Need a Pick-Me-Up?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: September 25, 2015
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Listen to the podcasts at “This Creative Lifethiscreativelife-e1338485590717“: author Sara Zarr’s interviews with other authors and assorted creative types. Here, writers talk about how long it took them to publish, how hard it is to write with kids in the house, what it felt like to get their books optioned, to make the best-seller lists, to miss deadlines, to quit day jobs, to start day jobs, to succeed, to fail, and to keep going. Even learn what favorite pens some authors use. I guarantee that you will feel uplifted, and reminded that we are all in it together. Thanks, Sara.

 

Daily Rituals

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 24, 2015
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UnknownI happened across this gem of a book, Daily Rituals: short entries on how 161 artists, writers, musicians, and other creatives do their work. Reading each entry is like dipping into a bag of the most exquisite chocolate.

— Jane Austen wrote on little notebooks — in the main living space — that she could hide beneath the blotter when company came.

— Benjamin Franklin sat naked in the cold air each morning.

— George Balanchine liked to iron his clothes to start the day.

— Chopin raged, Cheever drank, Capote wrote lying down.

Read them alone or read them in one long gluttonous line. The thing that’s always the same? There isn’t one. Artists take lots of naps and long walks in the country. They hold to the strictest of schedules. They procrastinate. They sleep too late. They drink too much wine. They drink too much coffee. They isolate themselves. They doubt. Most importantly, friends, they are just like you an me.

Why Attend Writing Conferences?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: April 23, 2015
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logo-scbwiI recently attended a regional Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference — something I try to do every couple of years at least. While sitting at breakfast, a first-time attendee asked me, “So what do you get out of these conferences?” Uh… great question. Here is the answer I didn’t quite have time to give.

1) INSPIRATION!!! Children’s Book Writers are not like rock stars: you can actually meet your heroes. Most conferences draw nationally acclaimed writers to give keynotes and teach workshops. David Weisner, David Shannon, Christopher Paul Curtis, Nikki Giovanni, Andrea Pinkney, and Brian Pinkney are just a few of the author/illustrators I’ve seen up close at conferences. Along with the greats, many conferences also feature local “success stories” that are equally inspiring. And then there are all the attendees you will meet, all working on interesting things. In fact, there is so much good writer juju in the air at conferences that I often get ideas for new books just by being there.

2) Tips, exercises and insights for my current works-in-progress. Workshops are led by authors as well as editors and agents, and tips come from all directions. I especially like attending workshops on genres outside of my own — like filmmaking or horror-writng — to get fresh ideas for my work. One of the most unique workshops I attended was how to analyze your characters through the Seven Deadly Sins (by writer Roseanne Parry).

3) Agent/Editor Contacts. Most conferences allow you to pay extra for agent/editor “pitches” or critiques. Meeting an editor face-to-face is so much quicker than wading through the slush pile and can lead to future books deals. At the least, presenters often give preferential treatment to submissions from conference attendees.

4) Critique Group Contacts. My illustrator critique group — based in Portland — started after three of us met at a Los Angeles conference. Often you’ll meet writers who work more specifically in your genre to provide good long-distance critique.

I find conferences especially valuable when I’m out of the writing groove, when I’m thinking about a new manuscript (especially in a new genre), and when I’ve finished a manuscript and am ready to market. (And if you are a children’s writer, join your national and local SCBWI chapters at once!)

Reading Bad Books

by Addie Boswell
Published on: February 27, 2015
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Unknown-1

Best-selling bad book threatens the very foundation of feminism or provides a titillating escape, depending on who you ask.

Should you or shouldn’t you? Or maybe the better question is: Do you or don’t you? Read bad books, by which I mean formulaic, cliched, stiff, tawdry, populist, immature, or otherwise embarrassing books. There is a belief that “real” authors don’t and shouldn’t read trash. That reading a bad book is the equivalent of feeding your brain junk food, and even worse, that the junk food might start clogging your arterial thoughts and make your writing stupider. Bad writing is catching.

I’ve never quite bought it.

Like most writers, I suspect, I want to write a literary masterpiece, the book that could win me a Printz, a National Book Award, even a Pulitzer. Huzzah! While I’ve read many prize-worthy books, I’ve put plenty of them back on the shelf too. On a given night, I reach for books more pedestrian. Books I might meet at a vacation beach house or an outdated doctor’s office. Young adult thrillers. Old school romance novels. I rarely stop reading them, even when the stilted prose makes me cringe.

Stephen King says, “Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?” (from his excellent On Writing)

So true! Though I don’t read bad books for that reason either. Not to make myself a better writer or feel a little righteous snobbery. I read bad books for the same reason I read good books: to escape reality. I am willing to extend almost any courtesty to a book that will pull me into another place and time. I can hate the character, scorn the dialogue, disdain the whole premise, and still I will read on. If the plot fails, I will read on in the eternal hope that it will improve. That might make me easy as a reader; some might even say sloppy. But I am an adult now, and I haven’t met a bad book I couldn’t read.

“One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose,” from the Master King again. I would add that you sometimes learn what to do right as well. But you don’t have to read to save the world. You can read just to read. And you can eat Cheetos while you do it.

Taking a Chapter Break

by Addie Boswell
Published on: January 26, 2015
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Shelves in progress.

Shelves in progress.

Only waiting for the window seat.

Only waiting for the window seat.

This fall, I built a wall-to-wall shelving unit for my office/studio. Complete with power tools, pocket-hole joints, european hinges, doors, drawers, knobs, and lots of sawdust. For a couple of months, the shelves were my obsession. I can’t tell you how much I loved building those shelves– measuring the space, planning and drawing the dimensions, sawing, drilling, sanding, painting. For another Scriva, it was reupholstering her kitchen chairs. For you it may be organizing your pantry or planting a garden bed. Whatever your current alternate dream job is, you relish the joy of tangible goals, visible progress, and a purposeful and absolute outcome.

In opposition, of course, to the everyday business of writing books.

A work-in-progress is amobea-like. Gelatinous. Unending. Writing a novel is like navigating infinite space, corralling small children, filing the contents of a garbage dump. How do we progress in the face of such an aim? Which leads me to Chapter Breaks: Self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Places for the story to take a breath, the page to turn, the reader to begin again. From Writer’s Digest “An old-fashioned cliffhanger is not required (though they still work), but tension of some kind is essential. End not where the action lulls but where it is the most dynamic.”

We need chapter breaks in our books and we need chapter breaks in our writing: self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Five thousand words. A printed first draft. A contest submission. A conference to attend. A vacation. A stay-cation. A pedicure. A set of shelves. These little deadlines are lifelines: not just how we get the work done, but how we keep our sanity.

What’s Your Mission?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: July 24, 2014
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Every company has a mission statement: a clear and succinct representation of the enterprise’s purpose for existence.You may find yourself nodding along when you read the missions of these recognizable brands.

So what about you? What’s your purpose as a writer? Making a mission statement can be a powerful way to clarify and enforce your work — and referring to it is useful when deciding what books or projects to take on. Only one sentence long, it is harder to make than you think! While you can dive in, brainstorming words and phrases that describe your writing, I think this method is even faster: Find a partner. For three minutes, talk to that person about your writing. The listener ONLY takes notes, writing down words or phrases that seem especially great or relevant. The listener then takes a few minutes to craft a mission for you, repeating: What I heard you saying was…..   Voila! You have a first draft.

Here’s our example: Viva Scriva is a tight-knit group of children’s book authors and illustrators in Portland, OR. We believe effective critique can make your writing sing and your career soar.

And my example: My mission as a writer is to always stay in child mind. My characters transform their realities using their unique strengths and perceptions.

How to NOT Edit

by Addie Boswell
Published on: June 24, 2014
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To almost all writers, we at Viva Scriva almost always recommend more editing. But there are times when editing will only slow your manuscript down. Most notably during that hallowed first draft, but sometimes further down the road too. When you need to work your way through a motivation or plot problem by free-writing, for example, or when your work has been over-edited and you want to return to a flowing voice. At these times, it becomes hard to turn the editing off, and writers can go to great lengths to stop. Writing longhand or on a typewriter. Writing ‘blind’ by covering up the computer screen. Even e-mailing chapters to themselves then deleting them from physical interference.

Along those lines, a friend recently introduced me to Draft, a writing application that helps with versions and online collaboration. I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems more bare-bones and perhaps easier to jump into than Scrivener, another popular writing software. One of Draft’s benefits is called “Hemingway Mode,” which founder Nate Kontny explains like this:

The best advice about creativity I’ve ever received is: “Write drunk; edit sober” – often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. I don’t take the advice literally. But it points to the fact that writing and editing are two very different functions. One shouldn’t pollute the other. It’s difficult to write if you’re in a editing mindset and removing more words than you’re putting on the page.

So I’ve added Hemingway Mode to help. Draft will turn off your ability to delete anything in your document. You can only write at the end of what you’ve already written. You can’t go back; only forward. 

If you’re like me, you have wished that your computer would step in and stop you at times. Maybe Draft is getting ever closer. If only we could get our laptops to start whispering motivations when we stop typing…

 

Editing…Without Touching a Word

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 24, 2014
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imagesWhen writers meet up, one of the first questions parried is, “How’s the writing going?” Recently I had this conversation with another Scriva. Both of us have been overwhelmed with non-writing life, and said (rather dejectedly and a little shamefully), “I haven’t been writing.” And then we proceeded to talk about the new developments in the books we “haven’t been writing” for an hour or two. She was reading Writing the Breakout Novel and trying to decide which of her six plot elements was most important. (What story do I have to tell?) She was also thinking about combining characters and waking up earlier to steal some writing time. I have been ruminating on something an agent told me months ago. And though I haven’t sat down with my laptop for months, my main character keeps visiting me at odd times and explaining more of his backstory (I actually hear his voice in my head.) I’m getting more clarity on my main theme, all without touching a word.

It only really struck me the next day: We are still editing! I have missed my story in the months I have been away from it. That is a healthy thing. Not healthy is the feeling that I have betrayed myself by letting it languish. Less healthy still: the despair that I’ll never get back to my book, and it will never, ever be published. But stories are not quite the same as children or pets. They can be ignored and not perish. They can be argued with and not suffer. They can be put in a drawer and … Well, you get the point. Our characters can be trusted to rise again. If you are mourning your own writing, or just not sure where to go next, here are some non-traditional editing ideas.

  • Read an inspiring writing book that really gets your blood going.
  • Re-read authors in your genre who blow your mind.
  • Try to dream about your characters.
  • Imagine your characters interacting with the real world (like when you’re at the grocery store).
  • Talk about your book with your friends.
  • Talk to your characters, in your head or in your journal.
  • Watch movies that reflect the setting in your book.
  • Make a soundtrack for your main character’s life.

Q & A with Ruth Tenzer Feldman

by Addie Boswell
Published on: April 24, 2014
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Ruth Tenzer Feldman, AuthorRead more about Scriva Ruth, and her love of both history and writing, as she is interviewed by writer and educator Sandra Bornstein. 

Today, I welcome Ruth Tenzer Feldman. She is the author of numerous non-fiction and fiction children’s books. In the last couple of years, she published the award-winning novel, Blue Thread and its companion The Ninth Day. Both books were written for a young adult audience, but adults can enjoy these historical fiction books as well.

In exchange for an honest review, I received a complimentary copy of The Ninth Day. I had previously purchased Blue Thread.

Welcome Ruth.

Your website mentions that you had a successful career as a legislative attorney. Why did you decide to shift gears to become a young adult book author?

Writing has been my first love since elementary school, when I did a report on eye care from the point of view of the eye. My work as an attorney was satisfying, challenging, productive…but still basically a job. Somewhere in mid-life, my first love won out.

You started your children’s book writing career by authoring numerous books that are part of various non-fiction book series. What drew you to these historically based projects?

When I was an international relations major in college I began to realize that what we are (as individuals, families, nations) depends so much on what we were—or what we think we were. There’s so much story in history.

Blue Thread and The Ninth Day catapulted you into the realm of fiction. What prompted you to take this leap?

Well, to put it baldly, I had an urge to lie. I was writing the bio of U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, and I wondered what it would be like for the secret service guys who had to deal with Cal’s pranks. He was a practical joker, even in the White House). Did they ever play a trick on the president? That’s when I knew it was time to write fiction.

Link to Finish this Article.

 

When Writing Time is Precious

by Addie Boswell
Published on: February 24, 2014
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Christopher Paul Curtis

Christopher Paul Curtis

It was years ago when I heard Christopher Paul Curtis speak, soon after The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 was published to much acclaim. I have always remembered what he said, how he wrote most of the book while working on an assembly line in Flint, MI. As I remember, he learned to do his job twice as fast as the line, so that he would have a few minutes to write in his notebook every hour. (Find the full details here, better than my memory.) I remember because I was awed and inspired by the initiative that seemed almost super-human. But over the years, I’ve met authors who wake up at 4 a.m. to write their pages before they go teach school, who write deep into the night in the laundry room after the kids go to bed, who write in their cars during soccer practice, during fifteen minute breaks at the grocery store.

Sometimes, I have a hard time saying I’m a “real” author because I don’t write every day, as some venerated (albeit male) authors say you must do.  Sometimes I don’t feel like a “real” author because I’m not willing to sacrifice kids, husband, and social time for my craft. (As Jane Austen may have done. Thoreau, of course, went one step further and gave up society completely.) Sometimes I need to reconsider what a “real” author is. Christopher Paul Curtis seems like a better model for me, and for many wives, parents, career-women and otherwise modern writers. You can write when time is precious. It’s not as romantic as being in your own attic garret and neglecting the rest of life (as Jo March liked to do.) But it may even be more efficient and productive; you may surprise yourself by writing more. What’s more important, you can write good stuff, as Christopher Paul Curtis goes to show. And the good stuff is what convinces everybody, in the end, that you are a real author. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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