When Criticism Doesn’t Cut It…Or Does It?

When Criticism Doesn’t Cut It…Or Does It Guest post by D.A. Reed

When Criticism Doesn’t Cut It…Or Does It?

Guest post by D.A. Reed

In regard to writing, I vividly remember one month that was particularly hard for me.

There is a fine line that writers walk. The adage that we need to write for ourselves is very true—our works are, first and foremost, for ourselves. A purging of our souls, if you will. However, what do you do when your editors look at you and want massive rewrites on the story you have just spent hours on, bled over, and lost sleep over?

When do we take the advice and (constructive) criticism and when do we say—"This is my story, and this is how it will stay?" It's hard to hear someone tear apart your "baby." Here is my advice:

1. Find someone you trust to read your work. Someone who will analyze your work for good storytelling (if you are a fiction writer), not on the basis of whether or not they like the story. Something may not be an editor's cup of tea, so to speak, but they can still tell if it is good storytelling or not and be objective.

2. If more than one person is coming back saying the same thing—having the same constructive comments—then listen. As hard as it may be, listen. If multiple people are saying the same thing, there is a reason.

3. If there is only one person who has made a criticism and you aren't sure about it, make the decision to either take their advice to heart or discard it. You have that right. It is your story, not theirs.

4. My rule of thumb: If the constructive criticism changes the core of what you are trying to do, if it changes the story you are trying to tell, it is probably okay to disregard the comment and move on.

Recently, I had the hardest review yet from my editors. It left me in tears, ready to shelve the story and never look back. I licked my wounds for three days. Then I decided I wasn't going to take the easy way out.

I sat down and did the most massive rewrites I have ever done on a novel before. But—I sifted through the criticism given and changed what I believed would make it a stronger story. There were comments given that would have changed the entire tone of the story and what I was trying to convey—those I gently set aside in order keep the story mine and no one else's.

A dear friend told me something recently that I cling to as I continue pursuing this thing I love called writing: Not everyone will like your story—and that's okay.

It's really okay. Not everyone likes the same foods, the same movies, and not everyone likes the same books. And that's okay. Not everyone will like what you have written, but likewise, you will not like everything you read. We all have different tastes and things we enjoy. So, if someone comes up to you and says, "I didn't like it," smile and say, "That's okay."

That line we walk is very fine, but it is ours to master and mold.


When Criticism Doesn’t Cut It…Or Does It Guest post by D.A. Reed

D.A. Reed (Deborah Reed) writes young adult novels—from page-turning thrillers to stories based on challenges children and adults face every day.

Her stories have garnered the attention of readers and fellow authors alike. Since 2016, author Johnathan Rand has invited her to be a writing instructor at his Author Quest writing camp for young writers. She was also asked to present at several writer and educator conferences including the North of 45 Retreat for Writers, Delta Kappa Gamma Women’s Educator Conference, regional district libraries, and writing workshops in several local school classrooms. Deborah’s international travels include leading creative writing workshops to children—most notably at the Sharjah International Book Fair in United Arab Emirates (UAE).

D.A. Reed’s books have received acclaim, notably: Nothin’ But Gutters And Pocket Change from the Best Indie Book Awards (BIBA) in the category of Young Adult Drama; and Dare Accepted from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in the category of Young Adult Fiction.

Deborah lives with her husband and family in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Read More

Composing, Revising, Finding the way to the Finish Line

Composing, Revising, Finding the way to  the Finish Line by Frank Thoms

Composing, Revising, Finding the way to the Finish Line

Guest post by Frank Thoms

Thirty-three years ago, June 1987, a few days after I’d resigned from twenty-five years of teaching, I sat before the keyboard of my Mac in an upstairs corner room in a farmhouse overlooking New Hampshire fields, the home of Mayme and Lafayette Noda, two Quakers who invited me to live with them, which I did for a year and a half. In that time I transcribed nearly one hundred hours of clandestine cassette tapes from my first three ventures to Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union––and I began to draft a manuscript.

When I joined a tour group for my first two-week tour of Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev in October two years earlier, slipping behind the Iron Curtain became the fulfillment of a dream. The dream had first appeared in fourth grade, later in lectures on Russian history at college, and then when teaching eighth grade in the 60s, 70s, and 80s where I returned to Marx, the Russians, and Soviet Communism; each decade a different focus. Once behind the Iron Curtain, it did not feel a big deal to be on the other side. I observed historic sites, people, busses, cars, metros, shops. And I penetrated areas verboten to tourists. I had lunch in a flat with a family, dinner with black marketers in a private restaurant, and visited a school not on the tour. I was having my first taste behind the Iron Curtain. I yearned to come back!

Four years later after further trips to the former Soviet Union, two to Russia and two to Kazakhstan, I revised the manuscript many times only to put it aside after Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day, 1991. Who would believe what I’ve written, I said to myself, as pundits were predicting the end of Communism would bring democracy to Russia. I never believed it. Three years later when I returned to the new Russia in 1994, I saw a Soviet Union redux. 

Fast forward to 2016 and the Russian interference with US elections. I resurrected my manuscript, but only one-third of it I had printed out; the information on my floppy disks had faded. But I was no longer the young but seasoned teacher-writer who had been eager to thrust himself into the fray surrounding Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika. I wanted to focus on the Russian people I met, to promote empathy and understanding about them.

I reread the remnants of what I had written, but the writing was discursive, awkward, and highly descriptive. I needed to begin from the beginning. I combed my files, letters, papers, memorabilia, and photographs, searching to recover memories of that remarkable time. Returning to the manuscript, I struggled to find a title that would guide me and my readers. My first one over thirty years ago had been Encounters with Soviet People, which reflected my desire to write a book about the Russians coping with Gorbachev’s new Communism. It was to be about my observations and understandings about the people and their culture; I would take a back seat. I tried another title, A Sense of Belonging: An American Teacher in Soviet Schools, which would center around on what I learned as a teacher of English to Soviet students where I had spent most of my time. 

Now more than thirty years later, I searched for a more poignant title. I tried first, Russians as People: Voices from the Last Days of the Soviet Union. Then, An American Teacher’s Odyssey in Gorbachev’s Russia. Both supported my desire for the book to focus on the Russians. I did not want it to be a memoir, which for me at the time seemed to be books often about people who experienced trauma, often in their childhood. 

I kept writing and rewriting, composing and revising––I could not sit in front of my Mac and write a first draft. I allowed my writing to tell me where to go. Ideas would arrive, sometimes in the early morning that set me on a new path. I drafted, redrafted, rewrote, self-edited…countless times searching for a meaningful account of my understanding of Russians. 

But the book seemed distant. My working titles were not pointing me in a good direction. I searched for more creative ones. A Teacher in the Rye: An American in Gorbachev’s Russia, which was based on a US reporter’s quote about me when I was teaching in Leningrad; it was then I began to include myself in my encounters. Later I came up with Inside the Matryoshka: Seeking the Russians; the matryoshka, Russian nesting dolls, put me on the path to incorporate this metaphor both for knowing the Russians and for knowing myself.

The writing progressed. Still something was missing. A little history may help here. When I had first arrived in the Soviet Union in October 1985 with a tour group, we were to be guided by Intourist, the official Soviet travel agency. We would be placed on a bus to behold what our guide directed us to. Except I intended to see what I would not be invited to see. I wanted to find “real Russians.” Twenty minutes off the plane in Leningrad, a young, attractive Russian mother with wild curls and two small children stepped in front of me. I was meeting my first Russian before I met Nina, our Intourist guide! By the time this mother and I departed, I had a scrap of paper with her telephone number. Two days later, I took a metro on my own and found her flat. It was not the only time I got off the bus.

When deep into rewriting, I had an epiphany: From my first moments in the Soviet Union I had been seeking to see behind what I came to understand was a “red veil”: my concept of the face of Communism that the Soviet Union projected onto its citizens, foreign visitors, and to the world at large. Intourist placed tour groups in international hotels, where Soviets were not allowed; conveyed them in special busses to historic sites. In my first trip, we went to to Moscow’s Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and Lenin’s Mausoleum; Leningrad’s Hermitage, Winter Palace, and Peter & Paul Fortress; and Kiev’s St. Sofia’s Cathedral and St. Michael’s Golden Dome Monastery. Our guide also provided a private tour to an Orthodox church. And Nina made sure that we went to beryozka shops to spend dollars. And red omnipresent, everywhere, everywhere!

Having determined my title, Behind the Red Veil: An American inside Gorbachev’s Russia, put me on the path to the book I completed. The red veil metaphor provides a theme that reappears throughout. Along with it, the matryoshka metaphor that enabled me to probe into inner layers of Russian life and thought––and into inner layers of my own matryoshka. Soon the book was ready for an agent, then an editor, who would take the writing to a more readable level and be ready for a publisher. Behind the Red Veil: An American inside Gorbachev’s Russia is the narrative of this American in his search to know himself as he sought to know the lives of Russians in the last days of Soviet society. He hopes readers will be eager to stay beside him throughout.

Composing, Revising, Finding the way to  the Finish Line by Frank Thoms

After forty years as a teacher and twelve as a consultant and keynote speaker, Frank Thoms became a writer, publishing four books on teaching and one on his experiences as an American in Soviet Russia. He is on the faculty of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival and serves as its Ambassador-at-Large.

Read More

What Everyone Ought to Know About Writing a Book Review

What Everyone Ought to Know About Writing a Book Review Guest post by Shakila Mumtaz

What Everyone Ought to Know About Writing a Book Review

Guest post by Shakila Mumtaz

Writing a book review is an imperative mastery that every writer and the author should have. They should know how to organize their words in order to write a killer review to attract readers. A book review tells the readers about the whole book in a short time. Therefore, it must be catchy, concise, and bespoke.

There are three main sections to be considered when writing an attractive book review. (1) Summary of the book (2) Assessment of the book content (3) Recommends the content according to the current needs of society. Each of these sections has been discussed below.


Summary of the book: 

It is the most important part of a review because it briefly describes the information and the message of the entire book. It also helps to compare the idea and knowledge from other books. There are the following steps to write a powerful summary. 

Read the book: 

An author or writer must have the basic info about the book’s genre or field. The more you know about the book, the better you can summarize. That's why it is crucial to read with passion and determination. While you are reading, note down the important points that need to be included in the summary. Those will help you a lot to write in a well-organized and professional way. 

Introduce the story:

After reading, introduce the book to your target audience because they have no idea about the book content. The introduction should include the title, author name, and time/year. It is also worthwhile to add the objective and the reason for which the book was being written.

Summarize the book: 

Now your reader has some idea about the book, so, give all the details about the main events of the book. It does not mean that you explain every point, but keep it general in your own words. You should also avoid redundancy and repetitiveness. You can add brief quotes as examples. Avoid the use of long quotations and long statements, because these do not attract the readers’ mind and attention, and the book under review will lose the spotlight.


Proofreading and Editing: 

This is the final step of almost every writing project. It will allow you to correct all grammar or spelling mistakes that will make your writing inaccurate. By following this step, you can polish your writing skills in order to boost your career as a creative and professional writer.


Assessment of the book content: 

It is the second step of the review. It should be in paragraphs that deal with each aspect of your arguments, such as how these are right or wrong, what are the pros and cons of the book, how that book will help you to enhance your understanding. It is also necessary to add merits and demerits of the book. It is imperative to highlight all the main points and context of the book so that a reader can get a basic understanding of the book. All the details should not be lengthy because it is a review. It is not essential to include arguments chronologically. You can add these according to your choice. It should be simple and to the point. Tell the readers about the overall opinion about the book.


Recommend the content according to the current needs of society: 

Every society and community have their own preferences and requirements for their survival and growth. They all have different cultures, traditions, and values. So, the content should be according to those preferences and circumstances. You need to know who would be attracted towards your book or its content. For example, a fashion book will get fame from fashion icons and fashion industry designers, and a scientific book will get limelight from professors, researchers, scientists, etc. Therefore, it is worthwhile to recommend the book to its right audience.


What Everyone Ought to Know About Writing a Book Review Guest post by Shakila Mumtaz

Shakila Mumtaz has been a certified “Creative Writer” by Digiskills and a “Professional Writer” by Saylor Academy. She is a “Resume writer” on Fiverr.com. She has completed Mphil Genetics from UVAS, Pakistan. For her, writing is a passion, not a profession. She likes to express her thoughts and ideas through her writing skills. Have a look at her Fiverr account and LinkedIn profile to know more about her. https://lnkd.in/gwBeZ2Khttps://www.linkedin.com/in/shakilamumtaz64/.



Read More