Archives: October 2012

NaNo: Will You Take Up the Challenge?

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: October 30, 2012
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A couple of weekends ago I attended Wordstock, Portland’s annual literary festival. Catch it next year, if you’re in the area. It was good, Saturday especially. I reported to ScrivaNicole that it felt like a writing conference but without the hefty price tag ($10 for two days’ admission, plus $35 or so per writing workshop).

One of the fun Wordstock writers was Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus. What is your writing process like, she was asked. Messy, she answered. She writes a lot more than she uses while figuring out the story. And she mentioned how NaNo helped her years ago to just write.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo) takes place every November and is open to anyone. It’s a simple challenge: write a 50,000 word novel during those 30 days and you’re a winner. It doesn’t have to be a good 50,000 words. The novel doesn’t need to be completed. It just needs to be 50,000 new words you write between November 1 and midnight on November 30. The idea is to make an awesome start on a novel that you can later finish and polish. Some writers, Erin Morgenstern among them, have gone on to publish novels started during NaNo.



At Wordstock I ran into a new friend from Oregon’s Literary Arts. She is a poet who’d once mentioned writing for young readers. How is that going? I asked her. She e-mailed me a couple of days later. Thank you for your question, she said. It had prompted her to revisit work done in the spring and discover she in fact had written an entire outline for a novel. She decided to write that book during this November’s NaNo.



Inspired now by her as well as Erin, I looked at my own work-in-progress, a novel in three parts. Could I get myself in gear to press on and WRITE OUT a good chunk of it during NaNo? I’ve done NaNo once, so I know I have it in me. But I’m weighing priorities.

This is where I stand. For Part I of my novel, I have 16 polished chapters and 8 bad ones. These are chopped out of previous drafts, spit out and slapped together so I have a place from which to keep going. Ideally, I’d first revise these chapters and then kick out Parts II and III.

How will I use the writing month of November, when words waft on the air as writers galore type away? Revise those eight chapters? Or officially participate in NaNo–for which new words must be written–by moving on to a rough draft of Parts II and III? Either will mean significant progress.

What about you? What will you write this November? If you decide to take up the NaNo challenge, here is a pep talk Erin Morgenstern herself wrote for NaNo 2011 participants to get you started. Find more pep talks and nearby NaNo events, plan your novel and track your progress, via the NaNoWriMo website.

-Sabina I. Rascol


Ruts and Grooves

by Addie Boswell
Published on: October 26, 2012
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This is another bit of inspiration from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which I have been enjoying recently. The “Ruts and Grooves” Chapter seems especially suited to writers.

On Ruts: “A rut can be the consequence of a bad idea. You shouldn’t have started the project in the first place. A rut can be the end product of bad timing. For some reason, you are out of sync with the world. You can have the brightest vision with the most mind-blowing idea, but if the world isn’t ready for it you can spin your wheels for years. A rut can form because of bad luck or circumstances conspiring against you. More often than not, I’ve found, a rut is the consequence of sticking to tried and tested methods that don’t take into account how you or the world has changed.”

These ruts can be particularly maddening. We work so hard to develop good work habits and writing routines, only to find them fight against us when they finally become second nature. As the artists say, back to the old drawing board…

If you feel in any sort of rut, Ms. Tharp recommends questioning everything. I found this exercise to be very helpful.

1. Identify the concept that isn’t working

2. Write down your assumptions about it

3. Challenge the assumptions.

4. Act on the challenge.

I’ll leave you with her quote from novelist Mark Salzman, on breaking out of a rut (via an artist retreat.) “And you know what? It was like waking from a bad dream. All of a sudden, everything was like a gift: the fall colors, the sounds, the little homemade cookies in the picnic baskets. But mainly the removal of all the reminders of art as a profession, as a way of making money or gaining a reputation and the like. Rather, here I was in a community of people who seemed dedicated to art almost like a sacred pursuit.”

Back to the old, miraculous, drawing board…

Please, Sir, I want some more…

by Mary Rehmann
Published on: October 23, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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Teach the classics or teach what students want to read?  Too often this is the dilemma of a middle school teacher.  The classics are rife with all the teachable elements we want our students to know about: symbolism, personification, metaphor, etc.  More recent YA books?  Sure, those literary tools are there, but not in the sort of abundance that makes them good material for teaching in class.  There’s simile galore, of course; it seems to be the YA author’s go-to figurative language device.  So what’s a teacher to do?

I’ve decided the best recourse is to beg for more.  You writers out there, you move us with your character development. You rock our worlds with your fast-paced action.  You lead us down dark alleys of intrigue.  Time to hit us over the head with some of those literary tricks your language arts teachers used to bore you to tears (or at least to graffiti).   I know you can do it.  I’ve seen it in the best of some of the current lit.  I’ve seen it in plenty of brilliant Scriva stuff.  I know I need to add more of it to my own work.

To wit: upon hearing of my intent to write this blog, my own novel has just up and walked in front of the cross-town bus.

Middle-Grade Graphic Novel Reading List

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2012
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One of my favorite things about the Viva Scrivas is that often after reading a manuscript, they will suggest some books that are similar in some way, are a good model in some way or, as ScrivaAmber once said: “I don’t know, there is something about it that I think you should see, that might be helpful.”

Reading other books in your genre or that somehow do something like what you are trying to do can be incredibly helpful as you write – and especially as you revise.

These days I’m writing and revising a middle-grade graphic novel called Muddy Max, about a boy with neat-freak parents who gets superpowers from mud. (The book, to be published in 2014 by AMP! For Kids, will be illustrated by the talented Portland comic artist Mike Lawrence

Since it’s my first foray into writing graphic novels, I’ve been devouring them.  (I should mention that my 3rd grade daughter is also devouring them. She is what I would call a developing reader, yet when I brought a stack of middle-grade graphic novels home from the library one afternoon, she had read four by dinner time.)

Here are some of my recent favs, some recommended by Scrivas, and some that I just pulled off the shelf and loved. This is far from a comprehensive list of the best (I KNOW I have missed some great ones!) so if you have any you love, please let us all know!


Early Middle Grade

Guinea PIG, Pet Shop Private Eye series by Colleen AF Venable

Babymouse series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Magic Trixie series by Jill Thomspon


Middle Grade

Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke

Sidekicks by Dan Santat

Bone series by Jeff Smith

Secret Science Alliance series by Eleanor Davis


Upper Middle Grade

Hereville: How Mirka got her sword by Barry Deutch

Chiggers by Hope Larson

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Page by Page by by Laura Lee Gulledge

The Arrival by Shaun Tan


So tell me, what did I miss?


Great Advice for Writers of All Ages

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: October 15, 2012
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THE ELDERLY WRITER by Paul Ponce Antoine Robert


Being that I am a teacher/mother/writer about to turn forty in a couple of months, this article from Psychology Today about creativity being “ageless” came at just the right time! It was shared by children’s writer Deb Cushman through an Oregon children’s writing community listserv called Toad Hall, and it really made my day.  I hope it can be an inspiration to all of you whether you are young or young at heart.


Enjoy this foray into the creative process as we age!



Breaking habits, tics, and tweaks–critique partners required!

by Amber Keyser
Published on: October 9, 2012
Categories: Craft
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All writers have stylistic habits.  Good ones give us that ineffable “voice.”  Bad ones require assistance to root out and destroy.  These verbal tics range from small–in my case, over use of just, upwards, the em dash, and descriptions of hair–to large ones such as over use of sentence fragments and similar sentence structures.

The tricky bit is finding our tics.  We don’t tend to notice our own habits.  Here is where critique partners and editors are invaluable.  They see what we gloss over.  Once we know where the quicksand is, we can fight back.

Part of careful revision is examining each sentence and varying the way we use language.  I love the “search” function in Pages (the Mac counterpoint to Word).  It allows me to search on “hair,” for example, and see all 127 instances in the manuscript.  I can jump from “hair” to “hair” and choose describe other facets of my characters.

Repeat this enough times, and I guarantee it will break you of the habit!  After eliminating something like a million instances of just in my first novel (okay maybe only 198), I cringe at typing the word, even when my editor wants me to add it.

But what about those big issues?

Ever tried this site: I Write Like?  You paste in a few paragraphs of your writing.  It crunches away on some sentence analysis and–POP!–out comes your writing doppleganger.  I just put in the first few paragraphs of this post and…

… I write like H.P. Lovecraft.  (That is a truly weird result!)

The point here is that we have repetitive patterns in our writing and these can be highly influenced by what we are reading or writing in other contexts.

A fascinating recent article in the New York Times by Michael Erard, describes this phenomenon which is called “structural priming” or “syntactic persistence.”

He describes it this way:

“Basically, earlier patterns in what you say or read or write “prime” you to repeat them when you’re acting automatically… Our words and sentence patterns are also primed in the same way, such that the words we chose are the words we will choose later.”

Some of the less egregious cases of “accidental” plagarism could, no doubt, be chalked up to this kind of priming.  Erard offers some excellent fixes to this problem for writers.  I want you to read the rest of his article to get them.

Getting back to the role of critique partners… I’ve often thought it would be a great exercise to try and write in the style of one of the other Scrivas.  I bet I could nail it!

And just for Emma Dryden, I promise I won’t describe anyone’s hair fanning out behind her!

Crazy Eights and the Wider World

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: October 3, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment

When Portland-based author George Wright pitched a crazy idea to me a while back, I had no clue how sane he was. George wanted to put together a tour in which eight Oregon authors would visit eight independent bookstores in Oregon in eight weeks from September into November. Not every author was expected to show up at every gig. There would be 28 of us sharing the load.

Two days later I was officially part of the Crazy Eights Author Tour, and I had signed up for three events: Baker City (September 14), Cannon Beach (September 22), and Redmond (September 28). I’m not a part of the next event, which is scheduled for this Thursday, Oct. 4, at 7 p. m. at Broadway Books, in Portland. I plan to be in the audience, though, because I am now hooked on hanging around authors who for the most part do not write for children or young adults. The notable exception for Crazy Eights, I think, is April Henry, whose book, Girl, Stolen, was a finalist for the 2011 Oregon Book Award in the young adult category.

Over the last few weeks I’ve come to know poets and journalists. I’ve met with creative types who write memoirs, articles, essays, fantasy-zine novels, zany romance novels, historical fiction, and nonfiction–all for the adult market. All of these folks share with me a passion for words and an urge to communicate a certain truth (sometimes factual, sometimes not). I’ve come away from the experience energized and refreshed.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very much at home within The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I am particularly excited about the upcoming programs in SCBWI Oregon. I doubt that I would get as much as I do from critique with Viva Scriva if I were the only person in the group who wrote for children or young adults.

Still, it feels good to step into the wider world of writers every once in a while. It generates creativity from a different angle, and excites those little gray cells in a most satisfying manner. What sane writer wouldn’t want that sort of craziness?

A Writer’s Dates

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: October 1, 2012
Categories: Basics, Events, Writing Process
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This fall, I’m looking to rev up my dating life.

I’m not the only Scriva wanting to do so. Even attached Scrivas are looking to set up more dates, regular dates.

WRITING dates, that is.

I’ll discuss broad categories of writing dates (and some variants) below: THE CLASSIC, THE MORE-IS-MERRIER (remember group dates, with people going out as part of a group to get acquainted in a comfortable, low-key way?), and THE SOLO.


THE CLASSIC Writing Date
The advantage of writing with one other person is that it’s straight-forward, easy to arrange. You talk with the one person and it’s done. And, because the other person is counting on you, you both make it happen. You may set up a standing date, meeting each week at a regular time—and maybe place—so there’s even less to think about. Some of the at least occasional writing-together permutations I know of within Viva Scriva are Addie writing with Melissa, Amber with Liz, I with Nicole, sometimes with Addie…

I started writing with Nicole in 2006, when she moved to Oregon and was looking for a writing buddy. She’s the one who later invited me to join her at a newly-forming critique group [see Liz’s early post about the forming of Viva Scriva]. For the longest time, Nicole and I met Thursday evenings at the same fun cafe in Portland’s Pearl District, sometimes sharing soup I’d brought along as both of us plugged away at our novels. Then her second son came along, later the need for her to go back to work, so our writing dates became intermittent.

At the beginning of this summer, we started to write Monday evenings, but find we need to reconsider possibilities as fall schedules shift and solidify. Addie too expressed interest in making some cozy writing times happen, once we get a better sense of what these cooler months will hold.

(variation) THE TAG-ALONG
I’ve joined Addie and Melissa in the past on some of their writing dates, exploring a fun range of Portland’s cafes with them. This was their set writing time that they graciously opened up to me. I call this kind of writing date the Tag-Along, which I guess can be considered a variation on the Classic or an incipient, starter form of…

We’ve had all-Scriva writing days sometimes called mini-retreats [such as one exactly a year ago at Ruth’s], rather rare but precious times when all the Scrivas gather at somebody’s house to write. This may be for a long morning or afternoon-into-evening, usually with a meal to wrap things up and allow us time to talk.

(variation) THE OPEN HOUSE
A variant of this, so far mostly a possibility we’ve thrown around in the past, is the Open House, where one of us writes at home at a regular or set time, a pot of tea on the stove, ready to welcome whichever Scrivas choose to join in. Snacks are welcomed, a bite together afterward optional.

THE SOLO Writing Date

Then there is the solo writing date (somewhat like the Artist’s Date from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). The Solo is an inalienable time and place where a writer goes for a regular writing session. Liz is a pro and shining beacon of solo writing dates, fueling up with eggs for breakfast before heading to the library one day a week for undistracted writing. Michelle began following in her footsteps [see her blog post as she started this journey]. Because the Solo writing date takes place outside your usual milieu, it, like dates with others, is more likely to happen and allow for good writing.

What are the advantages of writing dates?
-You know it’s going to happen. The things we write down and commit to do with others and/or at a regular time tend to happen, versus the good things we just intend to do at some indeterminate point.

-For all writing dates but the Solo, you connect with your peers. Writing dates feed you even after they’re over, helping you not feel lonesome during the rest of your writing time, when most likely you are writing alone.

What are the disadvantages? And some recommendations
-You can visit for too long. It’s a good idea to limit chat to the very beginning and/or end of a writing session. Nicole and I aren’t always very good about this, though we sustain that the talk is an important part of the writing process. Topics include what we’re reading; our works-in-progress or future projects; goals, dreams, and opportunities; work and how that supports our writing.

-The writing date might not be the right length of time for you.
In that case, you can come just for the time that works for you, if that’s shorter than the other person plans to write. Or if you need more time, see if you can splice the writing date with solo writing time before or after to make it a better fit for you. That way, you can keep going if you’re on a roll.

So how about it? Single, happily married, or in between, you too might want to rev up your dating life. Your WRITING dating life, that is.

-Sabina I. Rascol

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