Archives: May 2013

Wanted: Stories

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: May 31, 2013
Categories: Basics, Craft
Comments: No Comments

You know those ads in writing magazines that say, “Writers wanted?” In fact, we all want stories, even need stories, but what is a successful one? 

Going through my file of valuable writing advice, I came across an interview with Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, that ScrivaAmber shared months ago. I liked what I read so much that I went out and bought Cron’s book.

I continue to refer to Wired for Story and to Lisa Cron’s definition of story.

“A story is how what happens (the plot) affects someone (the protagonist) in pursuit of a difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (which is what the story is actually about).”

Read the whole interview here. And happy crafting of satisfying stories to share with the world.

-Sabina I. Rascol


Surfing Lessons

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 26, 2013
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

surfer-free-ocean-wallpapers-blirknetI find it harder to write in the summer. In Portland, the sun calls and the pace of life seems to pick up. There are great writing conferences to attend, not to mention arts fairs and music festivals, farmers markets and bike-in movies. The light lasts long, the kids are out of school, and nothing seems as important as sitting on the porch and simply enjoying life. And yet… writing must continue.

My critique group has taught me all manner of things about writing itself, but perhaps the more important lesson is how to “be a writer” in the larger sense. How to organize families and careers, deadlines and day jobs and dreams. And in seasoned authors, I sometimes glimpse a subtle and graceful equanimity that I yearn for, the same balance great surfers have. They seem to be rolling with the waves so fluidly it seems like they are actually in control of their destinies. How does one do that?

Develop your Creative Habit. The more creatives I meet, the more rituals I learn about. Writing in the morning vs. the night, 1000 words a day vs. six months on/six months off, a busy coffeeshop vs. a soundproof studio. One thing is always the same: successful authors have writing habits that they stick to, week in and week out.

Work with the Seasons. For many writers, that means winter is for for deep writing, and summer is for research and querying, short-term pursuits, or vacation. (While teacher-writers I know follow the opposite schedule.) I still feel guilty when I break from standard working hours, even though they never served my energy cycles very well. It takes constant reminding that a freelance life can be shaped to fit.

Cut loose things that aren’t working. It is difficult to leave an agent or critique group. Even harder, to put down a project you’ve invested months in. But saying NO may be the most powerful skill that I have learned yet. And when I think back on the great NO’s that my writer friends have made, I see how they have prospered by them in the end. As a career coach once asked, When you say NO to something, what does that allow you to say YES to?

Trust in Divine Timing. “Divine timing” is my favorite phrase personally, though you might think of it as serendipity or karma or market trend or just luck. Though i like to believe that a great story will always find its way, many parts of publishing are beyond mortal control. I have watched as books search for homes, languish for years, and get undermined by forces beyond their control. And then I’ve been amazed how those same books resurface, long after they’ve been given up for dead. The hardest answer may be the best: put the manuscript down and let fate go about its work. 

A Rainbow of Writing Advice and Inspiration from the SCWI Oregon Conference

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: May 22, 2013
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments
So much colorful advice from the 2013 SCBWI Oregon Conference! Just like this box of vintage thread recently given to me, it's very hard to choose which piece to follow and use first. I just want to stare at the lot in wonder and revel in the beauty of it all.

So much colorful advice from the 2013 SCBWI Oregon Conference! Just like this box of vintage thread recently given to me, it’s very hard to choose which piece to follow and use first. I just want to stare at the lot in wonder and revel in the beauty of it all.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the annual SCBWI Oregon Conference in Portland, Oregon, where I heard a virtual rainbow of writing advice and inspiration from outstanding literary agents, editors, and authors.  Here is just a portion of the colorful words that stuck with me…


“Your goal is to get the character to tell you the TRUTH!”


“Write what you love.  What you are called to write. It’s the voice and character that matters.”


“Strive for what John Gardner calls, ‘the fictional dream.’”


“Practice sculpting language.”


“Here’s my advice to you…don’t listen to advice.”


“Make up your own rules. Or better yet, have no rules.”


“Discover the world around you with your writing.”


“If I were to write what I know, this is what my book would be..  got up, made stuff up, went to bed.”


“Read a hundred books of the one you want to write. Or a thousand!”


“The story is what matters!”-


“What is the big story idea?  What is pushing it forward?”


“Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Let go of the outcome.”


I highly recommend our blog readers to attend a local SCBWI conference if you can.   Being around other professionals and lovers of children’s books is an invaluable experience!


Happy writing!


-Nicole Marie Schreiber


by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2013
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

For many months now, the Scrivas have been trying out different locations for our monthly meeting. We had found one, Canvas Art Bar, that was perfect: cheap food and drinks, artsy atmosphere, big tables, open late. But alas, it closed and we’ve been gypsies ever since.

The upside is that we have sampled many local Portland cocktails and nibbles. That truly is kind of fun for a working parent like me who doesn’t get out much. But each meeting has had its challenges: getting a table, fitting in the tiny room where we had a table reserved, hearing each other across a HUGE table, hearing each other when far apart at a long skinny table, hearing each other over loud music or a busy bar-like atmosphere, feeling like WE’RE too loud at a mellow coffee shop. Really, we didn’t know how good we had it at Canvas until it was gone. Sigh.

Then we tried a brand new café.  As I headed there I was worried – it’s in a busy part of town and parking could be tough. And lo and behold, I had to drive around and around and around to find a spot. I rushed in but was greeted by two smiling Scrivas at a long table, a menu that included yummy cocktails, sandwiches and salads, and a big glass case with gorgeous pastries.

We ordered and started talking. We found ourselves struggling to hear and be heard. I glanced around and there was only one other table filled. Then I notice the music, not blasting but pretty loud. We struggled along for a few minutes and then suddenly peace settled. The waitress had turned the music down. We smiled our thanks to her. We’ll be back.

What do you look for in place for your critique group meetings? What challenges have you faced and how have you addressed them?


Critique gone wrong, personal baggage, and how to make the most of writing workshops

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 13, 2013
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: No Comments

I want to draw your attention to an incredibly helpful post by Randy Susan Meyers at Beyond the Margins.  I think it hits many of the key areas where critique groups can go off the rails and how to respond to these issues.



“No child could possibly be happy about her father moving out!”

The above was said to me at a writing workshop, in a discussion about my then unpublished novel (it eventually became The Murderer’s Daughters.) The ‘child’ in question lived with a selfish, sarcastic, angry mother and an oft-drunk “mooning around” father. In the questioned scene this 10-year-old protagonist voices guilty relief at finding a less troubling atmosphere after her father moved out.  A workshop member, adamant in his belief that no child would ever feel relief at her father leaving the house, expressed insistence bordering on disbelief (that I would write such an emotion!) bordering on disdain (that I would be able to dredge up such an emotion!)


Precious minutes slipped away as the group debated this point. The workshop operated under the “in-the-box” silenced writer rule (which most of the time I agree with) so I could only listen as time ticked by as the debate raged.

Should this point have been up for grabs? (And should anyone wag their finger when giving critique?) This is problem I’ve found in writing workshops. Let’s call it the ‘scrim’ factor. Aside from the craft of the work, the plotting, the plausibility, believable motives, and the ability of the writer to engender suspension-of-disbelief, when (if ever) is a character’s ‘belief system’ up for judgment—especially if the judgment is made based on the belief system of a fellow workshop member?




“Books are made in revision.”

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: May 8, 2013
Categories: Other Topics
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

As I try to get through the revision of my novel’s first draft, I sometimes turn to John Green for a little pick-me-up. He and his brother, Hank, have been exchanging weekly video letters to each other since 2007, gaining lots of popularity and creating quite the archive. Here’s one that I stumbled upon recently that made me feel better after a tough writing day. In case you just want to hear my favorite part, I’ve transcribed it below:

“Books are made in revision. For all three of my novels, I have deleted 90 percent of the first draft. And everything that people like about my books emerges in later drafts…Like if you want to think about it like sculpture, writing a first draft is like digging the clay out of the ground. And the revision is like when you actually use the clay to build something. That you like….See that was a good example of first draft failure.”

— John Green, “NaNoWriMo!!!”

November 2, 2009

Listen Up: Ruth’s Guest Editor

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 4, 2013
Categories: Basics, Craft, Critique Process
Comments: 1 Comment

ExlibrisTwo years ago, at about this time, I thought that my Blue Thread manuscript was ready for prime time. Sylvia Spratt disagreed. I was smart enough not to argue. At least not too much. Sylvia was right. Blue Thread has since gone on to win the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature at the 2013 Oregon Book Awards, and I’m delighted to offer you this post.

Are we there yet?

How to know when your manuscript’s ready to submit, to whom, and why

 Sylvia Spratt, Ex Libris Editing, LLC

When Ruth mentioned that a common topic of discussion that pops up in Viva Scriva’s meetings is how “polished” a manuscript should be, I thought, “Perfect. As an editor, I’m pretty much constantly thinking about variations on that same theme!”

I decided to tackle the topic in this guest post, hopefully with an eye toward helping you with the decisions that are right for your book and for you.

So: After all the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears you never knew you had in you when you started your book, it’s finally time. Time for the first day of the rest of your book’s life: submitting your manuscript for publication.

…or is it?

One of the biggest mistakes authors of all experience levels make is sending manuscripts out into the world too soon. It’s incredibly tempting, after all those countless hours of hard work, to just throw your arms up, say, “that’s it!” and either pack the manuscript off to the self-publishing entity of your choice or to agencies and acquisitions editors without a backwards glance.

But are you truly done? No one knows your manuscript as well as you do, and no one’s closer to it that you—which often means that you can’t see the forest for the trees. I’d go so far as to say that it’s impossible to tell if your manuscript is “finished” on your own.

The question remains: how do you really know when your manuscript’s ready to submit, and to whom? What happens then? After all, “finished” means very different things for different people. If you’ve got a manuscript to tout, you’ve probably asked yourself these questions at some point, and if you haven’t, you certainly shouldbefore taking steps towards publication.  The answers to these questions are intertwined, and can branch off along several different paths based on what you want for your manuscript/how you want to approach publication.

Freelance editors

If you plan to employ a freelance editor/editorial firm (not attached to a publishing house), then—at least the majority of the time —your manuscript can be in much rougher shape than if you were submitting to a literary agent or publishing house directly. If fact, you can enlist the help of a freelance editor at any stage of your writing process, as most editorial firms offer a range of services designed to assist authors with everything from developmental editing (the “biggies” like plot and character development, world building, etc.) to proofreading (dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s).

A professional editor isn’t meant to replace a writers group or an agent, but rather to work alongside an author to get his or her manuscript into shape for publication, whether that means self-publishing or going the more traditional route. If you decide to work with a professional editor before you pursue publication, don’t worry too much about your manuscript being “polished”: that’s what your editor is for. It can be immensely helpful to work with an independent editor before seeking publication, especially if you are a newer author navigating the publishing process for the first time. It’s a good idea to have a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) pair of impartial eyes on your work before you self-publish or submit to a literary agent or publishing house, because you want your work to be in the best possible shape before it meets the POD machines or overworked editorial interns! Which leads us to…

Self-publishing, literary agents, and acquisitions departments:

This is where you want to dot every “i” and cross every “t”—and then go back and dot and cross about a dozen more times just to be certain! When submitting a manuscript to an agent/agency or to a publishing house directly via the acquisitions editor, you really must have full confidence that your manuscript is polished with a capital “P.”

The folks at agencies and acquisitions departments who will be reading your submission will likely be incredibly busy people, and, while they also likely (hopefully!) care about their jobs and love what they do, they just can’t afford to spend time on a submission that hasn’t been perfected beforehand. This can mean anything from sloppy grammar to an inconsistent or underdeveloped character or plot arc.

Think if it this way: If your manuscript is, say, 95% polished (you’re getting positive feedback from your writers group, you’ve maybe worked with a freelance editor to develop and/or polish it up, you’ve gotten unbiased opinions from other authors in your genre, etc.), then an agent is more likely to say, “Hey, this really only needs a little polishing around the edges. This is something I can afford to take on at face value.” If, however, your manuscript is, say, 60% or 70% done and you’re counting on either your potential agent or your eventual editor at a press to help you get it the rest of the way there, your chances of getting picked up plummet—not because your book isn’t worth the work, but because many agents and editors simply can’t afford the gamble of taking on a less-than-finished manuscript up front. It’s a gamble on both sides of the fence—one that is hardly ever worth throwing the chips on the table for either party.

Likewise, if you choose to self-publish, you and you alone are often the final quality control before your book meets the world, and you will need to put in time and effort equal to the task to make sure everything’s as it should be before your book is printed. On the plus side, you’ve probably eliminated some costs up front by not having your manuscript professionally edited. On the minus side, this increases the likelihood that there may be errors in or underdeveloped areas of your manuscript that have been overlooked, thus increasing the possibility of a final product you’re not happy with.

So, in summation, before asking yourself how polished your manuscript should be, take yourself through these steps:

  1. Get some distance from your work once you’re finished with the majority of the writing process.
  2. Decide how you want to pursue publication and approach your revisions based on that decision.
  3. Get a variety of unbiased/professional opinions during the revision process.
  4. Strive to give your book the best chance at success as you can, just like you would for a child.
  5. Revise like crazy.
  6. Remember: the more work you put into the revision process before, the easier time you/your book will have when it’s time to pursue publication.

As long as you get some distance from your work, amass a healthy number of unbiased and caring opinions, and keep your end goal for your book in mind, you’ll know when to stop—and most importantly, you’ll be ready to take the next step towards your book’s (hopefully wildly successful) future.

Sylvia Spratt is the co-owner of Ex Libris Editing, an editorial firm based jointly in Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado, alongside fellow editor Sarah Heilman. Sylvia and Sarah specialize in developmental editing for science fiction, fantasy, and young adult literature, and accept work across a variety of other literary genres as well. Please drop by to learn more about Ex Libris and to say hello!

page 1 of 1

Welcome , March 22, 2018