Archives: August 2012

A Change of Pace

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: August 31, 2012
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This August was unusual for the Scrivas. Often we queue up, figuring out what month someone or other can have a turn to submit bigger chunks of writing.  This past month, though, no one submitted any manuscripts for critiquing. 

What, nothing to critique??

We decided to meet anyway, with seven of the Scrivas able to attend. So what did we do–besides indulge in scrumptious tortilla soup, yummy mud pie, and a bit of Portland summer savored on Addie’s deck?

Of course, we caught up on each other’s summers and especially travels. Some reported on international trips and how these supported writing projects. Others shared about domestic adventures and writing accomplished despite, or thwarted by such adventures. 

We talked about books, titles rattling off at dizzying speed around the table. Those who had read them reacted. “I loved that!” / “I hated it!” could be heard about the very same title from the so shy and unopinionated (not!) Scrivas. 

We even talked, dear reader, about this blog, and how hard it can be to come up with topics we consider worthy of your attention. Some pitched in with suggestions for blog posts inspired by what we’d talked about that evening. Stay tuned in the months ahead for intriguing topics and treatments!

And we spoke about fall and back-to school rhythms for all of us, not just those who are parents and/or work in education. To a man…er, woman…we all hope and plan to write more and wonderfully. 

It’s happening already. Our critique plates will be full for September. Ruth already handed out a second or so draft of her sequel to Blue Thread. Liz sent out the first third of her just-sold graphic novel (yeay, Liz!) whose characters have become friends through previous drafts. And I got wind that Nicole has one or two picture books, readied for submission in breaks from her novel. 

Yes, the Scrivas are in full swing again. We relish it, too. Still, what a pleasant time it was having a full evening, not just the first bit of a meeting, dedicated to catching up. You may want to try it with your critique group one of these days, too. 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Great Post: Criticism vs. Critique

by Addie Boswell
Published on: August 26, 2012
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From the Chronicles of Harriet, this post says it nicely! Read the full post here: A CRITIC CRITIQUES CRITICISM CRITICALLY.

For the sum-up:

  • Criticism finds fault. Critique looks at structure.
  • Criticism looks for what’s lacking. Critique finds what’s working.
  • Criticism condemns what it doesn’t understand. Critique asks for clarification.
  • Criticism is spoken with a cruel wit and sarcastic tongue. Critique’s voice is kind, honest, and objective.
  • Criticism is negative. Critique is positive.
  • Criticism is vague and general. Critique is concrete and specific.
  • Criticism has no sense of humor. Critique uses humor to soften the “blow” of the critique.
  • Criticism often looks for flaws in the writer as well as the writing. Critique addresses only what is on the page.

How to Get Group Flow

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2012
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On a great website that I read regularly and that offers daily email inspirations called the Daily Good (, I read some fascinating ideas on how to encourage group flow and creative teamwork that seemed relevant to the critiquing process. Researcher R. Keith Sawyer pointed out that people are more likely to get into flow when their environment has four important characteristics.

1. You’re doing something where your skills match the challenge of the task. If the challenge is too great for your skills, you get frustrated; if the task isn’t challenging enough, you simply get bored.

2. The goal is clear.

3. There is constant and immediate feedback.

4. You’re free to fully concentrate on the task.

Building on this research, Sawyer found that group flow requires conditions that overlap with and go beyond these four. Here are the 10 factors he identified for group flow, edited for clarity from the website, with my notes in parentheses:

1. The group’s goal

It’s essential for groups to have a compelling vision and a shared mission—they need to be clear about what their collective goal is. But how we define a group’s goal can vary depending on what type of group it is. Jazz and improv theater are relatively unstructured. The only goal is intrinsic to the performance itself—to perform well and to entertain the audience. This is problem-finding creativity because the group has to “find” and define the problem as they’re solving it. Sometimes teams are expected to solve specific problems. If the goal is well-understood and can be explicitly stated, it’s a problem-solving creative task. Problem-finding and problem-solving creativity can both foster flow, depending on the context. Either way, the key to group flow is managing a paradox: establishing a goal that provides focus for the team—just enough focus so that team members can tell when they get closer to a solution—but one that’s open-ended enough for maximum creativity to emerge.

(Critique groups want to help make manuscripts better. They have both problem-finding and problem-solving goals. We want to discover together what the problems are with a manuscript and brainstorm solutions.)

2. Close listening

Actors and musicians both talk about group flow using metaphors like riding a wave, gliding across a ballroom with a dance partner, or lovemaking. Group flow is more likely to emerge when everyone is fully engaged—what improvisers call “deep listening,” in which you don’t plan ahead what you’re going to say, but your statements are genuinely unplanned responses to what you hear.

(While we often prepare comments ahead of time, some of the most interesting and helpful discussion arise from comments that are made or adjusted in the moment by critique group members listening to each other.)

3. Keep it moving forward

After deep listening, team members need to keep moving the conversation forward, meaning that they follow the most important rule of improv: “Yes, and…” In other words, listen closely to what’s being said, accept it fully, then extend and build on it. This often leads down an unexpected and improvised path, a problem-finding process that can result in surprising new ideas. Nothing staunches creativity quicker than negating or ignoring your partner. “Yes, and…” builds on deep listening, and it’s critical to group flow.

(Again, our in-the-moment comments often BUILD on what critique members have said before us. Yes…and…)

4. Complete concentration

In basketball, complete concentration is required because the game moves fast—everyone’s constantly moving around you, and yet you need to remain constantly aware of your teammates and opponents. When a player is in flow, time becomes warped, minutes seem like hours, and the basketball can appear to move in slow motion. To enable a similar degree of concentration—and flow—in group settings, it helps to wall the group’s work off from other activities, giving them the space to devote their full attention to their work. Perhaps this is why many high-performing groups have a strong feeling of group identity, of standing apart from the world.

(Our critique group and many others meet in carefully chosen places away from home or office where we can focus and concentrate. And we do all really concentrate and pay attention to what other members are saying.)

5. Being in control

People get into flow when they’re in control of their actions and of their environment. In the same way, group flow increases when people feel autonomy, competence, and relatedness. But in group flow, unlike solo flow, control results in a paradox: Each participant must feel in control while at the same time remaining flexible, listening closely, and always being willing to defer to the emergent flow of the group. The most innovative teams are the ones that can manage that paradox.

(This is how critique is a little like improvising Jazz. We speak, we listen, we wait, we add, we listen, we think, we laugh, we listen, we speak.)

6. Blending egos

Jazz musicians know that they need to control their egos; every jazz player can tell a story about a technically gifted young instrumentalist who was nonetheless a horrible jazz musician. What they’re lacking is the ability to submerge their ego to the group mind, to balance their own voice with deep listening. Group flow is the magical moment when it all comes together, when the group is in sync and the performers seem to be thinking with one mind. In group flow, each person’s idea builds on the ones that their partners just contributed. Small ideas build together and an innovation emerges.

“He is animated and engaged with you,” one executive said of a colleague who often participated in groups in flow. “[But] he is also listening and reacting to what you are saying with undivided attention.”

(This is why choosing critique group members carefully is so important. You want strong, bright, talented people who are OK with sharing the floor with other strong, bright, talented people. And if you are strong, bright, and talented, make sure your actions reflect your respect for all the other people in the group.)

7. Equal participation

Group flow is more likely to occur when all participants play an equal role in the collective creation of the final product or performance.

(Everyone must participate! We make sure every person gets a chance to comment.)

8. Familiarity

By studying many different work teams, psychologists have found that when we’re more familiar with our teammates, we’re more productive and make more effective decisions. When members of a group have been together awhile, they share a common language and a common set of unspoken understandings—what psychologists call ”tacit knowledge.” Because it’s unspoken, people often don’t even realize what it is that enables them to communicate effectively.

(Give your group time to get to know each other. Enjoy each other’s company. Socialize outside of the group.)

9. Communication

Indeed, group flow requires constant communication. Everyone hates to go to useless meetings. But the kind of communication that leads to group flow often doesn’t happen in the conference room. Instead, it’s more likely to happen in free-wheeling, spontaneous conversations in the hallway, or in social settings after work or at lunch.

(We schedule our meetings, we all know the structure, but within that structure we allow it to be more free-wheeling and fun.)

10. The potential for failure

Jazz ensembles rarely experience flow during rehearsal. Jazz musicians and improv theater ensembles never know how successful a performance will be. Research shows us over and over again that the twin sibling of innovation is frequent failure. There’s no creativity without failure, and there’s no group flow without the risk of failure.

(So it’s OK if not every meeting is the best meeting ever. Go for it again next time anyway!)

You can read Dr. Sawyer’s complete essay at:

R. Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and education at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the country’s leading scientific experts on creativity. He elaborates on these idea in his book Group Genius.


Five Tips for the Attention-Deficit Writer

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: August 16, 2012
Categories: Challenges, Other Topics
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Adult Attention Deficit DisorderI’m not sure if I’ve said this before, but I am going to say it again even if I have–
I am a TERRIBLE multi-tasker.
Of course, I do multi-tasking every single day because I must and it is a part of life, but I really think that there is something in the way I am designed that isn’t cut out for it. And in this day and age, it really feels like multi-tasking has gone through the roof.
We live in a time of mult-tasking to the tenth exponent due to our smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and constant logging in.  We are “on the grid” even in our minds, and I don’t know about you, but it takes a toll on me.  Add that to my day job, my family, day-to-day living/errands/ volunteerism/ etc…, and it amazes me that I get any writing done at all.
Thankfully I have been getting writing done.  How?  Here are five tips that I have been following.
Tip #1-TURN OFF THE INTERNET when you write (at least for a set period).
Tip #2- Write in the early, early morning or late at night for two hours. (When school starts again, I will be back on the 5 am-7 am shift.)
Tip #3- Make sure to set up writing time just like you make time to read (hopefully all writers do read!  I know that my closest writing friends read a TON, and sometimes it’s easier to curl up with a book than to work out a scene that isn’t right in a WIP, but don’t let that happen.  Make writing a priority like reading that latest awesome book you just added to your to-be-read pile.)
Tip #4- Write down new ideas that come to you and keep them in another file on your computer, in an actual notebook, or in a TEAPOT! (great idea courtesy of Stephanie Burgis, the author of the KAT, INCORRIGIBLE trilogy)
Tip #5- Do some “quick writes” or “morning pages” for a set time (maybe 15 minutes) where you write about anything to get your mind cleared of all of that other “stuff” invading it to make room for your WIP.
I hope to share more tips with you soon.  Good luck with “tuning in” to your WIP!
-Nicole Marie Schreiber

A Fun Exercise in Writing Dialogue

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: August 12, 2012
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This weekend I finished reading The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen, which I enjoyed. She uses a variety of narrative devices throughout the novel such as emails, letters, and literary criticism. Occasionally, she also adds in super short chapters consisting solely of dialogue, even leaving out speech tags completely. I am always intrigued to see this narrative technique, ever since I took a nonfiction writing class and that was one of the assignments.

So I thought I’d pass the assignment on to you, to kickstart your writing week: Write a page of dialogue with less than 5 speech tags and only 2 sentences of context, at the beginning and the end. It can be fiction or nonfiction, whatever floats your boat. Extra credit if you leave out speech tags altogether, like Melissa. Good luck!

Critique Group Speed Dating

by Amber Keyser
Published on: August 9, 2012
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: 5 Comments

On this blog, we Scrivas love to talk about effective group process and good critique, but I fear we may gloss over the hardest part of critique groups: FINDING ONE!  I know I had several botched attempts before finding the Scrivas.  It’s very difficult to assess compatibility of potential critique partners.  You’ve got to get into the process a little before you have any sense of whether it will work or not.

And that’s kind of like jumping into the sack with someone you’ve just met.  Could be fun. Or it could be an epic disaster.  Is there a way to streamline the process?

Well, I’ve been tossing around the idea of critique group speed dating for a while.

In looking for a critique partner, you want to find someone whose writing you respect.  That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s got potential that you can get behind.  You also want someone that you get along with on a personal level. Ideally, this is also someone who offers productive critique.


Here’s one idea for how it could work:

  1. Each participant brings in one page of their writing with enough copies for all participants.
  2. Two people sit down at a table and talk about their writing goals, creative process, and projects (NOT about the first pages).
  3. If you like the person, set their writing aside to check out later.
  4. After five minutes, switch partners.
  5. By the end of the evening, you’ll have identified a handful of people that you think are pretty cool.
  6. Go home and read the first pages.
  7. Select the people that you think would be a good match based on personality AND/OR writing.
  8. Pass your selections onto the event organizer and see if you’ve made any matches.

Voila!  A critique group is born!

What do you think?  Could it work?  Would you be interested in trying?

Not too late for great summer reading!

by Michelle McCann
Published on: August 8, 2012
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I’m a little depressed. I checked the calendar today and it looks like there are just 4 weeks left of summer. But I still have so many books to read! I am currently deciding which 15 young adult books to assign to my students this fall. Not an easy task, let me tell you. So many good new titles. So many good classics. Do I make them read some trashy hits, just so they know what teens are reading, or do I keep it highbrow?

Either way, I’m buried under a pile of “to-reads” this month. And just in time to make my life a little harder, out come some great lists to consider. The first is an awesome visual chart of dystopian hits created by the Kansas Library Association. If you’re looking for something to read after Hunger Games, this is the list for you:

The other is an NPR “100 Best-Ever Teen Books” list, according to the 75,000+ NPR listeners who responded to their poll. My guess, from the make-up of winners, is that most of the folks who voted were not teens (what teen would pick “Flowers for Algernon” for god’s sake?). But it’s a great list, nonetheless (John Green is on there five times!):

You have 27 days left of summer.

Time to get reading!

Inspired by “Team GB”

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: August 3, 2012
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August has finally dawned on me, and my beloved daily writing sessions, though only three hours long, will soon be drawing to a close with the coming of the new school year.


But, instead of agonizing about how I’m going to be able to squeeze in writing time when my teaching job starts up again, I shall instead follow my Anglophile tendencies (brought front and center during the Olympics in London) and listen to some famous advice given to the British people during the Second World War…






Inspiring words for all of us writers!  I think I’ll print this out and tape it on the front of my laptop.


Carry on!


-Nicole Marie Schreiber


(And if you haven’t seen the Queen’s arrival at the Opening Ceremonies, you can check it out here. She definitely keeps calm and carries on!)

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