Taking a Chapter Break

by Addie Boswell
Published on: January 26, 2015
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments
Shelves in progress.

Shelves in progress.

Only waiting for the window seat.

Only waiting for the window seat.

This fall, I built a wall-to-wall shelving unit for my office/studio. Complete with power tools, pocket-hole joints, european hinges, doors, drawers, knobs, and lots of sawdust. For a couple of months, the shelves were my obsession. I can’t tell you how much I loved building those shelves– measuring the space, planning and drawing the dimensions, sawing, drilling, sanding, painting. For another Scriva, it was reupholstering her kitchen chairs. For you it may be organizing your pantry or planting a garden bed. Whatever your current alternate dream job is, you relish the joy of tangible goals, visible progress, and a purposeful and absolute outcome.

In opposition, of course, to the everyday business of writing books.

A work-in-progress is amobea-like. Gelatinous. Unending. Writing a novel is like navigating infinite space, corralling small children, filing the contents of a garbage dump. How do we progress in the face of such an aim? Which leads me to Chapter Breaks: Self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Places for the story to take a breath, the page to turn, the reader to begin again. From Writer’s Digest “An old-fashioned cliffhanger is not required (though they still work), but tension of some kind is essential. End not where the action lulls but where it is the most dynamic.”

We need chapter breaks in our books and we need chapter breaks in our writing: self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Five thousand words. A printed first draft. A contest submission. A conference to attend. A vacation. A stay-cation. A pedicure. A set of shelves. These little deadlines are lifelines: not just how we get the work done, but how we keep our sanity.

Share

Some Yoga/Writing Principles

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: January 20, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Inspiration
Comments: No Comments

The new year is a time to take stock and a time to try to do things differently than we have before. When life gives us a lesson, we can respond as we always do –and then life will give us that same lesson over and over again. But what if life gives us a lesson and instead of responding the same way we always do, we respond differently? Perhaps life will be done giving us that lesson and we can move on to something else.

Take a rejection letter, or a harsh critique, or a writing project gone south for some reason out of our control. What if, instead of responding with our same old anger, frustration, and depression we respond with genuine gratitude.

I have found this is EXTREMELY hard to do. Though I can’t do it fully yet, I have discovered some principals that help me head in that direction. These are yogic principles that I try to adapt to my writing life. They are drawn from Rolf Gates’ Meditations from the Mat. I hope you find them helpful, inspiring, or at least intriguing:

“We already have everything we need.”

“The surest way to get what you want is to let go of wanting.”

“What is required is a radical, absolute, living trust in the universe.”

“Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and vocabulary.”

“Pride and ambition will get you hurt; humility will get you well.”

“There is wisdom within us that is more powerful than our despair.”

“Make a commitment to focus on the nature of our efforts and not the nature the result.”

It’s at least worth a try!

ScrivaLiz

Share

The Wonder Cupboard of Cora Goss-Grubbs, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 12, 2015
Categories: Creativity
Comments: No Comments

Creativity–it’s the core of our process as writers and artists. The raw materials for the creative process are gathered in every corner of our lives. Memory, images, experiences, the work of other artists, dreams… The brilliant William Gibson said that he had a kind of dumpster attached to the back of his head. He through all that raw material in there and after it had been tossed around in the mess, what came out were ideas, ideas, ideas.

Gibson had a dumpster. The Mudflat Heathens have a Wonder Cupboard (thanks to Andrew Karre’s inspiration). In this occasional series, we share its contents, the raw materials from which we work. Let me present Cora Goss-Grubbs.

 

The Wonder Cupboard of Cora Goss-Grubbs

Cora’s wonder cupboard includes Eucalyptus trees, the Pacific Ocean, long seaside drives (feet out the window, ocean breeze wafting through), Santa Cruz (CA), the unintentional killer, adolescent trauma, the Sex Pistols, the Thompson Twins, car sex, nostalgic romance, drag queens, Swallowing Stones (Joyce McDonald), Magic Words (a short story by Jill McCorkle), and this quote—don’t know the author—“Hard work in the service of your dream is deliverance. It delivers you from meaningless, and into the hands of your highest abilities.”

 

Cora Goss-Grubbs writes young adult novels, short stories, poetry and essays. Her essays can be found in She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back by Tightrope Books; Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women; and online at Literary Mama. Her poetry has been published in Here, There and Everywhere; Pontoon 10, an anthology of Washington state poets; and online at The Far Field, the Washington state Poet Laureate’s website.

 

 

Share

Rest, Reflect, and Wait Now. Revise Later.

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 4, 2015
Comments: No Comments

Heron-crop1As the Scriva who is the first to offer a post here for 2015, I suppose it would make sense to talk about new beginnings and resolutions. If you’re looking for that, here’s a link to a thoughtful post by Addie several years back. Thanks, Addie.

This post of mine, however, is about ending a project on January 1st, namely the first complete draft of my next book. A writer’s calendar is what it is, so now instead of gearing up to revise 70,000 words, in keeping with that New Year’s urge, I’m giving the muse a rest.

Am I exhausted? No, not really, In fact, my first thought is to go back to chapter one and start everything all over again right away. If I were on a tight deadline, that’s what I’d have to do, and that’s what I know other Scrivas are facing. But I’m lucky this year. I can afford to give myself a vacation from my manuscript, an emptying out of preconceived notions about characters and narrative. I will rest in still waters. Time away from text provides the distance that can bring a fresh perspective. I will wait to let the story “breathe.”

Revision, I remind myself, traces its origins to the Latin verb revidere, to see again, or to look at anew. It’s the “anew” part I’m aiming for as I rest, reflect, and wait. In the meanwhile, I wish you a year of your best writing ever!

Share

The Life of a Writer, Skills Needed and Salary

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2014
Categories: Other Topics
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

O.K. this is weird and random, but I came across the U.S. Department of Labor’s description of the job “writer.” I found the tasks done; knowledge, skills, and abilities needed, interests; work styles and work values to be quite interesting and on-target. But you won’t believe the average salary…

Check it out. Does this description ring true to you? What would you change?

Scriva Liz

Share

The Wonder Cupboard of Brent Swartz, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 17, 2014
Categories: Creativity
Comments: No Comments

Recently I attended the SCBWI-Western Washington Novel Retreat at Dumas Bay in Federal Way. There were crisp skies and sea smells and autumn leaves and all the good things a retreat entails. I blogged here about the kindness of book people at the retreat. In one presentation, Andrew Karre asked as to consider what was in our Wonder Cupboard. What have we as creative people secreted away for inspiration, for solace, for nourishment, for stories?

A small group of retreat participants and I (who call ourselves the mudflat heathens for reasons I can’t divulge) decided to start this occasional series, in which we open up our Wonder Cupboards. Today’s post is from Brent Swartz:

 

Why I Write, and the Wonder-Cupboard Run Down

They say the only pure moment of memory is the instant of an experience. Everything that follows is painted and altered by memory bias, expectation, and cognitive physiology.  As each memory drifts deeper into the past it is further muddled by how it fits into the broader experience, how the broader experience fits into the bigger picture of your life, and finally, it is completely jumbled as we attach meaning.  It is a process of distortion because, being human, we are not a catalogue of events.  We are rather a catalogue of poignant moments which we hang meaning upon like overburdened hooks and hangers.  We use our imagination to envision our own history, a process akin to writing, where we imagine memories that make up a story.

I did not arrange my wonder-cupboard with any particular theme in mind and I have no idea who put in the those tacky, chevron shelf-liners, but if they are tied together it’s that they represent the most intriguing stories I don’t know.

The Ship in my Living Room, sails tattered and drifting among the ice-flows and an otherworldly sky, makes me want to scream, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ Although I don’t have a precise understanding of ‘teeth gnashing’, I like to think of myself as gnashing teeth as I scream this.

The Calaveras of Jose Guadalupe Posada, the Mexican folk artist, are a satire of wealth, elegance, and life itself.  His art is both hopeful and sobering, and a reminder that life is fleeting.

The lyrics of Carmina Burana (you know the tune) capture a certain intensity to the waxing and waning of love, the seasons, and fortune… ‘O Fortune, empress of all’ (spoiler alert: Fortune’s a real bitch.)

If you’ve ever flown into the Denver International Airport, then you may be familiar with the Devil Horse From Denver, the blue mustang whose devilish, red eyes follow you as you drive by.  What you may not know is that this sculpture killed it’s own creator, a tragic if not parabolic story of intensity and art.

As with Cemeteries, an epilogue never feels like the continuation of a story.  At their best cemeteries and epilogues are sorts of echoes.  After spending Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico I have a new appreciation for cemeteries and the act of remembering the dead and their stories.  Dying is a drag and a lonely affair, and the tradition of Dia De Los Muertos is the kindest thing people can do for the living; a coat against the chill of loneliness.

Don Quijote is the original maniac, and his character honestly helps me to understand mental illness, the wild type that lands you in jail or the emergency department, where I come across these souls.

Now for Ducks: Wildflowers, birds of paradise, lake symphonies of croaking frogs, and dung beetles competing for mates by rolling up the biggest ball of shit.  If it has to do with sex, it’s probably awesome.  But when it comes to love, there’s nothing like a duck.  Remarkable little creatures who travel on the wind, the water, and the ground, crossing entire continents just to get laid.

Finally Tidal Zones, places I’ve always been infatuated with, made fucking magical by the mudflat heathens.

As the moments of our lives fall from the present they fall further into something like fiction.  For the life of me, I cannot remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but on August 25th, 2013, I had pie and milk.  The historian and data analyst in me simply notates the dates and the facts of my life and they sink into a sea of forgetfulness.

But the storyteller knows what to hold on to, what is indelible.  Where time dispenses with the facts of life the storyteller is collecting the pieces, looking them over, and either setting them back adrift or burning them into memory.  What sticks and what drifts?  I don’t think it even matters why, but this question is what compels me to write and something that gives life a sense of mystery, constantly asking yourself: am I going to remember this?  And if so, how… and why?

Share

While I’m Sleeping….

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: December 5, 2014
Comments: No Comments

janey-night-crop2Indulge me a moment. I’ve got to add to Sabina’s sentiments and to the gratitude that Liz expressed in her recent post. This is the “little elves” version of a critique group.

Do you know Grimm’s fairy tale about the shoemaker and the elves, first written down about 200 years ago? It seems there was a poor shoemaker and his wife who needed money for their rent, but had no shoes left to sell. The shoemaker cut leather for his last pair of shoes, and during the night little elves came and sewed the shoes for him. And he sold the shoes and…well, it’s a satisfying ending.

This photo of a construction crew at night reminds me of those elves and of the wonders of working within the collective creativity of a critique group. Yes, it’s true that my own brain keeps making connections and reworking my story while I sleep or engage in almost anything other than writing. There’s a neurological term for that process, which I’ve forgotten but to which I am enthralled. What I mean here, though, are the thoughts that flows through other people’s brains while I’m taking down time from my work-in-progress. My words are zapping through their synapses. Even in the middle of the night. Scrivas as little elves? Definitely!

So….  Once upon a time there was a poor writer lady who searched in vain for the right words with which to craft the scene she so dearly wanted to create. Exhausted from her efforts, she put her words aside and feel into a deep, deep sleep. Then, in the middle of the night…

Here’s to another satisfying ending.

Share

Let Me Count the Ways

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: November 25, 2014
Tags:
Comments: 2 Comments

I’ve been part of Viva Scriva for seven years, and I’ve learned and received so much from them, individually and collectively.

Inspiration, and a demonstration of the value of Perspiration.

One time we were talking frankly about envy. I had to say that, interestingly, I wasn’t jealous of different members’ success, because, “If I’d worked as hard, I’d be further along too.”

Writing. Submitting. Revising. Revising. Repeating. Sending off to agents or publishers. Writing again, writing something different. Letting a project rest for a while. Picking it up again. No agent, wrong agent, new agent, right agent.

Perseverance. Stick-to-it-ivenss. Keeping on going.

Fun

-Crysanthemums, gum drops, and other delights served up Saturday evenings at retreats

-Viva Scriva salutes (forming a VS with our hands when all agreed on a comment at a critique meeting)

-Presents, most of them components of the “Viva Scriva outfit.” Ruth actually knit each one of us personalized socks (can you believe it?); colorful wraps from Brazil from Addie; wear-them-ten-ways hoodies from Amber; Czech bracelets from Nicole, customized VS pendants commissioned by Liz, logo Ts from Mary; wool scarves from Ecuador… (My contribution was culinary rather than sartorial: hand-carved wooden spoons from Romania.)

Thought-provoking Reflection

-Addie’s incredibly valuable, pretty-much annual, reflective exercises.

-Liz’s coaching about pursuing “low hanging fruit,” query letters, market overviews, etc.

-Amber’s review of careers of favorite authors as inspirational guides.

-Liz’s gratitude beads.

Support as we in turn went through professional or personal or family cares. Commiserating during setbacks. Celebrating accomplishments.

Retreats. Business meetings. Writing days. Art as process meetings.

Oh, yeah—and the monthly Critique Meetings that started and undergird everything. I received invaluable feedback on my manuscripts, and learned so much from others’ comments and writing even the months when I hadn’t submitted a manuscript.

-Respect and kindness (the praise sandwich).

-Truth (things said graciously, but everything that needed to be said, said).

-Sometime inadvertent tutelage about story arcs, motivations, trying it different ways, tight writing…

-Brainstorming manuscript problems, or process/approach, during one’s 20 Minutes.

-Encouragement: “This is so great.” “I know you can do it.” “I can’t wait to read more.”

-So much received from each Scriva and her particular “eye,” approach, and writerly-personality; from Addie, Amber, Liz, Mary, Michelle, Nicole, Ruth.

 

Reflecting on these and other gifts from these seven years, I have to paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s verse. How do I appreciate you, Scrivas? Let me count the ways.

Thank you, Scrivas.

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Share

Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: November 20, 2014
Tags:No Tags
Comments: 3 Comments

[This is a post that ran a few years ago about a gratitude activity that I think is worth repeating in case you missed it. Happy Thanksgiving! Scriva Liz]

One holiday season, a couple years ago, I had a strong urge to give something to the Viva Scrivas to thank them for all the ways they have helped me and my writing.  What I had in mind would take some time, so it wouldn’t work during a normal critique group session. I saved it for a writing retreat.

After dinner the second night of the retreat, after the plates were cleared but the wine was still flowing, I gathered the Scrivas back to the dinner table and pulled out a box of beads and some thin wire.

I felt a little awkward, kind of dorky, at first. What if they didn’t like the activity? What if they thought it was tiresome or corny? But I went ahead and explained that we were going to make Thankful Beads. Each person would make a string of beads, each bead signifying something they were thankful for in their writing life. They could start by picking beads that inspired them or by making a list of things that they were thankful for and then choosing beads that best represented each item.

The Scrivas got quiet, and I got nervous.

Then they slipped into the work, jotting notes, fingering through beads. I swear I have never seen these writers so quiet unless they were writing – and with wine goblets at hand, noless. They wrote:

Writing time

Health

My beautiful desk

 

A husband’s support

Great books

The outdoors

 

Writing conferences

My editor

The Scrivas

Someone chose a brown, lumpy bead for a faithful dog. A shiny sparkling amber bead for Ideas. A red bead for her mother.

When we were finished, we each shared our string of beads, touching each one as we said our thanks aloud.

And the next day, as the Scrivas wrote, their Thankful Beads were right nearby.

Happy Thanksgiving,

ScrivaLiz

 

 

Share

When the ice is thin…

by Amber Keyser
Published on: November 12, 2014
Comments: 1 Comment
Frozen lake in Algonquin Park (Photo by Voyageur Quest)

Frozen lake in Algonquin Park (Photo by Voyageur Quest)

Currently I am in the very final revisions of a contemporary YA novel called THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, which will be published in Fall 2015 by Carolrhoda Lab. At this stage in the process, I have moved from my usual methodical application of hardwork and craft to something more uncommon and harder to understand even for me.

As I work my way through the manuscript, I come upon passages that to my eyes and to my mind seem okay. The writing is tight. The descriptions are vivid. The dialogue feels real. But my gut says that something is off. It’s as if I am on a frozen lake and suddenly a subtle sense of danger grows. The ice is too thin here. It will support neither me or the story.

I sit and stare at the screen, imploring the page to reveal what is missing. I pace my office, wondering what is off-kilter about the emotion and sentiment in the paragraph. I imagine myself as each character, plumbing the depths of their inmost selves.

Eventually I will feel the way before me. I will caress the words. I will shape them into struts and support. They will become as thick as reality itself. It is both mystical and terrifying. I wonder if I will lose myself to the depths.

Share
page 1 of 31

Welcome , January 28, 2015