what I learned in 2017

 

I should open this post in disbelief that it’s already 2018, but I was ready. My fresh start began toward the end of the year, and I couldn’t be more excited about what’s changing and what’s to come. Here in Oklahoma, it’s a balmy 16 degrees, and you can find me curled up with a steaming mug of soup, all wrapped up in children and cozy knits.

But more on the present and future later. For now, I will recap the silly, serious, important, and entirely trivial things I learned this year…

  • We went to California in December, and seeing things through the eyes of my children — meeting their animated heroes in real life at Disneyland; dipping their toes in the ocean for the first time — was WAY better than living it first-hand. Same for all the things they noticed about Christmas a year older. You can’t reproduce that WONDER in their eyes as they witness and process and absorb for the first time.
  • My friend Mollie taught me the S-T-A-R-S method for Scripture application, and it gave the practice new meaning in my life. For one, using the word “practice” couldn’t accurately describe my Bible reading habits before 2017. But it gave new meaning to the living, breathing aspects of the Word + the authority, which I learned will always be an unfolding, evolving, mysterious journey with the Lord.

 

  • After tasting Antoinette Baking Co’s magical strawberry buttercream, it’s official: I am no longer a chocolate dessert kind of girl. What is this blasphemy?
  • Sometimes your football team loses nailbiter after nailbiter after nailbiter, shaving off years of your life by building up hope and then swiftly cutting its legs from beneath you it with last-minute heartbreak. And you realize: this is exactly what you wished for last season. 2016’s team would have lost those games handily, after all. We have to take the bruised bottoms with the stumbling steps forward 🙂
  • Celine Dion is absolutely brilliant live. I’ve always liked her music and thought she was *pretty* talented. But on stage? That voice! I’m still feeling all the feels from her show.

  • There is true RESTORATION in silencing the mind and being completely still on a regular basis. Even for a few moments.
  • Ever since my son was born, I’ve been waiting for him to be old enough for preschool. I thought all of my work-life-home balance problems would be solved, but it turns out that sometimes too much time can be bad for people like me. Sometimes it lends itself to too much navel-gazing, no matter how busy I am or how many things I get done.
  • While I love the romance genre (and, um, write it–shhh!), I enjoy true women’s fiction with a romantic thread just a little bit more. In Muggle-speak, that’s fiction in which the primary storyline surrounds a woman’s journey (or non-romantic relationship), and her romance is merely a secondary thread.
  • Using your own name as your platform can sometimes be bittersweet. I usually give my husband and mom a mini photo book of social media images from the whole year, but this Christmas, there weren’t enough. My 2017 feed was full of carefully curated snapshots of bright books and bowls of oatmeal and tidy workspaces. While there was definitely lots of living happening outside of those social media squares, this year there will be more documenting chubby toddler cheeks, date night hijinks, and soccer princess shenanigans. My 2017 blog will include more of non-authorly me, too 🙂

What is one silly or important, deep or Jeopardy-trivial thing you learned in 2017? Do share in the comments!

true #squadgoals: why I love my 30s (vol. 1)

At the end of the summer, I’ll be 31. Still a baby in the grand scheme of things, I know. Still so much to learn.

So many people fear 30, like it’s some space-time continuum that magically causes all metabolism and fun to close up shop. But I’ve had almost a year in this new decade and would pick who I am now over who I was at 20 any. day.

These are the reasons why. 

Why I'd Love

My people know how to celebrate well. Period.

A week in which I experienced the biggest outpouring of love ended with a party our community group threw for our big news and the journey leading up to it. This, after two of said friends left a gift bag with a rainbow of office supplies and a giant slice of Tuxedo cheesecake on our porch the day I announced my contract. (They speak my language, y’all.)

We ended the week deliciously full of grilled chicken, veggies picked fresh from the garden, and homemade blueberry bread pudding. Full from watching our kids laugh and play in the sprinklers with their friends until a summer storm rolled in.

To borrow a phrase from Taylor Swift, this is the definition of true squad goals. Friends that will create a five-person assembly line when a newborn who doesn’t belong to them has a diaper blowout. It’s dessert on your doorstep, a random text message, or a surprise package in the mail when you’re going through a thing. Celebrations for the significant and everyday wins.

You might think I’m getting all nostalgic about what I have at age 30, but it’s more about what was missing that night — what I thanked God was missing. 

In my teens and twenties, my people-pleasing gene was out of control. I had a deep fear of missing out and wondered why I didn’t connect with everyone — not because I wasn’t satisfied with my own people, but because I had this insecurity that I wasn’t enough for the others. That if they didn’t approve, there was something wrong with me.  I spent so much time on this archaeological dig, the mission of which revolved between trying to figure out what that was and trying to figure out who I should be instead.

The other night, as we drove back into the city during a lightning-studded sunset, I realized that ever-present twinge, the curiosity and fear of missing out wasn’t there. And when did that even happen? At 30, I’ve learned that it’s about quality instead of quantity. It’s about loving and serving my Ones well.

And also, it’s about getting over myself a little.

Though I believe there’s value in every learning process, I wish I could tell 20s Laurie that it’s so much less pressure when we stop trying to be all things for all people and not to worry so much because the only ones that matter are the ones willing to embrace our particular brand of weird.

I love this conglomeration of people from past and present, from work and worship and school and writing and parenthood. It’s an ebb and flow rooted in seasons and settings, but it’s imperfect people loving and celebrating well who I can invite through my door and trust with my mess.

Here’s to friendship at any age that shows up,
that feels like welcome,
sounds like grace, trust, and intention,
looks like meeting needs — even when it means calling each other out.
Friendship that’s never too proud to ask for forgiveness,
asks only the questions that matter,
and adds lots and lots of laugh lines to your face.

Maybe you’re reading this closer to 20 and already have this stuff figured out. I’m proud. Or maybe you remember learning this at 30 and are all, Oh, girl, you have so much to learn. 

Bring it. I can’t wait.

Read Part 2: Pink Lipstick here. 

{what I learned} from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

{originally posted on The Writer’s Alley}

I had a nice, outlined blog post for you about 2016 goals. But then I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the second time today, and my post has officially been hijacked by my nerddom.

There are major, major spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen it yet, 1) bookmark this post for a later time and 2) get thee to your nearest movie theater!

This was my first Star Wars movie to view with fresh eyes since I began my journey to publication, so naturally in was the first in which I paid attention to the writing. Here are the writing tips this movie affirmed…

And, I repeat, there are major, major spoilers ahead! 

1) First, it’s okay to include popular story elements as long as you do you and as long as you do it well. I read somewhere that there are really only a handful of plot lines in existence when you whittle them down to their bones. The Force Awakens “borrowed” a lot of similar themes and events from its predecessors in the series — maybe not exactly, but close — which I loved. In particular, the father vs. son theme stood out to me. Han Solo and Kilo Ren have the whole good vs. evil dynamic working for them just like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader did. Han’s death also mirrored the statement Darth Vader made in the murder of his mentor Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. Another example? The Death Star vs. the Super Star Destroyer. Same spherical weapon station, different day.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you haven’t been commissioned to pen the next installment in a beloved series, so I’m strictly speaking of story elements and structure and tropes. They can be similar in format to others you’ve read as long as you put your own original, compelling spin on it and spin it well. You have a great opportunity to draw readers in through your characters and what’s led them to this point. Many who are familiar with certain patterns and rhythms in fiction love the predictable nature — or at least seeing where the writers take it. But this also gives you the opportunity to tastefully weave the unexpected into your story to give it punch. The wow factor. Like a female-for-once protagonist with a lightsaber who kicks some serious booty.

2) I also realized that you have to put as much thought into your villain as your protagonists. I don’t write suspense or mystery, but I think this applies to any kind of antagonist. The best kind of villains in my book (the figurative one) are the ones who garner my sympathy even though, on paper, they might not deserve it. I loved the dimension they gave Kilo Ren and can’t wait to see what they do with him. His parentage, his betrayal, the devotion to Darth Vader, the fear that he doesn’t have what it takes to complete his training.

Since we don’t have the three-dimensional benefit of phenomenal acting, we have to convey our antagonists’ motivations, goals, and layers in dialogue and our heroes’ observations during their interactions. Doing this effectively creates a higher contrast between antagonist and protagonist, raises the stakes, and makes the plot all the more riveting, in my opinion.

3) It’s important to be willing, as writer, to obliterate the path to happily-ever-after in order to maintain authenticity. 

Were you surprised that, despite their happy ending at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, Han and Leia were separated decades later? I’m not, to be honest. Unfortunately, the real-life statistics are staggering for marriages after the loss of a child. In grief, the amplified self-preservation instinct can be devastating for a relationship as people deal with a loss in their own way. I’m glad the writers chose to mirror reality for many, because even though it was shell-shocking and sad, it felt real and authentic.

At the end, we want our characters to find peaceful resolution. But it doesn’t always have to look like a fairy tale to be a happy ending.

4) Readers can fall in love with your characters from the start, and you don’t even have to completely destroy their mystery in the process.

Let’s begin with Rey. The story introduced her by showing her daily life with purpose. Though wordless, it spoke of hard work with little return on investment. Hunger. The desperation in scratching the day’s tally mark into the wall of her abandoned AT-AT walker dwelling. We later learn, through her conversations, that she’s waiting for her family to return after a long absence. We learn through her actions that she’s loyal and determined to get the droid BB-8 back where he belongs.

Similarly, Finn’s first sequence reveals his internal conflict with the life of a Stormtrooper, unwilling to kill and distraught over the death that’s happening all around him. Through his actions, we learn that he has a strong moral compass And even though he doesn’t have a plan most of the time, he will do whatever it takes to do what’s right.

See the commonalities there? Without giving away the crucial mysteries of these characters that keep the audience thirsty for more, strategic portraits of characters’ lives and actions are effective ways to reveal their goals, give a glimpse into why they tick, and help readers fall in love. 

The writers had a huge challenge ahead of them with this film, the successor to one of the most beloved franchises in history. But I think they did a great job of maintaining their brand and showing that with a lot of bravery, extraordinary things can happen to broken people.

Have you seen The Force Awakens? (I sure hope so if you’ve read this far.) What did you like and dislike about the movie?

my first ACFW conference experience

Last year, I was a brand new ACFW member. I was still new at even considering myself a pre-published author, and if it weren’t for finaling in a contest and the encouragement of a few persistent friends, I probably would have talked myself out of going.

But when I looked at the ACFW, I saw this big fellowship of people with an unreal camaraderie. And even if it took years, I wanted to be part of it.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t take years.

I dressed like I was going to a job interview and wheeled my suitcase to the terminal at the Tulsa airport, kissed my husband goodbye, and embarked on what I felt was a grand adventure. Because it kind of was.

And I had my first (in-person) experience with the ACFW earlier than planned. My connecting flight at the DFW airport was soon after landing, so I hurried to my gate. There I found a group of women talking and laughing. I didn’t know a soul. But I recognized one, author Betsy St. Amant.

So I inched closer. Casually. Gathered up the nerve to ask if they were going to ACFW. They immediately opened their circle to me and asked me what I write. Can I tell you that it was weird answering that question for the first of many times that week as someone who normally shrugged it off? But it got much easier, I promise. Then we exchanged business cards and went around introducing ourselves.

ACFWBusinessCards

 

I don’t remember everyone who was at the airport gate that day. But I remember that, when I said I was flying standby, Lena Nelson Dooley offered to pray for me with the whole group. Wow. Me, a person she had just met minutes before.

When we touched down in Dallas and dispersed to get our luggage, I realized that in my frenzy to get all of my materials ready, I had no way to get to the hotel from the airport. Rookie mistake. But sweet multi-published author Elizabeth Ludwig had pity on me and took me into their taxi. Another WOW moment of unhesitating kindness.

I think that’s the whole point of this post. The members of ACFW are your people. Individuals with whom you can unleash your full writerly self without fear of condemnation or strange looks like the “Muggles” give us when we talk about our characters as if they’re living, breathing people. The Muggles just don’t understand 🙂

At conference, I encourage you to introduce yourself to people — even that multi-published author you’ve been fangirling. Respect people’s personal space. Be courteous, professional, friendly, and especially gracious. But take that step closer and introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and exchange business cards. Learn somebody’s story. Not everyone will become your new best friend, but you never know what connections you’ll form.

Or who will become your fabulous new critique group. 🙂

Conference CPs

Laurie Kara

PS: If you’re new to the ACFW Conference, Mary Vee put up a fabulous, informative post today on The Writer’s Alley. It will help you prepare with peace and confidence!

a peek inside my planner + time management tips

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In a former life, I was an office manager in charge of organizing around 120-140 new projects a month and dividing responsibilities among multiple employees in the most efficient manner. So, I guess you could say I like organizing. Just a little.

I’m not exactly Type A for most things. In fact, I bet my husband is somewhere laughing right about now. But bright color coding and lists are my jive. As a reformed overachiever, I still typically balance a lot of things on my plate and want to be sure my priorities are in the right place and goals get accomplished.

Last year, I found the perfect planner to support my love of lists and intentional living: the Blue Sky 10 x 8″ Weekly/Monthly Planner, especially when teamed with designer Dabney Lee.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you got a front-row seat to my #plannernerd panic when June came to an end and they still hadn’t released their new July-June planners. It wasn’t pretty. But what IS pretty is my the planner I finally ordered.
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Here’s a peek inside and some organizational tips. Because we’re friends like that.

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Each month, I write out the bigger commitments and events I know about ahead of time as I go. Things I probably should remember but never would be able to keep track of on my own with Mom Brain.

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There’s also a really cool feature next to each monthly calendar: lists for To Do, To Call, and To Buy. I typically use the To Do for monthly goals, ranging from personal to professional to writing goals. Do I want to write 25K words this month? Up my running mileage? Read a craft book? Go on a date night every week with my husband? Grow out my fingernails? What fun things can I do with my daughter this month? Since I have a secret aversion to talking on the phone, To Call is for blog posts I want to write. To Buy changes every month, but I’d imagine it would also make a good place for monthly budgeting goals or tracking expenses!

Now (*rubs hands together*) for my favorite part of this planner. The weekly spread!

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Every week, I look at my monthly calendar and write down any events. Then I make a list of weekly goals on the far right Notes column. This includes meals I want to cook, work projects that are due, scenes I want to write in my manuscript, what days I’m going to blog, and various and sundry things like house projects. Then I spread them out across the week in the daily list section. I also look at the workout class schedule at my gym and write down any classes I’d like to take.

My weeks rarely go according to plan because that’s just life. But mapping out my week helps me make sense of the craziness, accomplish more, and not let anything super important slip through the cracks.

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Each day in the planner is like a to-do list. I LOVE the vertical format. I try to make a list of things I’d like to accomplish based on what commitments I have. This helps me budget my tasks wisely. For example, if I know I have a meeting one night, I can plan a crockpot meal so I don’t have to scramble. If I have two work projects due on the same day, I can budget my word count goals so I can still get my writing done with just less volume that day. If I want to cook at home more since the amount we’ve eaten out lately is atrocious, I can write down the meals I’d like us to have that week, make one grocery list, and plan accordingly based on what our week looks like.

I’m pretty good about sticking to my planner, but I could be better about prioritizing some things. {*cough* following my gym schedule!} My approach is to be ambitious when planning my goals but to give myself plenty of grace and wiggle room. And having a safe place to put ideas is also a really good thing!

As far as planning/time management goes, I’m a firm believer in this:

  1. You can accomplish anything that’s really important to you! Most of the time, when people say “I don’t have time,” realistically they should be saying “I’m not willing to make time.”
  2. No one person can do everything. And that’s okay. It’s important to be flexible and budget in lots of wiggle room, or else you might go crazy. Just ask College Laurie about this.
  3. People are more important than getting everything done. Sometimes throwing the schedule aside and investing in someone else is the absolute best thing you can do.
  4. There is a motivating satisfaction in crossing something off of your [preferably color-coded :)] to-do list.

Do you use a planner to manage your time? And more importantly, will anyone besides me fess up to adding things you’ve already finished on your to-do list just so you can cross them off? 

Psst: Be on the lookout for one of these in a giveaway next week! Don’t think for a second I could keep this goodness to myself!

the post I’ve started and deleted twice

I’ve been really nostalgic lately. Introspective, even. I blame it all on that new app Timehop that shows bits of your social media from that exact date in past years. Last night, this was my Timehop:

One year + one day ago, I started Book 2. The Laurie who wrote that Twitter update never would have guessed she was capable of writing a whole novel in 8 months. And the Genesis… I’m still stunned and have no idea what to say about it except that I’m grateful. Always floored when I think about it and grateful.

This week also marks one year since I queried my lovely agent. It was a freak thing, really. I read one of her blog posts and saw in her bio that she has a heart for the 20s and 30s audience. Then minutes later, an author friend I trust who knew I was beginning to research agents asked me if I’d ever thought of querying Rachel. Something clicked in my mind, and I just knew. I would’ve been fine if it worked out a different way, but Rachel became my “dream agent”, and I really believe great things will come from us as a team 🙂 It all started a year ago this week when I pressed send (with my eyes closed).

There’s another anniversary I can pinpoint as ridiculously significant. Something I never imagined would start this whole wonderful journey.

Getting laid off from my job.

My whole nostalgia kick essentially began on May 15, the one-year anniversary of being laid off. I was working full-time from home for the book publicity firm I’d been with for six years, all of my post-grad life. Miserable, if we’re honest. I’d known it was coming for awhile, that something needed to change. But for some reason, I held on to the safety of it with white knuckles.

On May 15, 2013, I entered the world of self-employment. All the uncertain and scary things. My wonderful, believing husband gave me permission to stay home with my daughter even though it was a risk to our family’s financial well-being. He stepped out in faith with me that, somehow, I could build a freelance business from scratch with enough work to meet our family’s needs and have the extra time to pursue a career as a writer.

And God. Wow, God. He’s been so faithful through this process. I’ve seen firsthand that He will always come through no matter what, even if it’s not what you thought it would look like.

{I’ve started writing this post 2-3 times since May and deleted it. But I’m posting this today in all of its disjointed, raw glory because I believe someone needs to read this.}

While God has been the definition of faithful, I’ve been the definition of a Simon Peter, walking out on the water and sometimes sinking in my belief that I can really do this. While I’ve only been writing novels and pursuing publication for a short time compared to some, being an author has been my dream since I was learning cursive in elementary school. And I’ve had my confidence shattered twice. Ugly. Messy. In splintered, seemingly irreparable fragments.

So when people ask about my writing journey, I tell them God’s opened a lot of doors for me. It’s cliche and I almost cringe when the words come out of my mouth, but then I always add that He’s had to dropkick me through those doors sometimes. I think He knows, based on my unique set of…intricacies…that it’s sometimes necessary 🙂 Over the last year, He’s taken my dream from the stuff of fragile confidence into the courage to say yes to risks and opportunities I’ve walked away from before. Into a strong, realistic vision that can withstand the weathering my writing needs to get better. And while the road to The Best It Can Be may take forever, I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

In this place, I still have a lot to learn. But this is what I can tell you:

Whether your dream is to be a published author or something else, I want to encourage you to take heart. Stop skirting around those seeds of doubt in your mind, name them, and obliterate them. Don’t let them waste another minute of your time.

And don’t let worrying about how much time you’ve wasted waste anymore time, either.

Learn from your mistakes, surround yourself with positive influences that will help you grow, and go for it. Don’t be reckless, but be brave and work harder than you ever have before. Go for it the right way. You’re a unique soul, so you can’t really compare your journey to anyone else’s. The only thing you can do is own your dream and go after it.

And if it doesn’t work out this time?
If you’re wandering in the wilderness called Not Now?
Don’t give up.

Because if this is really your dream, you’re not capable of giving up anyway. 🙂

{what I’ve learned} from the great pumpkin craze

In case you didn’t notice, autumn has had some time to make itself at home, and winter is knocking on the door and seeping through the cracks. If you have Twitter or Facebook or Instagram accounts, you’ve probably seen an abundance of Starbucks red cups and pumpkin spice lattes because, you know, it didn’t happen unless there’s photographic evidence 🙂

Pumpkin is a HUGE trend in the food/beverage industry right now because the actual plant is in season, and it’s best paired with warm, delicious spices that can undo the iciest chill and incite the cozy fire feeling even if you’re miles from home.

But just because everyone is getting on board with pumpkin doesn’t mean it always works.

Case in point:

No. Just no.

If you have a good thing going for you, don’t change just because the industry dictates it unless you’re certain (and have credible evidence) that you can execute it properly with an organic and appealing slant. Because if you can’t, you could end up just as artificial and canned as these puppies taste.

Granted, some may like these and the other seasonal flavors of M&Ms. But they do candy-coated chocolate so well–why mess with a good thing?

The moral of the story:

Before you upend your brand and product to cater to what’s hot in the industry, do some research and weigh your options against credible counsel.

Because you’d hate to be the person who messed up chocolate.

{what I’ve learned} about working with critique partners

Before a writer seeks publication, it’s absolutely necessary to have a fresh, unbiased set of eyes on his or her work. When I finished my first manuscript, I sent it to some people I trusted for honest feedback. Even though I’d read and re-read it, I probably wouldn’t recognize that version of it anymore. And it’s so much better because of it.

Even though I’m fairly new to the pursuit of publication, I feel like I’ve struck gold with my critique partners. So here’s what I’ve learned so far about finding (and keeping) people who will enrich your work–the right ways and the wrong ways 🙂

Finding a critique partner.

There’s a reason they’re called critique partners. That’s because they’re usually fellow writers who are at about the same place on the journey as you are and on the same level technically. Joining a local or national writing chapter is a goldmine for potential critique partners.

For instance, the ACFW has a critique loop where writers critique two excerpts for others and then submit their own work for feedback. Many great connections have been formed through this loop. And I found mine in the trenches of waiting for contest results, both directly and by word of mouth.

Choosing the right one

The “right” critique partner doesn’t necessarily have to be a writer in your chosen genre, but he or she does have to be very familiar with it. And, of course, he or she should like reading your style in the first place. That’s kind of a given. 🙂

That said, there’s a difference between a critique partner and a cheerleader. It’s an amazing feeling to scroll through the annotations in your manuscript and see a bunch of fluffy rainbows and butterflies. But critique partners also need to give honest feedback where necessary. They’re not doing anyone any favors by pulling their punches.

Ideal critique partners will also complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, one of mine, Anne Love, is a genius at brainstorming. I can agonize over a scene for days, and she unlocks the mystery with strategic questions. She can hack into characters’ minds and help make their motivations known and their problems relatable and sympathetic. So your strength may be brainstorming or plotting or, like me, line editing and finding problems with consistency/flow. But it’s best to identify your weaknesses–the weaknesses that copious re-reading make you blind to–and find someone who will both call you out on it and help you improve.

Even if you don’t connect with a particular writer on these levels, that writer might be able to set you up with someone who will work for you.

How to keep the right critique partner

  • Most importantly: make sure it’s an equal, mutually beneficial partnership. Don’t send a full manuscript and skimp on returning the favor.
  • Ask and declare expectations up front. Are there any questions you have that they can keep in mind while reading? Do you just need a line edit done? For example, if you’re under deadline and just want a simple read-through for general notes, it will stress you out hardcore to receive a Word document that’s been ripped to highlighted tatters. (But what are you doing waiting until deadline to get the detail stuff taken care of anyway!?)
  • Give thoughtful and constructive feedback, making detailed suggestions throughout the manuscript. You have to find the balance between simply shooting back an email that says “It was great! I liked it!” (Liked what?) and becoming too assertive with comments and changes. Confession: as a longtime editor and recovering know-it-all, sometimes I have to dial it way, way down and remind myself that I’m not the author and it doesn’t really matter how *I* would write it.
  • Don’t take feedback personally, but do take it into careful consideration. Sometimes your work just doesn’t resonate with a person and will resonate with someone else. But sometimes that person’s opinion really does have a lot of merit. That said, make sure you read notes when you’re in a good position to detach yourself a little and see your critique partner’s point of view. Don’t be afraid to try out any suggested changes and see if they work for you. If you fall in love with your story even more, then awesome! If you’re not feeling it, ask someone else to weigh in and remember that you’re the author and know this story best. But don’t be a know-it-all above a little gentle criticism. That is no bueno in this industry 🙂
  • Ultimately, respect that this person is sacrificing writing time to help you improve your work and don’t take it for granted. Be gracious!

I’m still learning how to become a great critique partner and have definitely committed some of these errors before. But I hope you’re like me and find that your critique partners don’t really resemble critique partners at all. They resemble true (and honest) friends!

CPs