Archives: November 2012

“Mind the Gap” Scriva Style

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 30, 2012
Categories: Challenges, Craft
Comments: 5 Comments

“Mind the gap” was born once upon a time a long time ago (1969 or so), in the nether reaches of a far-off place (the London Underground). Since some of London’s subway stations have curved platforms, and transit cars are straight, the Brits advised passengers to “mind the gap” in between. The phrase, or something similar, is now a part of most major transit systems throughout the world.

The gap that trips me up has nothing to do with mass transit. It’s the interval between one large writing project and the next. Maybe you are one of those fortunate folks who can juggle several large manuscripts at once. You never need to “mind the gap” because you don’t have one.

I’m not so lucky. I tend to concentrate on one manuscript at a time. And when that manuscript is done…what next? Or when that manuscript needs to lie fallow so I can look at it with fresh eyes…what do I do in the interim?

Here are ways that I have managed to mind the gap…or, rather, how I “mine” the gap…to stay as fresh and productive as possible. One of these might work for you.

  • Take a complete break. No writing. None. Give yourself three days, a week, two weeks, until you reach the Goldilocks moment: your next writing project isn’t too hot to handle and your writing routine hasn’t grown too cold.
  • Indulge in a completely different form of writing. Don’t expect to be good at it; just do it for its own mind-stretching sake. (After pounding away at historical fiction/fantasy for months on end, I recently took a workshop that focused on writing a memoir or poem, and I had a blast!)
  • Concentrate on someone else’s writing project. This is a natural if you have a critique group.
  • Visit an art museum.
  • Tackle…and finish!…a non-writing project that you’ve been putting off for months. Paint the bathroom; clean a closet; reorganize family photos.
  • Take a deep breath. Rejoice. Repeat.


Critique Groups for Illustrators

by Addie Boswell
Published on: November 27, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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Knowing how much Viva Scriva serves my writing life, I have tried to seek out the same community of artists over the years. My first critique experience happened by chance, when I met two fellow Portlanders at the SCBWI summer conference in L.A. Our five-person group had busy schedules and too many miles between us and monthly meetings turned into quarterly meetings before fading all together. (I think critique groups are akin to other relationships: timing matters.) Next, I attempted to host a drop-in drawing group, which introduced me to more artists but ultimately suffered the same fate. (Note to self: a small group, even two, of the truly committed will get you further than a larger one. I like the 4-6 range.)

By this time, I had met enough local illustrators to try again. My current critique group is made of 7 working illustrators — still trying to decide on a group name! We have been meeting for more than a year now, and it is starting to feel like a routine. And its great. Because even on the months I haven’t gotten to the studio, I still leave inspired by their talent and the hours they’ve put into their art–which prods me back to the drawing board.

Here is how ours works:

Meetings: One night a month for 2-3 hours. Since we need space to spread out the artwork, we rotate between our houses, and the host often provides a snack buffet.

Process: We bring our latest work, usually 1-4 illustrations or character sketches that are in process. After we get the initial chatter out of the way, one person will present by holding up the art (originals or copies) or passing it around. If she is working on a particular aspect, say color balance or character development, she’ll mention that and we’ll discuss. Our format is fairly loose, as the dialogue seems to flow naturally from the work and everybody takes the chance to talk. This is more casual than the writing critique groups I’ve been in — probably because art is less exact than writing.

Some artists are working on book dummies and bring their progress month after month (inspiring!) Some of us bring the occasional mural or commissioned piece, from our ‘fine art’ backgrounds. But mostly we talk about the wonders and trials of children’s illustration, sharing picture books that inspire us, or upcoming workshops and contests. And always, we encourage each other forward.

How to start one? You can find your local chapter of SCBWI through the national website; most chapters have ways to post online. If you are in Portland, look up the Portland KidLit Facebook Page too.



NaNo: Plodding Faithfulness

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: November 21, 2012
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One crazy late late night in 2007 I logged nearly 4,000 words  of good writing in less than two hours. 

When I did NaNoWriMo some years ago, I made myself write somewhere around 10,000 words each day for a couple of days toward the end. The days were wide open, it wouldn’t matter how bad the words were, and it was then or never. The words splattered on the page, the quality somewhere between bad and terrible. But I did it. I met my production goal, wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. Knowing what I do, though, about the quality of the story, I haven’t looked at those words since. 

As things looked at the beginning of this November, I had good margin in my life, with some days open just to write. I knew exactly how it would go. I was going to repeat what I had done before, but at the very beginning of the month. I’d blast out tens of thousands of words in the first couple of weeks, and then coast easy–or keep charging, wildly exceeding expectations!!–toward the end of the month. 

It didn’t work out that way. Writing was painful and it was hard to enter “the zone.” I kept hitting and glancing off the surface of the water, as it were, rather than being able to plunge through and effortlessly FLOW beneath the surface. Oh, flow might happen eventually, but it was long and laborious work getting there. The words inched along. 

I came to be very grateful that I had come up with an extremely small daily minimum for myself: 500 words every day but Sunday would make me a success. I cannot tell you how many times I would have given up had I set a “real” goal, like 3,000 daily words. But even if it’s late, I’m tired, and have nothing to give, I can still, even if laboriously, chug out 500 words. My real hope was that the 500 would take me into flow and swimming effortlessly beneath the surface until I’d emerge miles away. But when flow did happen, it never resulted in mega numbers. 

So where am I? At 26,000 words. Meaning, just past the halfway point though we’re two-thirds into the month. Meaning, behind.

I am choosing to consider myself a success, though. I have 26,000 more words than I did before toward my deeply-felt novel. More importantly, I have been faithful. Every writing day I sat down and wrote my 500 or more words. And I’m continuing to do so. 

I don’t know how this NaNo story will end. My schedule has ballooned, these latter weeks of the month, all margin pretty much eaten up. I can’t count on beautiful open days in which to write myriads of words. Besides, this time I am seeking to produce readable writing. 

It’s OK. I’m writing on. 500 words after 500 words, eventually I’ll get there. 

-Sabina I. Rascol

On the Role of Gratitude in Writing, in Critiquing…and in Life

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

A few months ago I stumbled upon a TED talk given by Shawn Achor called “The Happy Secret to Work.” Most of us believe that the route to happiness and success looks like this: You want something, you work hard, you get it (yay, sweet success!) and then you are happy. Remarkable new research suggests that we’ve got it all wrong. Success rarely leads to happiness; it usually just leads to new and harder goals.

Instead, remarkably, research has found that if you are happy, you will work better and more effectively and be more successful.  So all we have to do is be happy.

But you can’t make yourself happier can you? Actually, you can. In the video, Achor gives five concrete practices that if done daily for three weeks raise people’s level of happiness.

I want to highlight one that I’ve been doing that has been wonderfully effective for me. Each day, usually while I’m waiting for my computer to boot up, or as I wait for it to shut down at night, I jot down three things from the last 24 hours for which I’m grateful. There are, of course, lots of personal ones that I won’t go into. But since I’m a writer, a number of them focus on my work:

I’m grateful for having a good, productive writing day

I’m grateful for the incredibly helpful comments from a critique group meeting

I’m grateful for a new idea that could help with the structure of a piece.

On tough days, it might seem like I have to make things up:

I’m grateful for my computer, a powerful tool that helps me research, write, edit and communicate with people (As I wrote this, I realized that I AM grateful for my computer.)

I’m grateful that even though I didn’t get a lot of work done, I got a lot of laundry done and it feels good to sleep in clean sheets. (That night, I DID feel happier sleeping in my clean sheets.)

I’m grateful for the challenge of reworking the ending to my manuscript because I will grow from it.

I have found that the daily gratitude list works – and the last item might explain why. When you have to look for things to be grateful for each day, sometimes you have to see your life and the challenges you face in a different, more positive way. And that’s good for your brain, your spirit, and your work.

Check out the video.

Give it a try.

Let us all know how it goes.




by Melissa Dalton
Published on: November 13, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
Tags:No Tags
Comments: 1 Comment

“I sweat the stuff I can’t really control, even though I know there’s nothing I can do about it. Like reviews and publisher support or publicity stuff. I think there’s so much easy-access to book chatter, authors can get bogged down in career comparisons and stuff they really shouldn’t be worrying about. The most rewarding aspect has to be hearing from readers, especially reluctant ones. The first time a teen told me my book was the first novel she’d ever finished I cried. As a reluctant reader myself, knowing that I helped a person reach that kind of milestone feels pretty darn great. The other one that always gets me is when a teen tells me he or she feels less alone after reading one of my books. That’s really what it’s all about. Connecting.”

–From Young Adult Novelist Jo Knowles, in an interview with Libba Bray. Knowles has a new novel out, See You At Harry’s, that I can’t wait to read.

You can find the rest of the interview here.

NaNo: Rules for Engagement

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: November 9, 2012
Comments: No Comments

At the end of Day 8 of NaNoWriMo, I’m just past 9,000 words. It’s not as far along as I planned and hoped, but a respectable start nonetheless. It averages to 1,300 words a day, as I take one day a week off. 

As I began, I realized that I had the following rules for myself for this challenge. 

-Write ON. Don’t write slop, but don’t get mired in revising and polishing. 

-Write the book. Don’t write about it–WRITE IT! (This has to do with a document I usually have open in which I write thoughts for later. Sometimes I write pages there and nothing in the manuscript itself. For now, I’m keeping notes about the book to a minimum so that I advance with the book proper.) 

-Light revision, if any, is allowed only to the previous day’s work. Ideally, I’ll look only at the tail-end of the previous day’s work to pick up the thread of the story. 

-Write every day (except for Sunday, my current day of rest).

-500 NEW words a day, minimum. So if I add words while lightly editing, those words don’t count for the day’s minimum (though of course they count toward the month’s 50,000 word ultimate goal).

-Write during the first available stretch of time each day. Use all time bits. Don’t despise them. 

-Live in the world of the story when I’m away from the writing. That way, my mind makes connections, has details and bits of story in place, for when I return to write.

-Know that if I stick with it, flow happens. When it does, ride it! : )

So what are your Rules of Engagement for your current writing project? 

-Sabina I. Rascol


by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 4, 2012
Comments: No Comments

I have a passion for words. So do the other Viva Scrivas and, I imagine, so do you. Words, history, and culture intertwine. Examine the etymology of a word and you’ll often find a good story.

No wonder I was delighted to come across an essay from the University of Notre Dame that included the historical uses of the word “generosity.” Entitled “Science of Generosity,” the essay explores “an essential human value.” Here’s the link.

“Gener”—the essay explains—grows out of the Indo-European root “gen” meaning “to beget.” Until sometime in the later Middle Ages, “generous” referred to being of noble lineage. The word described a status. You had the luck of being born into the right clan.

Then sometime in the 1600s the meaning of generosity, as it described humans, began to shift to the supposed qualities of the highborn: courage, gallantry, and fairness. Anyone could strive to be generous, no matter his or her accident of birth.  Over the next two hundred years, the English usage of “generosity” took on the meaning of open-handed sharing of wealth and possessions.

Now, as I meet more and more authors in Oregon and beyond, I am struck by the generosity with which many of them share advice on writing, information on agents and editors, and suggestions for professional opportunities. Viva Scriva is my gold standard—isn’t that what a writer’s critique should be?

And here’s the big bonus for me as a writer. The generosity of my critique group and many in my expanding community of “creatives” fosters my own creativity. I feel more generative. My ideas beget ideas. Words turn into story. A book is born.

Thank you.



by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: November 1, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment

I’ve decided. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this November. 50,000 new words in 30 days. I’ll post periodic updates on how it goes.

If you want to do it too, leave a note. Going public may help you stick it through.

And to inspire you, here’s an absolutely excellent pep talk by Brandon Sanderson about ways you can use the writing tool called NaNoWriMo.

Here’s looking at you!

-Sabina I. Rascol

P.S. If you’re wondering what soul searching prompted this decision, pull up my last blog post here.

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