Archives: June 2012

The Creative Habit

by Addie Boswell
Published on: June 26, 2012
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Twyla Tharp’s excellent book has been resonating with me this month, especially the need for ritual in a creative occupation. The Scrivas talk about this often: our different but similar time schedules, processes, even places to write. Yes to more ritual! Yes to creative self-knowledge! Yes, yes, yes!

And then, there was this one little paragraph in chapter three: “I wonder how many people get sidetracked from their true calling by the fact that they have talent to excel at more than one artistic medium. This is a curse rather than a blessing. If you have only one option, you can’t make a wrong choice. If you have two options, you have a fifty percent chance of being wrong.”

That paragraph hit me in the gut, strongly enough that I had to close the book and have an imaginary argument with the author. The wrong choice?! You see, not only am I an artist and writer, I use different mediums, and write in different genres, and even teach different ages. I go back and forth between my jobs like a delighted child. Or a crazed bumblebee, muttering similar things to myself, “If you would only concentrate on one thing, you could have been a great success by now.” No matter how true, when Twyla says it, I feel righteous indignation.

Have you ever asked yourself, “If I had to do only one thing for the rest of my life, what would it be?” If you can answer only one thing, it is a blessing of sorts (go forth!) But most likely, you’re like me and can narrow it down to three or four, and then remember something else you hadn’t thought of and start the process all over again. If I really had to choose, I decide, I would pick reading.  And then I get sad, thinking of how I would be reading and I’d get these great ideas and wouldn’t be able to write them down. And I start over with the whole imaginary argument. What a silly argument, and a moot point. As if anything you love could be wrong.

So, I realized, there is Twyla’s approach; a single-minded intent on goal (in her own words, “a bubble of monomaniacal absorption”). This is the way of many of my creative heroes: Picasso, Kahlo, Motzart, Shakespeare, Jobs. And then there is the Renaissance-Man approach, where the habit is to follow the creativity where it leads, or even invent a new genre. The way of Da Vinci, Seuss, Bono, and the Scrivas, who are writers and mothers and teachers and gardeners and a hundred things more. The child, in a continuous state of wonder. The bumblebee, perpetually drunk on nectar. Thanks Twyla, for reminding me.

What, exactly, do you want?

by Mary Rehmann
Published on: June 23, 2012
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A few weeks ago, I happened across a blog post on character goals and motivations that nagged me like a just-below-the-skin’s-surface splinter – but in a good way.  I’d pick at it a little, forget it for a bit, and then rediscover it and set about finding a better set of tweezers.

I stumbled across while looking for an image from The Princess Bride to use in a prop for an 8th grade graduation celebration.  In the blog, Cheryl writes about Westley’s, Buttercup’s, Inigo’s, and even Humperdinck’s goals and the importance of character motivation.  I added the blog to my bookmarks, fully aware that I might never again visit it because, let’s face it, I’m only a blogger by scriva-default.  I rarely read blogs because there are only so many hours in a day and only so much writing advice I can swallow before it begins to taste like hemlock.  I did, however, pull up my character rubric for the novel I’ve been promising myself to work on this summer, and I gave myself a nice pat on the back for listing on it goals for my two main characters.  Splinter?  What splinter?

A few nights later, in the midst of reading one of the five YA books I try to read each trimester (gotta have stuff to recommend to my students), I wondered why the author hadn’t clued me in to the motivations of anyone except the main character.  Was it a plot technique?  Had I missed something?  Was my new-found focus making me a writer-snob?

Fast-forward ten days. I asked my 7th graders to write a paragraph about which character from Dead Poet’s Society they most identify with and why.   I expected about half would mention Neil and the other half would bring up Todd.  What I got was at least five references to each student character in the movie – and plenty of explanations about how the characters’ needs and goals were similar to what my own students wanted.  Damn splinter.  I graded my essays and went back to my rubric.  Sure, my main characters had goals, but what about the ancillary cast?

I’ve got my summer writing work cut out for me: understand the goals of more of my characters, get some actual writing done, and spend a little time catching up on splinter-inducing blogs.

The Picture Book Manifesto

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: June 21, 2012
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I recently participated in the SCBWI Oregon conference in May and attended a break-out session with Kristi King, an agent from Writer’s House who also works alongside Steven Malk.  She shared with us “The Picture Book Manifesto,” and it was my very first time hearing it.  It comes from

I LOVED it!  What an inspiring piece for a writer.   It’s been out for a while, but since I am usually knee deep in paint and glitter teaching preschool alongside writing my WIP and taking care of my family, somehow I missed it when it first came out.  But now that I have heard it I want to share it with the world!  I think you could even change the term “picture book” to “historical fiction,” or any other children’s genre in a sales slump, and the proclamation would work for the most part, give or take a few lines (which is what I did, and the proclamation took on a whole new meaning. I teared up from being so moved by it.)

So to those of you in need of a bit of inspiration with your writing, here you go– “The Picture Book Manifesto.”  Enjoy!


-Nicole Marie Schreiber









The Long Journey: The Story of One Scriva-ed Book

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2012
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The cover

June 18, 2012 was the release date for my newest book, The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity.

Dear Scrivas, I couldn’t have done it without you!

The story begins many years ago, way back in 2003. Two rovers blasted off on rocketships headed to Mars. They had a three-month mission to find water on Mars that might have supported life. But I didn’t even know about them!

Well, maybe I had read something in the paper about their launch. And maybe I read something in 2004, when they landed. And maybe I read about them again three months later, when they passed their mission goal of three months of exploring. But they weren’t on my radar screen yet.

Then Spirit and Opportunity lasted twice a long as expected. Then six months turned into a year. And my husband said: “Are you following these Mars rovers? They would make a great kids book.” I started following them. In the paper and on the mission website. And I started writing.

I think I submitted my first Mars rover manuscript to the Scrivas in early 2006. Yes, folks, that was more than SIX years ago.  The poor Scrivas read literally DOZENS of drafts of this book: The one for kids ages 6-10 on the first three years of the mission. The two manuscripts where I told Spirit and Opporuntunity’s stories as separate books. The very short version for very young children. The first few chapters of a book for kids ages 10 and up. The proposal for the Scientists in the Field series, which finally sold to Houghton Mifflin. And chapter after chapter as I wrote the manuscript and then chapter after chapter again as I revised it.

God bless the Viva Scrivas for reading, and reading, and reading, and commenting, and commenting, and commenting and NEVER once complaining (to my face) that they had to read yet another frigging Mars rovers manuscript. Thanks to you I can say: Mission Accomplished!

BOOK DESCRIPTION: This thrilling addition to the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series, The Mighty Mars Rovers tells the greatest space robot adventure of all time through the eyes—and heart—of Steven Squyres, professor of astronomy at Cornell University and lead scientist on the mission. Join Steve as he sweats through the rover’s dramatic landings, puzzle with him and his team as they figure out how to make delicate rovers explore deep craters and travel up the sides of jagged mountains, and hold your breath with Steve as Spirit and Opportunity find themselves in grave danger again and again.

These rovers have explored the red planet for more than six years — and Opportunity is still exploring!

And the Scrivas are still Scriving! Cheers to that!


Bringing Back the Magic

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: June 12, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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Oftentimes, with the demands of my daily life, writing gets squeezed into very tight blocks of time, such as 9 am to 11 am on Wednesday or noon to 1:30 on Friday. With these constraints, the process can feel like a bit of a slog, like my goals are looming too large at the end of the hour. Will I finish this chapter, scene, conversation before I have to run my errand, go to work, fix dinner?

In all of this rush, it can feel like the magic of writing — that creative pull, that sense of wonder that made me want to write in the first place — is gone.

What a sad thought! So I wondered if perhaps there are ways to bring the magic back to the writing process, much like adding some romance into a relationship. And here is what I came up with:

1. Read a poem every night for a year.

My writing professor in graduate school made this off-hand suggestion in class once when a student asked him how one can improve their writing. What a romantic idea! He said that the best time to do this was before sleep, in order to let the language, the imagery, and the rhythm of the words work over your subconscious.

2. Write a pastiche.

You might be thinking, huh? Yeah, that was my reaction, too. That same professor would often give this to us as an assignment. “Write a pastiche in the vein of James Agee…” The first time he said this, I wrote “Pastiche?” in the margins of my notes and has to look it up after class.

Pas-tiche (noun): a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.

Yup, it cleared up a lot for me too. As far as I could tell, the professor wanted us to basically imitate another writer’s style in a short piece of our own. Adopt their tone, stylings, sentence lengths, etc. To do so pushes your own creative boundaries. You may not write something you’d ever want to show another person, but you may also learn a new technique and make it your own in the process.

3. Create a pillow book.

According to Wikipedia, a pillow book is a “book of observations and musings” that originated with a court lady in eleventh century Japan. I think it was also a kind-of racy movie with Ewan McGregor from the 90s. The original pillow book was a diary, so the form can include any and all observations about life, often incorporating the very things we tend to overlook in the rush of our day to day routine. Some suggestions might be to make a list of words that you like the sound of, to take a walk through town and take notes on everything you see, or to sit in a coffee shop and jot down an overheard conversation. Whatever makes you pause — just jot it down.

There you have it, my three ways for bringing the magic back to the writing process. They could end up being the equivalent of an empty romantic gesture. Or perhaps, an invitation to dream, which every person, and writer, can surely use at some point.

“I hate your manuscript” – Critiquing a manuscript that you don’t like

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 11, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment

Eventually it will happen.  Whether you are in a new critique group or a neighbor has asked you to read his pages or you’re on the faculty for a writing conference, you will need to critique manuscripts that you really don’t like.

That’s okay.


As Beth Revis discusses in a wonderful post on how to deal with negative reviews (the other side of the coin we’re discussing), tastes differ.  Some people hate Harry Potter.  Some people think Where the Wild Things Are sucks.  You can and should acknowledge the genres or forms that you are just not into.

That does not, however, get you off the hook of providing critique.

You can’t say, “I don’t like it.”
You can’t say, “It’s not my thing.”
You can’t say, “This is terrible.”

You can say, “I am not familiar with the conventions of this genre.”
You can say, “I heard that Silly Willy Press publishes goofy rhyming picture books.”
You can say, “I was wondering who the target audience is.”

It’s even better if you can…

… try to get past the fact that you hate rhyming picture books and provide useful comments on structure or story arc or character development

… figure out what you don’t like and frame this constructively.  For example, you hate the main character, but instead you focus on what would help you connect with him.  Is he too passive?  Does he feel mean-spirited?  Can he do less self-talk and more action?

… remember that you are not trying to help your critique partner write a story you will like.  You are trying to help her write the story she is trying to write.

And above all… Do No Harm.  Many of us have experienced manuscripts that looked like lost causes and low and behold, the writer has revised and revised until her story has emerged solid and polished and, yes, likeable!

Dude, Where’s My Website?

by Michelle McCann
Published on: June 5, 2012
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So I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those writers who is being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. My first children’s book was published twelve years ago and I STILL don’t have a website (oh, the horror!). As many other similarly Luddite-minded authors are finding these days, my publisher is no longer content to let me ignore this important marketing opportunity and is forcing me to get on the bandwagon. That means a website, Facebook page and Twitter action ASAP! I have my summer to do list.

Fortunately, two of my most brilliant former students recently started a company, Whirlabout New Media (, that helps technophobe children’s book authors like myself launch ourselves and our books onto these new “platforms” (see how much I’m learning already).

Along those same lines, last week my Intro to Children’s Book Publishing students researched and presented author or book websites they either loved or hated. I found their discoveries both reassuring (I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t know how to do it yet) and inspiring. Children’s book writers and publishers are doing some very cool things to engage their fans and get kids excited about books.

This is by no means a definitive list—more a small sampling. But if you’d like to see some of the interesting things happening online, here are some good ones to check out.


PICTURE BOOKS: Picture book websites need to please two audiences: the kid fans and the adult readers/buyers. There should be lots of imagery, games and fun interactive stuff for the kids, as well as printable freebies for the adults (lesson plans, etc.).

This one is aimed more at adults—the teachers, librarians and parents who read her books aloud—but there is still plenty of fun stuff for kids and lots of visuals and personal info and photos.

This is a rare publisher-run website that is actually really fun and creative. Tons of games and activities for young Seuss fans to do.

Personally, I think this is the best picture book website out there. It has stuff for grown-ups (titled “Boring Grown-up Stuff”), as it should, but the entire website is totally kid friendly (kids don’t have to be able to read to navigate), chock full of humor, awesome pictures, and hysterical games. I can waste hours playing Elephant & Piggie Dance Party (go to Mo Willems-Pigeon Presents-Fun).

BEGINNING READERS: This age group is one that really likes to play games on the computer, so if you can create book-themed games that get them excited about reading, great! This is also a genre with lots of teacher interaction, so having free lesson plans and other stuff for the educators is a must. Here are three sites where publishers are doing it right:

MIDDLE GRADE: Middle grade websites are aimed more directly at the kids. You will notice that the popular ones have the look and feel of a movie trailer or video game (their competition).

This local Portland author’s book site proves you don’t have to be a mega-bestseller to have a kick-butt website. Listen for the theme song he wrote and recorded himself! Movie is in development—yah Dale!

Tons of fun stuff for kid fans—layers and layers for kids to explore.

Girl spy series. Very stylish and cool!

Another very visually appealing, chock-full-of-activities website.

This site is kind of the holy grail of interactive middle grade book-website synergy. This was the beginning and it’s still pretty darn impressive.


Young adult websites are all about getting personal. Teens want to get to know their favorite authors more intimately, their favorite characters more intimately, and they want to interact. And they want free stuff, of course! A good YA website will give them all that in a stylish package.

An innovative, inspiring website for an innovative, inspiring book. And check out author Jay Asher’s blog link—it’s a good one.

This YA darling does it all, with style. She’s got personal info and photos, contests, music, home-made cut-paper videos, foreign edition covers and more! Fans can spend hours here and many do.

A newbie to the YA bestseller world, Marissa did her own website and it’s awesome. Our favorite is  contest she has where fans have to answer questions about things only found on her website (encouraging fans to explore every nook and cranny). She also offers free Skype Q&As.

John is the Don Corleone of YA social media, the undisputed King (just Google “The Fault in Our Stars” social media promotion to find out more). His website is just the tip of the online iceberg that is his presence. But start there and check out his Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, etc. He is endlessly entertaining, whatever “platform” he is on.

Free Critique: The Perfect Contest for You

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 4, 2012
Categories: Challenges, Humor, Other Topics
Comments: 18 Comments

Summer is coming. So they tell us. The rains are behind us. Almost. It’s definitely time for a bit of fun. The Viva Scrivas are offering a free critique of a picture book manuscript (3,000 words max) or any other manuscript or piece of writing, again with a limit of 3,000 words. All you have to do is come up with the best new word that describes something related to the writing or critiquing process.

Take this word for instance. Lethescriptosis. Not my idea (alas!), but the invention of Gail Carson Levine (author of Ella Enchanted among other books). Lethescriptosis is her word for the malady of coming up with a dynamite idea and then forgetting it before you can write it down. “Lethe” from the Greek meaning forgetfulness or oblivion. “Script” from the Latin meaning something that is written. “Osis” from the Greek suffix meaning a condition (as in a disease). The perfect word.

Here are the details:

1. Invent a word, or two, or ten. Send in as many entries as you like, as often as you like.

2. Leave your entries as a comment on this Viva Scriva blog post, or send them to me (Ruth Tenzer Feldman).

3. The contest closes right after the Fourth of July weekend, at 11 p.m. Pacific time, on July 8th (which happens to be my birthday).

4. You do not have to be a writer to enter this contest. It’s kosher to submit an invented word on behalf of someone else, whom you think would like to have a critique. See how easy we are making this?

5. The winner receives a free critique that is the same quality that he or she would have received through our critique-for-a-fee services.

Let the games begin.

Wishlist: Writer’s Bookshelf

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: June 1, 2012
Categories: Craft, Inspiration
Comments: 4 Comments

I need more books.

“Really??” says anyone who’s ever visited me.

Beckoning from parallel walls, books enfold you as you enter. Visitors browse, find a comfortable seat, sometimes ask to borrow a title. “I’m checking these out,” says a niece. She knows the drill. Vetting the books with me, she records them at the back of my guest book.

Well, yes. I really do need more books! Certain writing—or writing-related—ones. Books I liked so much I want to read and re-read them. To study, even. Books that will exponentially expand my craft and inspiration.

Here’s the short “now” list:

-The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, Twyla Tharp
-How to Do Biography: A Primer, Nigel Hamilton
-The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction: Researching and Writing Historical Fiction, John Alexander Thorn

A couple I’ve wanted longer:

-First Draft in 30 Days, Karen Wiesner
-From First Draft to Finished Novel: A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building, Karen Wiesner

Some from a couple of years ago:

-Break Writer’s Block Now!, Jerrold Mundis
-Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Serious Non-Fiction—and Get It Published, Susan Rabiner & Alfred Fortunato
-How to Write: Advice and Reflections, Richard Rhodes

And one I wanted ages ago, remembered when ScrivaAmber spoke of it at an early retreat:

-Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland


What writing-related titles have you been hankering after—or justly just indulged yourself with?

-Sabina I. Rascol

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