Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth, The Ugly Truth About Writing

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This is literally me right now. Looking into the depths of my heart, which I have pulled out of my chest. To face the truth.

I am sitting here stalling. My draft lies in a file, wasting storage space on my laptop. I have left it alone for many months because that is what writers are advised to do. Write, leave it. Edit, leave it. Read and edit, then leave it again. But I have left it way too long.

I have tricked myself into believing that I am just waiting for an appropriate amount of time to pass then I will get back to it. I distract myself with other projects, then leave them also. In the back of my mind something keeps eating away at me, I push it away. I write humorous mom posts to keep myself busy. And distract myself…from myself. From the anger that is building up inside me. The frustration of the truth that I don’t want to acknowledge.

I am scared to go back to the novel. Scared it is awful. Scared it won’t ever be any good even after I have put so much into it that I am exhausted. Scared of that horrible feeling when you get another rejection letter. If it never gets done, I won’t have to face all that hurt.

And anger builds up even more. I push it down deep, so that my kids don’t notice. I don’t want them to know I desperately want to write, but I am too scared of the disappointment I will have to face.  I want them to be able to face their problems bravely when they go out on their own in the world.Get back up and dust themselves off after falling. . I want them to be able to keep their spirits up even when things look hopeless and I am not setting a good example. Which means I am failing as a mother now too. More frustration.

I open the draft and stare at it. I get up and go into the kitchen. I have to make dinner first. I always have to do something first. I am so angry I end up putting too many red peppers in the stir fried shrimp. The kids are going to complain and I will try to deal with them patiently, because it is my fault. I will suppress the urge to smack them in the back of the head and yell at them to stop whining about everything. It isn’t their fault. It is mine.

I contemplate blaming everything on my parents and a bad childhood. Blaming someone else makes you feel better temporarily. It gives you excuses to continue being stupid. In the back of my mind I know it is all me though.

I control my anger. Squeeze it into a ball and force it down my throat. It is struggling to come back up in the form of a loud, frustrated scream. I don’t want to worry my husband and kids. But I really want to punch something hard. And break stuff.

I avoid the on-line writing hang out. I don’t want to admit how I am feeling to all those other writers who will understand and try to make me feel better. I don’t want to admit I am scared to keep writing. Putting all my energy, all my hear t and soul into that stupid book, only to find out it was never any good.

And I don’t want any feel good advice. I don’t want to feel good, I am too busy being angry, and all that good advice sounds like BS anyways. We just give it and listen to it to make ourselves feel better.  I am tired of good advice, don’t give me good advice, just agree that everything sucks and then we can go throw rocks at windows or something.

Broken windows remind me of broken down houses. And homeless people, and that I should stop wallowing in this ridiculous hole I have dug for myself because I am so much better off. I should be grateful, happy and stop wasting my time. And go finish the damn book.

Which I can’t do, because I have pulled my heart out of my chest and looked into its depths. All I can find is anger and isolation and the fear of failure. I contain it, but it is building up and I am afraid it is going to explode.

 

(Artwork is mine.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

Letters

Can’t imagine life without them. But since they are all around us all the time, sometimes we just don’t seem to notice them, or really appreciate them. So thank you Cheri Lucas Rowlands for reminding us of their beauty and importance.

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As a mother when I see these letters written by my kids (on endless love letters and pictures) nothing can describe the feeling of love that washes over me.

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These letters name what I find in every corner, under the sofas, beds, the dining table and even in long tangled hair of Twin 2. I love cheerios. I just don’t like cleaning them up. I also don’t like the fact that they only seem to stick to my feet.

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As a writer these letters on this device are my best friends, the ones on the screen and on the keyboard. The letters G-O-O-G-L-E take me to places I could never go.

 

 

Holy Spamathon. Much Wow.

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Am I the only one? While I have been busy fixing up my novel ( after going nuts with pitchmad..I got requests!) my blog has been entered in some sort of Spamathon. The comment thingy is full of crazy spam, always keep your ‘pending approval’ thing on! So here is some entertaining stuff I am about to ‘mark as spam’ :

I’m gone to say to my little brother, that he should also visit this web
site on regular basis to take updated from latest
news update.

Latest news update: I don’t give any news updates.

Marvelous, what a website it is! This weblog presents helpful data to us, keep it
up.

Thank you. I will keep it up.

Excellent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely wonderful.I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it sensible. I can’t wait to read much more from you. This is really a terrific website.

I am extremely wonderful man and I will continue my previous stuff. I am appreciating much that you are liking what I state. I am stating that you go jump off a bridge.

I all the time emailed this website post page to
all my contacts, as if like to read it afterward my
contacts will too.

I all the time do not give a ****

It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this outstanding blog!I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.I look forward to fresh updates and will share this site with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

A donate button? Do I really sound that needy?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Leave your shoes at the door!

This is an article I wrote for the humor section of Dawn Images (Newspaper). Leave your shoes at the door! 

My shoes are at the door, and I put ‘his’ on. He has tips for bachelors, desi style!        Glossary for non-desis:                                                                                                       Saas-Jee: respectful for mother-in-law                                                                               Sali: literal: sister-in-law. Slang:jerk                                                                                          Salla: literal:brother-in-law. Slang:jerk.                                                                            Susur: father-in-law. Susura: jerk/idiot etc.

Marriage

So you are about to take the big step?? You’ve given Mom the go-ahead to find the perfect girl. Good for you — it is time you settled down, not getting any younger right? Just some advice, don’t go for the looks (God knows what they look like under all that makeup), don’t go for the modern girl (she’ll keep you at the end of a leash), don’t go for the status (daddy will always be downsizing you at get-togethers). Go for the orphan. Really, I am not joking. Go for the orphan.

I know what you’re thinking, that this is some kind of pathetic joke; that’s because you haven’t met the in-laws yet. So you’ve seen a girl or two and met their families; nice quiet folks, polite and interested. It’s a trap, all part of the plan to snare unsuspecting, happily unaware innocent guys like yourself into the most complex and thorny role in the history of man. The son-in-law.

You think I am some jealous, lonely, scheming bachelor trying to keep you from marital bliss? Believe me man, there’s no such thing! I’m in it up to my neck, trust me. Married for five years now, or should I say I was sold into slavery five years ago by my parents with the connivance of my married friends. They couldn’t deal with my freedom — traitors. I am doing you a favour, giving you the inside story.

Before you are married, your soon-to-be mother-in-law calls up your mother to ask how you are and how your job is going. She cooks nihari (your favourite) and sends it over with your soon-to-be respectful young brother in-law. She and your future sister-in-law pick up the latest designer shirts for you when they go shopping and hope you like it, if not they get it changed. Future mother-in-law knows all your likes and dislikes; after your mother, she is the one who is most concerned about your well-being. Until you get married.

You remember that story about the kids who get lost in the forest and this nice little old lady lets them into her candy house? That’s the stuff I am warning you about dude!! She’s gonna sink her teeth into you. After you get married the only time your mother-in-law phones is to listen to her daughter’s complaints about you and your family. She doesn’t talk to your mother because your wife always reaches the phone before anyone else, no matter where she is in the house she can hear the phone ring and it’s always her mother calling.

When Saas-jee does talk to you on the phone, it is to inform you that she needs to go somewhere and she’s giving you the honor of driving her there. While you are driving, you will have to listen attentively as she tells you how to live your life and the errors of your ways. You will be required to make sounds of agreement, and nod your head in the affirmative; never, ever speak, even to agree. What you have to say is inconsequential, you must only nod.

Gifts will be bestowed upon you on birthdays, anniversaries and Eid. The apparel is usually last year’s sale leftovers that were going at 80 per cent off. And if you think there is no way you would be caught dead in a parrot green kurta, think again my friend, think again! You have no idea how your sali searched every shop in Ramazan, whilst fasting, to find you the perfect kurta. Sali.

The only dish your wife’s rude little brother brings over is your wife’s favorite, which coincidentally, is some weird tasteless concoction with an even weirder name. You are informed it is French and given a patronizing look by your sala, who has incredible tolerance in dealing with your inexperienced, simpleton ways. Sala. Beware of Daddy (susur jee), the once jovial, back slapping, ‘so pleased to have you as part of our family’ gentleman. You whisked his princess away, you don’t treat her right, and man he is no longer pleased to have you as part of his family. He will let you know this, often and publicly. Be prepared beforehand and have your doctor prescribe you some heavy antidepressants. Always take at least two before attending his dinner parties, that way you’ll be totally out of it and won’t realise you are the butt of all his jokes. Susur(a).

Never think of older sister-in-law’s husband as an ally just because you are in the same boat. Big mistake; he’ll sink your boat to ensure smoother sailing of his own. He lets you believe he’s on your side, but after you get married, he gets promoted. He’s Big Daddy’s spy, he’ll sell you out just to get an approving nod from the old guy.

And that’s the inside story, just a second, phone’s ringing, “Hello? Yeah I’ll be there in 10 minutes. What? Be there in five? No, no it’s no problem at all. Five minutes, I’m coming.” Sali. Do you have a painkiller?

Writing: Adventures of a social media illiterate technophobe.

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In a fit of spasmodic enthusiasm I joined a variety of social media stuff I have not an inkling about. I’m convincing myself I can be social media savvy and cool as the hipster 20 somethings who wear plaid skinny pants and large amounts of multicolored medical gauze wrapped around their necks, forever engrossed in their expensive tablet-phone-camera gadget thingy.

hipster

Okay maybe I don’t wanna look like that.

But I would like to be savvy. You know just because I am at that point of life where I realize I have no idea where the past 17 years of my life went since the birth of offspring numero uno. It’s like waking up from a coma and thinking you are still twenty something because you were a little while ago. And I realize I am still stuck in the technology of the nineties ie: I can turn on a computer if I can locate the on button.

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Being a wannabe author  writer you are advised to have a platform. Agent websites will tell you in their extremely detailed instructions of do’s and don’ts that you need to have a substantial following. They don’t want to be bothered by some person who nobody knows. And nobody wants to know a person who Agents don’t want to be bothered about. What?

I joined Tumblr (against Teenager1’s advice), Delicious, Quora, and Hootesuite. I was already on Facebook (the only one easy enough to use), Twittter (where I tweet into strangely empty nothingness) and Google+ (but I didn’t know it!) I am also on Agent Query Connect, where I feel more at home. But I haven’t visited in a century because I haven’t managed to figure out a way to completely forego sleep.

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According to Teenager 1 parents really should not be on Tumblr. It is for hip, emo, intellectual, whatever kids. Parents should stick to ‘mainstream’ stuff like Facebook, where they can post endless pictures of what they cooked the night before or how much snow they had to shovel from the driveway. I persisted however and I can now navigate my way around to find blogs that interest me. I also managed to hook up WordPress and Tumblr so that my posts appear there. Woohoo! I think by the end of this year I will actually manage to have at least two followers there. Hey you, follow me dammit!

delicious

The only thing I found Delicious useful for was bookmarking the endless amount of pages I use to research what I am writing about. These days? Politics and conspiracy theories. Did you know our existence is only a simulation? Delicious is pretty easy to use.

existence

Quora is too much information at the same time for my aluminum and fluoride ridden brain. You can ask any question (you have to see the stuff people ask!) and people from all corners of the Earth will answer you. I get all my answers from Agent Query Connect. But Quora is interesting if you have loads of time and nothing better to do than be intellectual. When I have loads of time I clean out the litter box. And brush my hair.

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“Fat Kitty needs to poop. Clean that litter box woman!”

Hootesuite is very handy because it organizes all the stuff you’ve entangled yourself in. I suspect the packages must be really good because what they are offering for free is quite useful and not that hard to use. It only took me a couple of weeks hours to figure out how to link all my social stuff up and be able to post from there. But I like posting to WordPress directly because I couldn’t manage to get pictures into the post from Hootesuite. I must be doing something wrong. If you have any idea let me know.

One piece of advice, if you are a dinosaur like me, use a nickname rather than your real name just in case you are scared to press buttons. I was, and for some reason whenever I press a button to test something out, I can never find out how to edit/delete it. Why can’t edit/delete buttons be big enough to find without a magnifying glass? Or a map. That way you won’t be embarrassed by a dumb post like “This is a test. I am uncool a newbie loser and this is my first post. Idiot Technophobe trying to learn lol.” Teenagers. Extreme facepalms.

uncool mom

The point is you have to invest a lot of time. Which really bugs the heck out of me because I want to get that novel written. The Young Adult world needs a Conspiracy Thriller that involves real people in the real world. There are too many witches, faeries, and demon slayers out there.

Pet Names

Someone give me a recipe for motivation. Motivate me to write regularly and stop procrastinating. It’s just that it is sooo hard to make myself write, finish that novel, write hundreds of different query letters, get hundreds of rejection letters. Hit me on the head, tell me to stop whining, it happens to every writer. So just finish the damned novel and write a blog post once a week.

We are thinking of moving into a bigger place and the kids want a dog. I want a husky, Cauliflower wants  a golden retriever, the Twins want anything that wags a tail, barks and gets excited about nothing. We are not getting a dog. I promised the kids we might go for another cat. A friend for Patchy. I am a bad candidate for women’s lib, I want a male cat because they are more affectionate in my experience. Cauliflower suggested we name the future affectionate tom cat Sh*t.

I stared at her because I was sure I hadn’t heard her right.

“Don’t use that language!”

“No seriously think how much fun it would be. The neighbors will get plenty of amusement whenever we call the cat.”

I thought for a moment. And smiled. Then I laughed. “Sh*t! Sh*t where are you? Here Sh*tty Sh*tty Sh*tty Sh*tty!”

“What about this?” Cauliflower made a suggestion,  “Sh*t you missed the litter box again! Sh*t I am not cleaning up your sh*t anymore!”

Or,

“Sh*t come on it’s your favorite Sh*t, come and get it. Does Sh*t want some tuna?”

“Where’s Sh*t? There he is! There’s Sh*t! Whose a good Sh*tty? Sh*t’s a good sh*tty!”

“Sh*t is so adorable, look at Sh*t lying there being cute!”

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Waiting to play with Sh*t.

Any other suggestions for pet names are welcome.

Spring Cleaning

I need to stay away from the internet if I want to finish writing my book. I’m on chapter 8, and I also wrote the last chapter and some stuff in the middle. That is also how I read novels. I often read the middle and end first just because.

So I am trying hard to resist the temptation of Facebook and reading blogs. It’s very difficult. I tried to  read some stuff on writing and I wanted to bang my head against the wall when I read this: Revision and self-editing.   I hope it helps any of you who are in editing stages. I clicked on the links which although maybe very useful I found to be well, very difficult to follow. Since I am not at the editing stage I hope to forget all about it for now.

Unfortunately I can’t sit and write all day because apparently family members need to be fed and the house can’t clean itself. There are lots of things for kids to throw garbage in when they are tidying up. Don’t forget to check all your vases when doing the spring cleaning.

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I like vases. All shapes. All sizes. All colors.

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I do not like what I find in them.

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The start of a Guinness record holding rubber band ball. I am not adding the picture of some ‘organic’ material I found. It was either a dead animal or the remains of a school lunch sandwich from before last year’s summer vacation.

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This is how I know one of my twins got hold of my camera.march 26 014

There are other things besides spring cleaning that keep me from writing that NYT best-seller.

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This is one of them.

What distracts you from doing that great thing you were born to do?

(All pics courtesy of my camera and my willing feline model)

Tea Parties and Writing Contests

November is my favorite month, it is the month I turn eighteen every year. Now it is going, and then agents will be flooded with nanowrimo stuff. And I can imagine what good moods they will be in. I didn’t do the nanowrimo thing. I was tempted, instead I decided to do the short story contest stuff. So I wrote and am writing some short stories to send to different places. I enjoyed it, at first I was doubtful. I seem to have too much to say. But I am really enjoying it. I wrote a humorous story about a desi boy and his crazy family because I had fun writing ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand for Dawn, in fact it was so much fun I am going to turn it into a novel.

I also wrote a sad ghost story, which I had so much fun with that I am going to use the idea for another novel. It is kind of like the Time Traveler’s Wife crossed with Ghost.

Here are some links to short story contests that I hope some of you find useful:

http://www.inktears.com/Inktears/WritersNewWriters2012.html  the last date for this is November 30th  and you can write any theme/genre

http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/prizes/commonwealth-short-story-prize/entry-rules/  the last date for this is December 4th  you can write any genre but you must live in a Commonwealth Country

And here is a place that has a list of other places you can check out:

http://www.christopherfielden.com/short-story-tips-and-writing-advice/short-story-competitions.php   I love people like this, they make life so much easier. Thank you Christopher Fielden.

I love creepy, haunting stories (think Edgar Allan Poe) so the other short stories I am writing are creepy and haunting(no zombies!). The ideas creep me out at night. Of course so does the Walking Dead, but some things are just so addictive.

I hope I can get the two other stories done on time, last week and today are really busy. And then I also have to have regular vocal cord exercises to get that opera singer job or be cast as the next Hulk, so I need to take time off to yell at the offspring. They begin to feel deprived if I don’t.

I also hope to send out more queries for ‘Miscegenation’ but it takes a lot of time going through those agent websites and then writing out new queries. Especially when I am so busy hollering at the kids and planning tea parties with Kate. You know Kate? The one who married the Prince?

What are you busy with these days?

(All pics swiped off Google Images)

Lost in Translation: Part One

  Did you ever play that game Chinese whispers? I don’t ever remember playing it. To compensate this childhood deprivation God has blessed me with a husband and kids who live Chinese Whispers. You don’t get it? Let me demonstrate. Introducing the cast:

Slovenly Teen: 15

Only Son: 13

Middle Child: 8 (I also refer to her as ‘sweet child o mine’- she is the only one I want to admit is my actual offspring)

Twin 1: 5

Twin 2: coincidentally also 5

Husband: Peter Pan

Me: 18 till I Die (Bryan Adams rocks..eh)

Random Situation 1:

Slovenly Teen, the reigning champion of sleeping in, is still in bed on Saturday evening..no night..of course I am not exaggerating! Whatever gave you the idea I exaggerate?

Me: “Wake up goddammit! It’s almost Sunday, look at the filthy mess in this room, I am not cleaning up after you, you over grown gargantuan sloth. You get up right now and wash those dishes, I wash them all week. The least you can do is help out on the weekend, you good for nothing massive waste of carbohydrates. What kind of example are you setting for your younger sisters? All right that is it, I am throwing our all your junk….here it goes…did you hear me?”

What Slovenly Teen actually hears:

“My poor exhausted precious pearl! You have worked hard looking swag all week. Baby you need a rest! Now don’t you dare try to get up and put things away, no no no! Mama will do that for you, my darling angel! Just right after I get your good for nothing sisters to wash the dishes and clean up your room I am going to cook your favorite …now what do you feel like? Lasagna or chicken cacciatore? You are so beautiful it is unbelievable and just for being that good-looking I think I’m gonna bake my baby a cake! Here honey let me put your beats on your ears for you…you just relax and continue snoozing the day away sugar-plum.”

Random Situation 2:

Xbox addicted Only Son had been playing since 4 pm and it is now 7 pm  The twins are fainting from severe lack of Tree House. Yes I insist on keeping one and only one TV!

Me: “You need to turn that game off now! You have been playing for five hours now. Other people in this house need the TV you know! If you don’t turn that goddamn thing off right now, you won’t play for a week. I don’t care if you have ten friends online, if their mothers are ok with their sons turning into a bunch of zombie gamers, fine with me. Are you listening to me? ”

What Only Son hears: “Most precious only male child and carrier of the family name. Continue on your quest of becoming the greatest gamer in the history of mankind and bring me pride. You have only been playing for half an hour and I know it will take hours of hard work to perfect your great skill at killing underage players online violently and mercilessly. I take great delight in every kill you make. It makes my heart sing while you comment loudly, with strange verbal embellishments,  into that expensive mouth piece earphone thing set that I most happily agreed upon buying. Play on noble son, play on.”

Random Situation 3:

Twin 2 greatly frustrated while I am busy in the kitchen, comes to me with the complaint that her Xbox addicted brother has still not turned off the game.

Me: “Okay, just let me finish up what I am doing and I’ll come and have a talk with your brother.”

Twin 2 to Only Son: “Mom said you better get off that goddammit game right now or she is going to break it into gazillions of pieces and throw them off the roof. And then you are going to get a spanking. DO IT NOW!”

Random Situation 4:

Peter Pan  husband is on the internet. I have issues that I need to discuss.

Me: “The groceries are almost finished you need to go shopping, and I was wondering what to cook for dinner. Do you want to have traditional stuff tonight or something non-desi? Did you know Only Son’s dentist appointment is next week? There is a sale on at the mall, I think we should go. You have got to talk to that daughter of yours! Her room is a mess, you need to get more involved with the kids, I can’t do everything you know! There is something wrong with the vacuum cleaner and the cat, they are both throwing up hairballs. Do you think I have started looking..old? You need to get some exercise, you sit too long at that damn computer, the twins have vaccinations due.  Middle child brought home an open house circular from school and…”

What husband actually hears: “Blah blah blah blabbidy bloo blah blah blabber blabber blabber blah blah blabbidy bleep blah blah blah…”

Husband: “Okay”

So what does your family hear when you are trying to communicate?

(All pics from Google Images)

Guest post by a published author. Who is not snobby.

I had a day off today. So after sending all the kids to school I promptly went straight to my laptop? No I went straight back to bed. And continued to snooze blissfully till 12: 45. Now I am eating french toast and drinking hot tea and typing with sticky fingers because after you pass the three kids mark and 35 you no longer care about these things. Your biggest luxury is sleeping in and not being woken by five snarling monsters kids.

Mike Allegra is a published (non snobby) author.  He is also very, very funny. When I am feeling sad, mad or bad I go to his blog and have a good laugh. He also has great tips for writers, so you have to go and visit him here: heylookawriterfellow

Yes, now you know you have to visit. And his wife has a great way with animals. Definitely visit here.

His book  Sarah Gives Thanks is going into its second printing. Congrats! It is a touching story and has beautiful pictures.

I pestered him to do a guest post for my blog. And this is the first guest post here. So hurray for me. If you write then you are probably in some sort of critique group and you have probably come across some people who are ready to cruelly tear your work apart ( they have been published) or get violent when you give them honest suggestions( they will never be published). But Mike is a very nice, down to earth published author who does neither. Here is his entertaining and informative account of  critiquing.

Criticizing Critiques: A Critical Study ( Mike Allegra)

It was my turn to critique the manuscript and I wasn’t looking forward to it. It wasn’t because I didn’t like critiquing (because I do) or because I didn’t like the manuscript (although I didn’t) , it was because the critiquee – let’s say her name was Helen – was not interested in hearing anything but praise. No matter how I couched my constructive criticism, Helen’s response always hovered in the neighborhood of hostile.

Most of the other people in this writers’ circle had taken Helen’s cue long ago and used their time to offer up bland, non-specific kudos for her manuscripts. But I’m sort of stupid, I suppose. I just can’t say, “It’s good! Really good!” when I don’t think the manuscript is really good. I don’t see the value in doing so. I always try to critique others the way I want them to critique me.

I began Helen’s critique on a positive note. “I really like your idea,” I said. “It’s playful and fun. And I think the approach you took is dead on. It’s a perfect subject for a rhyming picture book.”

Helen beamed.

“But I noticed that some of your rhymes aren’t really rhymes.”

And Helen’s smile faded. It might have been my imagination, but her face seemed to suddenly fall into shadow. But I sallied forth, because, again, I’m stupid.

“For example: ‘pat’ and ‘path.’ Or ‘pane’ and ‘way.’ The words share the same vowel sounds, but they aren’t rhymes.”

I looked up from my notes to see if any of this was registering. Certainly none of the stuff I was saying could get her really angry this time. A rhyme is a rhyme, after all. There’s nothing subjective about a rhyme.

But, well, yikes. Was someone holding a flashlight under her chin?

“No one will care about that,” said Helen. Her tone announced, “How dare you care about that!”

Helen’s remark was followed by the squeak of half-dozen chairs as they, ever so slightly, pushed back from the table.

But I went on. Remember: I’m stupid.

“Also I noticed that the meter varies from line to line. Here you have 13 syllables and here you have 11. This one is 10.”

“It’s 11,” Helen said.

“No, it’s 10,” I said.

And that touched off a rather prolonged simmering discussion over what constitutes a syllable. Helen and I spent some quality time counting together.

Yep, it was 10. Helen didn’t acknowledge this fact as much as change her line of attack.

“No one will care about that either,” she said.

But that wasn’t true. I’m a someone and I cared.

Well, sort of.

I certainly didn’t care if Helen got published – which I doubted she ever would because she was an unpleasant, cantankerous crabby pants who didn’t know that “pat” and “path” didn’t rhyme – but I did care that my efforts were being treated so shabbily. Helen certainly didn’t have to accept anything I said – it was her manuscript and she could do what she wanted with it – but I took quite a lot of time to review her story, the least she could do was give my comments a little respectful consideration.

“Okay, I’m done,” I told Helen. I wasn’t really done with my critique. I was done with Helen and her rotten, dismissive attitude.

Of course, such dismissiveness doesn’t only have to be delivered by an ungrateful critiquee. I once heard a critique by a fellow I’ll call Don. On one fateful night he told an aspiring writer that her “characters were vague.”

Don didn’t elaborate beyond that, making his critique pretty vague as well. The aspiring writer, a bit of a doormat, I’m afraid, wrote down Don’s remark verbatim, as if she could later tease something of value out of it once she got home.

To her discredit, she didn’t ask for any examples of vagueness or any suggestions as to how to make the characters less vague. I would’ve asked such questions; I doubt, however, that Don would’ve been able to answer them. It’s hard to be specific when you don’t bother to read the story you’re critiquing.

Critique groups are essential to the writing process. They should be exploited for all they’re worth. But every group dynamic is different. A single Helen can suck the joy out of what should be a very supportive and constructive environment. A group that contains too many Dons can make the critiquing process almost useless.

I never returned to Helen’s group after she and I counted syllables together. Apparently I set off a chain reaction. The group disbanded a month later. As for Don’s group, (there were actually a few “Dons” in that group), I left that one too, and never looked back.

Eventually I found a good critique group that provided – and continues to provide – a thoughtful, constructive, and tough assessment of my work. Some comments I agree with, others I ignore, but I almost always drive home energized, eager to tackle another draft.

That’s what a writers’ group should be like.

Choose your group wisely. Stay in the group only if it helps. Leave when it doesn’t. Your writing deserves the best critiques you can find.

And please be sure to critique others the same way you want them to critique you.

Thanks so much Mike for doing the first guest post for me. And I swiped your wonderful doodles too:

Isn’t that great?

All images are from heylookawriterfellow except for snoring mom from Google Images.