Tag Archives: feedback

Feedback Hack – How to combine multiple Word docs into one

You might already know how to do this. This might be the most obvious thing in the world. Since I just learned how to do it, and never want to forget, I’m re-posting it here.

Say you’re working on a book or something long, you get feedback from multiple sources (including tracked-changes and comment boxes). This is how to merge all of those into one file so you don’t have to flip between windows. My screen is tiny. Don’t judge.

  1. On the Review tab, in the Compare group, click Compare.
  2. Click Combine revisions from multiple authors.
  3. Under Original document, click the name of the document into which you want to combine the changes from multiple sources.

    If you don’t see the document in the list, click Browse for Original .

  4. Under Revised document, browse for the document that contains the changes by one of the reviewers.
  5. Click More.
  6. Under Show changes, select the options for what you want to compare in the documents.

    By default, Microsoft Office Word shows changes to whole words. For example, if you change the word cat to cats, the entire word cats will show as changed in the document and not simply the character s.

  7. Under Show changes in, click Original document.
  8. Click OK.

    To change which documents appear on the screen when you click OK, in the Compare group, click Hide Source Documents or Show Source Documents.

  9. Repeat steps 1-8. Word will merge all of the changes into the original document.

What is an Artspouse? I want an Artspouse!

I’ve never had a partner who reads my work, or has taken an active interest in my writing. This used to make me sad.

Then I discovered there are many writers whose partners actively discourage it, saying it’s a waste of time, it would never go anywhere, that they should be doing something “productive.” They can never work in an environment free from judgement and criticism.

I am so thankful, every day, that while I’m not always helped by my family (chosen or otherwise) they have never stood in my way.

As much as I am grateful, I find that my most favorite authors thank their partners or spouses first and foremost. Those partners work with their writer, around their writer, applying their shrewd minds, asking good questions, and pushing their writer to be the absolute best they can be. As a mushy example, the writer in Stephen King’s “Bag of Bones” had his wife type out the last line in every story. I’ve been giving it some thought, and come up with a word to describe this person:  Artspouse

This might be your husband or wife, this might be your best friend. This might be someone you absolutely cannot stand on a personal level; but when you come together to collaborate on a project, the results are absolute magic. This is the person who knows what you’re going through as an artist, as a creative, as a person trying to meet a bloody deadline — and knows when it’s time for chocolate and tissues; and when it’s time to kick the door in, turn the lights on, and yell at you to get your fucking act together.

Within this sphere of your life, on this particular path, they are your partner, your ally, your battle-buddy, your greatest nemesis, your soulmate, and anything in between. They are the constant measuring stick that says you can do better, and the little voice in your ear that helps you get there.

As a test request, here’s what I would look for in an artspouse. You may assume that these wishes are expressed with an intent of mutuality (I would provide the same support I ask for):

  • Interest in the same medium — a reader to my writer, an audience to my show, a hunter to my bladesmith.
  • Complementary strengths — if I’m good at structure, you’re good at emotional resonance. If I’m good at sculpting, you’re good at interior design. If I’m a lighting guy, you’re a sound guy.
  • Matching goals — whether it’s a quest for excellence, or commercial success, or attaining a certain level of mastery.
  • Seriousness of intent — less blah blah, more pew pew. We’re always aiming for the next level.
  • Commitment to your own work — different goals on the same path. It makes sense to run together for a while.
  • Enjoyment of each other’s work — I’d buy your stuff because it’s good, not just because I know you.
  • Fearlessness —  we can argue, we can risk, we can fail, we can get up and try again.
  • No man left behind — I’m speaking at this con, and so are you. I’m getting published, you’re putting on your show. I’m climbing this fucking mountain, and you’re coming with me. And in that vein…
  • On the level — we’re about the same skill level, or same stage of our artistic  careers. Maybe one of us is slightly ahead, but will be outpaced in a moment. They might piss you off a little because they’re so talented, and you have to hustle to catch up. There’s always something to learn, always something to offer.
  • Aw, buddy — we maybe, just possibly, actually like each other. It’s 2am. Let’s get tacos and talk about that weird dream you had the other day.

What do you want in an artspouse?
Do you already have an artspouse?

A Martial Artist’s Approach to Critique Groups

The dojo taught us many things, not the least of which was how to get the most out of a group. We knew ourselves and the people we trained with very well. We knew who excelled at which techniques, and made sure to position ourselves and each other so that each of us could train to greatest advantage. I like to joke that in the world of martial arts, abuse is love.  If someone throws a rock at you, it’s because they want to play. We’re rough on each other, but only so that we improve. Our petty cruelties are built on a foundation of trust.

I trust that you’re strong enough to take this.

I trust that you’ll tap out when you’re not.

I trust you to know your limits, even while you fight to surpass them.

Training for my first black belt was one of the roughest and most gratifying periods of my life. There were six of us in that group. We were within a rank of each other, within a year of each other, and at that golden age when you’re just old enough to have some independence; but young enough to have no real humility. Late teens.

Each of us had a buddy who balanced us out. A shy person paired with an assertive person. A strong person paired with a fast person. My brother and I were paired off because his incredible talent and goofiness offset my crueler, harder intellect. He had a whip-chain and I had a chokuto if that helps illustrate our personality differences any further.

I’ve chilled out a lot since then, especially because of his influence, but I digress.

One afternoon, we were all released from teaching to do our own training and got to work on our forms off to the side. Each of us did a kata called Bassai Dai. When each person performed, we sat around them in a square and prepared to give critique, just as we did with the lower ranks and younger students. When we finished, we had to stand there and listen to the others pick apart our timing, stance, execution, the works. That day was the first time we had done so for each other at this rank.

As each person went up, we found that we had less and less to say. We were all at about the same level of understanding and fitness. We started to see not what the others were doing wrong, but what the others were doing differently, based on their natural movements, attitude, and body-type. A slender boy was the fastest. The tall, slightly chubby one was the strongest. “You could just flow around the mat all day,” the most senior said to me. In that group, I was the most graceful.

The best way to learn, our sensei said, was to teach. That’s because your students will force you to find the answer to questions you’ve never thought of. You start to see the technical elements. You train your perception to identify why something works, and when, and how. In a rigorously disciplined setting like a dojo, when a senior rank tells you to correct your movements, your understanding, or your attitude — you do it. Take it, and grow.

Writers, like any artists, have some part of their ego wrapped up in their work, much like that group of teenagers. For the most part, writing groups and critique groups will level out to have the same level of understanding and skill. The biggest variable is where the strengths and weaknesses are. Someone in your group is more knowledgeable of current social issues. Someone in your group is a better world-builder than the rest. Someone in your group is more attuned to emotional resonance.

I like to joke that in the world of crit, abuse is love. If someone says this section isn’t working, it’s because they want it to work. We’re rough on each other, but only so that we improve; and our petty cruelties are built on a foundation of trust.

I trust that you’re strong enough to take this.

I trust that you’ll ask questions when you’re not, or suggest we move on to the next section.

I trust you to know your limits, what you can use in your story, and what you can’t.

I’m not kind with feedback, but my group knows that if I yell at them it’s because I care. I know my strengths, and I’m discovering new weaknesses every day; but I remember those days in the dojo. I remember the bonds we built by practicing until it hurt, and then through and beyond the pain. I remember the beautiful moment when the ache transformed into understanding.

Choose your critique group wisely. Then, when they correct you, take it and grow.

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
― Aristotle
“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.”
― Sylvia Plath

The Unbreakable Strength of Humility

What would you like to do?

There are a million bazillion writers out there, it’s true. It’s an intimidating thought, but it doesn’t have to be. The reason for this fear is a sense that we won’t be able to distinguish ourselves. Fact is, there’s something you have to say, in a particular way, that no one else can. Your writing (like all your other life choices) are influenced by your experiences and perception. That’s entirely yours. One way to mitigate this fear is to think of your end game. What would you like to do?

In your wildest most whimsical fantasies, what would you like to do? What kind of stories do you want to tell, and what kind of reader would you like to reach?

This is a marketing question also, but that aspect is for another day over another beverage.

This is the time to consider what you’re immersing yourself in. What are you reading? What kind of feedback are you getting? Are you enjoying yourself? Most importantly, are you challenging yourself, learning and growing?

Echo-chambers, whether they’re full of encouragement or full of disdain, don’t really serve you. The truth and reality of your skill is as valuable as the “you are here” sticker on a map. It sucks at first, but the value is immeasurable. Look at yourself and your abilities. Look how far you’ve come. Now look where you want to go. The only way to get there is to keep an eye on the goal. To use the parlance of the earthy, holistic practitioners I’ve been hanging out with lately: The quality of what you consume affects the quality of crap you produce.

You consume your environment. Not just the location; but the weather, the people and the energy there.

The right environment and access to the tools you need are smack-dab at the intersection of luck and boldness. Sending out query letters isn’t the only brave thing you have to do. You have to seek out new stories, and other writers. Listen to short-story podcasts in your genre. Sign up for Duotrope and see what else is out there. Blog. Get on Google+. Look for those you want to emulate. You’ll find a lot of material that’s much better than yours.

That’s what you want. Seek it out with sincerity.

Read. Study. Ask. When you encounter something you like, find out how it was made. Ask to see more. Acknowledging the gulf between your talent and theirs is only the beginning. It doesn’t end there. Lift your eyes. It’s much easier to build a bridge across that span if you can see the other side – and even easier if you have a buddy over there to catch the first rope.


It is much more valuable to look for the strength in others. You can gain nothing by criticizing their imperfections.”

― Daisaku Ikeda


In the land where excellence is commended, not envied, where weakness is aided, not mocked, there is no question as to how its inhabitants are all superhuman.”

― Criss Jami

The Fine Line Between Hope and Stress – Working With What You’ve Got

My brother once said that driving a car is like waiting in line, and having a motorcycle is like having infinite cut-sies. Public transit’s on a whole different level of frustration. It’s like walking into court.

You can see it if you watch folk at bus stops. They’re so anxious, you’d think that being late to work is on par with receiving jail time.

They lean off the sidewalk, trying to glimpse the first rays of a headlight.  They check their phones for the next arrival time, sigh, put the phone away, then pull it out within thirty seconds. They whip themselves up. Delays and accidents become personal slights.

It’s insane. It serves no purpose. Agitation, stress and anxiety are not offerings the bus gods require before they deign to release their servants for our use. In fact, if you stare off into the clouds and make no offerings, the bus will still come at the same time.

(The bus gods care naught for your plans, you see. They are terribly complex, like spiders with seven brains and 191 legs.)

Stressing out about your lateness does nothing to make you less late. Stressing about your productivity levels will not make you more productive. Stressing that you’re not Steven King will not cause you to wake up one day in his bed, with his wife, and his career. Freaking out about an agent’s response, the granting of a grant, or anyone else’s actions will not affect them — it will affect you. Your wishes are fueled by hope, encouragement and optimism.

Catch the clouds now and then. Hope was never meant to be a punishment.

The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.
― Paulo Coelho

Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
― Corrie Ten Boom