Archives: August 2013

How Goes the Writing?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: August 26, 2013
Categories: Other Topics
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It’s nice when friends ask about your latest novel. I mean it’s nice to know they are thinking about you and interested in your projects. But the question itself remains loaded. If the writing goes well, you want to stay inside your writerly bubble with a superstitious zeal. And if you’re struggling, or discouraged, or outright stuck… a lot of hemming and hawing ensues. This article in the Sunday New York Times captures the problem quite nicely.

Roman Muradov

Roman Muradov

Don’t Ask What I’m Writing

By MARK SLOUKA

No stage of the writing process — not the editor’s first response to the manuscript, not the review gauntlet — is as fraught for writers as those first few months of uncertainty: that miserable time when we think, believe, know with absolute assurance that we’ve found the key to the novel in our heads, though maybe, probably, definitely not.

Want to lose a friend who’s a writer? Ask her, a month in, how it’s going. Better still, ask her to describe what she’s working on. She’ll try, because she has to (“Well, it’s about this friendship between these two, um, friends . . . ”) all the while listening to the magic leaking out of the balloon, and she’ll hate you for it.

If writers agree on anything — which is unlikely — it’s that nothing can damage a novel in embryo as quickly and effectively as trying to describe it before it’s ready. Unfortunately, because we’re writers, a k a bipedal nests of contradictions, avoiding the temptation to share is never as easy as simply keeping our mouths shut.

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My 20 Minutes

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2013
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Has your critique group ever fallen into rut where only a few people – the same few people – submit work most meetings? The Viva Scrivas have struggled with this issue occasionally. The reasons can vary: Members may be working on longer works that don’t fit well in our monthly format or hustling to meet deadlines that do not leave time for critique. Others may be focusing on writing rather than revising – or are struggling to find time to write.

Whatever the reason, we Scrivas worried about everyone benefitting from the monthly meetings. We have recently instituted a new process so that every member can get something from our meetings even if they don’t have anything to submit.  We’re calling it “My 20 Minutes.”

Where we used to mostly critique work submitted a week ahead of time, we are now giving each member who wants it 20 minutes to discuss anything on their minds related to their writing. In a recent meeting, where we had only one manuscript to critique, we also discussed an out-of-control middle grade character who seemed to be pulling the writer into young adult material, issues of point of view for a novel, expectations for productivity for an international book research trip, and ideas for marketing an upcoming second book in a series through blog posts.

The conversations were fun, rich and relevant to us all as writers – just like good critiques. So the next time you don’t have something to submit to a critique group meeting, perhaps by sharing a question from your writing life, you can start a helpful and stimulating discussion anyway.

ScrivaLiz

Giving blood then removing the self

by Amber Keyser
Published on: August 14, 2013
Categories: Craft
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Recently, I read an article (which sadly I can’t put my fingers on again) about realistic, multi-dimensional character building.  The author suggested “giving blood.”  In other words, if we bring our own deeply-held and often painful experiences into our characters, they become well-rounded.

My friends know I’m a “method” writer, which means there is a lot of blood-letting on my pages, but during the revision process, I find it necessary to reverse the process and remove myself from the work.  When one of the Scrivas observed that the mom’s narrative was over-whelming that of my main character, it’s because too much of me remains.

The good thing is that the characters have taken on a life of their own during the process so when I strip the authorial voice and experience out of the manuscript, something good and true remains.

Take a minute to think through where your own experiences motivate the action in the manuscript and where they overshadow it.  Perhaps like me, you need to both give and take during revision.

Sins of the Father: The New Yorker Version

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: August 5, 2013
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Cartoon-seesawIf you dare to add one more object to your juggling act as a writer, pick up the July 22, 2013, issue of The New Yorker. Critic-at-large James Wood offers an in-depth article titled “Sins of the Father” and subtitled “Do great novelists make bad parents?” Here’s a link to the first few paragraphs from the online version.

I’d like to think that Wood’s article doesn’t relate to me. One, I am not a “great novelist” on the level with Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, or John Cheever.  Two, my kids are grown, and when they were little I was not as devoted to my writing as I am now. Three, I am female. Does that make a difference, I wonder?

I suppose the article is one I might comfortably ignore. Still, snippets of the article draw me in. Like this bit:

Can a man or a woman fulfill a sacred devotion to thought, or music, or art, or literature, while fulfilling a proper devotion to spouse or children?

Or this quote from William Styron’s daughter:

He might wander into the kitchen…[b]ut he wasn’t exactly there….In the evening hours, however, his humanity usually made a swim for the surface.

I don’t have to tell you that we writers, whether “great” or not, with children or without, face the balancing act on a daily basis. I don’t have anything profound to add. Wood’s article might hold your interest for a while. Or you might simply zip through the The New Yorker cartoons. My favorite from that issue is of a pajama-ed little girl in bed with her teddy bear. She’s speaking to her father, who sits by her bed, an open book in his hands. The little girl says:

Read it in the hollow, affectless voice of a man with nothing left to lose, Daddy.

Enjoy.

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