Scriva Scribblings: A Book in the Works and The Blog on Hiatus

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 7, 2016
Comments: No Comments

IMG_6609
As 2016 begins, the Scrivas always take time to reflect upon the past year and set writing goals for the new one.

We have a retreat in a few weeks during which we’ll talk about what’s working and what’s not in our writing lives. We’ll think on the strengths we have as a group and as individuals, and of course, we’ll eat chocolate and stare at the mountains and even do some writing.

In the last year, we’ve been talking about our blog presence. Is it reaching the people that we want to reach? Is it filling a need for writers who don’t have a critique group or want to make the one they have function at higher and higher levels? Do we have more to say?

We started the Scriva blog in 2011 in response to the frequently asked question: Do you have room in your group? Since then, we have had a lot to say about critique and the writing process! As a group we have written 339 posts. That is pretty crazy!

 

But 2016 will bring something new! The Scrivas are going to take a break from blogging for awhile. We’ve decided to comb through our posts, pick the best and brightest, write some more content, jazz it up, and publish an e-book!

We are all really excited about this new project. If you have topics you want us to address or if you are interested in hiring a Scriva to critique your manuscript, send us a note through the contact page. We always love to hear from you!

Big hugs and huge thanks for joining us on the journey,

The Scrivas

Share

Get Ready, Get Set, Retreat!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 4, 2016
Comments: No Comments

wilderness-cabinSee that red-roofed cabin nesting in the forest by the river? I took this photo in the Wallawa Mountains in Northwest Oregon, nowhere near the next site of the Scrivas retreat, which is a house in the high desert near the Warm Springs reservation. Still, the retreat factors will be the same. Relative isolation. Quiet. Nature. Room to let the mind expand. A comfortable setting so the body won’t interfere.

We Scrivas have been on retreats before, and we’ve blogged about them a bunch. Liz’s A Tale of Three Retreats is a good example. Why another post? Frankly, I can’t give myself enough reminders to carve out the time and space needed to let creativity blossom. True for you, too?

So, here’s the deal. Resolve this year to give the writer side of you a treat on a regular basis. You don’t have to go to some cabin in the woods or desert. Find a quiet space with another writer friend, carve out a couple hours of non-con (no conversation), and settle in. Write. Repeat the treat. Re-treat. Retreat.

Happy 2016, and as John Ciardi used to say, “Good words to you.”

Share

Pick Your Holiday, Bring On the Light

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: December 5, 2015
Comments: No Comments

sun-on-earthIt’s December, according to a popular calendar. In the days deemed to fit within December, there will be a holiday or two for many of us, including Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and, for some Muslims this year, the birth of the prophet Muhammad.

We Scrivas sprout from a variety of faith traditions, but we share a common location: a spot in the Northern Hemisphere just a bit closer to the North Pole than to the equator. December is dark where we are now, and getting darker. The light is leaving us. And even if we know intellectually that the sun will return, still there remains the urge to brighten our spirits if not our days.

And so, yes, Viva Scriva celebrates during these days of waning sunlight. When we meet for the December critique, we eat chocolate (well, actually, we do that year round), and we exchange gifts. A favorite activity is one that Scriva Liz started. She gleans books from her own shelves, and then gives one book to each of us to enjoy and perhaps pass around. Some of us do the same. The book exchange is fun, of course, but what really brings on the light is the easy laughter and camaraderie that follows.

I could get metaphorical here. I could try for a “deep thought” sentence about bringing the promise of light to those dark places of the mind and soul that both stifle creativity and engender the passions poured out in story.

Nah.

I’ll simply wish you a December filled with delight.

 

Share

A challenge: putting yourself in the shoes of ALL readers

by Amber Keyser
Published on: November 12, 2015
Categories: Challenges
Comments: No Comments

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 1.03.38 PMAt the beginning of any new project, one of the things I need to figure out is who I am writing for. Is my audience four to six-year-olds or fourteen to eighteen-year-olds? Who will be doing the actual reading—Parents? A developing reader? A word ninja?

Having a clear sense of who the book is meant for will direct the many choices I have to make along the way. I have to decide on format—Picture book, graphic novel, something longer? Do the words need to leave space for illustrations or will the words do all the heavy-lifting? My reader will influence everything from story structure to word choice.

Now that I’ve been writing for as long as I have, many of the decisions come easily. I know from long practice the kind of language I can employ for different readers. I know the shape of the stories that they might need.

But I am not done.

Not by a long shot.

I have been carefully following the conversations surrounding the picture book A FINE DESSERT, and its depiction of slave children. This book was crafted with care by an author and an illustrator at the top of their game. Both do top-notch work for children and approach their work with the absolutely best intentions.

But they failed readers.

I urge you to read the summary of this conversation here and also to listen to Daniel Jose Older’s panel discussion on the topic. Additionally, please read his article in the Guardian about how children’s literature can and should reinforce #BlackLivesMatter. (Also follow the work of We Need Diverse Books.)

The thing about white privilege is that it allows white writers (and reviewers) to define the “ideal reader,” however unconsciously, as a white reader. I suspect this is why the creators of A FINE DESSERT made the choices they did.

In order to perceive the problems with the book, they would have needed to put themselves in the shoes of a black child reading the book and in the shoes of the parents reading this book aloud. As Older says in the video, “Slavery is an open wound in America.” And I will add that the horrors of this open wound are not equally shared. Calling slavery “case closed” is easy for white people, impossible for people of color.

So this is my challenge to myself and to each of you… Let us consider our readers—all of our readers—as we embark on new projects. I want to do everything in my power to consider the impact of my words on the child holding the book. Not just one child but the multitude of children (especially ones who differ from me in significant ways) who will bring their own life experiences and world view to the story. I want each and every one of them to find a place among my words.

To do this requires listening—to children, to people of color, to people who challenge me out of my comfort zone. It requires vulnerability—to make mistakes, to be corrected, to admit my failures. It requires empathy—to the open wounds, to the traumas, to the need to be heard.

I want to be that kind of writer.

I will try.

Share

Spreading the Word on Short Sentences…

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 4, 2015
Categories: Basics, Craft
Comments: No Comments

keep-it-shortHere’s a longish post by Demian Farnworth, from the copy blogger site, about keeping things short. Maybe you’ve seen this already. Maybe not. Demian’s post is worth repeating, so take it away, Demian.

“Short sentences are gospel truths when it comes to clear, concise writing.

In fact, no lesson about writing for the web is complete without the statement “use short sentences.”

And who is not going to use short sentences when they were cherished by Papa? Nobody. Because you don’t want Hemingway on your bad side.

Yet, instructions on how to actually write short sentences are in short supply. I aim to fix that today.

In this post, you’ll find six exercises that can help you write short, clear sentences that pack a punch — plus three tips on removing unnecessary words.

Don’t forget to download your free worksheet following the lesson. Have fun!

1. Describe a broad or complex subject in 100 words or fewer

Choose a subject you love. One you know well.

Maybe it’s quantum mechanics or the history of Western civilization.

It could be a current event with lots of twists and turns.

Once you’ve described the subject in 100 words or fewer, shoot for 50 words. Then 10 words.

Find a new topic, and repeat.

2. Describe a topic using only monosyllabic words

You know … monosyllabic … words created from just one syllable.

Like: bone, two, fierce, lie, spade, blow, hill, brain, dark.

Think this will be easy? It won’t.

To describe a table (a word with two syllables) I had to use 12 words (and one polysyllabic word): “Flat surface with four legs made out of wood, metal, or glass.”

Can you describe it with 12 or fewer?

You’ll probably need a thesaurus for this exercise. Then work your way through that list of monosyllabic words I listed above, starting with “bone.”

3. Write a 100-word article that contains only active verbs

Focus on the subject performing the action.

Active verbs are faster and more descriptive than if an object performs an action.

For example:

  • “Dorothy yelled at the waiter.”
  • “The rhino gored the pumpkin.”
  • “The twister devastated Joplin.”

Avoid:

  • “The waiter was yelled at by Dorothy.”
  • “The pumpkin was gored by the rhino.”
  • “Joplin was devastated by the twister.”

Those verbs are passive, and they inflate your word count.

There’s a more important reason to prefer active over passive voice: active assigns responsibility.

4. Write a 100-word article using only simple sentences

Revisit exercise number one above, but this time, limit your sentences to no more than four or five words. And don’t forget about single-word sentences.

Short and snappy will be the sound you hear when you read the article aloud.

Here’s what 52 words look like:

Dorothy watched the rhino. It sniffed the pumpkin. She sneezed. The rhino raised its head. Snorted. Dorothy waved. The rhino pawed the earth. She threw a high heel. It hit the rhino. The rhino ate the shoe. She yelled, “Hey!” Stomped her foot. “That was my shoe!” The rhino ate the pumpkin.

5. Describe a topic in a sonnet

This is another variation on exercise number one where you explain a broad or complex subject within the framework of a sonnet.

Here is my attempt at describing grief:

Everyone knows about love, but no one
really understands how it works. Death,

on the other hand, is pretty cut and dry.
And you can’t fight it off any more than

a small boy waiting up for his alcoholic
father can fight off sleep — it just arrives,

crashing through the blossoms, upsetting
a table, chairs. And you don’t need the Royal

Society of Medicine to tell you
what you already know: no one gets out alive.

What you need is someone to explain why,
when someone dies you’re unglued in an

apocalyptic way, cold as a urinal,
stiff like iron stairs and desperate to die.

As you can see, you don’t have to rhyme or get the perfect iambic pentameter for each line; just get your story into 14 lines and aim for about 10 syllables per line.

This will teach you how to write within boundaries, and you’ll learn a little about poetry, which can help define your style.

6. Describe a topic using the PAS formula

PAS stands for Problem-Agitate-Solve, and the formula helps you limit your idea to only two sentences or fewer per element.

It looks like this:

Insecure? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. However, stay that way and you’ll never accomplish anything of significance. Fortunately, there’s a book called Insecure No More, which will teach you how to be confident and courageous in just 30 days. Buy it now.

There was a period in my career when I had to write hundreds of succinct product descriptions.

The same is true when I wrote dozens of text ads for a long-running Google AdWords campaign. Without this formula, I would’ve struggled.

Your job is to look at 10 products or ideas you love and then write about them using PAS.

Now let’s look at a few tips about removing unnecessary words from your sentences.

Cut redundant words

Here are two different versions of similar phrases:

  • Added bonus” and “Bonus”
  • “We currently have vacant rooms” and “We have vacant rooms”
  • “Get to the point as quickly as possible” and “Get to the point”

All the italicized words waste space. They are useless.

We write this way because we often talk this way. We think we add severity by saying “Get to the point as quickly as possible.

But when someone says, “Get to the point,” don’t we always snap to attention?

It’s like a crack of the whip.

Avoid modifiers

Modifiers clutter up your copy. The following italicized words are modifiers:

  • “That’s fairly good copy.”
  • “I totally understand.”
  • Actually, that’s not what I meant.”

You can eliminate every single word I italicized without losing your meaning.

In fact, you can create a stronger sentence by replacing both the modifier and the word it modifies with a more detailed description or a stronger, more accurate word.

Eliminate the word “make”

The next time you write a first draft, review your document and count how many times you use the word “make” before you edit your text. My hunch is it will be a lot.

Make is the lazy writer’s favorite verb. (All first drafts are written by lazy writers.)

  • “Make her give me my money.”
  • “Who made up that song?”
  • “Will you make me an iced tea?”

Replace “make” with active verbs:

  • “Break her arm if she doesn’t give me my money.”
  • “Who wrote that song?”
  • “Will you brew me some iced tea?”

Your turn

So, here’s the thing: don’t be overwhelmed by all these exercises.

Consider tackling just one exercise a day. Or one a week. But schedule a reminder so you don’t forget.

You can download our editable PDF worksheet (82 KB) to help you get started.”

…..

Thanks, Demian. Good job!

 

 

Share

How Will I Know? (if a critique group is a good fit)

by Sara Ryan
Published on: October 23, 2015
Categories: Other Topics
Tags:
Comments: 1 Comment

Hello folks, I’m Sara Ryan, the most recent addition to the Scrivas. Before I joined, I hadn’t been in a critique group for several years. I’d had some great previous group experiences, but I was hesitant. It’s a big commitment!

If you’re trying to figure out whether a group will work for you — particularly a group that’s been going on for a while — here are some suggestions.

1. Talk to a current member about how the group works. Get the basics: how often are the meetings, how many manuscripts are typically discussed, how far in advance do you turn in pages, how many pages, etc. See the Critique FAQs for other things to consider.

If the schedule and structure seem good, proceed to step 2.

2. Observe a meeting. Read the manuscripts in advance so you’ll be able to follow the discussion. Write up some thoughts if you want for your own reference, but don’t plan on giving critique.

What you want is to see to how the group functions.

Are the members both generous with praise and rigorous about identifying what isn’t working? (Watch out for mutual admiration societies: a group that gives nothing but praise is unlikely to advance the craft of its members.)

Does everyone seem to have similar taste? (The taste question is tricky: it’s helpful for a group to have some shared values about what makes for a strong story, but it’s also great when members bring very different ideas and perspectives to their reading.)

How do the writers being critiqued react? Do they appreciate the feedback, even if some of it’s negative?

How does the group treat you, the observer? Do they share in-jokes and shorthand and otherwise make you feel welcome?

If you and the group feel good after your observation, take it to the next level:

3. Participate in a meeting.You’re not an official member yet, but you’re going to both give and get critique.

How do other members take what you have to say about their writing? How do you feel about their critiques of yours? Of course you won’t agree with everything everyone says, that’s the nature of critique. But do the group’s comments help you see what’s working and what isn’t in your manuscript? (Sometimes it’s when you’re critiquing someone else’s manuscript that you see how to fix something in your own.)

Still feeling good? Seal the deal.

4. Join. (Celebratory Whitney Houston optional, but recommended.)

 

 

 

 

 

Share

The Emotional Stages of Revision

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2015
Comments: No Comments

As I’m revising my middle grade novel, I feel distracted. I feel alone. I feel like no one has ever felt this lousy and distracted and unproductive while revising a novel ever before in the history of literature.

So what do I do? I google my problem. I type in “revising a novel sucks.” I think I want to tell someone (the google search box?) how much it sucks. And I think maybe someone has blogged about it and I can read it so I won’t feel so alone. (Also, this googling mean I’m not working on revising my novel for the moment, which is good cause REVISING SUCKS.)

Anyway, I found this: The Ten Emotional Stages of Revising a Novel, by Farrah Penn on Bustle.com.

I have been in all of these stages! Resentment. Second guessing. Fear. Distraction. Maybe not always in this order but I have BEEN IN ALL OF THEM!

And I’ve come out on the other side before. So maybe I will again.

And maybe if you’re stuck in one of these stages, you will too.

Feel free to tell me all about. Turns out we are not alone…

Elizabeth Rusch

Share

Writer Wanted—A Job Description

by Amber Keyser
Published on: October 16, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Creativity, Humor
Comments: No Comments

Requirements of the position:

  1. Navigate social media with authentic (non-threatening) mastery
  2. Engage constantly (except during twice weekly showers)
  3. Market yourself and your work with love (not slime)
  4. Advance causes without being didactic or confrontational (use hashtags)
  5. Teach at every opportunity (schools, libraries, conferences, bus stops, laundromats)
  6. Juggle everything (deadlines, family, second jobs, fire, occasional small carnivores)
  7. Manage complicated projects (including life) on extremely limited funds (the reward is the doing)
  8. Be a role model for everything (all the time)

waldorf_and_statler

Snark aside, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a working writer. There are many expectations (see above). Some of them (maybe not juggling fire) do seem to be required of the position. But what does it really mean to do this job? What are my “responsibilities”?

Only this… to think hard about what makes people tick, to open myself to deep emotions, to tell stories that move me, and to wrestle with words until a world is born anew on the page.

This is my job.

And it is good.

irvine-welsh

Share

The Vicarious Release!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: October 5, 2015
Categories: Celebrations, Inspiration
Comments: No Comments

Amber-signingThe vicarious release. Sounds kinda sexy, no? Anyway, I can tell you this: the vicarious release is a delight. It’s like playing with someone else’s puppy or watching your team’s winning soccer goal, only a lot better.

The vicarious release happens when another Viva Scriva launches a book into the world, particularly a book that has grown up and come to fruition under the Viva Scriva mojo.

Vicarious release is what happened a few days ago when Amber’s debut novel, The Way Back from Broken, officially left the nest. Here’s the gal herself signing the title page.

Viva Scriva has had the pleasure of numerous releases. One of the most memorable recent ones was Liz’s Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Let me just say that mud was involved. There will be more releases to come, for sure, from every member of Viva Scriva. With luck, even from me. I will celebrate and enjoy, and be inspired by, every single one.

Share

Need a Pick-Me-Up?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: September 25, 2015
Categories: Other Topics
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

Listen to the podcasts at “This Creative Lifethiscreativelife-e1338485590717“: author Sara Zarr’s interviews with other authors and assorted creative types. Here, writers talk about how long it took them to publish, how hard it is to write with kids in the house, what it felt like to get their books optioned, to make the best-seller lists, to miss deadlines, to quit day jobs, to start day jobs, to succeed, to fail, and to keep going. Even learn what favorite pens some authors use. I guarantee that you will feel uplifted, and reminded that we are all in it together. Thanks, Sara.

 

Share
page 1 of 34

Welcome , September 30, 2016