Tag Archives: Writing

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The Art of Giving Constructive Criticism

toastmastersOne of the many reasons I joined a local Toastmaster’s chapter is to develop the ability to offer constructive criticism. While becoming competent in oral communication is a fundamental goal of membership in the organization, so is learning to become a better listener. Cultivating this valuable skill  makes it possible to offer thoughtful feedback on someone’s speech, but it requires genuine interest and focused concentration. At our last meeting, I took on the task of speech evaluator for the very first time as part of my effort to ease into the act of making my first speech (called an “Ice Breaker”) by starting with smaller roles first.

To say I was nervous about standing up in front of the room and making an oral critique would be a monumental understatement. There is definitely an art to providing meaningful, useful criticism designed to help a speaker acknowledge both their strengths and weaknesses in order to become an even better communicator. While I realize I have a very long way to go in this area, I appreciated the positive reviews I received from others in attendance, including the speech giver.

While Toastmasters focuses on the development of competent communication and leadership qualities for individual members, the same principles hold true for the written word. As an author and book reviewer, I understand this well.

Writer's BlockFirst, to take on the author part: I fully understand that as much as I strive to develop themes through my plots and character development in any given novel, not every reader is going to “get” them. We all process entertainment in the form of the written word (and on film and other mediums) though the prism of our own unique experiences, after all. When I sat down to write Water Signs, I never set out to produce a tawdry romance novel, but instead a coming of age story in which sex and attitudes about sex play an integral role. My main character struggles to balance her morality while living in a society that has all but abandoned the “old-fashioned” values with which she was raised. At the same time, she’s human. She experiences the normal desires that go along with being a young woman (and as the story progresses, an older and wiser one). Hence, her inner turmoil often manifests in self-defeating and even frightening ways (e.g. anxiety disorder). Having a much more worldly boyfriend complicates her own personal growth journey and relationship with main character, Ken — not to mention other guys she dates along the way.

However, I never intended the book to be perceived as yet another cheap, formulaic romance where meaningless dialogue and a canned plot provide filler in between raunchy, explicit love scenes. Up until now, no one (at least no one that I am aware of) has viewed it that way. Most readers (those who have contacted me personally and/or posted reviews) have perceived Water Signs as a contemporary romance with plenty to say about the modern dating scene and other realities of current times.

Let me clarify: I am seeking thoughtful criticism; I’m not expecting the whole world to fawn over my book, fall in love with its two main characters, or give me nothing but 5-star reviews. That’s completely unrealistic, not to mention a hindrance to my own growth and improvement as a writer. I do, however, appreciate it when someone takes the time to point out the good (even if it’s simply an acknowledgment of better-than-average writing skills, use of literary technique, or story pacing) while (as I am learning to do at Toastmasters) identifying areas that need improvement.

Which brings me back to my dilemma.

Are some reviewers just more thoughtful than others? Or is it all a matter of perception based on their own personal experience (and not so much what the author was attempting to say through plot and characters)? Perhaps it’s a combination of both? Can a reader who does not fit the parameters of your target audience even offer a balanced review to begin with?

WaterSigns2.jpgAll are important considerations.

Nevertheless, we as authors simply cannot control readers’ perceptions of our work — nor should we even seek to do so. While I am incredibly disappointed in the characterization of my book as a “bodice ripper,” perhaps it will attract a whole new audience. Who knows? Guess I’ll just have to wait and see, although my guess is that readers of Harlequin romances will most likely dismiss Maddy and her entire family as hopelessly out of touch and prudish.

Unlike speeches, books are much more subjective – unless of course, they are truly unreadable due to things like poor grammar and lack of a coherent plot – for which perhaps a 1-star review is appropriate. For the record, no one has accused Water Signs of either of these, although privately someone told me they hated my characters — to the point of wanting to take an ax to them. That was definitely a first.

Given that most others have had a completely opposite take, this is very perplexing. Whether you hate it, love it, or fall somewhere in between, referring to Water Signs as a bodice ripper completely misses the point. Which circles back to every author’s conundrum: we cannot control how others perceive our work because – as with many experiences in life – readers bring along their own preconceived ideas. In the case of my novel, maybe it’s about time a reader presented a different take on the story – whether I agree with it or not.

When I write a book review, I make an effort to specify the positive aspects, e.g. a hard-hitting scene, a particularly compelling bit of dialogue, or the writer’s remarkable talent for drawing the reader into the story through the use of descriptive prose — whatever elements I can honestly rave about. If there are things I don’t like, or believe could use some improvement, I point them out in a constructive way. At least, these are my goals when I sit down to write a critique. Am I perfect at it? Not at all. That’s where Toastmasters comes in, along with the practice of reading and reviewing books regularly. Learn and improve by doing.

As I move forward in my own professional development with Toastmasters, I hope I’ll not only become better at critiquing (and giving) speeches, but also reading and reviewing books.

As for my next meeting role, I’ll be the evening’s “Ah, Um Counter,” which means I’ll definitely be listening closely to all speakers. And as my involvement in the organization progresses, I hope to eliminate my own bad “Ah,” “Um,” and “You know” habits.

Stay tuned….and keep on writing!

 

 

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Writestream Tuesday with author Lilia Fabry and the Right Wing Riot

I’m excited to welcome yet another talented CLFA author, Lilia Fabry, to Writestream Tuesday on August 26 at 1 p.m. Eastern to discuss her debut novel, Ordinance 93:

Want a Baby? Get permission. Four people are about to break this law.

With the blessing of the 55th President of the United States, the newly formed Office of Familial Equality

Author Lilia Fabry.
Author Lilia Fabry.

promises to end all the nation’s problems including poverty and illness with the Family Protection Act. The only catch is all pregnancies must be registered and approved.

All eyes turn to the first person to break the law, Justin Winters, an electrician suddenly turned subject of national attention. Joining him in the escape are the women known only as Spring, Summer, and Fall as they work together to run from the bureaucracy and national spotlight that pursues them.

Once the secretary of the OFE learns Winters has tested positive for causing multiple unregistered pregnancies, he comes after him full force, as the future of the Act rests upon if and how Winters and the women are brought in. Their successful defiance would lead to more defectors, their capture providing an opportunity to make an example of them all.

With little more than the clothes on their backs, the four set off on a quest for freedom and to keep the identity of the mother a secret. Most of all, they are running from an ordinance in the law which threatens what they hold most dear.

I’m looking forward to delving into the plot and themes of this haunting tale with the highly talented Lilia, who gladly welcomes your questions and comments during the live broadcast at (347) 345-7246.

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In the second hour, stay tuned for some “Public Service Satire” with the Right Wing Riot featuring the Luminaries of Liberty, Scary Smart, Ms. Always Right and the Prince of Whitebread.

To listen live online, click on this link. Or listen by phone at (347) 945-7246. See you Tuesday!

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My Interview in The American Journal

Thank you to Delcan Finn for putting me in the spotlight:

Today, an interview with American Journal’s very own Daria DiGiovanni, discussing her various and sundry roles as journalist, talk show host, and ghostwriter.

1471925_10202487549011836_1698579178_n1. I guess the standard questions for the average writer should be asked first. Bare with me: “How do you get your ideas?” ”A writer, don’t you have a real job?” Feel free to insert any other dumb questions you’ve heard from the general populace.

DD: To me, life experience is the best source of ideas. My first novel is based on actual events not only in my life, but in the lives of people I’ve known, whether friends, family or acquaintances. Of course, the names have been changed to protect the innocent – ha!

As for the “real job,” I spent many years in the corporate world, mostly in the financial industry, in various capacities from corporate communications to marketing to community relations outreach to recruiting. One of my favorite positions was writing e-proposals for a company that specializes in digital marketing for the hospitality industry. That experience helped tremendously in honing my descriptive writing abilities to give the reader a full sensory experience of a particular place, character or plot point.

Even now, I provide social media services for a variety of clients including authors and small businesses. Among other things, this involves setting up blogs, managing social media platforms, providing content, and navigating through the independent publishing process.

Visit The American Journal to read the whole thing. Want to hire me for writing, ghostwriting, blogging and other social media services? Click here.

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Writestream Interview Feedback

I started the Writestream Radio Network back in March of 2013 in an effort to create a diverse network catering to as many tastes and interests as possible. Of course the effort wasn’t completely altruistic because by building an influential network, I would have much more value to offer to prospects and clients seeking writing, editing and social media services. In recruiting Lisa Tarves , John D. Gresham, Dr. Billie Eizenberg, and Sheena Benjamin Wise, I’d hoped that the time they’d spend preparing and producing their weekly broadcasts would also help them take their respective businesses to even greater levels of success.

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And in spite of the time and work commitment we’re all enjoying the opportunities Blog Talk Radio provides for exposure, knowledge and professional development. Still, it can be challenging at times both financially and personally to keep the network afloat. Much like the discipline of writing, online broadcasting is a solitary activity. It can be lonely at times while it occasionally makes you wonder if it’s all worth it.

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That’s one reason why this email from recent guest Chuck Hooper made my entire day:

Daria, I have been a guest on several radio shows, and I have to tell you that your questions and comments were the most relevant and focused. You are excellent at this and I’ll be sure to catch more of your interviews. Is the interview archived and accessible? I would of course like to listen to it in hopes I can learn how to become a better guest for such gracious people as yourself.

I’m grateful that you read the book and it achieved its purpose. I especially appreciate your love of liberty and country and willingness to defend both. 

On Writestream Tuesday I make it my mission to promote independently published authors because I know how difficult it is to experience success in an age when everyone can publish a book. My weekly show affords me the chance to develop and improve my interviewing and communication skills because I believe we learn best by doing. So when a guest takes the time to share their impressions the way Chuck did, it truly uplifts and assures me that my work is not in vain. Now with the addition of the Right Wing Riot, the Tuesday show also offers an irreverent, informative and entertaining take on culture and politics from three very accomplished writers. I’m thrilled to have them sharing airtime.

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Which brings me to an appeal: if you’re enjoying the guests, hosts and information shared on the Writestream Radio Network, please consider making a donation or becoming a sponsor to help keep us on the air.  Click here for our PayPal page. Contact us here for more information on sponsorship opportunities.

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Thanks….and keep rejoicing in the flow of creativity!

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Writestream Tuesday with ‘Tears of Paradox’ author Daniella Bova and the Right Wing Riot

I am so excited to welcome talented author and patriot Daniella Bova to Writestream Tuesday on August 12 at 1 p.m. Eastern to talk about her 5-star rated dystopian novel, Tears of Paradox:

In the not so distant future, Michelle hides in the shadowy cornfields of rural Pennsylvania, waiting for her unborn child, targeted by the untouchables who have assumed absolute power . Michelle’s husband, DaniellaBookJason, remains in their hometown, struggling against overwhelming odds to keep his wife and child from being found. The blue-collar Catholic couple have already endured numerous losses, including that of a baby son, born under mysterious circumstances. This pair of childhood sweethearts and their family and friends have always stuck together, but the storms of transformation turn everything upside down. Friendships disintegrate, fathers and sons become enemies, and trust is a thing of the past. The ways of traditional America have gradually become what those in power term evil. What used to be evil is now the law, strictly enforced by the bureaucracy, and for ordinary people there is no middle ground; you either play or pay. Deviation from government policy will land you in jail… or worse. Media figures who aren’t part of the power structure begin slowly disappearing, and Jason must depend solely on God to help him save his wife and baby. Tears of Paradox is a story full of suspense, romance, sadness, humor, and nostalgia; a must read for Americans in these rapidly changing times.

RightWingRiotAside from the reviews already posted on Amazon, I’ve been seeing nothing but highly positive feedback on Twitter and Facebook about Daniella’s novel, which several friends and contacts are currently in the process of reading. As one of Daniella’s Twitter followers and CLFA Facebook friends, I cannot wait to bring her on the air to talk about Tears of Paradox, the first in a series entitled Storms of Transformation.

In the second half of the show, The Prince of Whitebread and his cohorts Ms. Scary Smart and Ms. Always Right will usher in the Right Wing Riot — their own unique brand of “Public Service Satire.”

During the live broadcast, hosts and guest welcome your calls at (347) 945-7246 and your participation in the live chat. Join us on Tuesday, August 12 at 1 p.m. Eastern for Writestream with author Daniella Bova and the Right Wing Riot!

 

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