Archives: July 2011

Reeling in the Big Critique

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 27, 2011
Categories: Business of Writing
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Comments: 2 Comments

Viva Scriva—that expert, well functioning, congenial, critique group. We’re so …blah, blah, blah…. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that as one of the Scrivas, I’ve been spoiled. Over the years, I’ve had just what I needed.

So I was not happy when acquisitions editors at Ooligan Press asked me to submit Blue Thread, a YA novel I’d pitched to them, to about two dozen graduate students in an editing class at Portland State University.  Ooligan is linked to PSU, so the connection made sense. But the critiquing process? I’d get a long, detailed developmental edit letter from each student—way more words in total than my entire manuscript. My work-in-progress would become my work-under-scrutiny by people who didn’t know me and had little or no experience writing YA books.

I said yes, but had my doubts. Instructor Linda Meyer, arranged a class visit. I told the students about areas in which I wanted guidance. I felt better about the process. Then I got that huge pile of letters.

Was every comment a gem? Certainly not. But as I waded through the letters, three images were particularly useful.  OK, I’m the gal that graphs manuscripts. Bear with me. Image one—the Blob. That’s my visual for the near unanimity on a specific issue. For example, heat up the romance. Image two—The tree. Most students addressed the same issue (the trunk) but branched out to widely divergent answers. Image three—spattered paint. No consensus on issue or answers. But among the spatters—which I left until last—I found odd, intriguing, creative bits I could use.

As I revised Blue Thread, I consulted the Scrivas again. Double the pleasure! The manuscript turned into a book Ooligan plans to launch in February. Last spring I practically thrust another manuscript in front of Linda’s editing class. Regardless of whether I pitch this book to Ooligan or whether Ooligan acquires it, I know a good deal when I see one.

Book Recommendation: The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide

by Amber Keyser
Published on: July 25, 2011
Comments: 3 Comments

The more I read Becky Levine‘s book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, the more impressed I am.  The depth and breadth of topics in this book are remarkable.  Case in point: the subheading reads “How to Give and Receive Feedback, Self-Edit, and Make Revisions.”

Yes, this book will help you create a functioning critique group.  But it also addresses craft with some serious chops.  The coolest features are the examples where she gives a critique on a manuscript and also a variety of worksheets that help you execute on the suggestions in the book.

The major sections include:

Choosing, joining, creating, and running a group.
Critiquing novel-length fiction
Critiquing nonfiction (yay – someone remembers us!)
Critiquing picture books
How to revise based on critique
How to grow your group as members evolve

Pick up a copy!  You will not be disappointed!

Is Your Critique Group Making You Fat?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: July 20, 2011
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Comments: 2 Comments

A while back, the Scrivas were roused by an article in the New York Times, headlined: Are Your Friends Making You Fat? Citing data from the sixty-year Framingham Heart Study, the article reveals how powerful and wide-spread social contagion is. Good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses.  And the same is true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. One of the most striking findings was that the contagion jumped links: even friends of friends of friends can have an effect.

We were excited about the article because it reinforced how important critique groups are. To extrapolate: joining a critique group or other writing organization will force you to write more, simply by being around other writers. Joining a good critique group will make you a better writer and editor, and more likely to get published. That’s why fit is so important. If your group “feels” negative, if you dread going, or if your writing output or quality is suffering: reconsider! There is no shame in quitting or reforming a group that isn’t working for you. In fact, it may be the best thing you can do for your writing life (since ‘bad’ behaviors transfer just as well.)

As for the Scrivas, we are churning out more novels lately–despite writing mostly picture books two years ago. As a group, we are also querying more agents and updating our websites, though we’ve never discussed any of this outright. And Scriva Mary recently remarked, “We’re all looking more fit these days.” (That could be the logical result of changing critique venues, away from the deadly banana-Nutella crepes…) Regardless, we don’t need the science to tell us that we’re becoming better writers. As Nicole pointed out, we’re spreading those skills to our kids, our families–and perhaps even our inlaws, coworkers, and mere acquaintances. So go forth, and spread the good writing!

Going for the Gold

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: July 18, 2011
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I love the Scrivas. They’re safe, trustworthy and supportive. But they’re not necessarily comfortable. They challenge me, making me stretch.

Comfort, though, is not the main reason we meet every month. “Best” is. We’re going for the gold. I am so grateful to Viva Scriva, we all are, for not letting each other get away with anything but the best.

I’m intrigued right now by Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else. Sometimes I check out books from the library because they catch my eye; then, there not being time for everything, some go back unread. This one almost did. But I gave it another “flip-through,” and it’s so good, I’m reading it in earnest.

The book’s thesis is that in any field, what makes someone rise to the top is lots of hard work. Or, as Colvin says, “deliberate practice.” The components of deliberate practice are:

-It’s designed specifically to improve performance.

-It can be repeated a lot.

-Feedback is continuously available.

-It’s highly demanding mentally.

-It isn’t much fun.

A year ago, I wrote the first draft of a historical middle grade novel. I wanted to revise it before giving it to the Scrivas, and tried a totally new  approach. In June, I submitted these re-written first chapters to Viva Scriva.

Well, I was successful in some of my goals. The Scrivas agreed that the writing was beautiful and clean. (Check). The information and setting were fascinating. (Check.) But it didn’t read like a book for children, though that’s what I was trying to do. The Scrivas suggested maybe recasting it for adults. Nope. Not this one.

Back to the drawing board. I dropped the elegiac voice and returned to the original kid voice, ramped up some kilowatts. I introduced way more plot, characterization, and even conflict! All the good things we know, yet usually need more of.

Comments in July were positive. I’m on my way!

But am I there? Not by far! I received a zillion suggestions for improving the story. Guess what? I need even MORE conflict, clarity, goals for the character, etc.

Alright. I’m busy writing. Our next meeting is hurrying to meet me.

This is my chance to apply Colvin’s findings about deliberate practice. Yes, I can write a lot. It’s demanding. It’s not always fun, or easy. The Scrivas provide feedback, which guides me in improving my “performance.”

We Scrivas constantly challenge each other, I said. But eventually the day comes when we agree: “This manuscript is ready!” The writer did her part, constantly practicing, stretching, improving. The Scrivas did theirs, being a not always comfortable, but always purifying, refiner’s fire.

The manuscript has become pure gold. Finally, it’s “best.” Ready for a medal—or publication.

 

– Sabina I. Rascol –

www.sabinairascol.com

 

 

From the Files of Scriva Nicole

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: July 15, 2011
Comments: 1 Comment

My six –year-old son recently read the beginning of an early phonics reader to me, only to stop halfway through the book, look up at me, and say,

”You know, this story isn’t really any good.  I don’t think it’s very well written.  The author could have done better.  ”

This little “critique partner-in-training” went on to give me a full analysis of what this phonics reader truly needed in order to shine.

“Nothing’s happening, Mama.  I hate books like that.  Something needs to happen.”

He was absolutely right, of course.  The phonics reader had no plot, bad rhyme, and rudimentary illustrations.  But it was a book from his kindergarten class that he had to read, so read it we did.

Once again, he is six!

I realized then that my critique group had been rubbing off on him.  Now I am not only raising a boy and future man, but creating a “mini-Scriva,” or, since he is a boy, a “mini-Scrivo,” as well.  Not that there is anything wrong with this.  He has been forming quite an opinion about his book tastes lately, tending to gravitate toward fantasy (first Harry Potter, Roald Dahl books), friendship books with unlikely, opposite characters (Frog and Toad, Mr. Putter and Tabby, A Visitor for Bear, Dodsworth in New York, etc.), mysteries (Nate the Great and Magic Tree House), funny picture books like Yes Day by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and science books like the Magic School Bus.  Favorite early readers are Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series.

Though my current WIP is not up his alley (upper mid-grade, coming-of-age historical with a female protagonist), he does cartwheels over Scriva Liz’s volcanoes and Mars Rovers and Scriva Sabina’s The Impudent Rooster. He has listened to me “talk books” with many a Scriva, has watched over my shoulder as I critique someone’s manuscript, and has asked me questions about what I look for in a manuscript when I am critiquing it.

What can you take away from all this?  A smile—a chuckle—and a reminder that a critique group can not only enhance your writing and your career, but also the literary life of your children as well.  And how great is that?

Happy critiquing!

 

– Nicole Marie Schreiber

www.nicolemarieschreiber.com

http://nicolemarieschreiber.wordpress.com

 

 

Tip #212 for Getting Unstuck or Getting Inspired By Your Fellow Writers

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: July 7, 2011
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Comments: 2 Comments

Me and My Manuscript

At the beginning of the summer, I got stuck in my manuscript.

For a while, I had a great schedule of writing once a week. I would meet up with a couple of my Scrivas in a local coffee shop every Friday morning. After catching up on our weeks and settling in with our pots of tea, we would bend heads to laptops and start writing. For these sessions, I always set a relatively low word count goal of 1000 words. I did this because I have learned, the hard way, that if I set my sights too high (A rough draft in a month? Of course I SHOULD be able to do that!), I inevitably fall short. This can be followed by critical self doubt and complete abandonment of whatever it was that I was trying to achieve.

So, having learned my lesson, I made my writing goals more manageable and stuck to a consistent schedule. And miracle of miracles, I started making progress on a manuscript. I reached 50 pages, then 80, now 142. This has never happened! Wahoo!

And then I stopped.

For weeks.

It probably started with a disruption to the schedule — a trip out of town, a doctor’s appointment. Whatever the first interruption to my writing mojo was, it was followed by challenges to the writing itself. The scene I was working through just felt awkward. Questions crowded out my ability to write. How did it fit into the whole book? Why weren’t the characters saying anything? It was as if my two main characters were standing there, staring blankly at each other. Friday after Friday I found myself just staring at my screen. I’d try to start the scene at different points. I shuffled the characters around. But everything I tried seemed to bring me back to the same stagnant place.

Oh boy, I was good and stuck.

I thought about ditching the scene all together but there was a problem with that — I liked it. There was build up to it. Things spiraled out from it. In the grand plotting scheme in my head, it worked. It just wasn’t cooperating on the page.

Then, I went to my monthly Scriva meeting — the first after a long absence. Mary had submitted the first chapter of a new YA novel she was working on and she had submitted it in two versions — one in first person and one in third. She wanted advice on which one she should proceed in.

The following Friday, I thought about this as I stared at my same-old defunct scene. Why not do as Mary did? So I opened the first chapter and started rewriting it in the first person. This instantly got me into my character more, which was the underlying problem to my stuckness all along. I needed to have a better idea of what she was feeling and where she was coming from in order to make the scene work, in order to giver her something to say. So I switched to the stuck chapter and restarted it in the first person. It probably helped that I opened a new document to do this and headed it up with this title: THIS WILL NOT NECESSARILY GO IN THE BOOK. NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS. JUST WRITING.

But write I did, and when I finally looked up from my screen, I had 3000 words under my belt. Chapter Sixteen was FINALLY done and my leg was twitching under the table from all the caffeine I’d consumed. Thank goodness for the awesome Scrivas. Inspiration from seeing their writing processes up close always seems to get me through. That, and copious amounts of green tea.

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