Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Receive Criticism

I just got my third round of criticism back on this particular WiP, from three different readers this time. Different readers give me different things to work on, and everyone has their own style of offering criticism, but one thing always remains the same:

Criticism stings.

Always. Forever and ever, this will continue to be true. Whenever we send our work out, no matter how practical and realistic we are, there is one tiny portion of our brain that thinks, "Maybe they'll love everything about it!" This thought is absurd, of course, for many reasons.

First - I WANT criticism to be tough. Not harsh or cruel, of course, but tough. I want someone to point out the flaws. I cannot eradicate those flaws until I know they exist.

Second - No one ever loves everything about anything. Even my very favorite book has flaws, my very favorite movie has at least one goof in it, my very favorite band has a single or two that I feel pretty "meh" about, and my very favorite people in the world even have ... opportunities for improvement.

Third - The people who claim to love absolutely everything about everything ever... are lying. I do not want someone lying to me about my work. How can I possibly know when something is actually good? How will I know when I'm ready, if the only criticism I receive is false?

I won't.

That's the bottom line, and that's why I want people to criticize my work. There are some rules that go along with receiving criticism, though, and I thought I'd share with you my personal rules for being on the receiving end of a critique:

- Always start with a genuine "thank you." Before I respond to anything else, I thank the person for helping me. They spent their time and energy reading my unfinished, unpolished aspiring-book-to-be, and they didn't have to do any of it. That reader deserves my gratitude, even if nothing else on this list applies.

- Never go on the defensive. This is a rule I co-opted from the Writing Excuses team, but it's a really good one. If I read or listen to a critique and spend the whole time saying, "Yeah, but..." then I'm not really listening. It's true that the criticism might be wrong. But it might not be. And in case it's not, I need to keep an open mind and be ready to hear what people are telling me.

- Always let it stew. I don't jump into revisions the day I get notes back. I read the edit letter, let it stew for a day or two. Then I read the inline notes, let them stew for a few more days. Then, and only then, do I start making changes. Once I've had a chance to think, to get rid of the "Well that's obviously wrong because no one understands my art!" feelings, and to brainstorm some possible fixes... that's when I'm ready to revise and incorporate those notes.

- Never dismiss an idea straight off. Some suggestions will be obviously the exact right fixes for the story. Others will be good fodder for brainstorms, but ultimately off-the-mark. And still others will be wildly inappropriate for the story, for me as a writer, or for the world in general. But I will never know which is which until I've really thought them through, and sometimes I won't know until I try to work the changes in.

- Sometimes go back and discuss more changes. There are times that a CP makes suggestions that aren't quite right, but they do highlight problem areas in my manuscript. In those cases, brainstorming sessions can be extremely useful, and it's incredibly helpful to be humble enough to go back to the CP and say, "Hey, you suggested this thing, and it's not going to work for this reason, but can you help me find a different way to fix it?"

A couple more quick parting tips about receiving critiques:

- Never insult your reader.
- Don't jump to incorporate every change.
- Use multiple layers of critique (send out one wave, revise, send to different readers, revise again, etc)
- Don't delete CP/Beta notes. You never know when you'll want those notes, even if you don't incorporate those changes right away.

What other tips do you have for receiving criticism on your work?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all of you!
I love Easter.  My childhood is filled with so many happy Easter Mornings of spending the morning with my family and feeling the joy and love of my Savior.  Now that I'm grown and have a family of my own I want to ensure my children know the true reason we celebrate Easter.  We still do Easter baskets filled with goodies from the Easter Bunny, but our focus is always on Jesus Christ and His great sacrifice for each of us.  Earlier this month I had asked my youngest why we celebrate Easter.  We had discussed our reasons as a family before and I was curious to see how much of that discussion was absorbed by my wee little 4 year old.  Her response was, "To get candy?"  I had to resist a face-palm.  Since then I have made it a point to talk about Jesus and his Atoning Sacrifice as often as possible. 
 It wasn't until I was out Easter shopping that an idea came to me.  I wanted to start a new tradition with my family, something that would help us to remember Christ, not just on Easter, but through out the year.  It was then I recalled my own teaching words to my children as we had discussed why we celebrate Christ's resurrection and how it related to spring.  I had told my children that the earth and its plants seem to die during the cold winter months, but in spring time they come back to life; in this way spring is symbolic of Christ and His Resurrection.  At this recollection I made a detour from the candy aisle and headed for the gardening section.  I scanned the seed display and chose a packet of flower seeds.  

I then grabbed a big bag of potting soil and headed for the check out, more excited with my seeds and dirt than I was about the candy and goodies piled in my cart.  
The next morning as my girls got ready for school I asked them, yet again, why we celebrate Easter.  This time both my girls responded by telling me the same things I had tried to instill in them in all our previous discussions.  My heart swelled a little, and I was grateful my words were finally sticking.  My girls were so excited when I told them about the seeds and how we would plant them the day before Easter and watch for the little flowers to grow and bloom.  I told them that these flowers would be a reminder to us all year about how Jesus, like the flowers in spring, came back to life.  

So yesterday we planted out tiny seeds.

So let's remember why we celebrate, and always remember Him, Jesus Christ our Savior.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Choose to Love

By Lacey Gunter

One the eve of Easter there are many wonderful messages I could share. But what seems to be sticking in my mind is the grandness of Charity.

I recently finished a beautiful middle grade novel, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. It is a book about a boy with severe facial abnormalities and his experience attending school for the first time in 5th grade. It compels the reader to truly examine how we treat others who are quite different from we are and challenges them to choose kindness over fear, anger or ridicule. One of the quotes from the book  really stuck with me today.
"If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God."
It got me thinking how every one of us can be a reflection of God and Christ.Christ's gift to us was an infinite atonement, a gift that could only be born of an infinite love. A love that big requires many hands to carry and distribute. God needs us to be those hands. When we carry that love out to the world, we are reflecting God and Christ's face, hands and heart. By so doing, we carry more than love out to the world. We start to carry souls, souls who are troubled and hurting. We lift them towards Heaven and put them one step closer to the Healer of Souls.

As we ponder the utterly amazing gift of the atonement, in this beautiful Easter season, I want to be one of those hands that carries his love.  I also challenge each of you to carry that love.  Let it be your gift to Christ and the rest of the world. Choose to love.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross


Today is Good Friday.

As a kid, I thought this was a horrible name for the day Christ suffered and died.  As an adult, I came to the deeper understanding that it's a good day for me, as Christ's sacrifice set me free.  Free from my flawed, selfish heart that, left on its own, takes me on a path of arrogance and self-service.  A heart that would deceive me daily, seducing me to believe I am my own god.

So, today is a good day for the human race.  We can all be free, if we so choose.

The cross can be a sign of unspeakable torture.  It can also be a symbol of victory, because that crude structure of planked wood did not keep the Lord down.  It was not the final word.  The story ends with an empty tomb, wrappings left behind, Christ crushing sin and the grave.

For me, the Easter story is wrapped up in a warped little wooden cross that was carved by a friend of my daughter's.

It's designed to fit in the fingers of my hand.

It's a simple prayer tool that is lightweight and smooth.  I went to sleep holding it last night, praying about all kinds of things.  It reminds of Christ's sacrifice, His victory, His sovereignty, my freedom, my love for Him, His love for me, and every other blessing/worry in my life.

Sometimes I grip it harder than others.

It still fits. 

Scripture tells us that God holds us in the palm of His (mighty) hand.  I like thinking I'm holding my faith in all its confusion and wonder and gratitude in mine.

I love this little cross.  By itself, it looks like it's dancing, head to the side, arms flung wide.  This reminds me that someday we will dancing on streets of gold. 

My prayer for everyone this weekend is that Christ will reveal Himself to you in a new way, that your faith will be renewed, or ignited for the first time.  Easter is a day of rejoicing, because it reminds us the suffering is not the end of the story.

Do you have any tools that help you pray/grow closer to God?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Talent Shows

-a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

The Voice (2011) Poster
Image from IMDB.com
One of my guilty pleasures is occasionally watching those singing talent shows—you know, American Idol, The Voice. There’s something appealing about this idea of being suddenly “discovered” and having the ultimate in exposure opportunities. I’m sure it’s appealing partially because, of course, that is many an author’s dream too. You work so hard, so hard, and then suddenly POW! you are discovered, mentored by the big wigs, and suddenly someone wants to publish you and sell your books in an international arena.

I’ve often thought it’s a crying shame that writing doesn’t exactly lend itself to reality talent shows. Imagine, for a moment, that you get on stage and . . . type for five hours. The audience is hushed, the tension fills the room. And then you read it out loud! Ooh, aah. Judges stand and applaud. The crowd goes wild. Um, no.

This week, my ward is hosting a talent show. We’re going to have the usual performances—singing, musical instruments, whatnot.* But we’ll also have displays of various other talents, like sewing and jewelry making and painting and . . . wait for it . . . writing! And the proverbial icing on the cake: refreshments provided by talented cooks in the ward (win!). So I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and finally I can show off a talent! (Why do I feel this need to show off? I don’t particularly, but I still think it will be fun. Plus, occasionally, don’t we all like a little external validation?)

Then I started thinking about other talents that still don’t show up well, even in a talent show as nifty as this one is going to be. Take my hubby, for instance. He is an epic spreadsheet producer. Seriously, he crunches numbers like . . . like . . . PacMan?****** I don’t know, like something that crunches really well. And he turns them into pretty spreadsheets. Ah, it makes my heart flutter with adoration. He is also amazing when it comes to children. We can go to a park or to church, and kids just come to him. Because he is fun and playful and makes them feel loved and important and just plain good. That, my friends, is a talent.

I have not, however, suggested that he stand up on stage and play with children, because that would just be . . . weird.

So it turns out there are still plenty of amazing talents in the world that are simply never going to make it into a show. I feel like this is probably good to remember when we get lessons in Relief Society about magnifying our talents. It’s not just piano lessons and sewing machines, ladies. If you have the visual creativity of a 2x4, you’ve still got talents.

In the end, I suppose (even though I’m still waiting for that awesome writer reality show), what matters more than being able to show off your talents is putting them to good use.

* I wish I had gotten good at contact juggling—because, come on, who doesn’t want to see contact juggling at a ward talent show? But that would have required more practice than I ever put in (and yes, I actually did practice for a while). So, alas, I have no skill at it.**
** If you don’t know what contact juggling is, think David Bowie in Labyrinth. (Although I’ve just learned it wasn’t really David Bowie doing it; it was this other cool dude. Sigh. Childhood illusions shattered. However, now made up for by having totally geeked out watching said other cool dude on youtube.)***
*** If you haven’t seen Labyrinth, shame on you.****
**** Just kidding.*****
***** Mostly.
****** When I informed the hubby that I was comparing him to PacMan, he said: 1. “Because I am constantly eating cereal?” 2. “Because I am round and pasty?” 3. “Because I have a love/hate relationship with the undead?” Boy, he is a terrible guesser.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


by Budi Satria Kwan

By: Kristi Hartman

I have a folder in my Pinterest account called 'Great Inspiration' in which I pin any motivating quotes, pictures, or sayings. It is starting to get quite lengthy.  The other day I ran across this picture above as I was scanning through my Pins, doing a purge of things that I don't need anymore.  (Isn't it weird that now not only do I have to go through my home and purge my closets of all the un-used things and craft projects that never quite panned out, I now feel the need to do it with my Pinterest pages?)
Not only did this picture stand out to me because it is beautiful, but because the words ring so true to my life.  

All my life I have struggled with my self-confidence, feeling like my traits were never quite as good as the next person.  Never feeling like I had enough confidence to just be me, I often felt myself questioning the very core of who I was.  My confidence blowing whichever way the wind did- some days feeling happy with who I was, then other days I just wanted to hug my elbows, hunch over and become a totally different person.  I would think things to myself like: 
"Why can't I be more outgoing?"
"Why can't I laugh easily like this person?"
Then in my efforts to better the things I felt like I was missing in myself, I would then try hard to be what I liked in other people.  Inevitably, it would lead to more second-guessing, because it didn't feel authentic.
"Should I have laughed at that person's comment?"
"Did I say the wrong thing when I was trying to be outgoing?"

As you can guess, living my life this way was exhausting.  And draining.  And often times depressing.  I longed for the days of my little childhood when I would hide in the giant built-in cubby in my room (yea, I was a little quirky) and dream of all the things I would do someday.  It all felt possible because I felt good about myself.  I was who I was, and it was okay.  I wasn't until I got a little older that the second-guessing and self-confidence struggles settled in.

Why couldn't I just be happy with who I was?  Why did I try to be everything I felt the world liked? 
I watch my children now and am so pleased with the way they have turned out in their little lives, and am so happy they are unique and have their own personalities.  It would break my heart to find out one of my kids didn't like themselves and the traits that made them who they are, and was constantly wishing for something different.  
How is that any different than what my Heavenly Father feels when I question myself and wish I were different? He loves us for who we are, quirks, silly traits, bad habits and all.  He made each of us unique and special for a reason:  we are all given gifts and talents that are meant to be shared so we can bless the lives around us.  

If I am always trying to change who I am, I am not able to do what I am supposed to do.

Although I still struggle with this in my adulthood occasionally, time and experience have been kind in showing me that I am a good person, and I am not meant to be a copy of someone else. 

Do you struggle with being who you truly are?   How do you strive to be more authentic?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Because of Him (#BecauseofHim)- It’s Not Just a Video.

Click on the photo to see an amazing Easter video.

As you may know, one of my church callings is with the Public Affairs for our stake (a geographic area that includes several towns and several congregations of our church) as a Media Relations Director. As part of that, I have been working on utilizing social media to share the gospel and connect church members with those of other faiths in our community, and I am so excited to see how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka, Mormon Church) is using social media (and the internet in general) to share the gospel.

Recently I received an e-mail about an initiative the church would be starting the week before Easter, called “Because of Him.” Yesterday I had a chance to view the video that was the starting point for the initiative, and I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome this video and this initiative is. Please take a moment to watch it (and read more about the initiative) here: "Church Launches Easter Initiative Focused on Jesus Christ”.

The goal is to spread the message that because Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died, and was resurrected, our lives have hope and meaning. This initiative invites us- and Christians everywhere- to use the hash tag #BecauseofHim to share our testimonies of what is possible and beautiful in our lives because of our Savior’s atonement this week before Easter.

There is just something about the idea of social media being flooded with testimonies of Christ all week that makes my heart feel too big for my body. So I felt inclined to share this movement with you, awesome MMWs, because as writers, we have been blessed with the unique ability to express our thoughts and feelings in words in ways that others may not. And to me, that means that I have the special responsibility to share my most precious possession- my testimony- with others. Social media is an amazing tool we have that allows us to do that.

So let me begin here.

Because of Him...

...my life has meaning, direction, and focus.
...my life has daily joy and bright hope for the future.
...I know that this life is not the end and that those I love who have passed on will be with me again someday.
...I feel love and peace when I need it most.
...I have confidence in who I am as a daughter of God and I know that even though I make mistakes I can still go Home again.

These are just a few things I wanted to share that are because of Him. I encourage you to share yours, in the comments here and on your own social media page with the hash tag #BecauseofHim.

What is possible in your life because of Him?

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Hi there!  My name is Leann. Officially, I am known as Jewel Leann Williams. That's the name that will be shouted from the rooftops when I am a well-known and well-compensated author.

But first, I have to conquer various dragons.  Dragon #1 is a small, obnoxious dragon known as strep throat. It's taken up residence in the cave of my three-year-old's throat, currently lording it over his tonsils and giving him fiery 104 degree fevers. I am informed that he has spawned and has spread to the one-year-old little princess. (This also serves as my excuse for not writing my brand new blog until 11:30 on Saturday night. Sorry Boss.)

Dragon #2 is more internal. Bigger. Meaner. Think Smaug, where #1 was more "How to Train Your Dragon" training dragons. It's the one we all (maybe?) deal with. I run around so much being everything BUT a writer, that even though I clearly write, I don't give it the priority it deserves. My "excuse" is that I am such a busy mom. Trust me, I am a very busy mom. I have six kids, including the aforementioned preschooler and infant/beautiful destructive tornado.  Today I have spent about four hours in an emergency room, and two hours driving my leg of the tri-stake-youth-dance-carpool.  I crammed in helping my sweet husband make three Pinewood Derby cars, attend said Pinewood Derby, and.....watch three hours of Stargate SG1 with my family.  That last one, totally coulda been spent on THE MYSTIC MARBLE.  Or BRIGHTHOPE. Or HUNTER. Or my poetry. Or this blog. Or the Relief Society lesson I just realized I may be supposed to be teaching tomorrow. Oh boy.

In the ANWA Annual Conference just over a month ago, Deirdra Eden said in a class she taught, that we all have the same amount of time, so we can't really "make" time to write. What we can do, is PROTECT our time that we are given, for those things we find important. This is my goal. I work on it every day. I have some things  I need to do to get my writing going for real again--mostly cleaning and organizing oriented, so it may be years and years before I decide to protect time for THAT sort of drudgery. Okay, not really--I actually AM doing it.

Dragon #3..... it's the worst one. It's the self-doubt, the jerkface demon in my head that tells me I'm not as good as (Insert author here), what was I thinking even putting pen to paper, I'm not smart enough, I don't have anything worthwhile to say, etc etc etc. It's the dragon that changes its face into all the other little issues, roadblocks, time suckers, etc., that keep me from doing what I have to do, in order to be able to get the words that are IN my head and heart, onto the page.

So.... anybody gotta sword?

(PS, I'll write up a proper introduction when I have some time to find decent photos, etc.)
(PPS I promise my contribution to the blog will be better than this, and will come on Saturday, not "practically Sunday" in the future.)


Friday, April 11, 2014

Believe in Yourself

As my children get older they like to hear stories about themselves when they were little. These stories get told so often that they become like family legends. I'm going to tell you one of my son's favorite stories about himself. When he was about 5 years old, we were all going to Wal-Mart and my husband and I gave each child a couple of quarters to use in the bubble gum ball machines. When we arrived at the store, the girls ran right to the machines, but not my son. He walks past all the bubble gum machines and stood in front of the claw machine stocked up with colorful, new stuffed animals.

"I want to play this." He says and gets his quarters out of his pocket with his chubby little fingers.
"No you don't" was my reply. "These games are too hard to win."
I tried to explain to him. I had lost enough money in these machines in my lifetime to know that it would probably end in him crying and wanting more quarters.
"Please?? I really want to play." He pleaded.
"But you probably won't win anything and I'm not giving you any more quarters. You would be better off if you bought something in the gum ball machines, look how happy your sisters are."
I pointed over at his sisters who were looking at their new prizes with big smiles on their faces.
"I don't care if I don't win, I just want to play." He looked up at me with his big gold colored eyes and I caved.
"Fine, but don't cry to me when you lose." I stepped away from the machine and watched as he eagerly inserted his coins.
He knew exactly how to work the claw and instinctively moved it to a stuffed animal lying on top of the pile. I watched with shock as he pulled the animal up, hovering precariously in the metal claw and held my breath as he moved it towards the hole that would send the new toy to my eager son's hands.
"Yes!" He shouted as he pulled the new stuffed animal out of the machine.
I stood in awe as he showed me his new toy.
"How did you do that?" I asked without thinking.
He looked up at me with his big chubby cheeks and happiness in his eyes.
"I just believed in myself." Was his profound answer.

Those words have stayed with me over the years. At first those words produced guilt. Of course he had to believe in himself because I certainly hadn't believed in him! What kind of a mom doesn't believe in their child? But recently those words have become something more. They have become an inspiration to me. The truth is that he didn't need me to believe in him. My belief in him  wouldn't have won him that prize. It wouldn't have mattered if I was the best cheerleader in the world, he wouldn't have won anything if he didn't think he could do it. And if I had actually discouraged him in his endeavor, he wouldn't have believed in himself enough to win either.

We can apply this to our lives as writers. How many times have you told people about your dreams to become a published author only to have them discourage you from your endeavor? Or to see the doubt in their eyes? In their defense, they aren't doing it to be mean, they honestly don't want you to be hurt. Maybe they have had their dreams crushed in the past and they know how it feels. Or maybe they are just over protective of you. Whatever their motivation, it doesn't matter. Neither does what they think. What matters is if you believe in yourself enough to get past their disapproval. In fact, their disapproval will cause you to search your heart and your resolve. You have to ask yourself questions like, "What if I fail? Do I care? Do I want to try anyway, no matter the consequence?" If you still find that you want to follow your dreams then you believe in yourself enough to make them happen. Having realized this about yourself, then you need to thank the person that doubted you, because they just helped you to be stronger and strengthen your resolve. Because it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks you can or cannot do. It never has. What matters is what you think you can do.

Do you believe in yourself?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dilemma and Discussion Question

by Katy White

I'm in the querying process, and I recently had an agent request a full manuscript of my YA contemporary romance.  Only a week later, I had an R&R (revise and resubmit) request from her.  She told me she loved the book, loved the idea, and thought it would be an easy sell to editors, with just one caveat:  either age it up or age it down.  Make it more mature or more juvenile.

Go raunchy or go middle grade.

I'm embarrassed to admit how much this bothered me.  It wasn't just that I was offended by how young adult literature has become progressively more age-inappropriate.  It was that I instantly thought of a dozen ways to "age it up."  To make it more mature.  Raunchier.  

The thought didn't last for more than a split second.  But in that split second, I could feel the pull of "doing whatever it takes" to get published.  I could feel how easy it would be to make the changes that I'm sure would have thrilled the agent.  I could feel myself losing my grasp on why I love young adult fiction and why I want to write YA and only YA.   And I didn't like it.

Fortunately, two split seconds later, I shook it off.  I reminded myself of the reason I write YA (irrespective of the fact that I'm not a huge middle grade fan).  I write YA because I love it and think it demands more authenticity than you find in other age groups.  More importantly, I write it because I have nieces and young women in my ward who love reading and who are finding less and less new releases that support their standards.  My concern isn't even cuss words or mature themes, because I feel those have a place in literature and an author can tell a valuable, important story by using such things responsibly.  My concern is that more and more books are making standards seem embarrassing and making values look like bigotry.  

I can't stand for that.

I don't know how long it will take me to get published (if ever).  But I know I won't stop trying.  I know I can't sell out.

So...here's my "discussion question" for all of you: where would you/do you draw the line when it comes to making your book a better sell?  When is it appropriate to make something more mature, and how would you do that, if you felt like it was important?


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