Archives: December 2012

Finding My Way Home

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: December 31, 2012
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Houston, we have a problem. I’m stuck in space and don’t know how to get home.

Here I’ve been humming along, faithfully writing my 500+ daily words, when, after Christmas, I suddenly halted. I’m stuck. Edging towards the last part of my book, I realized that I (still) don’t know how my story ends. I expected that the ending would become clear as I wrote what I knew so far, but I’m still in the dark.

To help me get home,

A) I’m asking myself lots of questions and making lots of notes (again) about what is the story about; my characters’ motivations, goals, and transformations; possible story resolutions, the plot twists I still need to get there, and the problems the ending(s) must solve;

B) I’m finishing Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, the one writing book I took with me while house-sitting for a few days; using research about the brain, it discusses what readers need in stories and how writers can ensure their books are satisfying; ScrivaAmber forwarded us a post by the author of this book that got me trotting off to read it;

C) I’m looking at posts by Cheryl Klein (editor at Scholastic and author of the writing book Second Sight), and Holly Lisle (long-time author and writing teacher): both of these women should be designated national treasures for their knowledge and generosity in sharing so much of what they know about writing with others; I discovered Cheryl on my own years ago, but heard of Holly from ScrivaLiz;

[NOTE: There seems to be a problem just now with her website, but see Cheryl Klein’s blog, Brooklyn Arden.]

D) I’m beginning to work through Holly’s and Cheryl’s excellent questions and exercises;

E) I’m talking with ScrivaNicole at length through A), inspired by ScrivaAddie’s blog post encouraging this (to me) radical idea; my usual approach to discussing my works-in-progress is… not to;

F) I’m trying to get more sleep, with the idea that a rested brain is a creative brain.

Hmm… Amazing how many of these resources or approaches are inspired or aided by Scrivas. Thank you, ladies. And a beautiful new year to all who read this.

When you are stuck, what do you do to find your way home?


-Sabina I. Rascol

Variety is the Spice of Life

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2012
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In a few recent critique meetings I attended, we discussed:

A funny picture book about grammar

A middle-grade novel featuring a magic dog and a missing professor.

A middle-grade graphic novel about a kid who gets superpowers from mud (yes, Muddy Max).

A YA novel addressing (I kid you not) stuttering, music, the Free Speech movement in Berkeley, Hannukah, time travel, and LSD.

A picture book on space.

A picture book about a historical train ride.

A middle-grade novel about a family living in the woods.

A quirky piece of writing about a man with a literary fetish.

A picture book about a wren.

Both of the critique groups I belong to are open to any genre of children’s book writing – and even allow the occasional piece for adults. And I have to say that I LOVE the variety. I may never write a YA novel, but I can learn a lot by reading one closely. Critique group members may have never written or even read a graphic novel, but they know enough about character, plot, setting and structure to give great comments.  And picture books…picture books are just super hard to write – and super fun to read.

So what does this mean for you? If you are thinking about starting a critique group, consider not making the parameters too narrow. (I was once in a lovely critique group with people who wrote everything from adult novels to self-help nonfiction to magazine articles to children’s books.) And if you are in a critique group and you want to share something a little different from what the group usually reads, go ahead. (Depending on your group, you may want to ask first.) My guess is that you all may all benefit from the variety.

So that’s my experience. Is anyone out there a member of a YA-only, a MG-only, a nonfiction-only, a picture book-only, a magazine-article-only critique group? (Or one with any other focus?) Feel free to share the benefits of that approach!



When Critiques Conflict: Good, Bad & Ugly

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 12, 2012
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Recently, I’ve been getting feedback on my young adult novel from agents and editors.  The manuscript has been critiqued multiple times by the Scrivas.  It’s been professionally edited, and I have revised it extensively.  In other words, the manuscript is in pretty good shape. It’s not perfect. I know I’ll need to make at least one more pass through it, but it is ready to be seen (and sold).

I want to share some of the feedback with you.  Keep in mind that all of these comments were made by top notch agents and editors.  You would know their names if I told you.  So these are not comments made by my grandmother or an ex-roomate who hates me.  These are the thoughts of people who know books.

I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK. What a wild ride – full of character, emotion, humor, drama. And it leaves us wanting MORE. MORE. MORE.  Yes!


The writing style of the novel also felt a bit out of sorts; there’s so much telling rather than showing, which creates an emotional distance between the reader and the story. 


I couldn’t stop reading.


There are FIVE points of view that alternate between chapters. This is not only confusing but also tiresome. 


I love the multiple points of view.  All the characters have unique voices.


All the character’s voices sound the same. 


The use of inner thoughts is very effective.


The aside thoughts are redundant and not funny. 


What you do well is write compelling action with characters that feel fully realized.



Conflicting critiques at the writing/revising stage require us to look deeply into the work. What are we trying to accomplish? What is the core story? Which direction is the right one for the story?

Conflicting critiques at the book-is-nearly-done stage (or conflicting reviews when a book is out) require something else.  They require perspective.  Tastes differ.  Readers meet books within their own context NOT within yours.  Sometimes a book mediates a meeting of the minds between author and reader.  Sometimes them’s fighting words.

And always–ALWAYS–the writer must find a way to let go.  Release the book into the world. Let it find its people.  Let it become something new to the people who find it.


How do you know when your manuscript is ready?

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 10, 2012
Categories: Business of Writing, Craft
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Agents and editors often say that one of the most common reasons a manuscript is rejected is that it is not ready.

The idea might be great.  The story structure might be solid.  The characters could be compelling.

But… not ready.

What does this mean and more importantly, how do we get it ready?

Often I read manuscripts that feel foggy.  By that, I mean I feel like I am viewing the action, setting, and characters through an actual fog.  Some things might be near enough to get a visual on, but many things are shrouded and unclear.  The piece is not ready because the writer hasn’t finished clearly describing the setting, fleshing out the action so that each step logically leads to the next, or creating richly layered characters.

Revision upon revision upon revision is the key to clearing up the fog, and that is obviously a bigger topic than this wee little post, but I want to talk about how you’d know a piece was ready to submit.  This can be especially hard for new writers.

If you have a critique group with writers at a range of professional stages, they are your first line of defense.  Scrivas have told each other, “Wait.  Not yet.  Go through it again.”  If all of your writing partners are new to the biz, then I suggest a couple of things.

(1) Time.  If you think the manuscript is done, put it away for a few months.  Read it again.  You’ll probably see foggy areas to clean up.

(2) Critique.  Get a paid critique at a conference.  Even if it is only of the first 10-15 pages, you’ll be amazed at what professionals can tell about an entire manuscript from the beginning.

(3) Hire a developmental editor.  I really recommend this for your first book.  You will learn a ton from an experienced editor, and if you implement his or her suggestions, you can be confident that your book is ready to go out.

You’ve only got once shot with each agent or editor.  Take the time to make sure your manuscript is as good as you can make it.  Patience is worth it!

Great Post on Adult vs. Kid Critique Groups

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 3, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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Just in case you miss this in the New York Times…

NaNo: The Finish Line

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: December 3, 2012
Comments: 2 Comments

I did it, dear readers.

I didn’t sleep much this past month. But I managed to write 51,210 words in 14 chapters during the month of November. Only a couple more chapters to go and I’m done with Part II.

I couldn’t have done it without you. It helped tremendously to know that you’re out there and knew of my commitment, perhaps cheering me on. Thank you for being part of our writing community, helping make writing possible.

I’m hooked now. I’m going on with 500+ daily words in December. The first 1,460 are already down. My goal is to finish as much as I can of Part III in December. Stay posted for an update at the end of the month.

In the meantime, know that I too am cheering you, my fellow writers, on.

–Sabina I. Rascol

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