Ten Imagination-Building Exercises


Think Differently: Ten Excercises For a Better Imagination

I don’t have much truck with writing exercises. I think your main writing exercise is, and should always be, writing something. Just ‘doing an exercise’ is essentially giving yourself homework, and it’s giving yourself homework with the automatic assumption that what you’re doing is just an exercise, so it doesn’t really count for shit in the first place.

Success will never be had, in these circumstances. Most of us have a limited amount of time to sit down and write anyway; using some of that time ‘just for exercises’ isn’t helping you. Your aim, every time you sit down to whatever it is you sit down to, should be to create something you can eventually publish.

This is not, I note, the same as saying you should never experiment. Want to try writing a story with no adverbs in it? Be my guest. Want to do one of those cheesy ‘your character writes a letter to X’ things? Letter onwards. But only do it if you have an idea. Only do it if it’s something that strikes a chord with you. No good story was ever begun with the phrase ‘I’m going to write something today that never uses the word ‘said”. It was begun with an idea: ‘hey, what if there was a monk who lost his rosary?’, and then, if you please, you can shout, whisper, murmur, and belt your way to the conclusion.

Had to get that off my chest. The reason being, of course, that I’m about to offer you some everyday writing exercises. Ain’t I a hypocrite?

Not really. Very few of these involve actually putting pen to paper. What I’m offering, instead, are more thought exercises–ways to expand your mind, man. Imagination is key in good writing, and I see few ‘writing exercises’ that flex those particular muscles.

Because, yeah, you need inspiration to write. If you try to just churn it out, what you’ll churn out will be page after page of drivel (if you haven’t been keeping up with my NaNo experiment, I proved this to myself last month).

Here’s the deal with inspiration, though. You can’t just sit there and wait for it to come to you. You have to set out manfully into the West and find your inspiration, and lasso your inspiration, and drag it back to the paddy and break it like the wild motherfucking thing it is. There are a lot of thoughts floating around in your cranium bubble, and recognizing a good one–catching it as it passes you by on its gossamer wings–is a lot harder than all our talk of muses and inspirational writ suggests.

To find your inspiration, you have to start thinking differently. We’re humans–we’re hardwired to focus on our own survival and happiness. And that’s not a bad thing, when you aren’t doing something creative: when you are, though, it’s time to expand your fucking mind. A good idea doesn’t capture some great universal truth, it captures the little daily truths, which, if arranged correctly, might echo something that resonates. It’s why we show, not tell. Which is more powerful: the phrase ‘everyone died but me’, or the lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with five life vests still in factory ties?

These exercises are intended to help you find life’s little truths, the details we miss when we start thinking about How The World Is Today. Imagination is limitless–which is awesome, yeah, but also kind of terrifying. Here’s me helping you use your imagination.

1) What coins do you have in your pocket? Look at them, examine them. Some are old and ugly, some are shiny and new. How many other people have touched these coins? What situations have they been in, to give them the scars they do (or don’t) have? Got an older coin that’s still in shiny shape in there? Why do you think it is that way?

2) Find one thing in the course of your day that doesn’t work. A cooler at the convenience store, an out of order vending machine, that sort of thing. Speculate on why. Speculate on how long it’s been that way.

3) Notice ten people of different ages and backgrounds. Now ask yourself: what kind of underwear are they wearing? If you feel like getting arrested today, go ask and see how close to right you were.

4) Read a book by an author from a different country. The less you know about that country, the better.

5) When you overhear two strangers arguing (and trust me, you will if you pay attention) pick an arguer to side with. Then, justify the point of view of the arguer you disagree with. (Handy dandy note: don’t do this out loud.)

6) When you’re watching TV: pick a scene. Imagine what went on when the camera wasn’t rolling.

7) Name three ways in which you have been lazy today, including why they are lazy. (I’ve already got one for you. I’m all rainsplattered and damp because, in the long run, it was easier to walk in the rain and get wet than it was to use my umbrella. Yes. I am that lazy.)

8) Take the first two words that come out of this random word generator. Now, write an eight hundred word flash piece using both of them. Don’t go over the word limit. (For extra credit, share your creations in the comment section.)

9) Take those same two words and write a second eight hundred word story. Don’t reuse anything–characters, setting, plot, theme–from the first one.

10) When you pass a building under construction, take a second. Imagine the amount of money that went into building it. Who’s putting up the cash? Why is it being built? Did anyone really not want that bulding to be there, and if so, who? Is this building some architecture student’s first job, or some world-weary master’s triumph?

More Poetry For Poncy Millennials


Well, guys. Sorry I’ve been so little in evidence this week. I’ve had a lot of rush to deal with at work, and some editing stuff to do as well–this blog totally took second, possibly even third, place.

I know. I suck.

In the meantime, posting a few more happy little poems about The Millennial Condition–namely, being a Millennial parent. (What’s so special about this? I don’t know. But plenty of people seem to think it is.)

We’ll be back next week with heartfelt articles and all that shit you expect. For now, CLEVER RHYMES. (Dear hipster moms of the world–I deeply look forward to you being indignant at me saying Thieves relieves stress. Long story short: I don’t KNOW what it’s supposed to do. I don’t care.)


Poor little Jimmy’s come down with a cold!
Hope these antibiotics aren’t too old.

Coconut oil. His hair’s a mess.
A dab of Thieves to relieve stress.
Ginseng for focus, he likes shiny lights,
And don’t forget the multi-vites.
Fish oil in his morning tea:
We think he’s low on Omega-3.
For energy and steady will,
A timely dose of clorophyll
And carotene, for better sight–
He only takes one? That can’t be right.
Vitamin D for healthy skin,
A fistful of A to let life in.

What else could be wrong? He still looks slightly ill.
Just give him a fistful of nutritive pills.

Oh no! He’s convulsing! Somebody, please save him.
It must be something the doctor gave him.


My child says your child
Gets cookies every lunch.
My child says your child
Still drinks Hawaiian Punch.

My child says your child
Got vaxed for the flu;
My child agrees that your child
Simply won’t do.

He’s never known the luxury
Of kale chips salted light,
Or cupcakes made with free-trade flour.
How do you sleep at night?

A gender-neutral nursery
And carseats ’til they’re twelve:
Right-themed novels into which
A little mind can delve.

These are the things that make a child
As good as he can be:
A moralistic member
Of our great society.

You say love’s more important? What?
Sit down, shit mom, and can it.
Child-rearing ain’t about the child:
It’s all about saving the planet.

Existential Retail Christmas Post

'Santa' and 'Satan'--just one typo away.

An Existential Retail Christmas

Here’s a great way to tell, if you’re slightly sadistic, whether or not your significant other has spent a good portion of his or her life working retail.

Wait until your bundle of joy is asleep. Creep closer, ever closer, to that cherubic slumbering visage, snuggled up by its pillow. Inhale, softly, and whisper into one shell-like ear:

“Wake up! It’s Christmas!”

Does your beautiful angel awake with a scream or a groan? Does he or she begin weeping, throw the pillow, attempt to hide under the bed? Does he or she mutter, with no provocation, the phrase: “no returns without a receipt?”

Your significant other has spent at least two Christmases in retail.

If your significant other is still working a retail Christmas, engage in this experiment at your own discretion. Ugly things might be said. Ugly things might be done. You might end up spending Christmas single.

You see, Christmas is a merry season in which people shop compulsively, usually at the last minute, for items that may or may not be appreciated by another person (they’re called gifts). These gift things don’t just grow on trees. They’re produced, often somewhere very far away, and are shipped in finite amounts to the retail location at which you’re currently shouting at someone because there are no more blue blenders in stock. That tired looking person who is patiently explaining to you, for what’s probably the fifteenth time today, that the next shipment will be in Monday, and if you really need one there are a few red ones in the back, has little to no control over whether that blender is there or not. The nametag on his or her chest brands him as one of the lowest-paid cogs in a vast grinding machine. Or, if you prefer, that person is an expendable human sacrifice, thrust out in front of you as a distraction tactic from the inexplicable rage you feel as another human pawn piece being slung across the board in a game of the consumerist gods.

Simply put: it isn’t that person’s fault your blue blender isn’t in stock. And, when you send off that email to corporate in a fit of pique, this person will get not only shit from you, but shit from management, where the blame for your absent blender could be more justifiably placed.

So. This Christmas, in the spirit of peace, love, and brotherhood that everyone is supposed to espouse, try not screaming at a sales representative for something that representative can’t control.

If your significant other is the nametagged cog placed in front of angry shoppers on a daily basis in the month of December, here are some tactics you can use to help make his or her Christmas nominally merrier, which in retail terms means ‘make it suck not quite as much’:

1. Don’t complain when the light is on early in the morning.
Your spouse is getting up before dawn to get paid a very small amount of money for making sure rich people have all the rich people things they need. The bathroom light is on because he or she has an existential horror of getting dressed for this day of torment in the dark. Don’t complain if the light wakes you, or the sound of the coffee maker, or the smell of the curling iron heating up. You can go back to sleep. Your life, for the next month, isn’t a raw vortex of mindless purchases. No one wants to be able to answer the question ‘did you get dressed in the dark this morning?’ with a guileless ‘yes’.

2. Buy liquor.
“Merry Christmas! Here’s a fifth of vodka on December 5th, so you can drink to forget.”

3. Do not, DO NOT, play Christmas music at home.
Thanks to the years I spent in big box retail, I now know every single word to ‘Santa Baby’, ‘Feliz Navidad’, and that Mariah Carey pile of bullshit. It’s been five years. I still froth at the mouth whenever a store’s muzak releases one of these little gems of excrement in my vicinity.

4. Let ’em bitch.
Retail Christmas is a horrible, soul-sucking thing. Your partner is working retail, and therefore can’t afford therapy. They do, however, have you. Nod and look sad when the stories begin. It might not mean a lot to you that some old dude patronizingly patted your S.O. on the bottom, but it sure does to them. If the stories become too much to bear–and there will be a lot of stories, so they might–learn to tune out. Sympathetic noises are all you need.

5. Make dinner.
You know what the worst part about coming home after fourteen hours of retail hell and transportation is? It’s making dinner. Why, by nine in the evening, is this not done already? Trust me, she isn’t spending her shift planning a four course meal for the late evening. She’s spending it contemplating the endless void of greed and self-righteousness into which humanity, for one month a year, sinks.

If you can’t cook, invest in some ramen and mac n’ cheese. After all, during Christmas, the body is a mere walking vehicle for information about coupons and return policies. Give it something to sustain it, sit back, and pray the end is in sight so you can have your spouse back.

Long story short: Christmas has become a vaguely symbolic pan-all holiday during which we ostensibly celebrate the birth of a penniless child in a manger by throwing as much money at retail giants as we can. If you want to celebrate in the ancient spirit of the holiday, try honoring the poor, like Jesus did: don’t scream at sales associates. After all, they spend your ‘holiday season’ working like dogs. Because of your need for a ten speed bicycle, many of them won’t get to spend Christmas with their families, or get more than one day off of work. Yes, we’re all sorry you won’t have that toaster oven in time to bring it down to the beach house when your vacation begins on the nineteenth. But somehow, somehow, it’s difficult to feel very sorry for you.

It’s been a while since I’ve done the big box thing, and Christmas still bums me out.

Happy Holidays. I hope you spend them somewhere far away from humanity, admiring the beauty of nature with the people you love most and neither giving nor receiving presents.

Nursery Rhymes for Disaffected Millennials

Image by the illustrious Johnny Gruelle!

Nursery Rhymes for Disaffected Millennials

Wow, guys. Sorry I missed posting Wednesday. A lot can happen in a week.

…in this case, pretty much nothing happened. But still–a lot can happen. I mean, the nuclear apocalypse could take place. The world could burn. People could die.


I’ve been quiet because I just haven’t had much to say lately. So sue me. But I HAVE been working on getting a fun little side project together.

Most of you won’t know this (why would you?) but I actually went to school for poetry. I was plainly expecting to marry someone wealthy, or win the lottery, or have a patron who recognized my greatness and just cut me checks each month for existing.

Or maybe I figured someday I would write an astonishingly deep book of poetry. So astonishingly, turgidly great, in fact, that it made Americans get over the fact that nobody likes poetry long enough to read my poetry.

I spent my adolescence in search of The Burning Verse. I just knew, somehow, that I had something profound to say. (Surprise! I didn’t). I spent a lot of time reading and pretending I understood T.S. Eliot. I made definitive inroads into being an adolescent who appreciated Ezra Pound.

At some point in college, while I was busy searching the Dionysian depths of my soul for elusive inflammatory writ, I had an unpleasant realization.

All the people I met who immediately identified themselves as ‘poets’–all the people, in short, chasing after the same paindrenched literary dream I had been chasing–were dicks.

There’s this thing about people who loudly proclaim profundity, you see. They don’t have much of a sense of humor. Too busy drinking pathetically and imagining the greatness of their own epitaphs. Too busy thinking about what they have to say. Now, I’m not saying all poets are like this, but some of them are, and you know at least one of them. I suspect the best ones aren’t: I might go as far as to say the good ones aren’t.

But there’s a definite stigma, no matter how undeserved, attached to poetry in this country. And it says poetry is gloomy. It says poetry is self-serving and indulgent. It says poetry has to be painful to be real.

And it says good poetry doesn’t rhyme. Good poetry isn’t metered. And for this stigma to exist, my dears, somebody has to be feeding it. Teenagers on message boards. Folks with dreadlocks in coffee shops. The Rimbaud look-alike dangling a cigarette from his lip in the back of the bar.

I happen to love metered poetry. I swoon over sonnets. I sway to sestinas. The stranger and more complicated the verse form, the more impressed I am when somebody’s mastered it. Poetry, to me, isn’t a matter of sturm und drang, it’s a matter of puzzles, and limits, and mental exercise. Can you write a strictly correct Spenserian sonnet and still say something worth saying? No? Your blank verse doesn’t impress me. Not until you can work with limits.

I’m not saying I dislike blank verse. When something is done well it’s done well, regardless of form. But I do think it’s time we moved past this idea that poetry is one thing or the other. This is a postmodern society. You can shit on a brick wall and call it poetry and someone will not only believe you, but think you’re sparklingly brilliant (especially, I note, if you’ve recently eaten glitter).

One qualification I see for good poetry pretty often is that poetry should ‘say something’. Of course it should. Any piece of writing should say something–if it doesn’t, why’re you wasting your time? I rarely see specified what, precisely, poetry should say, but the inference is clear–something world-rocking. Something deep.

I don’t know about deep. Usually, unless the word is used in tandem with ‘frying’, I don’t trust deep. I trust sensible and I trust funny. I also trust true, but that’s getting harder and harder to identify.

Why am I rambling like this? Because I’m introducing my collection of nursery rhymes for disaffected millennials.

Is it great poetry? No. Is it the expression of my generation? Not really. Will you be impressed by my understanding of human nature? Pfff.

But it’s funny. And if you’re of the millennial generation, it might be a little true. More, maybe, than you want to admit.

I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do with it–I could make a little book, or just post ’em up on Wattpad–but I found these darling public domain kid’s book images (by the guy who created Raggedy Ann and Andy, no less–see them and a little about him here) so now I’ve got to do something with them, even if it’s just posting it here.

At any rate, welcome to my self-indulgence project. For your pain or pleasure, here’re two of my millennial nursery rhymes:


Little Meggie Makon
likes tattoos and gourmet bacon
while bearded Willie Wooten
avoids the fuck out of gluten.

Maia, Vindra and Teagan
are, as individuals, vegan
(but when they get together
they eat pretty much whatever).

Eileen will surely panic
if her cake pop ain’t organic
though her friend Bethesda Vancer
knows essential oils cure cancer.

(Neither talk to Linda Wu,
who sometimes drinks a Mountain Dew).

When they all sit down to the Holiday table
they Instagram their meals, if they are able.
They can’t eat the food, but it’s awfully thrilling
to hear how their lives are so very fulfilling.


Some of your high school friends are sinners.
Some of your high school friends are whores.
Some of your high school friends cook dinners,
some of them mop your high school floors.

Some of your high school friends made money.
Some of them got a law degree.
Some are comics, ironically funny;
some want to make art and live rent free.

Some are suffering crises of spirit,
some are victims, repeatedly.
Some do well, and you’re happy to hear it.
Some deserve what they got, and it fills you with glee.

But when you look at Facebook
here’s the fact you can’t ignore:
all of their children
are better behaved
than yours.

Fantasy Homonyms


Fantasy Homonyms

Starting this blawg with a story. (Do I even know how to actually spell ‘blawg’ any more? I’m just asking because you’re probably asking. The answer is no.)

When I was twelve, maybe thirteen, the first Lord of the Rings movie came out. Was it the only thing that happened that year? No. The Twin Towers fell, and I think I got leg hair. But it was, by far, the most important to me.

(Cue crazed patriotic backlash over opinion statement. Get over it, I was twelve.)

I’d read the books. They were all right. I had always been, and always will be, more a fan of the Hobbit than LotR, but LotR was all right. The scenes in Moria kept me awake at night. I cheered for Eowyn. I was involved.

I did not, however, turn into the screaming, wheezing, mouth-frothing geek I have been ever since until viewing the movies.

To this day, I’m not certain why they struck such a chord with me. Maybe my shabby twelve year old pubescent existence needed heroes and glory. And swords. (It definitely needed swords). And all my friends had something to obsess over, why not me? I was, at twelve, too old for boy bands (in my head, at least,) and too young to go to concerts.

So I obsessed. I read the trilogy like twenty times. I read the Silmarillion and, to my surprise, enjoyed it. I developed a fondness for Feanor and his sons. I wrote poetic and terrible Feanor fanfiction. Surprisingly, I don’t think I had many pimples, but I did have a pretty gnarly set of braces. Eventually, I got a boyfriend. He didn’t share my fondness for terrible and poetric Feanor fanfiction. I was deeply disappointed. Why couldn’t I just live in Middle Earth, where everyone knew who Feanor was. Etc. You’ve been a preteen. You know the drill.

I’ve diverged somewhat from my original point here, which was to talk about a single phrase in what I think was the first LotR movie, which floored me then and still floors me now. It was:

They will raze Minas Tirith to the ground.

Okay. Now, imagine you’re twelve. You’re stuffing your training bra with toilet paper at the school dance; the biggest book you’ve read is Great Expectations, and that was mostly for the Accelerated Reader points, which you hoard like a dieter hoards Hershey kisses.

Raze is not a word that exists for you. It’s archaic: it’s old-fashioned. But you sure as hell know what raise means, you didn’t get all those reader points for nothing. So, just hearing it spoken, it sure as hell sounds like Boromir is saying they will raise Minas Tirith etc. Which is awfully confusing.

You’re an only child, and your friends aren’t out to play because it’s raining and they’re boring, and this is before the internet was a total thing. So you go to a dictionary. And you spend an amount of time adults might call ‘unhealthy’ looking through the RA section.

A light goes on in your dopey little twelve year old skull.

Holy snickers bars, Batman. There are words that sound like other words but mean different things. How can you trust the world now. How can society continue.

These words, you learn during the five minutes of computer lab where you AREN’T mindlessly playing Oregon Trail, are called ‘homonyms’. Or, to be honest: homophones. For more on the potential difference between the two, check out this link here. I’ll use them interchangably, because I can’t make up my mind about anything more than what to have for dinner without planning.

I still think the phrase ‘razing (Minas Tirith) to the ground’ is one of the worst word choices in cinematic history. I guess, in some ways, I’m just as much of an unimaginative pedant as I was when I was twelve.

But the fact is, at least the script had ‘raze’ in it. They knew what they meant and they knew how to spell it. This is not, unfortunately, a thing I see constantly in independently published fantasy novels: I ran across a high fantasy character in a book last week who took a bridal off a horse several times, and I’ve been thinking about that raise/raze moment ever since.

One of the most difficult things about writing fantasy is the fact that, for verisimilitude, some archaic/infrequently used words have to become commonly used for you. Unless you grew up with horses, you probably haven’t had to type ‘bridle’ very often. You might not understand that Aunt Cynthia’s tea cozy horde and the oncoming horde in your novel are different things. And we won’t even talk about affect/effect: the internet has done that for us, often snottily.

So, please. If you’re self-editing, check your homophonic spelling. Make sure you’re using the right word. Because if one more person tells me they’ve hit the motherload on Facebook, I’m going to go batshit crazy.

Here, collected just for your pretty selves, are twenty fantasy-esque homophones that you need to outright master. I’ve seen about half of them wrong in print, and when you put a bridal on your horse in print, children in third world countries starve to death.

If you want to view more shiny homonyms, this is a good list, and includes, as far as I could see, most of the ones I talk about here.

Raze–to destroy, to burn down.
Raise–to build or raise up.

Council–a group of people offering advice.
Counsel–a single adviser, or sometimes the advice itself.

Altar–That thing in the church people worship and get married at.
Alter–to change a course of events.

Load–a portion of something, usually to be carried.
Lode–a source or supply of ore (note: motherLODE.)

Affect–to change somehow.
Effect–the result of that change.

Blonde–yellow haired (female).
Blond–yellow haired (male).

Reign–a rule or regency.
Rain–water that falls from the sky.
Rein–a thing you control your horse with.

Ale–delicious beer.
Ail–to be sick or ill.

Gorilla–large grunty primate.
Guerrilla–non-regulation soldier, often a rebel.

Manner–a fashion of doing things.
Manor–a large house.

Bough–a tree limb.
Bow–that bending motion you make to important people. Also, pronounced differently: that thing with a string you use to shoot arrows at people.

Hoard–a large collection of items, or the act of collecting these items.
Horde–an invading army.

Bear–a fuzzy animal that might kill you. Also: to carry a burden.
Bare–to shed clothing or layers.

Yoke–a holster of sorts.
Yolk–that orange thing in the middle of an egg.

Exercise–something you need thirty minutes of a day, at least.
Exorcise–what you do to the demon inhabiting cousin Clara’s body.

Grizzly–a type of bear. Also–having a weathered, unkempt look.

Capital–the foremost part of something. Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina; moving out of it is a capital idea.
Capitol–a specific type of government building. Psst–there’s one on Capitol Hill.

Bridal–things relating to the woman’s part in a wedding.
Bridle–that thing you put over your horse’s face.

Faint–weak and unobtrusive; to fall down in a swoon.
Feint–a move intended to mislead an opponent.

Fourth–what comes after the third.
Forth–moving forward, going out into the world.

How to Critique II: Who to Listen To


How To Critique II: Accepting Criticism and Who to Listen To

Part I of this series is over here. I don’t know why I’m telling you that: if you scrolled down the page at all/ever you could figure it out yourself.


There’s plenty of literature around the web about handling criticism, especially critical reviews and critiques. I’m not going to get too into that, since it’s been done a billion times before–besides. Realistically, how am I supposed to help you with your anger/self esteem issues? Only you can do that, buddy, and until you decide to do it you’re going to respond to criticism just how you feel like responding, and it isn’t going to be pretty, and you’ll probably lose friends. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like criticism either–I sympathize with you on the ruffled feathers/negativity thing. However:

Adults are polite. Or, at worst: adults are silent. Those are the two options you have: there are no others. Don’t be that person who defends a story decision into the next millennium: listen to your critique partner’s advice. Either take it, or don’t. There you go, dealing with criticism mastered.

A note: if you’re having trouble NOT firing off that hotheaded email about how no, really, Princess Cracklypoof NEEDS to have sex with that two-headed dragon in Chapter Three, take a moment, sit back, and picture how this email looks to people who are not you. Childish and butthurt, yes? Don’t send it.

Something that doesn’t get touched on as much, and probably should, is the governing idea of my blawg here:

Who should I listen to, when taking critique advice?

If you’re part of a critique group, you might have four or five other opinions to take something from. If nothing else, I hope you at least have your mother/father giving you useful advice while simultaneously castigating you over your use of swear words. All these opinions are unlikely to agree, and they certainly aren’t going to agree with you. So: whose advice should you take?

Here are some ideas to help you determine the answer to that question.

1) Is this a majority opinion?

If more than one person is saying your description of the muddy river is unclear, you might want to consider listening (and, perhaps, finding a critique group that doesn’t love puns quite so much). If it’s something more than one person has noticed, chances are, it’s not all of them, it’s you.

2) Do I like this person’s writing?

If you’re in a critique group with other writers, it might be worth it to read something these folks have written, if you haven’t already. If you have two critiques telling you to do opposite things, and you prefer one critiquer’s writing over another’s, I’d recommend listening to the person whose writing you prefer, or at least taking that person’s ideas into higher account. A little elitist? Maybe. But you know what you like. Think of it this way: whose advice would you prefer when asking how to roast a turkey? Grandma’s, whose turkeys are always briny and delicious, or your cousin Meredith, who burned the shit out of the five pound turkey breast she roasted for Thanksgiving that one year?

A note: your acceptance/denial of advice probably shouldn’t include this information. Ever. But you figured that out yourself, I hope.

3) Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Don’t get all hot n’ bothered just because someone’s trying to give you advice. Some of this advice, if you let yourself admit it, will resonate with you: some of it will have even occurred to you as you were writing. Always take this advice. After all, you’re the end authority, and if you agree, there’s nowhere else to go.

4) Who are you writing this story for?

Let’s say you wrote a story about a Tinder date gone awry. One critique partner, a twenty-four year old girl from Michigan, thought it was hilarious. Another critique partner, a sixty-five year old man from Iowa, found it very confusing.
Sit back and ask yourself a few questions here. Tinder is mostly used by younger people, specifically millennials: is this who you want this story to reach? If it is, you want to listen to your twenty-four year old compatriot more than your sixty-five year old one, as she’s in the age demographic the story is intended for. She’ll get some of the references your older buddy won’t get, and in this case, that’s fine.

(A note: I felt super-ageist after posting that. Obviously, this post is assuming your 65 year old friend doesn’t know much about Tinder. There are exceptions. If he’s a 65 year old Tinder guru, listen to him, of course!)

Don’t get me wrong, you should make you story as digestible for a wider audience as you can. There’s no point in purposefully excluding people who might otherwise like it. But there comes a time when too much backstory causes a plot to suffer, and in the end only you can determine whether an explanation of swiping right ruins the flow of the story or not.

This doesn’t mean, of course, you should discount everything your sixty-five year old friend says. He’ll have some useful advice for you, too. But when he demands you give the website URL with http:// in front of it (‘otherwise, how will people understand this is a website?’) you might want to turn a deaf ear. You’re looking to make this story digestible to the majority, of course, but it’s already about a specialized subject, and you have to accept that it won’t be absolutely everyone’s cup of tea.

If the idea of writing a specialized story bothers you, it might be time to consider making this a generic ‘blind date’ instead of a Tindr hookup. Though that, too, can hurt your story, by taking it into the realm of the general and out of the specific.

Which brings me to my last advice crumb:

5) Why are you debating taking this advice?

Try and be objective, here. That can be hard, if a critique feels extra harsh, but keep in mind what I said in Part I: no one here is trying to hurt you. Everyone has good intentions, and if you don’t assume that, you’re going to go slowly mad. So take a step back and try and consider the advice you’ve received honestly. Ask yourself: do I want to take this advice because it’s genuinely good, or because this person seemed nicer? Or, conversely: am I ignoring this advice because the critique ruffled my feathers?

That second one especially is something to be wary of. Especially since constructive criticism often ruffles feathers, and is, to my mind, generally more honest than endless compliments. Everyone wants to hear they don’t need to change a thing in their story: however, this is almost never true.

There y’go. I actually wrote Part II of this. I’m so proud.