Archives: June 2011

The Learned Art of Listening

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 27, 2011
Categories: Other Topics
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Comments: 3 Comments

Put a seashell to your ear and you can imagine that you hear the musical swoosh of mighty waters. Listening to a critique of a work-in-progress rarely has the magical draw of a seashell. But listen we must, if we’re to get anything out of the exercise.

Effective listening isn’t easy. I hear-tell that the average speaker utters about 120 to 180 words a minute, while most adults can process up to 500 words per minute. This differential leaves lots of time for your mind to wander. And wander it does, unless you put it to good use focusing on the critique.

Listening is a learned art. Here are a dozen tips. Your work-in-progress will thank you.

1. Try to meet in a space that’s relatively quiet and comfortable. That said, go with what you’ve got. Focus and you’ll screen out distraction.

2. Want to listen. Really.

3. Sit up in a comfortable, open, and loose manner, without twisting your legs or crossing your arms. Breathe!

4. Maintain eye contact with the speaker whenever possible.

5. Temporarily banish biases. (Don’t worry; they’ll come back later.) Ignore your credo that third person present tense won’t work for historical fiction.

6. Listen as though you have to repeat the same message to a different audience later.

7. Take notes. Focus on key points.

8. Look for a useful kernel, even if you initially think the speaker has it all wrong. Listen with optimism and a positive attitude. There’s always something worth your attention.

9. Avoid the temptation to be thinking of an immediate question or reply.

10. Don’t interrupt or rush to fill a silence.

11. Accept responsibility for understanding. Once the speaker is finished, take a moment, then reflect back to him or her any point that’s unclear, to make sure that what you heard is what the speaker meant. Make time between critiques so that you don’t feel you have to craft your question mentally while someone is still speaking.

12. Smile!


My work’s been critiqued and I feel (add descriptive word here)… More on PCSD

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 20, 2011
Comments: 1 Comment

Recently Nicole posted about PCSD (“post critique stress disorder”).  Her words seemed to resonate with readers.  What writer hasn’t had the experience of receiving a marrow-touchingly thorough critique only to sit and wonder what the heck to do about it?  Roni Loren went a step further and detailed (with hilarious pictures) the Ten Stages of Revision Emotions on her blog.

Here’s the teaser (paraphrased):

“Dammit, that makes sense.”
“I can totally fix this.”
“Oh, Sh*t”
Lalalalala, I can’t hear you.
Drowning in my beer.
Hello, Muse.
“Happy Dance Time”
What? You want another revision?

Take the time to read the whole thing here.   We’ve got some posts planned to take on how to revise based on critique so stay-tuned!

Graphs and Charts, Oh My!

by Addie Boswell
Published on: June 14, 2011
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Comments: 2 Comments

Ruth started it. While critiquing the first draft of my YA novel, she made this line graph. Along the x-axis of chapters, it measures three things: empathy with the main character, clarity of plot, and the “turn the page” factor. The Scriva’s oohed and aahed when Ruth revealed the chart, impressed with the the time she took as well as the sudden transformation of words into data. See the red line plunge at chapter twenty?! It packs a bigger punch than simply hearing about the plot problems. Returning home with pages of critique, the simplicity of Ruth’s graph helped remind me of the major edits.
A few months later, Melissa introduced me to a different type of charting from a book she read: index cards to sum up the important action of each scene. I added color-coded lines to show which characters appear and plus/minus symbols to show the character’s overall progress towards goal. When my novel overwhelms me, I bring out the index cards and shuffle and arrange them, hoping they’ll give me Tarot-grade answers.

I have a third chart now too: a large piece of foam core nailed to my office wall with different streams of colored post-it representing the plot and subplots. I move the post-its around, trying to weave the story tighter, until they lose their stickiness and drop off the board. (Is that a sign, do you think?)

So what is it about charts? For me, I suspect it is the sheer visual nature and the physicality that appeals. (In the VAK learning system, I lean sharply towards visual/kinetic.) While cutting and pasting on the computer is tedious and prone to sidetracks, using glue and scissors is immediate and satisfying.  At least for me. Someone else may be drawn to the quantifiable data you seem to get from graphing. As all these posts show, there is no right way to write books, there is only the way that works for you. Thanks, Scrivas, for the new ideas!

Wondering how to pick critique partners? Great post by @sarahlapolla

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 10, 2011
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: No Comments

Agent Sarah LaPolla at Curtis Brown, Ltd. wrote a great blog post on how to pick good beta readers aka critique partners for your work.

Our goal at Viva Scriva is to help you build a tight-knit, effective critique group that will be your foundation from first draft/first book to the profound missive you are scrawling on your deathbed in blood…

Oh, sorry, I got a little caught up there!

But… while you are building the aforementioned group of bloodwriters, finding a partner to exchange manuscripts with is a great way to begin.  See our post on that topic here.

Sarah LaPolla suggests we avoid:

The Casual Reader
First Draft Readers
Your Clone

Read the full text here.  It’s a good one!

Hitting a Brick Wall (or When Life Gets in the Way)

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: June 9, 2011
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This past weekend the Scrivas and I rented a beach house to use as a base for our writing retreat.   The setting was perfect.  The weather was gorgeous.  And my fingers were anxious to get typing on my WIP.  It would be an ideal way to get lots of pages done in one lump sum and be able to bond with the Scrivas, since we hadn’t ALL gotten together in quite a long time.

Then, life got in the way.

We were set to leave on Friday morning and come home on Monday afternoon, and I had taken off working at the preschool well in advance of the upcoming weekend.  But, my youngest son, age three, came down with high fevers and a cold.  I needed to stay home with him on Friday and be a mommy for a little longer.  A fellow Scriva came to the rescue and drove me on Saturday morning to the beach house, so all was not lost.  I still had plenty of writing time, right?

Then, life got in the way.

My husband left me a message telling me that my older son, age six, now had the high fevers and cold.  I was needed at home.  So, on Sunday afternoon, a fellow Scriva kindly drove me back home.  Add to this that while I was at the retreat, other hard family matters, not immediate but on my side of the family, came to light on my email, filling my brain with things far and away from my WIP.

Did I get any work done?  Yes.  But it wasn’t what I had planned or intended, yet what I have learned about being a writer, a mother, and a part-time teacher is that it’s best not to count on big “chunks” of time for my writing, but to make writing part of my daily “lifestyle.”

For the past few months I have tried to not go without writing for more than two days.  That means that I write for two hours in the late afternoon before dinner, after I am done with teaching at the preschool, and after the boys are home and my husband can watch them. Or, I go to Starbucks EARLY (5:00 am) to get in a couple of hours before the day begins. (Great on Saturdays and Sundays) The schedule has really been working for me, so missing a couple of days of my writing retreat didn’t hurt as much.  Writing is part of my life style now, so I knew I would be writing again in just a day or two.

What also always helps “when life gets in the way” is the constant support from my critique group.  They ask me about how my writing life is doing, as well as how my family is doing.  They check in with me and give me suggestions for different writing schedules.  And they were there to support me at the retreat when things weren’t going exactly as I wanted.  The best critique groups are supporters and cheerleaders as well as line editors for when “life gets in the way.”  Even if you don’t have a specific “critique” group, a good group of supporters from your writing life (agent, editor, writing partner, close writing friends) can help for those times when life trumps writing.

Happy writing!



Heads Up! You can participate in an online workshop about critique groups

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 7, 2011
Categories: Events
Comments: 2 Comments

I wanted to draw your attention to an upcoming webinar led by Becky Levine, the author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

6/27:  Growing a Critique Group: How to Find, Start, and Run a Productive Group

7/25: What AM I Supposed to Say? Developing and Writing a Strong Critique

8/29: What Do I Do Now? Revising from Critique Feedback


How the Scrivas Got Their Viva…er, Name

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: June 6, 2011
Comments: No Comments

Years ago, while in Romania on a Fulbright Fellowship, I was invited to attend a graduation ceremony at Academia de Stiinte Economice (Academy of Business Sciences), Romania’s premier business school.

I suppose because this joint Romanian-American executive MBA program was in its starting years, Romanian’s then-president Ion Iliescu participated in the ceremony.

Far more exciting to me, however, were the minutes during the academic procession when the audience stood and joined together in Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture. I love to sing, and, the Latin text being provided in the graduation booklet, was able to belt out the extremely singable music. “Gaudeamus igitur juvenes dum sumus,” the song starts, “Then let us rejoice in our youth,” and continues, appropriately enough: “Vivat academia, vivant professores…” “Long live academia, long live professors…”

Fast forward about a decade, and hop many degrees of longitude to Portland, Oregon, where I became part of a wonderful group of writers. We’d been together long enough that we’d jelled, we knew we had a special thing going, but one thing was still needed.

“A name,” one or the other of us would say, more and more often. “We need a name!”

In April 2009, putting procrastinating time to good use, Ruth began playing around with possible names for us.

Her initial idea was to make up an anagram based on our first initials, A, A, A, E, M, M, N, R, S. “Lots of nice vowels and consonants to choose from,” she said, and even came up with two possible names.

When I read her e-mail, I was impressed by the work she’d done. The two possibilities, though, seemed a bit heavy to me. And what if one day one of us moved on, another writer joined, but, gasp, didn’t have her initial included in the anagram?

Yet Ruth had also found a very intriguing Italian word. “Scriva appeals to me because it combines diva — Italian for a brilliantly talented woman in opera — and the Latin root for writing. And it’s got a bit of the vivace flavoring. […] OK, my brain has run dry. It somebody else’s turn.”

Scriva—that sang out to me! I guess it was my turn. Ruth had set it all out: scriva… diva… vivace… My synapses fired, I remembered that joyful academic song from years before, and…

“How about Viva Scriva?” I replied.

Occasionally, at our critiques, one of us makes a comment that everyone deeply agrees with. With Viva Scriva, too, there was that unanimous sense of recognition. This was our name. We were Viva Scriva!

So, thank you, Brahms. Thank you, Academia de Stiinte Economice, and thank you, 13th century student who put your procrastinating time to good use writing “Gaudeamus igitur.” Most of all, of course, thank you, Ruth. ScrivaRuth.


If you really want to know more:

Ruth dug out one meaning of scriva, then I dug out a little more. This is what I understood and communicated to my fellow Scrivas:

So you know what we’re saying, see:

…and especially the Subjunctive/Congiuntivo (i.e., = “I would write”–VERY appropriate!) and the Imperative (“write!”–though I don’t get what third person, AND singular, means exactly. I guess it’s addressed to a she or he).

Viva (and vivat) of course means “long live.”

Viva Scriva, as we coined it, means “Long live writing!” or “Long live the writers.”


Sabina I. Rascol


Concrete Ways To Suss Out Potential Critique Group Members

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 4, 2011
Comments: 3 Comments


Our readers often ask how they can find a group like ours.  In the FAQ section of this blog, we offer general suggestions for how to connect with other writers, but that is only the first step.  Once you’ve identified a list of people that all want a great critique group, how do you make it happen?

FIRST, ask questions up front to try and assess fit.

How long have you been writing?
How much time do you have for writing?
What are your writing goals?
How often would you like to meet?
How often will you have a piece to critique?
What is your writing/publishing experience?

There are all sorts of reasons we write, and there needs to be a match in terms of purpose.

I was in a group once where one woman was a visual artist who was writing to keep her creativity alive  until her kids were old enough for her to go back to oil painting.  I was trying to build a career as a professional writer.  Mismatch!

Another time I was with a group of women where everyone but me was primarily interested in writing stories for their own kids.  Again, mismatch!

Finally, I exchanged writing with one superbly, talented writer, who had a very demanding full-time job.  She and I could not keep the same pace. Mismatch!

SECOND, ask potential critique group members to participate in a book round table.  It would work like this.  I’ll use a picture book group as an example but this will work with any genre.  Ask each participant to bring in 2-4 picture books (published by strangers) and be prepared to point out what works and what does work about each one.  This is a non-threatening way to see what kind of a critique that person might give.  Plus it is a fun way to practice analyzing manuscripts.

THIRD, do a test drive manuscript exchange — a clean version of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”  Read each other’s work.  This will enable you to assess whether you can get behind that person’s writing.  One key to Scriva mojo is that we have an immense amount of respect for the writing of the other Scrivas.  You’ll know quickly whether your potential critique partner is doing work that you can believe in.

The EXPERIENCE question.  A fit on the “experience” level is the trickiest.  The truth is that new writers benefit most from being with experienced writers.  Experienced writers tend to need each other while a group of new writers may not have the expertise to proceed effectively.  There is an obvious problem here.

What is a new writer to do?

Remember that many unpublished writers are very good writers and may be very good critiquers as well. The missing piece is knowledge about the business and professional connections.  A group of new writers can divvy up tasks and take steps to educate themselves.  (Wondering how to do this?  I’ll have to do a blog post!)  You can also invite more established, local writers to come as a guest to your critique group.  Many may be flattered by the opportunity to share their knowledge.

And you experience writing professionals out there…  consider taking a flyer on a newbie.  It just might be the best thing you ever did!



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