The Life of a Writer, Skills Needed and Salary

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2014
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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

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The Wonder Cupboard of Brent Swartz, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 17, 2014
Categories: Creativity
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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?

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While I’m Sleeping….

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: December 5, 2014
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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.

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Let Me Count the Ways

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

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Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: November 20, 2014
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[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

 

 

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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.

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Shift to a New View with a Tattoo

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 4, 2014
Categories: Basics, Craft, Creativity
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ada-tat-cropClearly I am better at writing books and articles than I am at taking selfies of a tattoo on my left forearm. The tattoo is a temporary one of Ada, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of English poet Lord Byron, and the presumptive first woman computer programmer in history. Ada is also the name of a particularly robust programming language, so when my husband chaired an international conference on Ada recently, the temp tats were a natural bit of swag. At least I thought so, because I was the one who suggested them.

What does an Ada tattoo have to do with Viva Scriva? First off, it reminded me of Scriva Nicole’s recent blog post. She wrote:

[T]ry 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!

Nicole is taking her own advice (go, girl!) and I’ve done a bit of the same, mostly by treating myself to Turkish delight. But the main character in my work-in-progress doesn’t sport a tattoo. Instead, the Ada tat has provided a less direct influence on my writing. Wearing the tat in so prominent a spot has made me feel confident, stupid, out-of-place, over-the-top, bold, artistic, wild, sassy, sexy, secretive, ridiculous, and shy. The key is context, the people Ada and I were with, the places we went to, and why we were there. That, dear writers, did a ton of emotional work “for the writing.” The tattoo is temporary; the experiences much longer lasting.

The second reason this relates to Viva Scriva is that the Ada tattoo has been fun. I designed, ordered, and wore it on a whim. When I’m writing and rewriting, I rarely work in whim-mode. I wonder, though, what would happen if for no good reason at all I crafted a scene that was entirely disconnected from the narrative arc of the story. Would that ignite a creative spark or addle my brain? Whim. Worth a try, don’t you think?

 

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The Order of Things

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: October 27, 2014
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2014-10, Things Organized Neatly, Marianne Viero(AT LEFT: “Things Organized Neatly” or “Out of Order #1″ by Marianne Viero)

Nicole and I started writing together a year or two before Viva Scriva came to be. She was working on a historical novel—and writing all the scenes in order. I was working on a fantasy novel— and finding out the story line by skipping and hopping, as the spirit led, from scene to merry scene.

Some time later, I set aside this and other works-in-progress to write the historical middle-grade novel I’m working on now. In this new book, I thought it was important to write the scenes in order, and I did so. I finished the earliest draft (that the Scrivas as a whole never saw) in this manner, as well as the almost-to-the-end re-write that followed.

In the meantime, Nicole attended a workshop with author Emily Whitman. One of the tips she came away with was to write the scenes she saw most clearly, or felt most strongly, first, then write the connecting bits later. That’s what she began to do, halfway through her novel.

You see what had happened, don’t you? We’d switched positions. She was now hopping around in her novel, while I was writing linearly.

More recently, I shook up my not-quite-finished novel and began to submit in a big way to the Scrivas. I gave them a fresh beginning, earlier in time than the version they’d seen before. But then… See, I need to have a finished draft to submit somewhere soon. And I realized that what I most needed, for my peace of mind, was to write the ending next. I finally knew how I wanted the book to end, and needed to know that I’d set that down.

So what did I do? I took a page from Nicole’s book. From my earlier story exploration. I wrote out of turn. Instead of revising my way through the middle of my story, and giving that to the Scrivas next, I skipped on to the end.

Then I backtracked and gave the middle to the Scrivas—well, the middle of the middle. Then they saw that section’s end.

Going forward, I’ll revise and fill in bits in the beginning, do the same with the first part of the middle, and then carry on all the way to the end.

Confused? So are the Scrivas. Still, they’ve been able to give me awesome comments, even though they (and I!) are looking forward to seeing the whole story in proper order.

The point of this post is that—learning from Nicole and me—at different times, for different reasons, you may need to write or revise your story linearly. At other times, you may need to skip around. Don’t worry about it. Just do what best serves the story and your current writing needs.

**

In case you’re wondering, what the Scrivas saw of my draft was:

-Beginning, 1
-End, 1
-End, 2
-Middle, 3
-Middle, 4

What they’ll see going forward:

-Beginning, 1—revised from above
-Beginning, 2
-Middle, 1—revised from a couple of years ago
-Middle, 2
-and so on, to a proper end.

 

Best wishes for your writing, in or out of turn.

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

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Credit where Credit is Due

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2014
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COVER FINAL FEB 2014My newest book The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans just published.  Hurrah!

Thanks to wonderful Scriva critiques, it is a Junior Library Guild selection and has gotten a starred review from Kirkus, which called it “timely” and “important.”  As I read the review, I thought about comments Scrivas had given me on early drafts and how they were responsible for much of the praise in the review. Here are some snippets from the review that I can thank the Scrivas for:

“well-written…” thanks to comments that pointed out each part that was not as well-written as it could be…comments like “you could condense this,” “tighten?” and all the copyedits that fixed awkward constructions and grammar problems.

“She draws in young readers…” thanks to comments that highlighted the adult-speak in early drafts and that pointed out the most kid-friendly parts and suggested I do more like that.

“clear explanations,” thanks to comments that pointed out sections that were confusing.

“appropriately focused and interesting…” thanks to comments that highlighted sections that went off topic or “could perhaps be presented in a more interesting way” (read: BORING!).

Without the excellent critiques I get, I believe my books would be rather mediocre. Critique groups help you do your very best work.  So Scrivas, WE got a great review! Thanks for all your help with the book!

Scriva Liz

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Would You?

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: October 8, 2014
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Recently, I stumbled across this article in the New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

“Swoon Reads, a young-adult imprint that is part of Macmillan Publishing, is upending the traditional discovery process by using crowdsourcing to select all its titles. By bringing a reality-television-style talent competition to its digital slush pile, the publisher is hoping to find potential best sellers that reflect not editor’s tastes but the collective wisdom and whims of the crowd.”

So here’s the deal. Once you finish your manuscript for your YA romance, you upload it to the Swoon Reads site.

Then you sit back and see what people have to say about it. If you get a lot of reads and likes on your manuscript, the editor considers publishing it. Submission guidelines are here.

Would you give it a try?

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Welcome , December 20, 2014