so these are basically the same reasons I laid out for you guys last year, but whatevs.)

Some general guidelines:

  • Your story must be 1000 words or less.
  • Stories with excessive violence, sexual content, or profanity will not be included in the wrap-up post.
  • In order for your story to be included in the wrap-up post, it must be sent back to me by 11:59 pm on June 18, 2018.
  • You must have unfettered fun.

When you post your story on your blog:

Include your prompt, mention that you’re taking part of the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash, and share your story. And then send me the link to it by June 18!

If you don’t have a blog:

Please participate! You don’t have to have a blog in order to participate. You can still sign up, get a prompt, write a story, send it back to me, and be featured in the wrap-up post.

If you don’t have a blog or won’t be posting your story on your blog, send your story to me as a Word or Google Doc (please do not paste your story in the body of the email), and I will convert it into a clickable PDF to share in the wrap-up post.

All the need-to-know dates:

Sign-ups are open April 30, 2018 – May 21, 2018.

Prompts will be sent out by May 25, 2018.

Writers have until 11:59 pm on June 18, 2018 (over three weeks) to write their stories and send them to me.

The wrap-up post will go live on June 25, 2018.

All the extra stuff:

The Penprints Flash Fiction Dash is now on Instagram. Updates on the challenge will be shared there as well as some of last year’s stories. AND all of this year’s stories will be highlighted via Instagram in the few months following the close of the challenge because if we have more stories than we did last year, it will be a lot to wade through in one wrap-up post (that was a super long, confusing sentence, but here we are).

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#flashficdash

The official hashtag to use on your social medias is: #flashficdash.

Other posts that might be helpful:

Just B. Jordan on Writing Flash Fiction

In Defense of Short Fiction

The Penprints Flash Fiction Dash [the giant wrap-up post] (from 2017)

13 Tips for Writing Flash Fiction

How to Write Flash Fiction with Ben Wolf


I think that’s everything! If you have any questions whatsoever, drop them in the comments!

Did you take the challenge in 2017? Will you take the challenge 2018??

With love,

Rosalie

The Story Behind “Our Family” [a behind-the-scenes look at its journey, from awful beginning to unexpected end]

As many of you may know by now, my second published flash fiction came out in March! It is titled Our Family, and it was no easy story to write (as I’ve said numerous times on my various social medias because I cannot get over how crazy this whole process was). Today I want to share more of the behind-the-scenes in hopes that other writers may be encouraged.

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The Set-up

I keep an eye on Splickety Publishing Group’s upcoming themes for their three imprints: Splickety, Havok, and Spark. The theme for their March issue had caught my attention way back last year when the 2018 themes were announced, but I had no ideas for it. And I don’t mean no “good” ideas for it; I mean no ideas whatsoever. But my mind kept circling back to that issue and that theme: Dystopian Disaster.

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Then, less than a week before the deadline, a seemingly unrelated idea I’d had for a while came to the surface, one I’d thought of after all the hurricanes last year.

What about the lag time between the hurricane and when relief starts to come in? What if no relief came at all? What then? What about all those people?

I decided to give this idea a go, to see if it could be worked enough to fit the theme.

Sunday, January 7: 5 Days to the Submission Deadline

I’ve never tried to draft and then edit a flash fiction in so little time. I always want to let it sit and get more distance from it, but there was just no time for that.

I cranked out a rough draft about three teens trying to escape a gang that had gotten control of what little supplies were left after the hurricane. It was violent and intense but with a bright spot of hope at the end. It wrecks the world, I thought to myself.

Tuesday, January 9: 3 Days to the Submission Deadline

After letting the rough draft sit as long as I dared, I cut out the third teen, worked in a twist, and then went in for a little more tightening. It was more intense. More violent. The bright spot of hope nearly nonexistent. It kind of made me cringe.

Out it went to the first line of critique (aka: my parentals). Things were a little confusing with my gang of baddies, so I went in for another round of edits to clarify things. I was also starting to freak out a little about the imminent deadline.

Wednesday, January 10: 2 Days to the Submission Deadline

I finished off draft three, and it took another turn for the worst. Even more violent. Even more intense. And whatever that spot was at the end, I don’t think “hope” is the word to describe it. I was really starting to squirm.

The deadline was so. close. and something significant was still so wrong with it. I had no title and no idea how to fix whatever was wrong. It was something deeper than the violence (I am a firm believer in dark stories because they are truer to reality, more honest about our fallen nature, and they give hope the starkest backdrop to shine against).

But the darkness in this story was just confusing and bleak. The twists and violence were there for shock value more than they told a good story. But off it went to the next wave of critique (aka: my brother Caleb and two others) while I paced and squirmed and cringed, stress levels rising by the minute.

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Thursday, January 11: 1 Day to the Submission Deadline

Two of the three received it pretty well. Some things were still confusing and there were some plot holes that need clarification or removal, but over all they seemed to like it. Which, considering I’d been winging it since Sunday, I thought was not bad. Could be worse, I reasoned.

But the third, Caleb, did not like it. Like, at all. He tried to say it kindly, and I had anticipated such a response from him… but I had only one day left to make changes. Why not just go for more clarification and hope for the best? And, besides, he was just one of several critique people, so why not go with the majority? I couldn’t possibly rewrite it in such a short amount of time and actually expect something good to turn out. Could I?

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This was when I finally started to get a clue. As a little bundle of frustration, conflict, and uncertainty, I finally decided to have a real talk with God about it. Up to this point, I’d just prayed in passing “help me write this story, Lord” or “bless this story, Jesus” or other little nothings in passing when I wrote or prayed, staunchly avoiding really praying about it.

Alas, come Thursday, I was out of options and time, so to God in prayer I went (one would think by this time in my life I would have done this sooner, but unfortunately not).

The rest of Thursday passed more-or-less thusly:

Me: So, um, what’s the deal with this story? Will You help me with it? Should I just send it in basically as is? It’s not that bad, is it?

Holy Spirit: You wrote it by yourself.

Me: Yeah, but it’s not that bad. I mean, I can submit it and get feedback at the very least. The last five pieces have been rejected, so I doubt they’re going to accept this one since it’s kind of a wreck.

Holy Spirit: But what if they do accept it?

Me: Then that would be good…?

Holy Spirit: Would it, though?

Me: Why would it not be?

Holy Spirit: You’re very vocal about Me online.

Me: … Mhm…?

Holy Spirit: But where am I in this story? When people read it, where will they see Me? Are you going to tie My Name to this dark story and call it good? How does this story make My great Name known to the world? If you’re going to say you write with Me, then you need to actually write with Me.

Me: *sinking feeling* So you mean I need to rewrite it? *whining* But I don’t have time for that! It won’t turn out!

Holy Spirit: Are you sure? Do you doubt me?

Me: *grumbling* When you say it like that it sounds bad. *more grumbling* Well, if we’re going to do this, we need to get to it. I have no idea how to fix it, so, um, the ball’s in Your court.

Holy Spirit: You know I always take the weight off you when you come around to owning your weakness and ask for help. Remember, My power’s made perfect in your weakness.

(Sometimes I swear it’s amazing I haven’t been smitten by God for all the times I’m so casual and whining and petulant. Not even kidding. He is so patient, so gracious.)

That’s the basics of what passed between me and God a few times on Thursday, and then I got a breakthrough, a really good one.

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So I sat down at my computer, released my death grip on control, and rewrote the story, and this time it had a heart, a soul that made me smile. This time, I could see a piece of Jesus when I read it, and I had full confidence that this was not a story to be ashamed of or worried about what people would think.

Some people wouldn’t like, but that didn’t matter because I liked it, because it was hopeful and subtly sent arrows pointing to the God I love. I was confident because I finally had peace with it, finally knew that God was pleased by it.

Friday, January 12: The Day of the Deadline

After a few more rounds of small edits to tighten things and reword a few things, I sent it in… But then there were issues with my email, and it wouldn’t go through. At that point, I was done. I wanted to be done thinking about it, but no, it wouldn’t go through. Even after four tries. Four. tries.

Me: After all that, it’s going to get stuck in the submission process, God? What?! Technical difficulties are going to take it down?

Holy Spirit: After all that, you think some technical difficulties are going to take it down if I want it to go through? Trouble shoot and try again.

(As I said before, God pours out His grace and patience on me by the oceanful.)

After some trouble shooting and some untraditional detours, it went through. And a few weeks later, it was acquired. And a little while after that, it was out in the world.

And then God really blew my mind.

People have been so encouraging in their response to Our Family, and while I believe flash fiction has the potential to be powerful, I did not dream that Our Family would touch people as much as it has. I was expecting “Aw, it’s a nice story”, but I’ve been so floored and humbled by what people have said.

God has touched people’s hearts in ways I hadn’t ever thought of, things were huge to people that I never thought were huge when I wrote it, pieces of God so much clearer than I thought they would be. A few people have cried over it. Cried. over. it. WHAT?!?!?!?!?! How did that even happen????

I guess I was just expecting little from God. Again.

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Conclusion

This is a long post, and maybe it’s got far more detail and drama than you ever wanted, but it is what it is.

I want people to know that Our Family wasn’t anything to get excited while I had my death grip on it. I want people to know that it only got its heart because God.

I want other writers to know that amazing, unbelievable things happen when you give a story over to God, when you write it with Him.

I want other writers to know that He is so patient and gracious, especially since I know I should know all this stuff already.

I want other writers to know that God can blow your expectations out of the water, that He can work little miracles in stories that, by all rights, shouldn’t work or succeed.

I want other writers to go out on a limb, go out on God, and keep working even when it’s stressful and tough.

So let’s talk. Is there a story you’re struggling with right now? What does your writing process look like? Tell me about a time when God did something you hadn’t even imagined!

With much love,

Rosalie

P.S. – If it isn’t clear from the rest of this post, praise God. For all of it. Glory to God. For all of it.

A Writer’s Guide to Receiving Critique

A couple of weeks ago I posted about giving critiques to fellow writers, and today we’re looking at the other side of the coin: receiving critique. Some of this may be some no brainer stuff, but it’s taken a few years of watching myself and other writers take critiques and different ways we do it well and some ways we do it very poorly for me to finally figure this out.

So let’s get this party started.

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Before you send out your story…

Evaluate why you’re getting a critique.

For a while, I sent my stories out for “critique” to get a pat on the back. Of course, I would never (ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER) have said that aloud, and I never actually thought it in so many words… but my reactions to criticism betrayed me. My heart wanted people to love everything about my stories—which is normal, but in my heart, I also expected people to love everything about my stories.

Spoiler alert: that is not what a critique is about. At least, that’s not what it should be about. So before you send out your story, check your heart and unspoken motives to make certain you actually want to make your story better.

Be choosy about who you ask for a critique.

There are a few things to watch out for when deciding who to send a story to. First, don’t pull from only your peer group. If your writing equals are the only ones reading your story, the only level of excellence you will achieve is that of your peer group. No matter how long you’ve been writing or how much success you’ve seen, there is still so much you don’t know. To get the most out of a critique, it’s best to get the opinions of people from as many different backgrounds as possible so that you can get the most varied and in-depth feedback as possible.

Second, be careful to send to primarily (if not exclusively) trusted people who truly know and care about you and want you to grow and succeed. These people will give some of the most encouraging feedback, and they will be willing to say hard things gently in order to help you get better.

If all you ever hear from a certain critique partner is negative and proves unhelpful, stop sending them your stories. On the other hand, if all you ever hear from a critique partner is positive, excited feedback that strokes your ego but doesn’t challenge you, stop sending them your stories because they aren’t actually helping you.

After you get your story back…

If you’re upset by a critique, wait for your emotions to cool before replying; you want to respond, not react.

Alas, not all feedback is going to make you go over the moon. If it were, you would never grow. So, if/when you receive a critique that’s very upsetting, resist the urge to hop on your computer and rage at the person who gave the critique. No matter what they said about you or your story, you should never reply in the heat of emotion. There is no legitimate license for that anywhere in the world. Wait a few hours, or even days, if that’s what it takes for you to graciously reply.

Resist the urge to debate them about the critique.

This principle rules out passive aggressively telling your critique partner they’re wrong. They may be; they may not be. Regardless, don’t critique their critique. Friends, little will make your critique partners want to never agree to read and give feedback for you ever again like a response that insists—either overtly or subtly—that they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re the only person who thinks that way. Such replies reek of disrespect and arrogance which stir up unnecessary strife between you and your critique partner.

Usually, the best way to respectfully disagree is the silent way since writing is not something worth serious conflict.

Remember why you’re getting a critique.

If you’re having a hard time swallowing a critique, it’s time to revisit why you sent your story out to get critiqued in the first place.

This is your story.

Now, receiving a critique with grace and humility does not mean you take every suggestion and negative comment to heart. First, remember that feedback will often conflict, so it would be impossible to make every change. Second, your job as a storyteller is not to produce something that makes everyone happy. Your job as a storyteller is to craft the strongest story you can. Take the feedback that helps you do that and throw out the rest.

Value your critique partners, especially the ones who give constructive criticism.

My brother Caleb is one of my favorite critique people. He’s not a creative writer by trade, but he knows stories so much better than I do and always has good input. Buuuuuuut, I kind of have to brace myself whenever I’m reading his critiques, not because he’s mean or anything like that but because he’s very clinical in his comments. Reading his thoughts is like pouring alcohol on a cut—it stings, but I know it’s going to go a long way in strengthening my story.

It’s been some of his suggestions on The Necklace and Our Family that changed them the most for the better (he’s the one who helped me out of the deep, dark early drafts of Our Family). I know I can trust him because he loves me and is always pushing me to grow and change for the better.

So when it comes to your critique partners, value you them and make sure they know that you value them.

Thank them. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Don’t forget that it takes time to read, digest, and then give feedback on a story, so thank them for their time and their thoughts. I don’t thank my critique partners enough, and I don’t believe we can be too grateful.


That’s all I’ve got for today, kids!

Here’s a huge shout out to my go-to critique partners: Daddy (the first to lay eyes on any of my stories), Caleb (the super wise dude), and Katie (basically the epitome of the balanced critique partner). <3 Thank you guys so much for all the times you’ve read bits of flash fiction and gotten back to me when I frantically send it in to you in the eleventh hour. Without you, The Necklace and Our Family wouldn’t be out in the world today.

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – Do you have anything to add to this post? Anything you disagree with? What’s up for you this fine Monday??

A Writer’s Guide to Giving Critique

Here’s a post to all my fellow writers who stop in at Penprints.

After giving and receiving many critiques, I’ve put together this small (and incomplete) guide to giving another writer a critique on their story.

Let’s get started.

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Basics guidelines for giving critiques.

Begin and end your critique with the things you like. This is called an encouragement sandwich (I can’t remember who first came up with this metaphor…)—keep your criticisms sandwiched between two slices of all the things you like.

Personally, I have found this to be one of the best ways to deliver a critique because the first flavor is yummy—some things that are good about the story—,the second taste is bit more difficult to swallow since it’s some things that need work, and the last thing that’s felt is some more things that were done well. This helps the writer not be discouraged by the criticisms and suggestions in the middle.

Be careful with your wording.

Much of writing is subjective, so try to communicate that in the phrasing you use. You don’t want to give commands or deliver edicts; suggestions and questions are much more palatable. Use words like “perhaps” and “maybe” because it helps communicate that there isn’t one right way to do it and keeps the writer’s mind open.

Also, think more along the lines of the story and you rather than things the writer did “wrong”.

Instead of saying something like: “You didn’t describe this very well”, say something like this: “I’m having a hard time visualizing this. Maybe add in a bit more description and see if it sounds good.” Or something like that. The reason for this is that it comes across less like you’re attacking the writer and his/her writing and more like you want the story to carry author’s vision into the mind of readers.

Specificity is our friend, and vague-ish-ness…ish is our nemesis. When you like something, share why you like it. When something rubs you wrong, try to pinpoint what it was about it that didn’t sit well/you didn’t like.

Saying “I like this” is encouraging but uninspiring because the writer doesn’t know what about the description or the scene or the character grabbed the reader. And saying “I don’t like this” is discouraging and unhelpful because it tells the writer something is wrong but gives them no idea what about the scene or character isn’t shining for the reader.

Helpful mindsets for giving critiques.

Flattery is not helpful. Reserve your high praise for things you actually think are worthy of lavish high praise. If something is just all right, don’t say it’s amazing. If you don’t love something, don’t say you do to make the writer feel good. Don’t say what you think the other writer wants to hear.

As a critique partners, our job is not to make our writer friends feel good. Flattery—excessive, insincere compliments—only serves to give the writer false encouragement and cheapen the praise given by the flatterer.

I’m not saying don’t encourage because I’m a firm believer in giving encouragement like crazy; I’m saying don’t give encouragement where it isn’t due.

Be honest… even when it stings. Many times, I’ve gone over the moon for a story or a book by a friend and exploded with all my happy, excited thoughts and feelings, and it’s really easy to share what I think because I adore the story.

Spoiler alert: not every story is going to be easy like that.

Recently, being honest about my thoughts on a friend’s story was really, really hard because there were lots of things I didn’t like—way more things that I didn’t like than I did like. I dreaded writing out my final thoughts on the story for days because I knew she wouldn’t like what I had to say. I knew I wouldn’t like what I thought of it if it was my story. I wrestled with that critique—writing and rewriting it again and again because so much of it was negative. In the end, I was honest as gently as I could be. I still didn’t like it, and neither did she.

As far as being brutally honest goes, soften it as much as you can. Deliver the criticisms in the way that you would like someone to share their difficult/negative thoughts about your story with you. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

Remember that people won’t always like/agree with your opinion. Keep in mind that it is your opinion. It isn’t necessarily the right one, and you can be sure you mention that in your critique and do everything possible to soften—and even negate—the hard things you may say in your critique, and people might/will still get upset. That’s okay. It’s hard, but it’s okay.

A good friend says the hard things gently from a far purer heart than the flatterer who showers cheap praise.  

But also keep in mind that your criticisms could be wrong/baseless. You could be in the minority with your concerns and critiques. So don’t think too much of yourself and your thoughts that you can’t accept, not only that you might be wrong sometimes in the critiques you give, but that there will be times when you are flat out wrong in the critiques you give (because art is subjective and fun like that).

If your goal isn’t to enjoy the story and help the writer and the story grow, you’re doing it wrong. If your motives are off, your critique will be off. Never go into a critique with the mindset that you are going to teach this writer a thing or two or that they have so much to learn from your wisdom. Don’t try to inflict your style/voice onto the other writer. Conversely, critique isn’t about just patting the writer on the back.

Help and encourage out of a heart whose goal is to help and encourage.

Have you given a critique before? What did I miss in this small (and incomplete) guide to giving a critique?

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – I kind of feel like this post was a lot of “don’t!”, but I currently lack the brainpower to spin this post into a more positive light.

P.P.S. – There will be a follow up post the week after next about receiving critiques.