A Feedback Format for Critiques

Boink!

Ah, what a welcome sound. An email message has arrived.

But this is not just any message. This is from my CP and contains the file I’ve been waiting for with her latest story.

I open the document, rub my hands together, and prepare to immerse myself in one of my greatest pleasures: performing a critique for my writing partner.

And how do I go about offering my feedback?

I use the Feedback Format I’ve developed over the past two years, which I will share with you.

Before I do, though, I want to stress that this system is what works for me. I’m not suggesting it’s superior to others or that you should adopt it as yours. There are many ways to provide comments for our CPs, and if your system works for you and your partners, that’s what counts. Please consider my format as brainstorming fuel. If, however, you think any part of my Feedback Format would prove helpful to you, feel free to take it, tweak it, and make it yours.

[Please note that the examples you’ll see below are hypothetical, not actual comments I’ve made in my CPs’ files. The visuals are from the first page of one of my early manuscripts—one in desperate need of revision.]

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Creating Comments

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I ask my CPs to send their files as standard Word documents.

Why? Because of the comments function.

I was thrilled the day I learned about that function. I’d spent months typing comments in the body of the text. In order for my CPs to locate them, I turned text color, used the highlighting feature, bracketed items, underlined others, threw in some bolded italics . . .

And was my system ever cumbersome—not to mention time-consuming. There had to be a better way.

My solution came when I judged a contest and the coordinator asked us to use the comments function of Word. “What comments function?” I mumbled to myself. Being a techno dweeb, I did what any mom with a teenager would do: I asked my daughter.

After just a few clicks of the mouse—and a request to repeat them so I could figure out what the heck she’d just done—I was able to make use of the comment function. Who knew that going to View : Toolbars : Reviewing would pop up a colorful banner with “New Comment” smack dab in the middle? OK, probably the vast majority of you. But to me, this was a technological breakthrough.

I experimented on a backup copy of my CP’s file. Lo and behold, those lovely bubbles popped up when and where I wanted. However, they were red. Or was it green? My fifty-year-old mind has lost that bit of info. What I do remember is that they weren’t my favorite color, which is blue. Untold clicks and drags later, I discovered that I could go to Word : Preferences : Track Changes : Color and pick one of eighteen different choices. Moments later, my comments appeared in beautiful blue bubbles. I was good to go.

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I spent the next several months fine-tuning my system until I had something that works well for me and that my CPs find helpful. I utilize a combination of comment bubbles and brief notations in the text. Here’s how my system works . . .

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Comment Content

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I’m a micro reader, so I make plenty of comments. I hope my CPs like blue as much as I, because there’s plenty of it on their pages after I’ve made an editing pass.

Yikes! That sounds like I’m a nit-picky, comment-crazed bubble freak. I am detail oriented, but I do far more than play Comma Patrol. Sure, I mark typos, grammatical errors, punctuation problems, and the like, but I also watch for items such as these:

  • POV issues
  • Backstory dumps
  • Lack of information to ground a reader in the scene
  • Adjoining paragraphs that begin with the same word
  • Large sections of dialogue without beats or tags to identify speakers
  • Was + -ing verbs that could be changed to the stronger –ed form of the verb

Although my focus is on the “small stuff,” I also comment on larger issues such as characterization, pacing, believability, etc.

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Constructive Criticism

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By now you might be thinking, “Who’d want her as a CP? All that feedback? Can you say overkill?” My CPs haven’t sent me packing, and I think there are a few reasons for that. First and foremost is the fact that they are wonderful writers eager to improve and who welcome my feedback in all areas.

Next is the fact that I take the word constructive seriously. I have the utmost respect and admiration for my CPs, and my goal is to help them. I do my best to convey that in the way I offer my feedback.

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I utilize some techniques that offset my copyedit style comments . . .

I state upfront that I view all my comments as suggestions, which my CPs can use or lose. I respect the fact that the stories are theirs and they know best what works for them. I word my comments positively, often using the word suggest in them.

I respect my CP’s authorial Voices. I do, at times, suggest alternate wordings to show what I mean when doing so helps clarify my point, but I don’t expect them to use my examples.

I avoid use of the word you in comments, opting to keep the focus on the story and not the writer. Compare “Your sentence is awkward” to “This seems a bit awkward. I suggest reworking the sentence a bit. Ex: . . . I know you can do far better than this. This is just an idea.

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Complimentary Comments

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I make liberal use of comments that are compliments. So that these positive comments stand out, I begin each of them with a little smiley face. 🙂

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My smiley comments are often brief: “Nice.” ~ “Fun.” ~ “LOVE this!!!” ~ “This made me laugh.”

I make comments that give my CPs my impression of their stories as I go along so they know what I’m thinking as I read and how I’m feeling. “I’m falling for your hero. He just earned some serious hero points.” ~ “The poor dear. She’s been through so much. My heart is aching for her, and tears are streaming down my face as I type. Wonderful job of moving your reader.

I note big picture issues that are working well: “Oooh. What a wonderful job ramping up the tension. I’m reading as fast as I can.” ~ “Great showing of her change. She’s really grown as a character. I love seeing that she’s now able to . . ..

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Beyond Bubbles

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The majority of my comments appear in bright blue bubbles, but I have developed a shorthand of sorts that enables me to mark certain items in the text itself.

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Because I perform a copyedit, I do mark punctuation issues, including commas. To make this quick I use this notation [+C], which I input wherever I want to suggest a comma be added. I copy this into my clipboard so I don’t have to type it every time. A quick control V, and in it goes. I paste the same symbol when I suggest removing a comma and change the + to a hyphen [-C].

When I note proper nouns that could be pronouns, which can serve to deepen the POV, I note them this way: >Mrs. Smith<. If I see a pronoun and am unclear which person or thing it refers to and suggest the proper name or noun be used, I use the same symbols: >him<.

To note repetition of a word or phrase, I mark the multiple uses this way: >>repeated word<<.

Words I suggest deleting are bolded. I’ll often add a comment to explain why I suggest deleting it. Example: He kneeled down and took her hand in his. Comment: “Suggest deleting adverb because it’s not necessary and removing it would tighten the writing. One can’t kneel up.”

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• • • • •

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There you have it—the basics of my Feedback Format. As stated above, this is only intended as an example. Those who perform macro reads for their CPs may not need a system for commenting within the file itself as I do, but those, like me, who are micro readers might find something useful.

If you’ve read to this point, I applaud your persistence. Perhaps you love editing as much as I do. Or you’re just a curious type. Whatever it is, I hope the information gets your creative wheels turning as you think of ways to streamline your critique process.

Tomorrow, as we wrap up Critique Week, I will discuss how I develop a Style Sheet to help me perform my critiques.

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• • • • •

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I wanna know . . .

What type of reader are you: macro or micro?

Which aspects of a story are you most likely to notice as you read and comment on, and why?

When you offer feedback, are you as likely to point out things you like as you are to offer suggestions of things that could be done differently?

How do you provide your feedback? Do you use the comments function, make notes in the text, use a combination of the two, or do something else?

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Double the Fun Drawing!

In honor of my blog’s second birthday, I’m giving away two prizes a day during my Critique Week, one each to two winners. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post by midnight Pacific Time and leave your email address when prompted. (This way you don’t have to add it to your comment.)

I’ll hold the drawing the following day, post the winners’ names here, and contact them via email to get a mailing address (which I won’t share with anyone or add to any mailing lists.)

Congrats to Rough Draft Writer, winner of the ceramic tile plaque.

Congrats to Jamie, winner of the necklace.

Note: Offer void where prohibited. Odds of winning vary depending on number of entries.

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And here are today’s prizes:

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Ceramic tile plaque that reads: "Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of chocolate."

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Neckace that reads: "a journey begins with a single step"

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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32 Responses to A Feedback Format for Critiques

  1. Wendy says:

    I’m a curious soul and I knew you’d have a sharp way of going about this. I love to learn. The bubble is my friend when I provide a critique. I macro and micro. For some odd reason I pick up on repeat words very easily. And I always notice when a scene needs more tension.

    Wonderful, Keli.

    I don’t love editing, but I found this fascinating. You did something right.
    ~ Wendy

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Wendy,

      I admire your ability to macro and micro edit. Your CPs must love you!!

      Editing is not something every writer enjoys. For some, it’s on par with getting a root canal. I’m an oddity in that I like editing almost as much as creating the first draft. I’m such a detail person and can get lost in them at times. That’s why I value my CPs who help me shift my focus to the big picture.

      Your last sentence means a great deal to me. I tried hard not to make this post as dry as the dust bunnies under my bed. 🙂

  2. Sherrinda says:

    I love how you share such detail posts on how you do things. It is incredibly helpful. I know when I first started to critique others’ work, I had no idea how to go about it. I would have LOVED to have this post as my guide.

    I was wondering if you ever use the Track Changes in Word instead of the other ways you show changes. I’ve always used the Track Changes to mark deleted words, commas, etc. That way the

  3. Sherrinda says:

    oOOPS. My puppy jumped on my laptop while I was typing. 🙂 Regarding the Track Changes…the person I am critting can reject or accept the changes with ease.

    Okay…that’s all I had to say.

    Thanks again for a great post!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sherrinda,

      I know some people love track changes, but I’m not a fan of that feature. For one thing, I work in a copy of my CPs’ files, not the originals. They refer to my suggestions in my file and input those they like into theirs’, so the ability to “accept” changes doesn’t come into play.

      Another reason I don’t care for track changes is that my reading vision is not what it used to be. I’ve received files from people who used track changes to show me what they’d like me to change, and I can miss things like added/deleted commas and such because they are so tiny. Perhaps if I had a lesson in how to use the feature, I’d find it more to my liking. However, my expert on such things has headed off to college.

      Sounds like your puppy likes to help. How is your furry pal doing?

  4. Meg says:

    I’m a macro reader. I was in heaven when I discovered the comment bubbles. I didn’t know you could change the color though!

    I always try to give positive feedback mixed in with suggested changes.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Meg,

      I hear you on the joy of discovering those beautiful bubbles. I was delighted the day I did.

      I’m so glad you appreciated my note on how to change the color. After I wrote the post I almost deleted that paragraph because I didn’t want to admit how excited I got over such a simple thing. However, since I spend so much time on a critique, it is fun to have my comments appear in a color I like. (Although it might be nicer if I were to use the colors my CPs like best. Hmm. I’ll have to think about that.)

      What is great about the colored comments option is that each person leaving comments in a document can select a different color, which will quickly identify who said what. I imagine businesses can really make use of that feature.

  5. Keli: Although I am repeating myself, this week of posts could not have come at a better time for myself and my new CP.

    We have barely gone through the introduction stage, feeding each other odd pages to test the waters.

    Your thorough presentation is appreciated.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Ramblings,

      How exciting it’s been to share this week with you and watch your new CP relationship develop right before my eyes, so to speak. I wish the two of you well as you launch your partnership.

  6. Susan Mason says:

    Thanks, Keli. This was very helpful. And I didn’t know about the comments bubble either until I read this! Just tried it and it’s a bit different on my computer. The reviewing toolbar appears at the top of the document and then you have to click on Insert Comment, which brings up the bubble. And to change the color on mine you got to Tools: Options: Track Changes: Comment Color. Very cool!

    Is it easy to get rid of a comment if you decide you don’t want it?

    I’m more of a micro reader, but I can do both. I also use the highlight function to bring attention to the overuse of certain words, such as “was”, and -ing words. And you can change the highlight color, too. It’s almost like being a kid again with crayons! LOL.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sue,

      Oh, how neat that this post helped you discover the comment bubble feature. I share in your excitement. 🙂

      My version of Word is obviously different than yours, but I’m glad you were able to find out where your “Insert Comment” button hangs out and how to change the color of the bubbles. What color did you choose?

      I shared the “black and white” method of leaving comments in the body of the text, since that works for those who work on screen as well as those who like to print out their CPs’ edited files on a black-ink-only printer so they can work from a hard copy.

      I have an alternate internal comments method that utilizes colored text and highlighting. It’s kinda fun to play with the colors and pick different ones to show repeated words, suggested deletion, and proper noun-vs-pronoun items. The scrapbooker in me has fun choosing which of the colors to use for each.

  7. Susan Mason says:

    Just figured out the answer to my own question! To delete a comment, put your cursor in the bubble and right click your mouse. Scroll down to ‘delete comment’. Pretty easy.

    Cheers.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sue,

      I’m glad you figured out how to delete unwanted comments. In my version of Word, a small X appears in a little circle in the upper right corner of each comment bubble. If I click it, poof, the comment is gone. (The X is visible in the comments I showed in this post.)

  8. Hi Keli,
    Your post today made me feel right at home — you and I definitely come from the same editing mothership 🙂 I am a micro editor very very much like you are. I tell my CPs that I’m the one they want after they’ve gone through the rough draft once! I love reading rough drafts, too, but then there are really a lot of bubbles — and most of my CPs can find the majority of grammar mistakes on their first passes.

    I love pointing out misplaced and dangling modifiers/phrases etc. Sometimes, the resulting sentences are pretty funny–the author and I both get a good giggle. I’m also pretty strong with tenses and verb agreement. Those are things that are hard to catch in our own work–no matter how micro an editor we are.

    Having said that, I love my CPs who are great with story, great with plotting and good at seeing another alternative when I’m stuck. I’m not great at “well, what if such and such” happened. I don’t have a strong micro critiquer in my group of CPs. I think we are the rarer breed. Sometime I will find the perfect line editor 🙂

    Great posts Keli–I’m really enjoying this week!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Lizbeth,

      Ah! A fellow micro editor who has an eye for the small stuff. Yes! We may have a different take on things than many writers, but there is a place for us. We can catch those pesky little things that can make a big difference.

      One of my classic examples of how details matter is how we’d feel if we were to talk about our hero’s need for his heroin. While I’m sure there are males characters who feel that drug is important, I prefer my heroes to be interested in their heroines. 🙂

      I’m glad there are many wonderful macro editors out there. Like you, I rely on their ability to see the overall aspects of my stories.

  9. Love this post. I had no idea you could change the color of the bubbles!!! Yay! Although, I had to do it a little differently. With Word 2003 on a PC, I had to go to Tools, Options, Track Changes, Comments (and then change the color). Pink and purple are my fav colors, so I’ll use those. Yay. No more green, red, or (sorry) blue. Not that I don’t like those colors. I do. I just prefer the others.

    With my crits, I use the bubbles for most things. I used to do it the hard way, too. Thank goodness someone showed me how to use this feature. With repetitions, I highlight them, so they can see exactly where they are and how many. With pronoun changes and commas, I make the changes. The system makes them a different color, so I know my partner will see the suggested changes.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I’m still jumping up and down over the bubble thing. LOL

    Lynnette Labelle
    http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Lynnette,

      Yay! Another validation that including my paragraph on the ability to change the bubble color was a good thing to include. (I almost deleted it.)

      Pink and purple make me think of Barney the dinosaur, with whom my daughter was madly in love when she was little. Those were her two favorite colors for years. Glad you can use them in your bubbles now.

      I’m curious about how your system enables you to make the actual pronoun and comma changes appear in color. I’ll have to investigate that. Can you point me to the feature you use?

      I’m not sure I’d have the courage to actually make those changes in a CPs manuscript, though. I suppose if my CPs and I agreed that I’m still offering the changes as suggestions, that would work. Food for thought.

      • Keli,

        Try just typing in the comma or pronoun. It automatically changes it to a different color. I think it matches the bubble color, but I’m not sure. Just like if you type comments at the beginning or end of the text, it would be the same color. We do that sometimes so we can go into more details than what we’d put in the bubbles.

        Hope this helps.

        Lynnette Labelle
        http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

        • Keli Gwyn says:

          Lynnette, it sounds like you might be talking about track changes. I’ll have to check it out. As I told Sherrinda, above, that’s a feature I’m not familiar with. May have to force myself to come up to speed. 🙂

  10. roughdraftwriter says:

    Hello! I found my way here via a link on Jody Hedlund’s blog and am so pleased to read your series on critiquing! It’s perfect timing for me because a friend and I have just decided to help each other along with some regular feedback. I’ve never taking a writing workshop class before, and your post is very useful for me in explaining both how to provide that feedback and what to give feedback about! Your shorthand comments will be very useful. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Rough Draft Writer,

      Welcome! Thanks for taking time to visit. Jody is a class act, isn’t she?

      How exciting that you’re in the process of forming a critique partnership. I hope you’re as blessed in yours as I am in mine.

      I’m glad you found this post helpful. I’ve had such fun focusing on critique partnerships this week. I feel strongly about the need for us to have CPs and wanted to spotlight that important aspect of our writing lives.

  11. territiffany says:

    Hi Keli,
    I am so blessed to have similar CPs doing it the way you do. We all use the bubble and give suggestions that way plus tell when we love something with happy faces or comments like yours. I think that is really important and makes the rest of it easier to digest.
    I tend to be more of a sentence structure, POV, etc kind of person when I check but found that my CPs are the macro type and so I am learning from them. I’m taking a course in July from Tamy on self-editing the big stuff so maybe I will be better:)

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Terri,

      I love hearing about your CPs. You certainly have a Dream Team. Sounds like your system works well for you. I’m curious. Do you each use different colored comment bubbles?

      I’m sure your macro editor CPs are happy to have you in the group to help them with micro issues. It’s cool how our strengths can help another and theirs can help us, isn’t it? That’s one of the many reasons critique partnerships are so valuable–not to mention being downright fun.

  12. Hey Keli,

    While reading your post this morning, I got sidetracked by trying to figure out how to work my ToolBox. I have a Mac, and I can’t figure out how to get the bubble. My ToolBox doesn’t say what yours does. I did discover, though, that i had templates for cover pages. I will have to fiddle around with this more tonight when my DH comes home. (our big Friday night activity) LOL

    I am a Micro reader, tending to notice misspelled and misused words, commas, etc. And it really bugs me when I read a published book and see these things. I’ll think, if only they’d have asked me to read it first! (not that the author would have known me) 🙂

    I don’t read with the intent to edit. Mistakes just pop out,
    and they throw me off of what otherwise is usually a great story. I won’t notice errors so much on the computer screen as I will in print or on my eReader. I have noticed, much to my horror, a few in magazines in years past. To me, it reeks of unprofessionalism.

    In fact, I’m horrified when I go back and realize I’ve typed too fast and have made such mistakes blogging. I don’t care about anyone else’s mistakes, just mine for this. It happens when I’m thinking or I go back to change something.

    I will notice if someone has used a lot of dialogue without much action to break up the scenes, frankly because I get bored. But as long as the story flows, I’m okay.

    I know that my Macro skills need to be honed. Hence, my avid reading of the book and your blog. Way back when, I had taken a course on Judging Contest Manuscripts. Need to find those notes!

    Years ago, I did a few critiques for a writer who was art of a group I no longer belong to. She had said not to worry about the micro aspects, which threw me for a loop. So I wrote out my comments on paper in an essay-like format after reading it several times and getting a feel for the story as a whole. I did offer suggestions and pointed out what was done well. She bought me an angel ornament.

    • that is, “who IS PART of a group I no longer belong to.”

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Julie,

      I understand what it’s like to be a micro reader whose editing eyes are always open. I don’t intentionally notice those invariable oopsies that slip though the publishing house filters and end up on printed pages, but I can’t help myself. I find that being a detailed reader can be a blessing and I curse.

      What I like is when I’m so swept away by a story that my Internal Editor takes a vacation. I love reading the work of authors who are such gifted storytellers that they pull me so far into their story worlds my pesky ol’ IE takes a break. I’m happy to say there are many, many talented authors whose books do just that.

      I’m sorry you were unable to locate the comment feature. Several of those who left comments on this post mention where that button hangs out in their versions of Word. If you know someone who’s well versed in the program, I feel certain s/he could give you a quick lesson and you’d be creating those beautiful bubbles yourself in no time.

  13. Jamie says:

    Wow. That was amazing and inspiring! I need to inch in a bit more from Macro Left Field ~ which is where I tend to hang out when offering a critique. I’m much more big picture, but this looks like a more challenging, fun way to approach others’ work. Great information. Thanks.

  14. Sherrinda says:

    Keli, you are right. It is the track changes that Lynnette is talking about. I know what you mean about missing them, but there is a little bar in the margin to let you know there is a change. Also, there is a feature to either “accept” or “reject”. If you accept, it changes it for you. If you reject, it takes out all the changes your cp made. Also, you can “accept” or “reject” and “move on” to the next change. That way you won’t miss anything.

    I think it’s a great feature. But then, I have Word 2007. I think it does the same thing in the older version, though.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sherrinda,

      Thanks for filling me in. I’ll have to get brave and explore track changes. Many seem to really like that feature.

  15. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by, slogged your way through my post on editing, and still said such nice things. I appreciate you!!!

    I’ve held the drawing. The winner of the ceramic tile is Rough Draft Writer. The winner of the necklace is Jamie.

    Congrats, ladies! I’ll be in touch.

  16. Tonya says:

    I am no sure what type of reader I am. How would you suggest one finds out? I am a fast reader, for the most part. Over 15 books in August. I took September off to plot and November off for Nano…now it’s reading time again 🙂
    I generally notice the moment I’ve figured out the “ending” before the ending. My daughter often asks, “how did you figure that out already?” I’ve no idea how – I just do. It is kind of an annoying trait sometimes. Thankfully, Colleen Coble’s Lonestar series did a great job of keeping me on the edge. I also notice when the something has been typed twice, like: “I went to to the store”
    I recently read a book where a main character’s name was Beth and she was married to Bill. Well, I am assuming the author had someone by the name “Brenda” heavily on her mind or heart as she wrote, because there is on part where she calls “Beth”, “Brenda”.
    Those are the type of things I notice. Small things, I guess.
    I have not served as anyone’s CP yet – but I love your blue bubbles! My husband uses those a lot! 🙂

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