Revising The Way You See The Story

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2014
Categories: Craft
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Pygmy hedgehog unrelated to revision but very cute

Pygmy hedgehog unrelated to revision but very cute

I’m working on a still-not-yet-announced series project with a collaborator. The two of us created the concept and fleshed out setting, characters, themes, and backstory together. We plan to alternate writing the books in the series, all the while acting as each other’s first and most important critique partner. In this way, we can maintain a cohesive feel from book to book. Plus it’s fun!

Recently this process offered me an important insight into the revision process. I start books with loose character sketches, bullet point outlines, and often a feeling or tone that I am going for. I have a tenuous grasp on the themes I’m exploring (because, of course, I’m still exploring).

As the book proceeds, the characters become fully-fleshed, real and breathing. The plot demands unforeseen twists and turns. The themes clarify as the feeling/tone pervades everything. Things change. Often (Always?) the original framework no longer describes what I have written. The narrative is becoming real, but the author (ME!) is still clinging to what I thought would happen or who I thought the character was.

The necessary revision is NOT making the narrative fit what my original vision was but instead taking the time to re-envision the whole concept with what I now know to be true about the various elements of the story.

From now on after the first draft, I will always make a conscious effort to ask myself how what I thought I was doing relates to what I actually did and use this information to redo character sketches, summary, outline, and logline.


“I Bought It for the Book”

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: September 4, 2014
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Hand-bowlRecently Scriva Nicole posted her thoughts on engaging in experiences “for the writing,” and I can attest to her enthusiasm…and courage…to practice her own advice. Way to go, Nicole!

My variation on Nicole’s theme rests in the selfie you see of my hand. It’s a small ceramic bowl from Turkey, and I had the pleasure of buying it in Istanbul a couple of years ago. No, I didn’t go to Istanbul merely for the sake of my next novel, although doesn’t that sound romantic?  But there I was, on a regular old tour with regular old folks (OK, folks of a “certain age”), and we went to the obligatory ceramics store.

I need yet another bowl like houseflies need yet another receptor in their compound eyes. Still, this little gem was hand made in the style of the Iznik porcelain famous during the 16th century, at just the time of my book-to-be. The flowers were right. The colors were right. And, because of the bowl’s size, the price was, if not right, than at least not outrageous.

I am finally writing that book which includes 16th Century Istanbul. My bowl does evoke memories of the city, and for that reason alone I’m glad to have spent the money. But there’s more. I find now that this bit of faraway with its long-ago design beckons me to sit down and write the story that’s in my head and the imagination that rests in the palm of my hand.



Switch It Up

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: September 2, 2014
Categories: Craft, Writing Process
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2014-08, changing switchesSwitch It Up – ONE


I read somewhere of a writer who writes at her desk but revises in an armchair.  Something like that.


And I’ve often read the advice to print out a manuscript when revising it, because we see it differently on the tactile page.


I stumbled across a similar switch-up that works for me: switching computer programs.


I used to write my drafts in Microsoft Word. A couple of months ago I decided to put my draft into Scrivener. This allowed me to take advantage of Scrivener’s ability to separate a manuscript into parts, sections, beats, and chapters. There’s lots I still don’t know about Scrivener, but overall the program worked well for me.


Now, though I’ve been writing in Scrivener, I send my manuscript to the Scrivas in Microsoft Word. Before sending them the chunk, I give the whole section one more gander. It’s amazing what I further find to correct and change, seeing my words lined up in a different way. After this further revision in Microsoft Word, the document goes to the Scrivas. (Then, yes, I paste the revised chapters back in Scrivener, to have the most updated version of my manuscript together in my main writing place.)



Switch It Up – TWO


Another way to switch things up is choosing another location to write in.


If writing in your usual place feels stale or tiresome, try taking your computer or notebook with you somewhere else. For several weeks straight, I’ve been writing regularly in a coffee shop. Recently, I pulled out my work while at the park. I felt refreshed, and approached my writing a different way, in a different environment. This also worked when writing in bed immediately after waking, instead of getting myself to my usual location.


So how do you switch things up for yourself to keep things fresh?


-Sabina I. Rascol



Even Jane Austen Edited Herself!

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: August 26, 2014
Categories: Other Topics
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Here is Jane Austen’s writing desk at Chawton Cottage.


Last week I stumbled upon this great article about Jane Austen and her editing process.  Yes, even Austen edited herself, which as I writer I shouldn’t be surprised by since EVERY writer edits and revises their work, but seeing how it was done hundreds of years ago is fascinating and really makes me feel a writerly kinship towards Ms. Austen.  It’s the same feeling I felt when seeing her actual writing desk at Chawton Cottage in England many years ago.  Actually, seeing her editing process makes me feel even closer to her, and makes me realize that we writers, no matter what era we live or lived in, really are kindred spirits.

Enjoy, and happy writing (and editing!)

-Nicole Marie Schreiber



Critique as Creative Collective

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2014
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I read a wonderful article in the Sunday New York Times called “The End of Genius” that I think captures why we Scrivas, and you and other writers, thrive in critique groups.

It’s about how our brains are wired to be in conversation with others about our ideas, about our creative work. Though this researcher focused on creative pairs and many critiques groups include more than two people, the idea of creative conversation still applies, I think. When we Scrivas critique, we go around and give comments one at a time. We address our comments directly to the writer. The conversation for each critique is mostly one-on-one. People do pipe in (interrupt politely) and add comments. But in most cases these comments are productive, broadening, focusing or stirring the conversation.

I have heard that in some critique groups, the writer being critique is supposed to remain quiet the whole time, taking notes. In both my critique groups, the writer certainly listens quietly and take notes at first, but most critiques become conversations, and I think that is good thing. Do you?

Scriva Liz


What Can/Will/Would You Do, “For the Writing?”

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: August 14, 2014
Categories: Other Topics
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This looks like fun! Maybe I can learn to do this someday, “for the writing!”

While writing my first realistic, contemporary YA manuscript since January, I’ve immersed myself in similar YA fiction, movies, and television shows. I notice teens at Starbucks more and listen in on their conversations. I pay more attention to their clothes and contemporary music. Now I find myself swimming in the angst of late teens and twentysomethings on an almost daily basis, which is sometimes hard because I am a fortysomething mother of two boys under the age of nine and a preschool teacher during the school year. So bobbing on the tide of young adulthood doesn’t easily fit into my life.

But I make room. I make a lot of room. It’s what needs to be done. It’s what my story needs, and it’s what we writers do. We find a way to immerse ourselves into the worlds we’ve created. We sometimes do crazy things that many people who live in the world outside of writing would never, ever think of doing. And it’s all to make our characters, our settings, and our stories come alive. Lately, I’ve gorged myself on the HBO series “Girls” (first as research for my novel and now I love the show) and there is a fabulous line from one of the characters that sums my thoughts up. Hannah is a struggling writer, and in one episode she begins to do things, “for the writing.” Some of the things she attempts to do for her writing may look completely outrageous to outsiders, but I really understand where she is coming from. There is just something about actually doing (or getting close to doing) many of the things that our main characters do that makes our writing feel more authentic and real.

This is true for any genre. If you are writing a high fantasy, and you have your characters sword-fighting, try going to a Renaissance Faire or SCA event and pick up a sword yourself to see what it’s like. Try out archery. Take a ride on a horse if your characters are doing the same. Try on some Medieval or Renaissance garb, if your characters wear similar clothing.   If you are writing historical fiction set in pioneer Oregon, get as deep as you can with your research by eating some of the food/recipes of the period. Do some of the chores children did at a living history museum (many have days you can wash clothes the way they did, play period games, make candles, do woodworking, etc). Sit in a covered wagon, or try to take a ride in one.

Immersion may make a lot of sense for these genres, but the same goes for contemporary stories, too. If your main character is a skateboarder, have you ever ridden on a board before? If someone in your book is into the goth/punk scene, try dressing up in that style to see what it feels like.   You don’t have to get a piercing or tattoo, but you could visit a parlor and talk to the people there, or get a feel for the place to try and understand your character better. (You could always go to a wig store and try on a neon blue or fuchsia wig to see how it feels to have a unique hair color.) Listen to the music your characters would like. Look at the world through your characters’ eyes.

No matter the genre, our characters sometimes do things that are dangerous and unhealthy, things that we wouldn’t ever want do ourselves. Or they simply may be things we would feel uncomfortable trying. But perhaps you can interview someone who has done those things to help get the details right. I know that’s helped me as well as my fellow Scrivas. Regarding setting, it really helps if you’ve been to the places you are writing about too, but of course monetary concerns may make it impossible to travel. If you are writing a story set in France but have never been there, many places have French festivals you can attend. Travel and art/architecture/ coffee table books are also helpful to gain a sense of place, as well as travel videos. Even French films can help.

Sometimes you can try things that totally go against your personality (or the personality you and others thought you had) all “for the writing,” and it’s a freeing experience. You can learn so much about yourself.   You can try something that isn’t even linked to the manuscript you are working on right now, but there is a kernel of an idea in your mind for something you might want to write later, and that’s reason enough to try it out. This past summer I’ve taken a class where I’ve had to create a routine and a costume, learn how to put on stage makeup, and perform on a stage…all for two story ideas that I have but I haven’t started writing yet and won’t for quite a while. But the experience will definitely help me with my writing when I do start those stories.

So go and try something new and different, even something that others may think is crazy, unusual, and not you at all…“for the writing.”   Your present and future stories will thank you for it!

Happy Writing!   -Nicole Marie Schreiber


“Make friends with other writers…”

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: August 8, 2014
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“The right alliances will save your spirit — not to mention your career — during the dark nights of the soul. Spend some time getting to know what you want. It’s a shifting-sands industry, so you’ve gotta take responsibility for being familiar with your own priorities. And never, never, ever let the word ‘rejection’ apply to you. It’s not a rejection, it’s a pass, and they happen every day. But so do offers.”

I thought this was great advice from a newly published writer and it reminded me of the value of a critique group (and great group of friends :). You can read the rest of the interview here.


Laurie Ann Thompson: Scriva for a Night

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: August 4, 2014
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: 2 Comments

laurie-thompsoncropped-Blog-header-2-1024x198Viva Scriva is a tight-knit group. After all this time together and our myriad critiques, how could we not be? Rarely do we invite others to attend a meeting, and usually it’s with an eye toward joining our group. We’re not snobs. We simply take our writing seriously. A few weeks ago, we made an exception, and I got more out of that meeting than I’d expected.

Laurie Ann Thompson, a Washington-based writer, was visiting Portland and staying with a Scriva during the evening of one of our meetings. We invited Laurie to come. I checked her out on the Web first (an addiction of mine), and this is what she has to say for herself:

I write for children and young adults to help my readers—and myself—make better sense of the world we live in so we can contribute to making it a better place. I strive to write nonfiction that gives wings to active imaginations and fiction that taps into our universal human truths. I believe that each of us is capable of doing amazing things once we discover our passion, talent, and purpose. Reading is a great place to start.

At the Scriva meeting, we talked a bit about Laurie’s upcoming book, BE A CHANGEMAKER, which offers young adults ways to effect social change in our world. Mostly, though, the conversation centered on the Scriva submissions, none of which Laurie had read beforehand. So how could she have contributed to the critique? I noticed two key ways that Scriva for a Night engendered creativity and added to the process:

  • We Scrivas for The Long Haul brought Laurie into the conversation by summarizing our latest projects and describing what we were trying to say in our writing. It’s amazing how much clarity comes from hearing yourself encapsulate your own work for someone else!
  • Like many good writers, Laurie has perfected the art of listening. She augmented our comments by synthesizing what she’d heard and adding her own thoughts with a fresh voice and a fresh angle.

Maybe having a guest at our critique meeting worked so well because Laurie Ann Thompson turned out to be the ideal Scriva for a Night. Maybe it would have been equally enjoyable and productive to have invited another writer of Laurie’s caliber. Who’s to say? Either way, if Laurie ever finds her way to Portland on another meeting night, I’d welcome her back for another Scriva for a Night critique.

Scriva Ruth




Writing: Pregnancy and Other Metaphors

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: July 29, 2014
Categories: Creativity, Inspiration
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2014-07, lithography - 2 childrenThere we were. Seventh-grade Health class, the section on sex education. I could finally ask the question I had puzzled over since I was ten.


COULD a woman be pregnant and get pregnant again? Meaning, could she, WHILE carrying a baby, get pregnant with a second one? So that she would give birth in nine months to the first baby, and, say four months later, birth the second one? COULD such a thing happen?


No, is the short answer. But our teacher clarified that simultaneous-serial pregnancies [my term] CAN actually happen. In very, VERY rare cases.


Ha! She knew squat about writers. We as a race carry multiple simultaneous-serial pregnancies all the time. For years, I thought of my books as babies, all lined up in the birth canal, waiting to be born. The second and third and seventh books, crowding behind the first, keep pestering it: “Psst! Hurry! Get out already, so we can be born too.”


So, though I have no physical children, that’s my first and longest-enduring writing metaphor: writing as PREGNANCY and GIVING BIRTH.



More recently I thought of my writing as that magic trick (Danny, Scriva Nicole’s husband, told me how it’s done!) where the illusionist is PULLING OUT KILOMETERS OF RIBBON FROM HIS MOUTH, HIS BEING. That’s how I feel when I’m writing: that I pull out of myself mysteries that I never would have imagined all existed and fit in me.




Or a similar, but more profound image, is that I am LIKE GOD, WHO SPOKE THE WORLD INTO BEING. By no means do I think I or any of us are gods. But I believe that humans were created in God’s image (check out Genesis 1:26-27), so we share some of the Creator’s qualities: a desire for relationship, a sense of infinity, of right and wrong, and the ability to create, for a start.


God spoke a universe that didn’t exist into being. I, on my end (though with much more travail) write into being a story and world that didn’t exist beforehand.



The next metaphor I got from a new writing buddy, Carl. He spoke of writing as BUILDING A HOUSE. Everything that goes in a book must serve the building we’re trying to raise. The house can have interesting add-ons, but it must have the basics, and balance. We can keep an open mind and explore interesting paths, but must continue to refer to the blueprint to end up with the intended house.


The written house though is malleable, like something out of a Diana Wynne Jones fantasy. I can set down the rooms as they first come to mind. Then I give them a shove, bump them with my elbow, nudge them this way and that, and the rooms change position. Or  size, or shape or function, whatever is needed… All through the wonderful power of revision.




The current image I hold in my mind? Writing as LITHOGRAPHY. In chromolithography, separate stones (or plates) are prepared for each color. Each color is applied to the paper separately, one on top of the other, lightest to darkest. You need all the colors (plates, layers) for the full color image.


That’s how I see my writing right now, though in writing one starts with the strongest color. In this first go-through, I’m setting down the main story line. Of course I’m trying to do it perfectly, to put in everything needed from the beginning. Of course I fail, which is why I need a critique group. In future passes, I will add the additional colors to create perfect shape and shading: more sensory details (per Scriva Mary), more geography (per Scriva Amber), more motivations (per me), more likeability (per Scriva Ruth), and so on. The other week the Scrivas offered wonderful suggestions for my current novel. “Thanks!” I said about one of the changes I need to implement. “Though it will take a few passes before I get there.”



So what are your metaphors about writing?


-Sabina I. Rascol



What’s Your Mission?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: July 24, 2014
Categories: Other Topics
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Every company has a mission statement: a clear and succinct representation of the enterprise’s purpose for existence.You may find yourself nodding along when you read the missions of these recognizable brands.

So what about you? What’s your purpose as a writer? Making a mission statement can be a powerful way to clarify and enforce your work — and referring to it is useful when deciding what books or projects to take on. Only one sentence long, it is harder to make than you think! While you can dive in, brainstorming words and phrases that describe your writing, I think this method is even faster: Find a partner. For three minutes, talk to that person about your writing. The listener ONLY takes notes, writing down words or phrases that seem especially great or relevant. The listener then takes a few minutes to craft a mission for you, repeating: What I heard you saying was…..   Voila! You have a first draft.

Here’s our example: Viva Scriva is a tight-knit group of children’s book authors and illustrators in Portland, OR. We believe effective critique can make your writing sing and your career soar.

And my example: My mission as a writer is to always stay in child mind. My characters transform their realities using their unique strengths and perceptions.

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