Saturday, April 30, 2011

Confessions of a Self Proclaimed Critic: Part 2

In the previous post I talked about how to handle and accept criticism, so to continue with the theme I'm going to focus on how to give criticism. Over the last year I've been asked to give critique on some of my friends' writing, and the first few times, I'll be honest, I didn't do so great. I really didn't know how to give critique. I'd either be full of praise, or full of complaints. I've learned that there are a few different things that are vital to giving good, honest critique.

To start, lets differentiate between good, and bad critique. To get a second opinion on the topic, I conducted an interview with one of my good friends Destiny (check out her blog here) about her thoughts on this.

Me: What is bad critique?
Destiny: Bad critique, in writing, is when someone says only bad things about someone's book section or whatever it may be. They just criticize, and don't give any tips, or say anything good.

I couldn't agree with her more. In laymen's terms, bad critique doesn't help the writer. In my experience, bad critique is made up of either a) derogatory comments, and complaints (This scene is awful! Your characters are paper thin. ect.) or b) sugar sweet (This is great! Absolutely nothing wrong with this!). It's pretty obvious why mean critique is bad critique (it tears the writer's confidence to pieces, and certainly doesn't improve their writing), but surprisingly enough sugar sweet critique is just as bad as mean critique. When the critic sugar coats things that need improvement, for whatever reason, they may make the writer feel good, but they don't help improve the work.

Now, onto what makes good critique!
Me: What makes good critique?
Destiny: Good critique is basically the opposite of what I said bad critique is. It's just when people tell you good things, and bad things, and they don't try to be entirely negative.

Good critique, as Destiny said, is made up of both good and bad things, and ultimately helps the writer. Look for good things in the piece that you enjoyed, and make sure you tell them that you are vocal about parts you liked. However, don't stop with the good things. Point out the things, in good taste, that need improvement, and let them know how to make the problem areas better. Always put yourselves in their shoes. Ask yourself, "How would I feel hearing this? Would it help, or hurt me?" before you give your critique. A good system is to make sure that your good and bad comments balance each other out. Now, you might be saying "But Sunny, what if the whole piece is awful?!" Here's what I say to that: you aren't looking hard enough. There is always a diamond in the rough. Even if you have to shine up that diamond and put it on a gold chain, it's important to always tell the writer that there is something good, no matter how bad you think their work is.

The last few thoughts on critiquing I have are these.

Don't be above telling someone you can't critique their work. If you know that you'll rip them to shreds, and it won't end well for either critic or writer, then politely decline, and refer them to another critic. I have this system going with the friend I partially interviewed in this post, and it puts a lot less stress on our relationship. A good move on both our parts.

Don't critique someone's work without them asking first. It's hard not to sometimes, but nobody wants to hear unsolicited advice.

So, in closing (I can just hear you cheering now), always put yourself in their shoes, and remember that balance is key to good critique. Being asked for critique is a great honor, so value it highly, and give the writer 110% of your critiquing effort!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Word Wednesday: April 27/11

I was just pondering the value of knowing, and understanding words that aren't commonly used. I don't mean words that are extremely obscure like Hepaticocholangiocholecystentersotomies (which means Gall Bladder Surgery by the way), but words that people don't often use in everyday conversation. Words that are used, but not always understood 100%. These words do enrich our writing if used properly, and it's good fun to surprise a teacher who asks if anyone knows the meaning of a word, and you do! At least it is for me, a nerdy English junkie (and proud of it!). Anyways, instead of me rambling on about this let's get started.

The three words for this week are:




1. a carousal; any noisy merrymaking

2. a large gathering, as of a political party or the teams of asporting league, often including a program of speeches

and entertainment.

3.a large gathering of members of the Boy Scouts or girl Scouts, usually nationwide or

international in scope




1. conforming or adhering to accepted standards, as of conductor taste: conventional behavior

2. pertaining to convention or general agreement; established by general consent or

accepted usage; arbitrarily determined: conventional symbols.

3. ordinary rather than different or original: conventional phraseology.




1. not returned or reciprocated: unrequited love

2. not avenged or retaliated: an unrequited wrong

3. not repaid or satisfied.

Well, that concludes the first ever Word Wednesday! Haha, I love saying that! How can you not love alliteration?! From now on, it will be a weekly occurrence, and hopefully you enjoy learning (or reviewing) these words as much as I do! Anyways, have a nice rest of the day, evening, or, if it's possible, morning.

Definitions compliments of

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Confessions of a Self Proclaimed Critic: Part 1

You can ask any of my friends, family, or just general people I know, and they'll tell you I'm a) opinionated, and b) a little bit (okay more than a little...) harsh. I have an opinion about anything and everything, whether it's the colour of your walls, or the way a teacher has taught a lesson. Most importantly for this post, I always have an opinion on one's writing.

The other day I was sitting in class peer marking a non-fiction article with the guy who sits next to me. Me being me, I picked apart the comma (mis)usage, and bad grammar. His response was "Wow, you're tough" as I preceded to give the paper a low grade in the technical aspect. This spurred me into thinking about the advantages, and disadvantages of critique. What better idea, I thought to myself, than to do a two part post on how to take criticism, and how to give it?

Critique is one of the scariest things for a novice writer, well actually for any writer! I can't speak for any of you, but when write I pour a lot of "soul", if you will, into my work. It's like putting a tiny piece of me on a page. You can imagine that putting your work, and in turn yourself out there for another person(s) to poke and prod at is no easy feat. You think that it gets easier over time, but trust me, I've been writing for over two years, and it still hasn't gotten any better. However, all that being said, it is very rewarding if you know how to take criticism.

The first step to gleaning everything you can from criticism is keeping an open mind. I know I probably sound like your mother by saying that (I know I sound like mine!), but it really is true. If you think that your writing is the best, and can't be improved, then what's the point of getting someone to critique your work? Our writing is like our babies, and just like parents we are often blind to our children's faults. It's extremely hard to be objective towards our own work. So when we get critique from someone it's hard to hear that aspects of our story that we think are superb are just okay to them. The initial reaction of a close minded person is to deny it, become defensive, and chalk it up to opinion. Take a look at this link, a really good example of what not to do when it comes to defensiveness. It's important to remember that the critic isn't simply pulling their opinion from nowhere (unless they're out to get you, but you won't give your work to someone like that. More on this later, though!), so it pays to check out their claims, and do your best to fix or improve the problem area. If we have an open mind than we have the opportunity to get valuable advice to improve our writing.

The second piece of advice I'd like to share with you in regards to taking criticism is this: Don't take it personally. I heard a really interesting phrase in a blog post that went something like this "Zip up your rhino suit." A rhino has hard skin, so it's basically means to not let criticism get to you. It's an excellent thing to remember. Some people aren't going to like what you've written, it's just a fact of life. There will never be something you write, no matter how good it is, that everyone will like. Understanding that is a big step to accepting criticism. However, that doesn't mean not listening to advice. Zipping up your rhino suit means that you don't stew over your mistakes, and criticism. You learn from the advice, and move on. After all, the only way to get better at writing is to write more.

The last thing I have to say on this that if you have just started writing, it's okay not to look for critique. Become confident in your work, before you open it up for others to see. Do seek critique, but not until you are sure that a bad remark of your work will not get your confidence so low you quit writing. Another thing to consider when seeking your first critique is the critic. Find a friend who isn't harsh, or extremely blunt to look at your work. Luckily, I have two friends who are pretty nice about my work, that has given me confidence. They still offer constructive criticism, so it's good system.

Lastly, ignore the bad remarks. Remarks like "you suck", or "you'll never be a good writer." Take the constructive criticism and use it, and ignore any derogatory comments that won't help. That concludes part 1 of Confessions of a Self Proclaimed Critic, so zip up your rhino suits and get writing!

P.S. Always thank your critic with respect no matter how harsh they are, it goes a long way for your professionalism

P.P.S. I added a request page for ideas and topics, check out the link in the sidebar!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Burst of Inspiration!


That thing, an indescribable emotion that fills a writer with feeling and zest, making them want to rush home to their blog or story. That's how I'm feeling right now. I have to admit that at least 50% of my writing is on inspiration, and the other half is driven on pure I-know-I-have-to-do-this-even-though-I-don't-really-feel-like-it juice. I think most writers can agree that it is much nicer to write when you're inspired. Although, surprisingly enough, the quality of a writer's work doesn't really change a whole lot from when they're inspired, and when they're forcing the words on the page. Now, that obviously isn't a sure fire thing, but it's the general trend I've notice among my work, and others' that I've read. Anyways, as I've said it's much nicer to really want to write when you sit down to work, so I've complied a list of the things that inspire me the most to give you some ideas. Hopefully you'll find some inspiration in these activities:

  • Music: Some songs just evoke such a strong emotion in me that I can't help but want to pour it out somewhere. Being the lover of music I am, this is a key aspect to my work. An example of what's inspiring me currently: Death Cab for Cutie "I Will Follow You Into the Dark", Switchfoot "Your Love is a Song"
  • Movies/T.V.: The other day I watched BBC's "Victoria and Albert," and "The Young Victoria", and those movies made me want to explore monarchy and gender roles in my stories. Also, the emotion between Victoria and Albert was touching. Watch movies/tv shows that have to do with your current story, or blog topic. For example, if you're writing a sword fight, than go watch "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "The Princess Bride"
  • Friends: Sometimes bouncing ideas off of your friends is the best way to find inspirations. Who knows, they might have a fountain of ideas stored away! I've certainly gotten some good ideas from the most unlikely friends
  • Listen: This sort of goes with the previous idea, but this time you just simply keep quiet and let conversations take their path. Listen to how people talk, what they talk about, and how they react to things. Don't be creepy about it, but just be quiet when people around you are talking, and listen. I've gotten some good speech patterns, and witty quotes from people that inspire scenes. I remember this one time when I was just sitting in the church office, and the pastor in charge of 50+ (a seniors' group) was commenting on a type of singer they were thinking of having for 50+. He said "Been there, done that, never want to do it again" I just thought it was the funniest thing, so I filed it away and used it in my story
  • Read!: What better way to be inspired than to see someone exceeding at something you're trying to do? Whether it's my favourite novel, or a blog, I always find reading it inspiring. I tend to look at the work, and say "That's where I want to be," and that renews some of my passion, because I can see my goal again.
That's my short list of things that inspire me! Feel free to share in the comments section things that inspire you. Now, I leave you with a particularly inspiring picture/quote.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Self Discipline *Gulp*

Self Discipline: [self-dis-uh-plin, self-]
–noun discipline and training of oneself, usually for improvement

This is a skill that I value oh so highly, both in others and myself. If you have self discipline, you get things done; aka you succeed. Unfortunately, to most people this skill does not come easy especially when it comes to writing. The lack of self discipline is, in my humble opinion, the number one reason that books end up half written, blogs end up dormant, and other writing projects get buried in a dusty drawer. You get a wonderful idea for a novel while standing in line at the supermarket, then develop it, and start writing, but a month later it's in that dusty drawer. There are some of the reasons why that happens, how you can avoid it, and ultimately learn some self discipline:

1. You Get Distracted
Let's start with an example of distraction

You sit down at your computer, log into Facebook, or your preferred form of social networking. Then you open your story file or start a new post for your blog. Stare blankly at the page for a moment, than start to type. *DING DING* Oh look, Joe Blow has just signed in, and he's said "hi!", so like the good friend you are you minimize your writing file, and reply. One thing leads to another, than an hour later you're still chatting, and you writing has gone untouched. When your friend finally has to go you decide to take another crack at writing, except now it's time for dinner. You shut the computer down and leave.

This has happened to me more times than I care to count, and I'm sure the similar has happened to you too. If you want to succeed with your writing, you must treat it with the same amount of respect you'd show if you had company over to your home. When you have people over at your house you don't read a novel while they're talking to you, or you don't text someone during dinner. Well, at least I hope you don't! Anyways, you give your company your complete and undivided attention. That's the sort of attention you should give your writing if you want to finish it. So that means, not logging into a social networking site while you're writing, and closing other windows that don't have anything to do with your work. I'm not going to lie, it's harder than it sounds but the results are excellent!

2. Lack of Schedule

Just like at school you need to schedule your writing time. Think about it this way, if you didn't have to go to math class every second period, and you could just drop in anytime unannounced or not go at all; what would happen? I know for me I would keep going at first because I know it's good for me, but I would miss a day here, and than skip another there. Eventually, I wouldn't be going to math class at all. The same happens with writing. When you write without any schedule, you tend to just keep letting it slip until you aren't writing at all. That's why it's so important to have a general time (ex. after supper for an hour) or a set time (5:00pm) when you will write without distractions (refer to number 1). Obviously, there will be times when you can't write in the time you schedule because of other commitments, and general chaos of life. When that happens just reschedule your writing time. I know making a writing schedule seems a little OCD-ish, but it really is helpful. That is if you have the self discipline to stick to it.

3. You get Bored

This is a classic reason. You start writing, than you get another brilliant idea for another story. I've got a friend, I love her to pieces, and she is a pretty good writer, but she is a sucker for this reason. She often says, "I'm going to shelve this idea, and work on it later" because she's gotten another great idea. Needless to say the "great idea" ends up getting shelved too, and she can never seem to get anything done. The danger to this is pretty apparent; one can't stick with something long enough to put an actual dent in it, because you are convinced that the next idea will be bigger and better. You've got to have persistence when writing. That means coming up with an idea and sticking too it! However, that doesn't mean no adjusting or styling to that idea, more on that in a second though!

The big question is "What do I do with that new idea?" That is where I recommend the "style or store" method. Styling is when you work bits your new idea into your old idea. For example, you've got a story where the main character has to search for a valuable jewel to save his family. Your new idea, you want to have a gang of thieves who all get captured and have to have some sort of jailbreak. The way you could style to new idea in could be something like this: while the main character is searching for this jewel he encounters a gang of thieves that he needs to break out of jail because one of the thieves has the key to the safe the jewel is in. The style method gives you the opportunity to use bits of your new idea, so that all the work you've done on the old idea doesn't go to waste. Styling ultimately enriches the story.
The other side of the "Style and Store" method is the "store" part. This simply means that you write the idea down somewhere for future use, so that you can use it for another story another time.

All of these suggestions that I've made to help you keep on track with your writing all take a little thing called self discipline. As hopefully you've seen by this post it's an absolutely necessary thing to possess if you intend to be a successful writer. It might seem like a hard thing to master, and it is. However, if you love whatever you're doing, whether it's writing or not, you will find value in the results of learning self discipline. Plus, you'll have a completed project to go along with that discipline!

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