Critiquing with kindness

Critiquing with kindness

I have been part of a writing group for over ten years now, and during this time, I have published a novel, dozens of articles, and several short stories. My writing group has been instrumental in honing my skills and improving my writing by providing valid critiques and even line edits.

Through this process, I learned how to critique other people’s work, especially fiction. I made a lot of mistakes, and I haven’t always been a good feedback giver.

Here are some of my tips on how to gracefully critique other writers’ work:

  • Always start with the positive. Mention the things that you enjoyed the most about the work. If it’s a chapter from a novel in progress, say things along the line of “I enjoyed the humor” or “This chapter read very quickly.”
  • Dive slowly into the critique. Writers put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into their work, so measure your words. You can start your review by mentioning the things that didn’t work for you. Make it more about you and how you absorbed the art, rather than the writer and what they did and didn’t do.
  • Don’t make generic, broad statements like “You have cartoonish characters” or “Your language is too flowery.”
  • Don’t nitpick and go on a rant about grammar and spacing.
  • Write down your critique and Email it to them. You will do them a favor as they would want to go back to your notes when they are revising.

Remember that no writer is an island. You need other writers as much as they need you. Critique with kindness, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Photo by Michael Burrows from Pexels

Tips on developing good writing habits

Tips on developing good writing habits

If you have always wanted to write the next great American novel, or a best-selling memoir, or even a marketing blog a la Seth Godin, then stop talking about “wanting” and start doing. “Someday” is right now.

Here are my quick tips to get you started:

  • Pick a specific time everyday to write and stick with it. Morning is ideal.
  • Inspiration is a myth. Start writing and ideas with follow.
  • “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King.
  • Create a system to capture your ideas like Apple Notes, Notion or Google Keep.
    “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.
  •  Read, Read, Read.
    “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King.
  • Find an editor: A friend, a colleague a fellow author. Two pairs of eyes are better than one.

What are yo you waiting for? Get to work.

*Photo credit: Lukas Blazek

No excuses for not learning a language. Just ask Siri

No excuses for not learning a language. Just ask Siri

A quick encounter that took place at our local library the other day has left me with a number of insights. First it was a great reminder of the power of your mindset, and second it has emphasized my belief that we live in the best time for learning and building skills.

While checking out the books that my children had picked at the the library (anime, lots of anime), a woman who was wearing the hijab and her daughter approached me and greeted me with the Arabic greeting  Al Salamu aleikom.

Without giving it a second thought, I responded Wa Aleikom El Salam, and then I thought to myself how did she know I spoke Arabic? Was my olive skin enough to give away my origin? After all, everyone here thought I was Latina. Could she really detect my origins even when I was masked?

“How did you know I spoke Arabic?” I asked her.

She pointed at my shirt. I looked down at what I was wearing and then I looked up and smiled. “Oh yeah, of course,” I said.

I was wearing a T-shirt that had the name of my home city, Amman, written in Arabic calligraphy.

The woman asked me where I was from, and told me that she Iranian and that her teenage daughter who was standing right next to her spoke Arabic.

Her daughter immediately started speaking with me in Modern Standard Arabic (classical Arabic), and I responded back. Her Arabic was pretty good.

When I asked how she learned Arabic (since very few Iranians I knew spoke Arabic), she gave me an answer that blew my mind.

“I learned Arabic through Siri.”

“You mean Siri from the iPhone?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded.

What a genius idea! This teenager, just kept asking Siri how do you say this or that in Arabic until she learned the language.

This teenager is one with a growth mindset. One that made her mind to learn a language and learned in the most efficient, affordable and nuanced way.

She made it happen and she proved it to me.

That made me think about learning opportunities nowadays, and indeed what a good time to be alive

To quote Marie Forleo  “Everything Is Figureoutable“. You can learn anything you set your mind on by going online , reading articles, watching YouTube videos, downloading ebooks, or even using the power of AI by messing around with Siri.

I’m sure that teenager will grow up to do wonderful things, and the reason boils down to her mindset. She wanted to learn Arabic so she just figured it out. Everything is indeed figueroutable.

If you really want to learn a language, you cam learn it. No excuses will rescue you. You don’t need money, or time or resources.

You have the internet, Google Translate, Siri, Alexa, audio books, DuoLingo. You can learn anytime, anywhere, and without spending a dime.

What time to be alive!

*Photo credit: Omid Armin, Unsplash

Al-Rawabi School: A marvelous show in the country that could

Al-Rawabi School: A marvelous show in the country that could

I just finished watching the all-Jordanian Netflix series Al-Rawabi School, and my mind is racing. So many mixed emotions: surprise, nostalgia, excitement, sadness, fear, inspiration, but above all, elation.

Elation to hear the dialect of my home featured in a highly-produced, beautifully-shot, professionally-made series. Elation that against all odds; conflict, wars, pandemic, poverty, unemployment, and one disaster after the other, miracles do still happen in Jordan, in the country that could.

Al-Rawabi School exceeded all my expectations, from the story line with sophisticated character development, to the beautiful cinematography, to the all-girl school setting, and the excellent performance by the young, mostly-unknown cast, the show was an unexpected gem.

Al-Rawbi School tackled so many important and timely topics in Jordan and elsewhere: bullying, jealousy, revenge, friendship, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, patriarchy, and honor crimes.

Hearing very Jordanian words, and expressions like shagfeh, binshalf, shu bilnisbeh just made my heart sing, and put nostalgic tears in my eyes. Also, The inclusion of “Arabish,” the mix of English and Arabic vernacular is spot on, and an exact representation of how West Ammanites speak.

Seeing the beautiful familiar streets and neighborhoods of Amman made me want to savor every single minute of this unique show, and watch it again and again.

What made the show very relatable to me is the fact that I too grew up in West Amman, in an all-girl private school, I went through similar issues. I was both bullied and a bully. I was hurt and hurt others. I’m grateful that this period is all behind me now, and that somehow I had survived it unscathed.

The score is yet another marvel. The choice of eclectic Arabic music was top notch with a variety of independent and veteran Arab artists. I have been listening to the show’s play list on Spotify non-stop for days now along with my kids in the car, and we are all enjoying the tunes and signing along to the music.

As expected, the show generated some criticism, especially among those who believe that it didn’t represent “Jordan’s traditions and culture”. From what I saw, the criticism was minor compared to the huge support and reception it received.

To those who criticize the show, I would say everything in this show is an exact representation of Jordanian culture and tradition, this show couldn’t be more Jordanian.

The show might not be perfect, but is perfection what we are looking for here? If I really want to nitpick, I might say that the choice of the all-gothic look for the character Nouf was a bit over the top, and the character of the drunken dad slurring his words was a bit cliched, but these are really very minor things in the scheme of things. The show is a marvel

Kudos to everyone behind this all-Jordanian show, especially its young creator Tina Shomali, and of course all the brilliant young actress and their families who supported them.

Jordan, onwards and upwards. Jordan, you are definitely the little country that could.

Picking myself

Picking myself

Last month was a hard month for me. I received unexpected, unwelcome news that left me doubting my skills. A writing project that I had been working on for a year just fell through, taking a major toll on my confidence and sense of self-worth. I don’t have the energy to get into the details, but what happened, in a nutshell, was that editor and I had different views and we parted ways.

For a writer, many might argue that’s this is part of the process, that rejections and disappointment are only one step of a long, hard journey.

I hear you, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, because it does. A lot.

After I licked my wounds, I sought solace in my team of therapists: my books.

The book You are Writer (So start acting like one) by Jeff Goins resonated with me. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment of my life.

He says:

“No guide or set of tools can prepare you for the rejection you will face, the criticism you will endure, or the pain you will experience. Because you will. You will get rejected.”

A 2011 blog post by marketing guru and entrepreneur Seth Gothin, titled “Reject the tyranny of being picked: pick yourself” really hit the nail on the head. He says:


“Amanda Hocking is making a million dollars a year publishing her own work to the Kindle. No publisher.

Rebecca Black has reached more than 15,000,000 listeners, like it or not, without a record label.Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work.”

He ends this masterpiece of a blog by saying:

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

You can also hear Seth Godin talking about picking yourself here:

This was exactly what I needed when I was hitting a low point last month.

I realized that I was waiting to be picked, by a major publisher or a major newspaper, or a major media network, and I’m done with that. I’m done with waiting for Prince Charming. I’m writing and producing and self-publishing. The sky is the limit. Chasing the gatekeeper is a thing of the past.

I’m picking myself. I’m going to be writing more, producing more content, and sharing my thoughts on various available platforms for anyone to read. Jeff Gothin agrees with this idea, he says

“You can create the life every writer dreams of: never having to write a proposal or query letter again. Never having to pitch; never having to compromise. Wouldn’t that be great? I’m here to tell you it’s possible. I’m also here to tell you it takes hard work and smart work and patience.”

Does that mean that I’m going to stop pitching? No, not necessarily. I will still pitch ideas for publications that I might think are a good fit for my content, but being picked by them is merely a side outcome, it’s not the ultimate goal. Not being chosen by them is no longer going to keep me up at night.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here declaring that I’m picking myself, and it feels amazing. I’m more fired up and excited about the future to come. A flood of ideas are flowing through my brain, and I’m having a hard time capturing them all.

I’m reinvigorated. I’m no longer dreading the rejection letters. I am a writer and I’m acting like one. I am picking myself. Pick yourself, too!