How Does Critiquing Make YOU A Better Writer?

I’m not back regularly, and will be busy with NaNoWriMo in particular for the next two weeks, but I wanted to have a discussion about something many writers will have to face once their story has been written, whether it takes a month or not, getting feedback to make it better.

I can’t count how many articles I’ve read and interviews I’ve seen, heard or read where it’s said at some point “Get second eyes on your writing.” Not just for the technical stuff, which as important as it is, I really find it a pain sometimes, but also for things that don’t work or should be removed, and often the case for me, doesn’t make sense as currently written.

But how can you help others when you barely can help your own craft quirks and missteps ?

While many have told me you just have to say what I like and what I don’t if I can’t be technically helpful, I’m not simply talking about reading tastes and other subjective things like that. I just really don’t feel I can help to the extent I was helped. It’s one of the key reasons I had to leave my first critique group.

I was, and sadly still am, weak in the areas they excelled, so often I felt like if they had issues I’d never had or understood, how could I be helpful?

People can say “What X character did isn’t convincing” until the cows come home, but knowing that, and even agreeing that is the case, doesn’t mean finding a better way to do it just comes to you, and that’s for critiquing others work and trying to edit and/or revise your own.

So in the comments I urge you to answer the following-

What’s ONE  did you learn from critiquing others writing that made your writing better?

Only one to really zero in on what the greatest takeaway for you is.

Together, let’s try to take crisis out of critiquing others writing, and our own.

Ciao For Now,

The F.U.N. Factor – How To Make Your Writing and Reading Life Both Productive and Pleasureful!


It’s one of my favorite words I learned as a kid. It speaks to so many aspects of life. Symbiosis is when two separate entires rely on each others strengths to help compensate the weaknesses of one another.

A more personal way to say “Teamwork.”

For example, vegetable gardens not only need water and nutrient rich soil, but sunlight as well. Sunlight, water, and rich soil all play their part in keeping life cycle of plants and trees in balance.

The water cycle is also dependent on the sun. It’s the light and heat from the sun that causes water to evaporate, become clouds, which brings rain, snow, or hailstones  rushing to the ground .In addition to sunlight though, wind speed and climate temperature also play key factors in the water cycle.

As we each walk down our own writer’s path, we may want to achieve similar goals, like daily sharpening of our craft, writing new material on a reasonably consistent basis, getting an agent. Or make our first sale. We achieve these goals in different ways and at different times, usually (But annoyingly) on a longer time frame.

Regardless of how different your road differs from others, many things are a constant to all writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, short vs. long.

We must write, of course,  but we also must read, which is where our love for language starts after we learn our first words through sound as toddlers. Just like Peanut Butter and Chocolate, Bacon and Eggs, and Fish and Chips, Reading and Writing are of equal importance to writers.

But this is also where new writers especially face one of the first big challenges prior to or shortly after either getting an agent or miraculously sold your book by going direct to a publisher, something that’s getting harder to do now versus decades ago.

Sometimes, you may find reading is not the same as it was when you weren’t writing, which for the purposes of this topic, writing with publication being your eventual goal.

Before, you read what you loved and didn’t have to justify or explain it to yourselves, you just appreciated it when a certain story or writer’s style speaks to you and your interests and experiences.

Once we start writing, and want to publish some of that writing, things change a bit. Now you take second looks as books you normally wouldn’t because they’re causing a serious buzz among readers and fellow writers, and winning an award or two only adds fuel to the fire surronding the accolades of a certain book, series, or author.

Some of these books you may like too, others you simply will not, even if it’s in the same genre or type of book you’re trying to write. First, know that it’s OKAY not to like it, or to simply not be good at a book you like reading, I’m sure many writers like books in certain catagories they don’t feel good at or have any interest to write themselves.

Think of how people have gone loony for memoirs this past decade, but that doesn’t mean all the writers who loved memoir, should or frankly want to write their own.

Now you’ll hear many writers who say they don’t have this problem, and I’m seriously glad they don’t, I don’t wish this kind of pain and frustration on anyone, even my worst enemies.

For those of you T.A.A. readers who know or have once felt this pain, or know someone who has, it is REAL, and thankfully, can be healed. For the next week starting today, I’m going to put into practice, a way of making peace with the rivalry issues writers who want to get published and build a writing career always face and how to rise above them.

Readers, it’s time to get the F.U.N. back in READING, not just writing.

I know many published writers, and publishing insiders, tell you not to let the market solely dictate everything you write, or READ for that matter.  At the same time, new writers are also force fed the saying, “Study the market” often more so than, “Show, don’t tell.”

But this isn’t about arguing one over the other, because they are both important, this is really about learning how to write, and read, that doesn’t sacrifice the pleasure for the practical. This is about-

The F.U.N. Method for reading and writing-

F for freedom
U for understanding
N for necessity

Over the next week or so, I will explore each aspect of the what the F.U.N. method is all about and how you can tailor it to fit the kind of writer and reader you are.

Snow or no snow, for all you four seasoners, Spring is coming soon, and it’s time to take back the fun reading and writing gave us, while still pushing yourself toward excellence in your craft one day at a time.

Check back tomorrow for our first stop-


Until then, may the Fantastic Fauna be with you.

Take the "P" out of pain and add "G" for Gain

No Pain, No Gain.

At some point we’ve all heard or been told this phrase countless times in our lives. Especially in recent years, when our economy, government, and even Mother Nature dealt us pain we often fear they’ll be no gain at all.

But this is neither a financial or political blog, this blog is for aspiring and emerging children’s book writers, but trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Just like the troubling times going on worldwide, and in our respective homelands, every man, woman and child faces their own trials and triumphs. But just as our predecessors survived and thrived despite The Great Depression, and two World Wars almost back to back, we’ll survive these tough times too, even though sadly many of us will recover far slower than others.

But while the modern phrasing of this now clichéd saying is most well known, it comes from an old proverb coined by one of America’s most influential voices, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who said in his Poor Richard’s Almanac: There are no gains without pains.

While this witty pearl of wisdom is mostly used in modern times as a self-motivator to physical fitness, it definitely applies to writers to further understand our craft, and sharpen it, like a hand crafted Chinese meat cleaver.

You’d be surprised at some of the common turns of phrase we still parrot today were first penned or made it wittingly candid by him.

“A penny saved is a penny earned” is another of his most well known quotes.One I’ve yet to master, but at least I’m not drowning in debt, and that was a ditch I nearly dug myself in, but now I’m in the black and intend to stay that way.

But Time is Money, A place for everything, and everything in it’s place, and even, Honesty is the best policy. They all came from the witty Doc Franklin himself, whose words no less true now as they were in colonial America, but despite all the ignorant prejudice and inequivalent among the American colonists faced with England, and even amongst themselves, imagine how scathing it could’ve been if we had colonial equivalent of television, Facebook, or Twitter? Can you say, “Social Death By Journalism?” 

I’ll take Death by Chocolate instead, cake that is.

One of my favorite Franklin phrases is one I first heard in 2002-

“A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”

Peanuts Charlie Brown I imagine would find much solace in that quote. I sure do.

What I gather this means is that it’s never too late to better one’s education, or build character, and integrity where previously there was none. Something I think all writers, but especially newcomers to the field like me, need to remind ourselves every day, minute, and hour we live and on the endless journey to improve our writing, for ourselves, and the readers we one day want to have. 

Many wise and more patient writers than I always told me, the journey is more important than the destination. But I believe it’s too stark a message. Though I’ve come to see the truth to it. The destination is still important. 

If it wasn’t, many of the truly joyous moments in our lives, both as a country, as well as individuals, would’ve never occurred. I hope Ben’s Words, and mine, bring you the comfort and joy I’m starting to find again.

I’ll leave you with my all time favorite quote from Dr. Franklin I sincerely wish all my readers and fellow writers can achieve in some form, for their sake, and for the sake of the future generations of wordsmiths-

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Until tomorrow,
May the fantastic fauna be with you.

P.S: While I applaud Ben for his searing sentences that speak truths we often recoil against, but need to hear anyway, I feel sorry for dogs everywhere when he uses these loyal, brave, and playful companions as metaphors on the sins and frailties of human nature. But I did find one dog quote by Dr. Franklin that shows that loyalty. As an animal lover,  whether the creatures of fact, or fiction, it was a quote I was glad to find.

Many Thanks, Ben. Many Thanks.

Career Themes and You!

Inspired the blog, “The Other Side of the Story” by Janice Hardy, author of The Healing Wars Trilogy.

Note: If you haven’t read it yet, click here to check it out before reading this further. 

I don’t follow a lot of blogs on a regular basis, but the ones I do are either extremely helpful to me as a writer, or they’re just plain fun, but nearly all of them are inspirational and deeply empathetic. 

In the case of writing blogs, one of the most helpful ones I discovered last year was The Other Side of the Story, by the author of the well loved Healing Wars Trilogy by Janice Hardy.

While I’ve never met her in person, both Janice, and her blog, have been integral to my meltdown recovery. Her blog is full of practical, useful advice, even if it’s not as easy to follow as it is to explain.

So many good writing blogs are hindered from being great because they usually (But not always) focus on the facts without taking personal feelings and setbacks into account. 

Recently she wrote a post about something I’ve never given great thought to before. Our career theme.

We all know most writing contains or address a specific theme, but did you know your writing career in and of itself can be theme oriented? I didn’t. At least not to extent in which Janice talked about  on her blog. 

When you really think about it, not all bakers, banks, and businessmen and women have the same ideas about what the job means to them, outside of making money or being a nonprofit charity. The same is definitely true of writers, even those who write the same genre or type of story.

Think about all those books about plucky redhead girls: Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, and Judy Moody. (Judy might be a carrot-top, but I’m not sure, her color covers and doll’s hair looks reddish to me) All of these girls were written by different authors from different eras, connected only by their gender, and their heroine’s hair color, and their heroines are unique and distinctive in their own way.

All stories have a theme, or themes, of some sort, whether fiction or nonfiction. Every writer has their own career theme too, things you like to explore or talk about in your stories no matter what you write, be it fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.

For example, not all love stories are straight romance, and not all romances are sex-driven, just like not all Women’s fiction involves dating or relationships. 

Now if only there were more books “For men” that don’t always involve crime-starved, perverted loners who drink and gamble to the umpteenth degree…

Anyway, back to the point, for Janice, her career theme is “Moral Grey Areas.” Stories that explore characters whose actions and choices are neither all good or all bad, and tough questions don’t always have a clear cut “Right and Wrong” answer. It’s bittersweet, open-ended, and arguably more true to “Real life.” Even if the world, people, and events are entirely made up.

This certainly doesn’t describe me or my writing at all, at least not at large. So what are my career themes?

First and foremost, most of my stories deal with friendship in some form, from making new friends, to keeping old ones, and honoring friends who are either dead or you’re no longer close to.

To me, friendship is vital for every person to experience, second only to family, and loving ourselves despite our flaws and quirks.

What makes friendship especially interesting to me is that unlike families we’re either born into or adopted by, we can choose our friends, and we can change them as we ourselves change throughout life. 

That’s why friendships that last throughout most of your life are very special to me when I read about them, I never got that, so those of you who have a friend or two you’ve known most of your conscious life, treasure them for those of us who have to live much longer to form similar bonds.

But like families (Either by birth or adoption) we hurt when our friends are hurting, and we they die, the feeling of grievance and loss is no different than losing a blood or adoptive relative or family pet.

One of the biggest advantages of having friends, especially friends closer to your actual age, is you can be equals, whereas with  friends older than ourselves or older kids or adults in our family, there’s a distinct, normal, and yet semi-annoying sense of respect and restraint you must have.

Of course you must respect your friends as well, but it’s not the kind of respect you’d give your teachers. sports coaches , and your parents and/or parental figures.

I’ve only recently discovered my second career theme, which for now I’ll call The Reverse Peter Pan Syndrome, or the T.R.P.P. Syndrome for short (Acronyms are fun, if not always easy to say)

One of the hallmarks with Peter Pan is kids never having to grow up. The reverse of this is wanting to grow up, but here’s the twist, you constantly feel frustrated and fearful of how long it’s taking to “Grow up,” at least in the ways we want most.

For me, it’s how long it takes to be more Independent, to not be so dependent on my family for money and transportation, and being so behind an burnt out on education.

I have to admit, there are times I feel I’d be better off as a kid than the depressed, undereducated, temperamental 20 something I am now. But I soon remember the flip side, for all the pain and downright sadness associated with the many milestones and mishaps of adulthood, I learned wonderful and meaningful things about myself that my younger self couldn’t do, or simply not understand. 

I got smarter. I learned to care about others and not just myself, and while I’m not 100% temper tantrum free, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as when I was five since I have better (Mostly)  self-control, and hey, even the uber mature folk slip up sometimes.

While I haven’t written much about this myself yet as I’ve just discovered it, anyone who’s read books by memoirst Kelly Corrigan and about the “Quarterlife Crisis” us 20 somethings go through, you’ll get a general idea of what I mean. Stories, both true and fictional, about feeling like a child trapped in an adult body, and not yet knowing how to make peace with onself, and feeling good about where you are now, versus when you were a kid, and loving yourself in the present as opposed to what you hope to be in the future.

I definitely have problem in this department. It can be hard to “Love the present you” when the thinks you can’t stand about yourself cause you and those around you, and live with, to be miserable.

Now I’m not trying to go all “Hippie Psychoanalyst” on you, but  feelings play more of a part to both the writer’s craft and career, than a lot of Type A by-the-book folks like to admit.

Unless your natural inclination is to see things in a highly pragmatical manner to begin with, trying too hard to be analytical takes all the fun and adventure out of the writing process, believe me, I speak from painful experience. Past and Present.

Often I think writers confuse the word “practical” with “paranoia.” There’s a not-always-fine-line between the two, and leaning too far to either side only brings frustration and heartbreak to the writer, and maybe even greater chaos than they already deal with.

So take some time today to think about your career theme(s). Just remember, these themes don’t just describe a paticular book or story, they describe you as a writer, and what you most value, fear, and/or respect the most about life and the human condition.

With that, here’s a quote by me that I hope I’ll be known for one day-

“Even when the story’s not about us, it’s still about what we, the writers are about, mixed with the blessings of our imagination.”

Hope to hear some feedback from you!

Until Tomorrow,
May the Fantastic Fauna Be With You!


P.S. I’ll update the Future Headlines tomorrow as I return to my typical posts on craft.