Archives: July 2012

Writing a Novel: Which Way This Time?

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: July 31, 2012
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I just counted.

For a work-in-progress close to my heart (I call it My Book 2), I have over 160,000 words written. These are scenes in no particular order, written as I noodled around in the world of that story. Concomitantly I was writing scenes for other books, catching and running with whatever ideas occurred to me.

One day My Book 2 will occupy center stage in my writing life, and I will revisit all I have written in the past. I already know I won’t use all the scenes I’ve written. Rather, first establishing even more clearly in my mind the road these scenes built, I will unroll the narrative I now know I intend. Some of the scenes I have will be used, others will go. Some will serve as starting points for passages yet necessary to fill in the story.

I look forward to that process—or rather, to finally bringing forth that long-desired novel. Perhaps there were easier ways to have gone about writing My Book 2. But this is how I needed to write it at the time the idea first sang into my mind and I chose to follow its song.

 

My current work-in-progress is a historical middle-grade novel. For its sake I set aside all My Books (there are several), and I am going about writing it as differently as can be.

 

A couple of years ago I wrote an entire first draft, relatively fast, and, using an outline, entirely in order. The Scrivas as a whole never saw that version. I meant to do another pass-through before giving it to them, aware of much I could fix that I didn’t want to waste their time with. Scriva Nicole, though, was curious to read even that very rough first draft and I gave her the manuscript. With her excellent editorial eye, Nicole noted that in fact my novel was several novels in one: which one did I want to write?

 

I opted to develop the part of the story I most deeply resonated with. That is the novel I am working on now (and, if you’re wondering, what I won the work-in-progress Oregon Literary Fellowship for). The section I wrote so far of this brand-new version is also written entirely in chronological order. I felt I needed the discipline of plowing through the difficult patches in order to have a narrative that is cohesive already, rather than, like Aesop’s thoughtless grasshopper, merely jumping from easy scene to easy scene. So far, I am glad about how I chose to go about it, even though at times I am eager to get to later scenes that I see especially clearly or that have the deepest emotional resonance for me.

 

Right now I am doing field research to flesh out and nail down historical and geographical facts for my story. Once this time is over, I expect to make a couple of detours in my writing. A stop to organize the new information I collected. Likely contacting more experts to verify historical questions that are still unclear. Rewriting bits of the story, correcting them to fit newly-learned facts. And I’ve realized I’ll need to shift gears in places—I hope not grinding them too much—as I rethink parts of my plot so that they better mesh with what I’ve lately learned about the actual sequence of historical events.

 

Once these practical matters are sorted out, I will see how I will proceed with the writing. I continue to like the idea of writing my novel in chronological order, to know that what is written is more or less finished (for that draft, at least). I’ve thought, though, that it may help to write some later-along scenes ahead of time, to see more clearly where I’m heading, to make sure all my needed characters are introduced into the story early enough, etc. We’ll see.

 

So how are you going about writing your current work-in-progress—or how do you think you may write the novel you are thinking of starting?

 

-Sabina I. Rascol
www.sabinairascol.com

Be a World-Traveling Writer

by Addie Boswell
Published on: July 26, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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This month, words have taken two of the Scrivas to the far reaches. Nicole is in Belgium, scoping out this festival while Sabina is in Romania, visiting the home of her ancestors. While both of them are undoubtedly enjoying some personal time, the main purpose is to research for their novels-in-progress. For the same purpose ScrivaLiz traveled to the Phillipines to look inside volcanoes and I went to Rio de Janeiro to study life on the streets. These were all WRITING trips. None of us are wealthy, or more-than-usually adventurous; we generally don’t take these kinds of fabulous trips for vacation.  And, three out of four were made for books that haven’t been sold, or even submitted yet. No advances. So how did we do it?

We got Help. When you’re planning (or even pining for) such a trip, it helps to tell everybody you know. You never know when an excited relative or fellow author will kick in money or point you to free housing. But if you’re looking for a large chunk of money, say to fund your airfare, try for a grant.

A good place to start looking is the library, where the always-helpful librarians will point you to databases. The Foundation Center may be the best compilation. Here’s a few more you may be interested in.

 

    33 RPM

    by Mary Rehmann
    Published on: July 23, 2012
    Categories: Other Topics
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    Comments: 2 Comments

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Watch me write

    All night –

    Outta sight!

    Pure delight.

     

    Whoops a slip –

    What a dip.

    Why so flip?

     

    Lost my way,

    So they say.

    Write some more

    Another day.

    On Taking a Break

    by Elizabeth Rusch
    Published on: July 20, 2012
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    Comments: 1 Comment

    As you read this I am off to Europe for a month with my family. I am HOPING not to be working in that time. Why? Because I’ve learned from experience that taking breaks nurtures my creativity, helps me revise manuscripts, and ultimately makes me a better writer.

    How does this relate to critique? I’ll tell you with a story. For a couple years now, I’ve been working on a nonfiction biography of Mexican-American chemist Mario Molina. He’s the guy that discovered the link between Freon and the growing hole in the ozone layer.

    So anyway, (with the help of the Scrivas, of course) I managed to finish a really solid draft of a manuscript for kids ages 6-10. My agent sent it out and a number of editors asked if I could shorten it to work in a picturebook form for younger readers. I took a shot at it and showed the Scrivas the result.

    It was a disaster. The manuscript really didn’t work. After hearing their comments I really didn’t think I could find a way to do what they suggested needed to be done. I tried. Nothing worked. It just wasn’t going to work in that format.

    Or so I thought.

    Until more than 6 months later, some interest from an editor nudged me to find the file with the Scriva notes. I reread the manuscript and I reread the notes and suddenly I saw what needed to be done and how to do it. I revised the manuscript, showed it to the Scrivas again, and we all agreed that it now works.  It is now out with editors, fingers crossed.

    So what was the magic ingredient? I think it was time. I think it was the break away from the manuscript that helped me see the manuscript and the Scriva’s comments in a new, fresh, creative light.

    So if you are toiling and struggling and sweating and discouraged about a manuscript, I have a suggestion for you.

    Take a vacation.

    Happy summer,

    ScrivaLiz

    And the winner is….

    by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
    Published on: July 16, 2012
    Categories: Challenges, Craft, Creativity
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    Eighty-three. That’s the number of submissions Viva Scriva received for the free-critique contest. Can you believe it? A few of these are in the comment section of the blog, but many more came through e-mails to individual Scrivas. No wonder it’s taken us this long to decide on the best!

    It was a delight to go through all the made-up words—enough for a picture book at least.  And it was VERY hard to pick the favorite.

    Some of you conjured up animals: Take Carol Woodson’s teradraftyl. Carol reminded us that “tera” means “trillionth,” so I pictured how prehistorically horrible I’d look after my trillionth rewrite of a manuscript. Of the many entries Carol submitted, another animal favorite was gottaplotamus.

    Sitting—or the lack thereof—was the subject of two entries. Jane Shapiro offered maxglutes, meaning an enlarged gluteus maximus, a common side effect of prolonged butt-in-chair. Gina Ledoux suggested keesterphrenia, the butt-on-the-move “interruption process of writers as a result of dog barfs within earshot, thumping washing machine, ‘UH-OH, I promised to bake cookies.’ etc.”

    Rosanne Parry gave us Garcia Solitude. “This is not a word but a name I use as a placeholder when I have a character that I haven’t given a name to yet,” she said. “It’s a bit of an homage to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his brilliant 100 Years of Solitude, a book filled with characters having like-sounding names.”

    High on the favorite list Bonni Goldberg’s was postscriptosis, meaning the state of mind after writing or completing a writing project. The second meaning to this could be the urge to revise the ending.

    I confess that I got the final say on which entry would be the winner. I am in the midst of revising a 60,000-word manuscript based on half a gazillion excellent (and sometimes conflicting) comments from the Scrivas and others. So I have to go with:

    Frankenstory: The practice of trying to work into a manuscript every comment made by every critique group member resulting in something where all the seams are showing.

    Congratulations, Stephanie Shaw. Step right up and claim your free critique of a picture book manuscript (3,000 words max) or any other manuscript or piece of writing with a limit of 3,000 words.

     

    Rules of the Road

    by Melissa Dalton
    Published on: July 12, 2012
    Categories: Other Topics
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    Recently, Scriva Sabina asked which writing books we’d take with us on a cross-continental move (What a thought!). The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron would definitely make it into my suitcase.

    The Artist’s Way, which I think of as a sort-of creative bible, is intended to be a twelve-week program to explore your creativity and your blocks. Cameron addresses all mediums, not just writing. Now I’ll admit, I’ve never finished the whole program — I always get stuck on the week that you’re supposed to do reading deprivation — but I do love to thumb through the book when I’m feeling overwhelmed or creatively-tapped.

    Recently I did so and came across these, Cameron’s ten rules for being an artist. You’ll notice, she connects your creative path and nourishing your inner artist with a spiritual path, but it’s very generalized, so that you’re able to align what she’s suggesting with your own personal beliefs.

    “In order to be an artist, I must:

    1. Show up at the page. Use the page to rest, to dream, to try.

    2. Fill the well by caring for my artist.

    3. Set small and gentle goals and meet them.

    4. Pray for guidance, courage, humility.

    5. Remember that it is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.

    6. Be alert, always, for the presence of the Great Creator leading and helping my artist.

    7. Choose companions who encourage me to do the work, not just talk about doing the work or why I am not doing the work.

    8. Remember that the Great Creator loves creativity.

    9. Remember that it is my job to do the work, not judge the work.

    10. Place this sign in my workplace: Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.”

    Number 9 is particularly resonating with me these days, as I can easily allow my judgmental side get the best of me and block the writing I want to do.

    How about it, do any of Julia’s rules resonate with you? What would you add?

    Stuck revising? Change your writing point of view!

    by Amber Keyser
    Published on: July 9, 2012
    Categories: Challenges, Craft
    Comments: 1 Comment

    Being stuck sucks!

    We’ve all been there.

    A critique partner has made a good point and no solution is obvious. We know a scene is not working but are not sure what to do about it.  This is not the “I-can’t-write-a-word” kind of stuck.  It’s the “how-the-heck-do-I-fix-X” kind of stuck.

    Sometimes what we need is some experimentation.  Here are some ideas that you can use to change your writerly point-of-view on a scene (or a whole book).  They are also ideas that can help you self-edit more effectively.  Employ whenever a section gives you that gut feeling: “this isn’t working.”  In no particular order:

    1. Change the point-of-view.  Literally.  Rewrite a scene from a different characters point of view.

    2.  Try reworking the scene by hand (if you are mainly on the computer) or verbally by “talking” it into the voice memo function on your smart phone.

    3.  Get someone (or your ereader) to read your scene out loud to you.

    4.  Change the format dramatically and print it out.  For one example, check out this great post via Molly Green and Christine Nolfi.  In it, they explain one technique:

    “The key-line layout creates a paperback version of your novel. The end result is a landscape, two-column format. It’s an alternate way to review your manuscript that provides a fresh perspective after months (years?) reading in the traditional, vertical format.”

    5.  Use scissors.  Print the scene and cut into pieces.  Rearrange.

    6.  Highlight!  Use different colors for different POVs or for sensory details or for backstory or for showing vs. telling.  If you know the problem is voice, for example, get your critique partners to highlight the places where they best “hear” the voice.  That gives you something to work towards. Or highlight in three colors: active sentences (stuff/dialogue moves plot forward), flashback, and character’s thoughts.  You want more of the first than anything else.

    Well that should get you started…  Other ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

    The “Futilitarian” Critique

    by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
    Published on: July 3, 2012
    Categories: Critique Process
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    Ursula K. Le Guin, 2004

    I am venting. No, it’s not about the Viva Scrivas, but about a recent unnamed critique session. Until now I didn’t have quite the right words to describe how appalled I was at the way a writing colleague was treated by someone who ought to know better.

    Then I reread parts of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. Ursula’s excellent book about writing has an appendix on “The Peer Group Workshop.” My search was over. Here is what Ursula adds, in a parenthetical “private aside” about critiquing:

    Certain “writing teachers” go around the country doing Master Classes that consist of the Master reading the students’ work and trashing it. The idea is, the Master knows what Art is, and the student is a stupid jerk who can only become an artist if abused by a Master. This sadomasochistic teaching technique exists also in some prestigious writing programs. It has no place in a workshop or peer group. As far as I am concerned it has nothing to do with writing at all, but is a cult of ego-exaltation and ego-abasement.

    Ursula’s comment brings to mind “futilitarian.” It’s a word I made up, and it describes the critique given by a confidence-bashing person who has neither the inclination, nor perhaps the ability, to offer useful comments. In extreme cases of futilitarianism, one is justified to capitalizing the first two letters of the word.

    As I’m already a Scriva and I get free critiques from my group, I cannot enter “futilitarian” in the free critique contest. But you can. It’s not too late (the deadline is July 8th) to come up with a new word that describes the critique or writing process. We’ve got a bunch of great entries so far. Bring it on!

    And thanks again, Ursula.

     

    Writer’s Bookshelf: What Would Make the Cut?

    by Sabina I. Rascol
    Published on: July 2, 2012
    Categories: Craft, Creativity, Inspiration
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    It’s summer, when people’s thoughts turn to travel. Mine turn to my friend Stefan, who years ago did more than just go on vacation. He picked up and moved to France.

    Before that, I once house-sat for him, so I knew his quality possessions were already well edited. Preparing for his move, though, he whittled down his belongings to what would fit inside just part of a container. He is a musicologist, so of course his extensive CD collection made the cut. His musical instruments did, too, as well as a couple of small pieces of furniture. He pared and pared down the rest of what he owned till he was satisfied that everything he was shipping across the Atlantic counted.

    In the years since Stefan left, remembering his packing, I’ve said at times about some object I value: “I’d even take this to France!” Recently, I did a mental review of my writing books. Here—besides the titles I wrote of last month, still to be acquired—are the books on my writer’s bookshelf that, this moment at least, I’d wish to take with me were I moving to Europe.

    *

    -An Exaltation of Larks, or, The Venereal Game – James Lipton

    -Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott

    -Creating Poetry: How to begin a poem, use word combinations and new forms, apply the lessons from master poets to individual poems, choose words and images carefully, and much more – John Drury

    -How to Grow a Novel : The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them – Sol Stein

    -Remember the Time…? The Power and Promise of Family Storytelling – Eileen Silva Kindig

    -The Synonym Finder – Rodale

    -Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry – Laurence Perrine

    -Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writers’ Manual – Rita Mae Brown

    -The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity – Julia Cameron

    -The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books – Eviatar Zerubavel

    -The Elements of Style – Strunk and White

    -The Oxford English Dictionary [I have the the 20+ volumes in one compact edition, equipped with magnifying glass]

    -What’s Your Story? A Young Person’s Guide to Writing Fiction – Marion Dane Bauer

    -Writing Lives: Principia Biographica – Leon Edel

    -Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print – Lawrence Block

     

    *

    So what books on your writer’s bookshelf would make the cut?

     

    -Sabina I. Rascol
    www.sabinairascol.com

     

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