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Friday, September 20, 2019

 

Friday Speak Out!: American Ninja Warriors Remind Me of Writers

by Denise Scott

Time to fess up. Is the TV show American Ninja Warrior (ANW) one of your secret guilty pleasures? NBC promotes it as a “high octane obstacle course competition.” My grandma used to watch TV wrestling from her rocker, cheering and grimacing as if she had a ringside seat at the event. That’s how I watch American Ninja Warrior.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, the personal narratives draw you in. Kenny Niemitalo’s little girl needed a kidney and a viewer donated one. Now Kenny helps other children find kidney donors. Jessie Graff has broken many records on the course and is a professional stuntwoman, appearing in movies such as Wonder Woman. Like ANW participants, writers have a purpose and a story to tell.

Ninjas practice in order to succeed. They don’t just sign up, qualify, and hit the course. They work out every day at the gym or in their backyard. The Eskimo Ninja leaps from iceberg to iceberg. To succeed, writers must practice their craft. Get on your desktop or laptop and begin! Turn your rough draft into a final draft and enter your work in a contest or submit it to a magazine or blog.

Writers, like ANW participants, compete—for online-publication space, for shelf space, or for first place in a contest. Not everyone wins the million-dollar prize or becomes a bestselling author. We pitch, we query, and we propose. It’s scary because we might fail. What if we don’t beat the wall or hit the buzzer?

Contestants face obstacles and so do we. How does one overcome writer’s block? One agent has a solution I can relate to, cry. After that, try writing prompts or a physical activity such as walking to stimulate your brain. How do you get back on the course after a rejection? My goal is to follow a recent tip. Submit to several places, not just one. Then if I receive a rejection, I still have hope that one of the other possibilities will produce results. More than one ninja has gotten stuck on one particular obstacle—the Jeep Run or the Double Dipper. Host Akbar Gbaja-Biamila has authored a book titled Everyone Can Be a Ninja: Find Your Inner Warrior and Achieve Your Dreams. So writers, find your inner warrior and persevere; there are no shortcuts.

Competitors are part of a community of ninjas who know what’s required, who understand the struggle, who support and celebrate with one another. If we’re not part of a community, we should be. They can be messy, but they’re healthy. My critique group corrects my mistakes, offers suggestions for improvement, shares expertise and resources, and encourages.

Ninjas celebrate incremental successes, moving past the onerous obstacle that repeatedly caused them to fall short. We may not always experience the success of hitting the buzzer, but when we do, like the ninjas, we thunder a primal scream of victory!

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Denise Scott’s Bio: Sadly, I am entertained by crime and talent shows and predictable romance movies. I like to read, teach, hike and do yardwork. Occasionally, with the nudge of friends, I step into an adventure such as zip lining or skydiving.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, September 19, 2019

 

No More Mrs. Potato(head)



It's hard to avoid. As a part-time writer, I sit a lot. You know the mantra: butt in chair. If you're not sitting down, it's tough to write.

I also read. A lot. That's crucial to writers too: you have to read a great deal to develop your writing craft.

And if you're past your 30s, if you're 40-something or you're in your 50s and definitely if you're 60-something, you discover (fat roll by fat roll) that all that sitting makes the writer start to resemble a potato.

This summer my bad horrible catastrophe shameful eating habits came to a screeching halt. I'd avoided getting a true physical for several years, but never avoided indulging in treating myself when work got stressful or when there was a reason to "celebrate" (making me an equal-opportunity overeater). Potatoes (could that be called cannibalism?). Chocolate. Bread. And lots of sedentary activities (like writing, reading and TV watching). It all led to a hat-trick nobody wants.

High blood pressure (it had previously been amazingly low). High cholesterol. And diabetes (type 2).

Although I was mad that now I'd have to invest in one of those old people pill organizers (me, who hates to even take an aspirin), the diagnosis was a good thing. I've changed my lifestyle--which is something writers need to examine. What is your lifestyle like? Your choices might be hindering your writing progress.

When I searched the internet for "writers' issues" I found a number of lists. One issue resonated with me: taking care of myself so I can take care of writing.

What can I do as far as self-care? Here's a few things:
  • Part of taking care of myself is exercise. If I let myself go until I look not like a potato but instead like a whole bag of potatoes, I won't be writing too much longer. I'll be in a vegetative state. Or dead. And that terrifies me. I have at least a couple of books in me. One is finished but not yet published. One is only begun. I'm 60. I have a limited amount of time left. 
          If I start to exercise, the blood flow will improve, which means blood will head to my brain 
          along with going to my lardy butt other body parts.

          Also, endorphins are released during exercise, and endorphins are always a good thing. I'm still
          working on finding an exercise regime that works for me... but exercise is going to be a part of
          my new lifestyle.
  • Eat decent food. For the last couple of months, I have the same thing for breakfast: a smoothie. It is not the most delicious thing, but I've gotten used to it. I throw in a few strawberries, a handful of blueberries, half a banana, a handful of fresh spinach, a carrot, some low-fat (plain) Greek yogurt and some milk. For other meals I try to stay away from white bread; instead, I do my best to opt for salads (homemade dressing) topped with candied walnuts croutons cheese salmon. I sometimes indulge in things I shouldn't, but I make it the exception instead of the rule.
  • Don't sleep your writing time away. If writing is your full-time job, you might think it's okay to sleep in late. However, perhaps those early morning hours, when everyone else in the house is asleep, is your most productive writing time. Get up early and write for 30 minutes. An hour. Or be an owl. When the larks go to sleep, stay up and write a bit.
  • Seek out emotional encouragement--from yourself as well as from others. You've got to keep yourself moving forward, even if nobody else is around to encourage you. When you do have friends and family who are cheer leading for you, enjoy it... and know that you're deserving of it.
Just like I'm growing as a writer, as a storyteller, I'm also growing as a human. Sadly, it's taken 60 years for some lessons to sink in but hopefully, the next 10 or 20 years will be marked by better choices... and me taking better care of me.


Sioux Roslawski is evolving. She's a middle school teacher, a slacker-of-a-writer, and a dog rescuer. If you'd like to read more about her, check out her blog.





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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

 

Why Wait?

As I was growing up, we had a family tradition where we would go "treeing" during the Christmas Holiday season. We went from house to house looking at everyone's trees, talking about the lovely presents, and eating delicious food. I believe the adults had a few cocktails, and it was a chance for the children to enjoy a soda pop with their cousins. My Auntie Joyce and Uncle Eugene had the most lovely white crushed velvet furniture. I always wanted to touch the fabric, but could never do so as it was covered in clear plastic. I was so tempted to stick a pointy child finger through the plastic just to feel a small portion of the fabric, but I never did. Year after year on the way home, I'd ask my parents about the elegant furniture in the formal sitting room. My dad would respond "I'm not sure what they're saving everything for - may as well enjoy it, you can't take it with you. Why wait?".

My dad was by no means careless with his belongings or his relationships. He made the most of everyday but he also figured he may as well enjoy the things he worked for. Our house was made to be lived in. We had dark colored furniture and on Friday evenings we would sit on the couch and eat pizza and popcorn while watching a movie. My Aunt and Uncle never used the sitting room or the furniture in that room. My Uncle passed away decades ago and my Aunt has likely never sat her bum on the soft fabric of her own couch or loveseat. I wonder if they regret waiting...I'll never know...

I learned many lessons during "treeing" (including how to mix the perfect martini), but the one I want to pass along today is about waiting. Let me ask you this:

WHY WAIT?

Why wait until your manuscript is perfect to show it to someone? Why wait to use the good china? Why wait until you have more time to start writing your novel? Why wait to tell someone how you feel about them?

As I write today's article, I am sipping tea out of a ridiculously expensive tea set. I handled the fragile china cup to my almost 2 year old. She likes tea and she finished off the cup and clumsily handed it back to me. The cup could break, but that's a chance I'm willing to take. I'm not waiting until the children are grown or the occasion is right - I refuse to wait. I'm working on my novel and it's a hot mess (so am I for that matter) but I'm not waiting to talk about it and share it. Life is too short to wait. Sit on the couch, use the good china, share your writing, and get out there and do what brings you joy!

We love to hear from readers - leave a comment answering one (or all) of the following:

*What have you been waiting to do? What are you waiting for?

*What Holiday tradition was most memorable for you as a child?

*Do you have any funny family stories from the holidays or family gatherings?


Crystal is a secretary, council secretary, financial secretary, and musician at her church, birth mother, Auntie, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children (Carmen 12, Andre 11, Breccan 5, Delphine 4, and baby Eudora who somehow turns 2 later this year), two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!




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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

 

Interview with Jerri Jerreat: Spring 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Jerri’s Bio:

Jerri is a social justice and environmental activist, and writes fiction, both good and terrible, for joy. She is inspired by her family, her ten-year-old students, and a number of kick-ass non-profit groups.

Her fiction has appeared in The Penmen Review, (pending), Everyday Fiction, The Ottawa Arts Review, The Yale Review Online, The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, Room and is in two anthologies, Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers (World Weaver Press) and Nevertheless: Tesseracts 21 (Edge Publishing). She mentors her students to write and perform a play each year and was honoured that her own play was performed in the Newmarket National Play Festival, July 2019. The actors were magnificent. She can be found at www.jerrijerreat.com.

If you haven't done so already, check out Jerri's award winning story "Waves" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Spring 2019 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Jerri: When I write, I am diving into myself. It’s a bit like falling into a dream. I read a variety of fiction in different genres, and nonfiction for teaching, or newsletters from Ecojustice, and a news magazine, Macleans. I listen to the CBC news. I talk with young students most of the day, with adults around that, go for walks and do errands. Life! Then, all these thoughts and images simmer together. When I sit down to do a 15-minute writing exercise I never know what will emerge. It’s so interesting to see how things kaleidoscope.

I have been drawn to reading articles and books about refugees for the past few years. Still, it was exciting, to feel a girl’s voice, fleeing from a war, bubbling up inside.

This particular tiny story emerged long after I began reading about the kindness and the cruelty of strangers toward modern refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea. It is still happening. Just this week I received a newsletter from the U.N. group that works with refugees around the world, (U.N.H.C.R.). There was a news article about one of the survivors of an event in 2016 wherein pirates deliberately sunk a boat, killing over 500 people who were fleeing war.

I highly recommend the film, “Human Flow.” The numbers of people presently fleeing their homes because of war or climate change/famine is something we all need to be aware of. The United Nations keeps statistics, and updates them frequently. In 2017 there were over 65 million people fleeing their homes due to war or famine or other disasters. In 2019 there are over 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

That’s more than after the World Wars. Now that I know it, it’s not something I can un-know. I think we all have to see this as a global change, and find positive solutions.

WOW: Thank you for sharing the background of not only your general writing process but also of the events that make your story so relevant and powerful. These statistics are shocking. It sounds like you’ve learned a lot through your research. What did you learn about yourself or writing while crafting this piece?

Jerri: I practiced an old Jedi mind trick: despite a dozen misgivings about what was appearing onscreen, I ignored them. I let my mind go. I don’t know why I went into the head of a young teen leaving Syria with her family. I’ve brought two lovely newcomer families (recently Syrian refugees) into my classroom to chat with my students. When my students asked why families were running away from their country and coming here, I’d simply shown some photos of Syria before and after the war. One visiting youth, about 15, was quite articulate and told us that what was strange for her about attending high school in Ontario, was that couples kiss in public. My students, aged 9 and 10, agreed that it was gross. This lovely girl wore a hijab, played soccer, and had two part-time jobs. She talked about missing her baby brother a lot while at school. Again, my students agreed with that feeling.

She didn’t have to take a boat; her family was sponsored by a group of local churches and the local mosque to come to Canada. A lucky family. My students raised a little money for this charity, “Save a Family from Syria”, the last two years.

After writing, I became very concerned that this piece might be seen as cultural appropriation. I didn’t send it out for a year, fretting. Finally, I decided that I would. I had written it in a spirit of deep respect for those families forced to leave their land, daring terrible dangers, because they had to. That is, truly, a universal theme throughout human history.

WOW: We are grateful to you for sharing your work with us! It clearly sounds like activism is a meaningful part of your life. How often and what ways does your activism inspire your fiction writing, and vice versa?

Jerri: I can’t avoid seeing the effects of climate change right here. We had tornadoes last winter, (I’ve never heard of them here), and it seemed like more ice storms and floods than lovely white snowy days. I’d never heard of Lyme Disease ten years ago but it’s a constant concern. Thus, I support Ecojustice, Environmental Defense, the David Suzuki Foundation, among others. As well, I tutored recent refugee children last summer, a small bit of volunteerism, and was very proud to follow my students last year on a path of peaceful protest to two levels of government about single-use plastics. Two students, aged ten, told me that they had counted over 40 plastic bags in the ditches, streams, and caught in trees on a bus ride to school one day.

However, I don’t write to preach. I write because I need to, and these underlying concerns sometimes slip into my fiction. This story was overtly about families in terrible danger, and I was drawn into a girl’s thoughts at such a time. I simply went there. I have written a story with magical realism called “The Narrow Café” which appeared in the Yale Review Online last fall. There, I was yanked into a story about a young man with family expectations who had a gift for making drinks. The refugee background was very slight. I did, however, enjoy writing two stories set in the future for two Solarpunk anthologies. Those stories had to be set in a future where climate change had generally been overcome for the most part, a refreshing change from dystopias and “Hunger Games” futures. For those, I researched all the latest emerging green energies. The worldbuilding was great fun. Then I wrote a story about a young woman and her fiancée on a canoe trip, a sort of a marriage test, set in that future! (Note: if you have ever taken a lover camping for the first time, you might be able to relate.) The anthology is called “Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers.” The company is now publishing a set of winter stories, out in January, and I was delighted they accepted another story in that same world. This story is about a teacher and a 12-year-old bully.

WOW: You mentioned earlier that you draw a lot of inspiration from what you view and read in your daily life. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Jerri: I always have a few books on the go. My husband and I are rereading a fantasy “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley because it’s fun and makes me happy before I fall asleep. It was briefly lost in some cushions so we read Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” which was brilliant. I’m in the middle of “Apple and Rain” by Sarah Crossan, (terrific) and “Love Walked In” by Marisa de los Santos (delightful, unexpected). Recently finished “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater, which I couldn’t put down. I have various non-fiction works I read at as well, including “Speaking our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation” by Monique Gray Smith, and “Dispatches Volume 24”, a magazine from Doctors Without Borders.

WOW: If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Jerri: I would say--get out there in the world, girl, and engage with people! Take the bus more so you can chat with the older lady with the bag of groceries. In store line-ups, begin conversations. Listen to a diverse range of people. Each person’s story will enlarge your heart, your wisdom, and enrich your writing.

WOW: Wonderful advice! Anything else you’d like to add?

Jerri: I wish to encourage other women to write, to take a workshop or course, and then write some more. Writing fiction can be fun, or healing, an act of self-discovery, or of rebellion. If writing nourishes you, then make time for it. Like visual art, it’s not about the money. It’s about the joy.

WOW: Thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

 

How To Win Contests (Or At Least an Honorable Mention)

I sometimes get the opportunity to critique manuscripts for contests; I might be asked to give feedback on essays or short fiction or novel excerpts or even picture book manuscripts. It’s not always easy to find the best manuscript, but there are two basic flaws that’ll quickly kick your work out of the competition:

Same Old, Same Old

I don’t care whether you’re writing an essay or a picture book, you’ve got to bring something unique. But that doesn’t mean you have to write about something that’s never been done. You just have to find a way of making the same old, same old different.

Take, for example, something as simple as fingers and toes. There have been a gazillion picture books written about ‘em because—big surprise—little kids and the adults who read to kids are downright smitten with fingers and toes.

So you want to write about these darling digits because it’s a proven seller and also just because you love the idea of fingers and toes. How can you make your book different from all the gazillion of books already out there? Start with making sure you know what’s already been written and then let your imagination go wild! Don’t worry about being “wrong” so much as just letting your creativity run rampant. That’s where the golden best-sellers are born.

Because here’s the bottom line (which is always about money, isn’t it?): there’s a strong correlation between uniqueness and marketability. So when an agent tells you that it only takes a first page, or maybe even a first paragraph, to know if they’re interested, it’s because of the uniqueness/marketability factor. The same old, same old will get a pass every time. Bring something unique to make your manuscript stand out and you’re halfway to the prize. (And as an added bonus, you’ll probably have found your hook.)

But Is It A Story?

Do you have a friend who loves to tell stories but at the end of one of these “stories” you find yourself asking, “Is that it?”

Oh, dear. Some people just don’t know how to tell a story. But good storytellers do; they know the way story works. They start at the beginning, with a character who’s got trouble. So much trouble! You can’t help wondering, “So then what happened?” The storyteller continues, building tension, until you’re on the edge of your seat. And finally, the story comes to a gratifyingly good end and you’re all like, “Wow!” Or maybe you laugh or cry or sigh. The point is, a good story always has the reader asking, “So then what happened?” Until the story finally comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

You can play around with all the elements, whatever your form. Maybe your protagonist is a force of nature, maybe you have four different points-of-view, maybe you time travel, going back and forth in settings from one century to the other. But through it all, you have to have a good story. Without a story, you’ve just got observations. And possibly an agent who says, “Is that it?”

So before you spend days, months, or years of your life fixing a wonky rhyme or making a character more engaging, make sure your manuscript is worth it. Give it something unique and make sure you have a story. And then sit back and start winning contests (or at least an Honorable Mention)!

~ Cathy C. Hall


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Sunday, September 15, 2019

 

Taprina Milburn Writes Through Her Grief, a runner-up in our Quarterly Essay Contest

Taprina Milburn
Welcome to Taprina Milburn who will inspire you with her positive attitude despite her current dealings with grief and empty nest. She has managed to figure out a way to write through her pain, and we are glad she did. You can win her winning essay, "Gifts" here.

Here's a bit about Taprina: In her blog, reimaginingthislife.com, Oklahoma native Taprina Milburn shares stories of family, hope, and faith with readers who are redirecting their lives after big changes, just as she is. Mom of two grown and flown children, she is the author of two books, Scientists Use Rats, I Use My Family (2003) and We’re Not Being Raised Right: And Other Ego-Building Things My Kids Say (2011). She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and has written for newspapers and magazines throughout the years.

Today, she serves as a communications consultant for nonprofits and is working on a master’s degree in family and child studies. She loves to travel to visit her kids and their spouses, and admittedly spends an inordinate amount of time with her six-year-old female golden retriever, Scout, who the kids say is the golden child of the family. They may be right. (Scout has her own Instagram account, @thisgoldenchild).

WOW: Congratulations, Taprina, for being a runner-up in our Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with your essay, "Gifts." It's about reframing loss after your husband's death, and we first want to say how brave it is for you to write about this subject and share your experience in your essay. The format you chose for this, organizing with four "frames" was very powerful. What made you write your story in this way?

Taprina: The short answer is that placing the gifts in frames helped me to be disciplined in my writing. I could say to myself, “Today, you are only writing within this frame.” It helped to organize my mind because grief can be unpredictable and can have your mind roaming all over the place. The long answer is that I also visualized an actual picture frame. If a picture or memento is important to me, I put it in a frame, hang it on my wall or put it on my fireplace mantel. I don’t want to forget the life I had with my husband; and I also don’t want to forget what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown during this time, even if it is painful. So, symbolically, these gifts/lessons are in a frame in my mind because they are important touchstones.

WOW: I love that the frames served two purposes. Sometimes when a subject is painful or overwhelming, tackling it in small chunks, or frames as you did, is a manageable way to accomplish a goal. Thank you for sharing that tip with us. Do you find writing essays about this time in your life part of your healing journey? Why or why not?

Taprina: Writing essays about this time in my life has not been easy but it has been helpful. My husband has been gone for three years. The first year after he died, I was in shock, felt numb and as if I was walking around in a fog. When I started to write about the experience of my husband’s death and suicide, whether journaling or writing essays, I noticed that I started to feel connected to my heart and emotions again and to think with more clarity. Yes, there is sadness, but putting pen to paper also has helped gratitude to bubble up. And gratitude is a master healer. I’ve always believed that writing helps me to better understand my life, my connection to God, and to others. It is a tool I’m definitely going to continue to use on my grief journey.

WOW: We hear that from so many of our writers. This is also why journaling or morning pages are so helpful to writers. We are also honored you entered our contest with all your great writing and publication success in your bio. Tell us about your books!

Taprina: When my children were small, I wrote a syndicated weekly column called For Sanity’s Sake (which I've always said, tongue-in-cheek, is the reason why I write, for my sanity). The column started out in my hometown paper and was picked up by King Features Syndicate and printed in papers in the United States and Canada. I wrote about the very normal, day-in-day out life of being a wife and mother—sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always heartfelt. My favorite feedback from readers was when they said that they could relate as a parent. The two books, Scientists Use Rats, I Use My Family and We’re Not Being Raised Right: And Other Ego Building Things My Kids Say were compilations of the columns I had written over the years. I’m proud of these books because they capture the stories of raising a family with my husband.

WOW: That is amazing. What great success and how exciting that your columns were syndicated and became books! And of course, we must ask about your Golden Retriever and his Instagram account! Do you use this as part of your marketing for your writing or is it a part of your hobbies?

Taprina: Scout, my female golden retriever, just turned six. She is named Scout after the little sister in the book, To Kill A Mockingbird. My kids joke that my husband and I got Scout as an empty-nest-coping-mechanism. They are probably right. She and I didn’t start off on the right foot, though. As a puppy, she ate reading glasses, food from the counter, and library books (this is the abbreviated list). Everyone would tell me to be patient because by three years old, I’d have a really good dog. I wasn’t sure she’d make it to three years. The month my husband died, however, Scout turned three, and by that time she had become a very good companion. I’m not sure what life would be like without her. My kids now call her my golden child, which is why I started Scout an Instagram account @thisgoldenchild. It’s just for fun but, yes, Scout is a very important part of my life and definitely shows up in my writing.

WOW: Look, puppies are no joke! I have one from the Humane Society, a "lab mix" who has to have some hound in her. She keeps me on my toes, and I keep saying to myself, "This will get better." So I can totally understand about Scout! Your story of her getting better at 3 gives me hope. To close, can you tell us about your blog and what's next for you on your writing journey?

Taprina: My blog is called Reimagining. A few months after my husband died, a good friend took me to lunch and told me that one day joy would return but that I would have to use my imagination to reimagine a new life. I respected that advice from her because she was also widowed. The blog is where I go to share stories about rebuilding and reimagining a new life. My hope is that as I put my stories out there about grief, widowhood, empty nest, etc, that someone in a similar situation as I am in may stumble upon it, and it might help them, too. I believe we have to help each other as we learn and grow. As far as my writing journey goes, I am working on a third book of essays (working title: What Now Scout? Reimagining Life with My Golden Child); and one day, I’d love to write a fiction novel. I’d also like to teach a writing class on the importance of writing through grief.

WOW: Taprina, we wish you the best success with your book and your novel. Thank you for providing such personal answers to our questions. We know readers will be able to learn from you and your experiences. You definitely top the list of brave and wonderful women writers. 

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

 

To Critique or Not to Critique, That is the Question

Is it just me or do some people critique like they have an ax in their hand?

I have realized one of the hardest aspects of writing is getting my work critiqued. Whether it's finding the right people to critique my work, reading people's feedback about my work, or the reaction of others when I critique their work, it's all a bit of a landmine sometimes. My ego gets stepped on meanwhile I accidentally step on the ego of others.

And recently I had two experiences through the critiquing process that I wanted to share you and maybe we'll learn something along the way together.

First, I'd like to share that I will occasionally submit my writing to be critiqued at the Zoetrope writing forum. It's been a fine experience overall. I mean, it's basically internet strangers reading my work and everyone has a different flair. Some people are better at critiquing than others (or at least, some are more willing to put in the effort). No matter what, I learn something valuable each time.

Recently, I decided to read over the feedback of a flash fiction piece that I had worked on months ago. As a result, I noticed feedback I didn't read closely. I was surprised at how much it helped me. Months ago when I read this feedback it felt cold and cutting. Now when I read it, I felt helpful and insightful.

I learned that receiving critiques about my writing isn't always easy. I also realize I don't always read the critiques properly. Sometimes the feedback and critiques feel mean. Except when I give myself time from this feedback I realize there is value even in the sharp-edged remarks.

And then another lesson happened. I submitted feedback for someone else's work. With Zoetrope there is a rating system (which I don't like). I gave this person 7/10. And I don't know about you but in the IMDB world, that is a great rating. Yet this person was offended. Like, deeply offended. And they explained how they didn't understand my rating. My feedback was positive so why didn't I give them a 10? Or a 9, even?

I explained to them that my ratings of 9 and 10 would go to a piece of writing that hits me in a profound way. 7 and 8 is a good rating (at least to me it is). Yet, that still wasn't enough of an explanation to this person. They revealed to me that the rating mattered more to them than the critique. And they even explained away the feedback I did give them. They also went on to say why they deserved a higher rating. In reply, I said, "Thank you for the information." And I have decided to move on from that forum.

Whether it's a close friend or family member or an online critique group, getting critiques about your work is never an easy process. I don't know about you, but the truth is I'd love to a rating of 10 out of 10 for all of my stories. Yet that isn't realistic for the revising process.

Remember that in the critiquing and revising process, your piece of writing is still growing into what it could be. Think of the people in your life that critique your work as fellow gardeners pointing out where you should prune. Most of all, you have the final say and only you can shape the story into a beautiful garden.

If you'll excuse me, I have some pruning to do.

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