Archives: December 2011

A Post-Santa Post on Multiple Drafts

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: December 26, 2011
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Santa Clones in Portland

Let’s do the math. It takes me on average about four drafts of a 250-word post before I’m ready to show it to the world. The books I write are, say, about 60,000 words long. So, 60,000 divided by 250 is 240 “post-units.” At four drafts per “post-unit,” that would be 960 drafts. That’s all?

Seriously, folks. I’m willing to put in the time and energy to revise and rewrite. I don’t go berserk when I realize that my story would be better if I killed off a minor character or rejiggered a scene. My downfall is when I make those final edits that change a draft ever so slightly, or add the tiniest bit more color to a scene. I lose patience when the draft I’m working on, like the Santa on the pedestal, starts looking like all my other recent drafts, and it’s hard to tell one draft from another. What to do, what to do?

Here’s where a critique group is invaluable. With so many different eyes reviewing, say, Draft #87, there is bound to be someone who remembers a turn-of-phrase that (s)he preferred back in Draft #86, or who still has the enthusiasm to suggest a rewording for Draft #88.

Critique group members are also a great resource for telling you when to stop revising. Enough! One Santa does really look and feel just like the other. No more tweaking.

In addition to a critique group, it often helps to put your most recent drafts in your virtual or real desk drawer for a few days, or for a few weeks if you can afford to. Your drafts won’t change, but you will have become a different reader.

And now back to my post-Santa revisions. With the help of the Scrivas, my next book should be ready to shine by this time next year. That would be draft number…?

Yes, your query letter needs critiqued too.

by Addie Boswell
Published on: December 22, 2011
Categories: Other Topics
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I have been writing the same query letter for over a year now. And it’s all my critique group’s fault. It goes like this:

October, 2010: My first YA novel is well into its second draft, and I am eager to start querying agents. I submit the query letter to the Scrivas to be critiqued.  The general response: This letter is fine, but… Are you sure you’re ready? They know my manuscript still has months of editing to go, so much that I struggle writing the synopsis, because motivation is unclear. I put the query down.

March, 2011: Still slogging through my revisions, I decide I’m wasting time waiting on my novel, and I should query agents for my other picture book manuscripts, which are polished and ready to go. I edit my query and my list of agents and submit it again. The general response: This letter is fine, even good, but… You should wait for your novel. Picture books are hard to sell now, but YA novels are hot, and the Scrivas know my novel is my strongest hook. Sighing this time, but knowing they’re right, I put the query down again.

October, 2011: My novel is finished! Despite the variety of minor problems, I feel confident about its quality and its story arc in a way I didn’t before. And when I submit my query again, the Scrivas know this, having seen it through with me. The general response? This is okay, but… You can make it better.

November, 2011: I edit the query and submit it a fourth time and finally get the words I long for the Scrivas to say: “Send it out!”

Whew. These ladies are hard to please, and they tell me things I really don’t want to hear. Lucky I have learned to listen to them anyway. Frankly, its a relief to have guidance (even the whip-cracking kind) in my oft-unstructured freelance life.

Who’s on First? What’s on Second? (Part I)

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2011
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Part One: What order do you critique in?

Picture this. You get your critique group together in a coffee shop for a meeting.  You’ve all read and commented on each others pieces, the small talk is over, and it’s time to get down to business. Everyone knows this, senses it’s time, yet nothing happens. Maybe there is an awkward pause.

Someone says: “What piece should we do first?”

People throw out ideas: “Well, Jules hasn’t submitted in a while so why don’t we start there?”

“How bout we start with the picture book, it will be quicker.”

“Sammie has a deadline coming up so let’s start with hers…”

The discussion about where to start could take up the whole meeting. (Well, not really, but you get my point.)

The Scrivas did this for a while, just playing it by ear. But that felt awkward, arbitrary, and possibly unfair. What if someone’s work was always critiqued last, when everyone was tired and time was running short?

So these days we have a process that works pretty well. It’s simple: First come, first served. Scrivas submit (by email) manuscripts to be critiqued at least one week before the scheduled meeting. We critique manuscripts in the order they are received.

There is a built in incentive to get work in early. If you do, your work will be addressed toward the beginning of the meeting when people are fresh and energy is high. If you submit late (past the deadline), we may or may not get to your piece.

It’s not as harsh as it sounds. We all try to give each piece our best critique no matter where in the meeting it falls. And we usually fit every piece in.

But now, we always know what’s on first. And there’s even some playful competition for that coveted first spot.  (I, the reigning champion, am being challenged by ScrivaAddie. Hiss.)

 Elizabeth Rusch

Waiting Sucks! Good writing partners will get you through.

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 19, 2011
Categories: Challenges
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Recently I’ve found myself commiserating with Scriva members and with my writer buddies on Twitter about the waiting game.  I don’t know what I’d do without their knowing nods, the shared irritation, and the “keep the faith” tweets.  This business can be crazy-making.

So I was excited to find (via my Tweeps, of course) this great blog post by agent Natalie Lakosil.  She says everything I would say (except my recommendation of Ralph Keyes amazing THE WRITER’S BOOK OF HOPE).  Here’s an except and a link to the entire post.

How to Survive WAITING by Natalie Lakosil

…and waiting. And…waiting.

Before you ask – oh yes. Agents wait too. Sure, we may be relatively calm about it – we resist the urge to pick up the phone and eagerly ask…well?? Resist the “just checking in!” emails until a reasonableamount of time has passed. Don’t DM our editor friends just PLEADING for an update.

But we are equally as excited about the work we put into the submission world as any writer – and we go equally bat s**t crazy with stalking urges during the “waiting to hear back” process (well…I suppose I shouldn’t speak on behalf of ALL agents…maybe I’m just terribly impulsive and impatient and oh god what if it really DOES suck and I’m just kidding myself here and would it REALLY be so bad just to email NOW or maybe I should start submitting some more just to even out the numbers again but what IF I get an offer and I guess I can wait one…more…day……)

Sound familiar?

Regardless of who you are in the writing world, waiting sucks.

Click here to read the rest.

To join or not to join, that is the question

by Michelle McCann
Published on: December 7, 2011
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Hi, I’m Scriva Michelle–the new girl. A few weeks ago I was officially inducted into the Viva Scrivas (a terrifying hazing from which I am unlikely to recover). It’s been a long, ambivalent road for me deciding whether or not to join this talented writing group. I work part-time and have young kids, so finding time to write has been a major struggle for me. THE major struggle. I’ve had a number of children’s books published, but I wrote them all before I had children. Ten years ago!

Once the kids arrived, I felt like if I was taking time away from them, paying someone else to watch them, I should be doing something that actually paid more than the cost of the childcare. My writing virtually stopped.

But my old writing partner, Scriva Liz, never gave up on me. During those non-writing years she continually reminded me that I can write, that I love to write and that I should get writing again. She is a persistent gal, that Liz.

In an effort at full disclosure, I’ve been thinking about why I resisted the pull of the critique group. Here are the fears that have kept me away until now:

1) I HAVE NO TIME. I will fill up the tiny amounts of time I have for writing with critiquing other people’s manuscripts (which is already what I do for paid work–I’m an editor). After all, critiquing is much easier and more fun, at least for me.

2) I HAVE NO TALENT. I will be discovered as a fraud, a non-writer. I will either not be able to actually write again (it has been nearly 10 years, after all), or the group will realize, once they read my first submission, that I actually suck.

Neither of these fears is unique. In fact, they are cliché writer fears. But there you have it: not only do I have no talent, I am also a cliché!

So why do it?  Why not write at home, alone, and never show it to anyone? Now that I’ve taken the leap, I’m seeing the positives:
1) I NEED A KICK IN THE ASS. What has happened in the past few months that I’ve been dipping my toes into the group to see how we fit is that I’ve actually been thinking about writing all the time. I’ve been listening to the similar struggles of other writers in the group and realizing that I’m not alone. Feeling the pressure to do it. And I’ve been writing. For the first time in 10 years.

2) I NEED DEADLINES. Meeting once a month forces me to at least sit down once a month and try to get some words on the page. If I don’t submit something to the group at some point it’s going to be embarrassing. So I have to work. Someone is waiting.

3) I NEED SUPPORT. I’m starting to realize that maybe the reason I stopped writing for 10 years is that I needed some support. Some cheerleaders encouraging me to skip the kids’ soccer games for once and choose to write instead. Some talented people to sit with as we all stare at the blank white page and painfully pull the words and the stories from our heads.

And I think it’s working. I went on my first writing retreat last June, and now, five months later, I have about half of a middle grade novel written and the rest outlined. I actually survived the first critique of my early chapters, and while the Scrivas have given me plenty to work on for revisions, nobody laughed me out of the room. Nobody said, “You suck! Who in the world ever suggested you could write for kids?” At least not out loud.

And yes, I do struggle to find time to write my own stuff AND read/critique the other writer’s manuscripts. But there are words on the page. Finally. And another deadline next week.

I’m in. Time to get writing.

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