How to Deal with a Huge Pile of Comments

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2015
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Have you ever felt buried under a pile of manuscripts comments? My two critique groups generously agreed to read my whole middle-grade novel April Fool. So I had 10 copies printed and mailed them off.

All 10 members read them, poured their hearts, souls and intellects into reading and commenting. And now I face this:

Pile of April Fool manuscripts

(Wow, it looks so much more intimidating on my desk…believe me, its a huge pile.)

When I met with the two groups, the members gave me oral comments and I took notes furiously. But I don’t want to miss anything they may have written in addition, so I have to go through this huge pile. Did I mention that it is huge.?Or at least feels huge…

So how do I take a pile of marked up manuscripts and turn it into a plan? I start by pulling the first manuscript off the pile. I begin to read the comments. In Word I start two files: One is a list of notes on comments that I know I want to address. These comments and suggestions resonate with me, and I have a hunch that by making these suggested changes the manuscript will not only be better but will also be closer to what I want the book to be. The second Word doc is a list of notes on suggestions that I think are interesting but that I’m not sure I want do.

The first list becomes my master TO DO list for revision. The second list I will consider again after I have finished those revisions. After working with the manuscript on the first set of notes, I usually have a better idea of whether these suggestions will take me in the direction I want to go.

There is one more step to this manuscript mountain climbing process. The height of the pile is partially my own fault. Instead of printing the manuscripts double-sided to save paper, I print single-sided. That way I can flip through a manuscript, taking out all the pages that have no comments or that have comments or edits that I don’t want to do. This leaves me with a much smaller pile of the pages that have important comments or line edits that I want to input. Ahh, a smaller mountain.

This reviewing and sorting and weeding process helps me both ponder comments at my own pace and sets me up with a clear list of revisions I know I want to make.

And when I’m done with all these revisions and I’m ready to print out my new improved manuscript, I’ll have lots of recycled paper to print it on :)

Happy revising.

Elizabeth Rusch

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Still Making the Magic Happen

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: August 12, 2015
Categories: Basics, Critique Process
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ATTENTION! ATTENTION!  This is not my post. It’s brought to you by ScrivaAmber; I’m just the cyber go-between. Four years ago, Amber clued you in to the general model of a Scriva meeting. Not much has changed since then, which is a good thing, a very good thing. In case you didn’t follow this blog back then, here is a repeat of the basics, aka Amber’s “Scriva Structure: This Is How We Make the Magic Happen.”

Amber-spiralThe Scrivas tend toward free-form in our meetings, but we do have some structure in place.

We submit mss via email 1 week prior to meetings.  These are critiqued on a first-come, first-served basis (Liz is almost always first!)  Late?  Scrivas try to read but are not obligated.  Almost all of us print the mss and mark up with ink.  Maximum length is around 30 pages.  We deal with whole novels in a different way (see tomorrow’s post).

Along with the mss, we ask for the kind of critique we want (line edits, help with voice, general comments on approach, etc).

We meet once a month, in the evenings, at an undisclosed location with coffee, cocktails, food, and chocolate!

During our two and a half hour meetings, we look at the number of mss we have (usually 4-6) and divide up the time.  If we have a lot of mss, one of us (usually me) gets out a whip to keep us in line. We don’t share our comments in any particular order though we try to take turns going first (and getting the fun of saying all the meaty stuff).

While receiving comments, the writer scribbles notes, asks questions, and generally participates in an in-depth discussion of the work.  We try to let each person finish comments, but often ideas are bouncing around like the Weasley brothers fireworks.

If you were at the next table, you would hear lots of laughter, weird comments like I’m not sure about the characterization of the desk or you’ve got to kill that guy, and frequently squeals.  You would never, ever hear sobbing.

Oh, and one of our favorite things is to see the mss again after revision.  Scrivas have read many of my mss four or five times.  It is incredible how we can take the chaos of a first draft, add several iterations of critique and revision, and reveal an exquisite order.  It inspires me every single time it happens in a Scriva mss.

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Happy Birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: August 4, 2015
Categories: Basics, Creativity, Inspiration
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Painted by Alfred Clint

Painted by Alfred Clint

I take you now to Field Place, the West Sussex country estate of Sir Timothy Shelley, a member of the House of Lords. The date is August 4, 1792. The French Revolution is in full swing; the Americans are figuring out what to do after their new independence; and Timothy’s oldest (legitimate) son and heir is born: Percy Bysshe Shelley. Dear, dear Percy. Quite a character. Impetuous, charming, radical, creative, and, oh, so romantic!

Google the guy, and you’ll learn about his poetry, his politics, his loves, and his adventures. You’ll learn that the 16-year-old girl who ran away with him (he was married at the time) and later bore his child before the two married (after Shelley’s first wife, hugely pregnant, committed suicide), is in fact Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. And that’s not the half of it.

What intrigues me about Shelley, however, is his “critique group.” They didn’t all sit around the table together and comment on works-in-progress, Viva Scriva style, but Shelley was eager to thrash out his philosophy and writings with others. His “critique group” included Mary, of course, as well as Lord Byron, John Keats, Leigh Hunt, and Thomas Love Peacock (how’s that for a name?). Throughout his tumultuous (and short) life, Shelley spurned the chance to follow his father’s path into Parliament. He wrote like crazy, sometimes alone, often in collaboration with others.

On July 8, 1822, Shelley drowned when his small, custom-built sailing boat (dubbed Don Juan) sank off the coast of Italy. He was a month shy of 30. Some number of years later, on July 8, somewhere on Long Island, I was born. I grew up and did a bunch of stuff, and then I joined a critique group. I’d like to think that Shelley and I share the same pleasure in a gathering of writers. So, here’s to you, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Happy birthday.

 

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Present to Past Tense

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: July 20, 2015
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Ah, the tense tango continues. You may remember in an earlier post how I rewrote my nonfiction picture book manuscript called THE MUSIC OF LIFE: BARTOLOMEO CRISTOFORI AND THE INVENTION OF THE PIANO from past tense to present tense. That rewrite breathed life into the manuscript. Writing about late Renaissance history as if it were unfolding made the story so much more lively.

tenseWell switcho-changeo, now I’m rewriting a middle grade novel from present tense into past. The novel, APRIL FOOL, about a serious kid with practical jokester parents, is something I’ve been working on for more than a decade. And for more than a decade people have been saying: “I’m not sure about the present tense. It feels awkward — a bit self-conscious.”  And for about a decade, I ignored these comments.

Then at a recent meeting of my other critique group, where we read pages out loud, the member seemed unanimous in their desire to see the chapter I read in past tense. So I rewrote a chapter. And lo and behold, once again, my critiquers were correct. The original tense I had chosen (and clung on to for dear life) was not the best tense for the story. The past tense actually added a measure of mystery to the story that keeps you reading.

So the last few days have seemed like one long grammar lesson as I have plowed through changing present tense to past. Will this exercise help me get the tense right the first time around? I don’t think so. But it does remind me, once again, that in writing not to get too tense about tense. Change it up and see what happens.

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What You Get from the Analysis of First Pages

by Amber Keyser
Published on: July 10, 2015
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When I was first getting started in this business, I thought it was terribly unfair to get a conference critique or agent feedback on just a chapter or two. After all, how could they know what I’ve done with the rest of the story?

Now, I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that issues which occur early in the story are almost always carried throughout. That’s why it is possible to give feedback on a few chapters. If the author can carry the changes throughout, they are usually end up with a much much better product at the end.

Most of these large scale issues are things like narrative voice, consistent POV, realistic dialogue, and showing vs. telling. When the Scrivas do critiques (for each other or through our paid critique services), we point out issues and try to offer ways to strengthen the manuscript. Ideally, these suggestions are things that the writer can implement on their own in the rest of the manuscript.

After a few thorough revisions, we Scrivas turn our eyes and little red pens to line edits, parsing through each sentence for word choice and phrasing. This is the stage at which the writer has the opportunity to make every line sing.

And when the book sells, launches, finds readers… when the book itself soars… then we celebrate this amazing process that begins, as all true stories do, with a blank page and ends with the creation of a new world we can all inhabit.

It turns out that it is true: first pages are the key to everything!

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Dear Wayback, I Knew You When…..

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 4, 2015
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Way-Back-from-Broken

July 4, 2015

Dear Wayback,

I hope you don’t mind your nickname. The Way Back from Broken is a great title, but I’ve known you since before you even had a title, and Wayback is how I think of you now. The Scrivas are swamped with works-in-progress at the moment, as Liz wrote recently. We all seem to be on a roll, especially Amber. Wayback, you’ll soon have several more of Amber’s works to keep you company on the bookshelves. Still, you’ll always be special to me.

The other Scrivas and I were there at your beginning. Well, not exactly. Amber wrote you into being first. Then the rest of us went over every part of you word by word, coaxing and critiquing, encouraging and suggesting. We watched your characters take shape and your subplots change. We cried at your tearful parts and sighed with deep satisfaction at your deeply satisfying parts. I’d like to say that we Scrivas nourished you until you were ready to nourish us…and soon the rest of your readers.

I hope to take part in your official launches, promotions, and social media buzz. That’s what Scrivas do for each other, with enthusiasm and delight. But this is a letter between you and me, a quiet celebration in the midst of July Fourth fireworks. Wayback, I just want to say that you snuck up on me halfway through your first draft and you snagged my heart.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Scriva Ruth

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A Lot to Read

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2015
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There have been times in the history of the Viva Scrivas when only one or two people were submitting work to be read most months. We wrung our hands about what to do about it, how everyone should be able to get something out of the meeting even if they didn’t submit, how to keep the group vital while reading only one or two people’s work.

Pile of PapersThe pendulum has swung recently. Everyone is super productive and super eager to get feedback on mostly long work. In our last meeting, we had 60 pages of an alternate history YA, 92 pages (single spaced) of a YA with documentary film making teen, 100 pages of a YA coming of age novel, and the last hunk of a YA novel set in Brazil.

The next month we’ll be tackling a whole MG novel (150 pages) and two chunks (50-100 pages) of two of the YA novels.

That’s a fair amount of reading.

So how do we do it?

First of all, when things seem to be heating up, when it seems like a lot of people want to share big chunks, we sketch out a schedule for submissions. That way we know what is coming when and can set aside reading time. It also helps prevent meetings with nothing to read and others with too much to read.

Also, we have a guideline (sometimes followed, sometimes not) that if you are submitting a large chunk (50 pages or more) you must submit a month, rather than just a week, before. Also as a courtesy, we offer print outs for longer chunks, especially full novels.

How do I personally manage all that reading? For one thing, I really look forward to it. I am excited to read my fellow-writers work, whether its pages I’ve never seen or a revision where I can see a work getting better and better.

I also print out all the submissions as the come in and put them on a table in my livingroom with a pen nearby, so I can curl up on the couch with the pages in the evening, away from my desk.

I try to get everything read a few days before the meeting so I have some time to let my thoughts percolate. I will often add a few notes last notes a few days after reading something or at the meeting itself.

Mostly I welcome a lot of reading from the Viva Scrivas. It means the group and the individual writers are on a roll. It means I have lots of great reading ahead. And finally, it means that I will likely learn a lot as I read and as we gather to share our thoughts on all this wonderful work. As ScrivaAmber once said: We learn as much by reading and commenting as we do by getting comments on our work.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

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Shut up? Keep talking? Delilah Dawson’s straight talk to authors about social media

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 11, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
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Book-LoveIt’s magical when you find a book that you love. You finish the last page and want to fall on your knees and propose. Be mine forever! I will never forsake you!

As an author, I want this relationship for my books. I want them to find their way into the arms of readers who will love them.

But how does this magic happen?

When it comes to which books make it big and which go out-of-print sad and alone, there is serious black magic involved.

Recently author Delilah Dawson wrote a series of blogs on book promotion. She talked about what works and what doesn’t, offering sound advice for authors everywhere.

In a nutshell, her black magic answer is “time + hard work + great books + luck.” I recommend you read further. Here are links to her posts.

Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work

Wait, Keep Talking: Author self-promo that actually works

I also think you should follow her on Twitter (@DelilahSDawson) and check out her website.

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An Ironic Evolution of “Grandma”

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 4, 2015
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Grandma-case-cropI remember decorating this plastic case for Mother’s Day, 1955. I used glue and glitter back then, a basic art form that survives to this day. Everyone in the group was supposed to write GRANDMA, and dutiful me complied, even though my grandmothers were “Nana” (an English alternative to grandmother) and “Bubbe” (grandmother in Yiddish).  I figured that “grandma” was the correct term of address in America, the nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the kind that inhabited the Dick and Jane readers in my elementary school. I was white, so I was part way to respectability. I could pass.

Flash forward sixty years to an America that at least recognizes more diversity, although we still have a long way to go. The Scrivas and I write for a wider audience, with characters that are drawn from a broader slice of humanity. I, however, am still me. What would I write on my plastic box now?

A key benefit of being in a writer’s critique group is exposure to the backgrounds and perspectives of creative people who observe the world around them. OK, all of the Scrivas are white and female. Still we have a lot that’s not in common, and it’s that lack of commonality that “feeds” me. Among the “grandmothers” and “grandmas” in the Scriva world, we have a few Nanas, an Adyl (meaning precious) and Emme, and a Gram B.

Dick and Jane evolved over the years to include African American characters, which is a small step, I grant you. Just ask Walter Dean Myers, whose essay in the New York Times is entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” And yet, here’s the irony about “grandma.” Our characters have to be true to themselves as well as to the times and places in which they find themselves.

My latest work-in-progress includes an woman, Ly Tien, who was born during the Vietnam War era to an African American GI and a Vietnamese woman. She is later adopted into a white family in the United States, a Jewish family with roots in Denmark, Germany, and Turkey. It’s 2059 Portland and Ly Tien has a granddaughter. What does Ly Tien want to be called?

Grandma. It figures. Adamant as she is about preserving her mixed heritage, Ly Tien wants to be called by the same name that she called the only grandmother she knew, the one who was born in the U.S. in 1919 and wanted to be called “grandma.” Despite the current trend to sound anything but old, there’s still that pull to take on the title that is familiar and perhaps beloved. So, Ly Tien, this plastic box, which came back to me when my Nana died about fifty years ago, is for you.

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Daily Rituals

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 24, 2015
Categories: Other Topics
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UnknownI happened across this gem of a book, Daily Rituals: short entries on how 161 artists, writers, musicians, and other creatives do their work. Reading each entry is like dipping into a bag of the most exquisite chocolate.

— Jane Austen wrote on little notebooks — in the main living space — that she could hide beneath the blotter when company came.

— Benjamin Franklin sat naked in the cold air each morning.

— George Balanchine liked to iron his clothes to start the day.

— Chopin raged, Cheever drank, Capote write lying down.

Read them alone or ready them in one long gluttonous line. The thing that’s always the same? There isn’t one. Artists take lots of naps and long walks in the country. They hold to the strictest of schedules. They procrastinate. They sleep too late. They drink too much wine. They drink too much coffee. They isolate themselves. They doubt. Most importantly friends, they are just like you an me.

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