The Life of a Writer, Skills Needed and Salary

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2014
Categories: Other Topics
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

O.K. this is weird and random, but I came across the U.S. Department of Labor’s description of the job “writer.” I found the tasks done; knowledge, skills, and abilities needed, interests; work styles and work values to be quite interesting and on-target. But you won’t believe the average salary…

Check it out. Does this description ring true to you? What would you change?

Scriva Liz

Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: November 20, 2014
Tags:No Tags
Comments: 3 Comments

[This is a post that ran a few years ago about a gratitude activity that I think is worth repeating in case you missed it. Happy Thanksgiving! Scriva Liz]

One holiday season, a couple years ago, I had a strong urge to give something to the Viva Scrivas to thank them for all the ways they have helped me and my writing.  What I had in mind would take some time, so it wouldn’t work during a normal critique group session. I saved it for a writing retreat.

After dinner the second night of the retreat, after the plates were cleared but the wine was still flowing, I gathered the Scrivas back to the dinner table and pulled out a box of beads and some thin wire.

I felt a little awkward, kind of dorky, at first. What if they didn’t like the activity? What if they thought it was tiresome or corny? But I went ahead and explained that we were going to make Thankful Beads. Each person would make a string of beads, each bead signifying something they were thankful for in their writing life. They could start by picking beads that inspired them or by making a list of things that they were thankful for and then choosing beads that best represented each item.

The Scrivas got quiet, and I got nervous.

Then they slipped into the work, jotting notes, fingering through beads. I swear I have never seen these writers so quiet unless they were writing – and with wine goblets at hand, noless. They wrote:

Writing time

Health

My beautiful desk

 

A husband’s support

Great books

The outdoors

 

Writing conferences

My editor

The Scrivas

Someone chose a brown, lumpy bead for a faithful dog. A shiny sparkling amber bead for Ideas. A red bead for her mother.

When we were finished, we each shared our string of beads, touching each one as we said our thanks aloud.

And the next day, as the Scrivas wrote, their Thankful Beads were right nearby.

Happy Thanksgiving,

ScrivaLiz

 

 

Credit where Credit is Due

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2014
Comments: No Comments

COVER FINAL FEB 2014My newest book The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans just published.  Hurrah!

Thanks to wonderful Scriva critiques, it is a Junior Library Guild selection and has gotten a starred review from Kirkus, which called it “timely” and “important.”  As I read the review, I thought about comments Scrivas had given me on early drafts and how they were responsible for much of the praise in the review. Here are some snippets from the review that I can thank the Scrivas for:

“well-written…” thanks to comments that pointed out each part that was not as well-written as it could be…comments like “you could condense this,” “tighten?” and all the copyedits that fixed awkward constructions and grammar problems.

“She draws in young readers…” thanks to comments that highlighted the adult-speak in early drafts and that pointed out the most kid-friendly parts and suggested I do more like that.

“clear explanations,” thanks to comments that pointed out sections that were confusing.

“appropriately focused and interesting…” thanks to comments that highlighted sections that went off topic or “could perhaps be presented in a more interesting way” (read: BORING!).

Without the excellent critiques I get, I believe my books would be rather mediocre. Critique groups help you do your very best work.  So Scrivas, WE got a great review! Thanks for all your help with the book!

Scriva Liz

A Tale of Three Retreats

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 20, 2014
Comments: 3 Comments

Haven House, Hood River, OregonEvery fall, usually the first weekend in November, the Viva Scrivas gather somewhere fabulous for a weekend writing retreat. (If you’d like to learn more about these expeditions of extreme productivity and bonding, please check out earlier blogs such as DIY retreats, Insider View of a Scriva Retreat, and Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads, and posts about the retreats on their personal blogs such as Dreaming of a Scriva Retreat.

In a recent meeting, people began grumbling about how we had skipped our usual June retreat and that we all were starved for writing time and really needed to get a fall retreat on the books. The first weekend in November didn’t work for a few people so we started paging through our calendars.

“Well I could do Saturday the next weekend but not Sunday,” someone said.

“I could do Sunday that weekend, but not Saturday,” said another.

“How about midOctober?”

“Not ideal for me, but I might be able to make a day.”

And so it went, with no weekend being the perfect weekend. Amber suggested a one-day writing retreat at her house on a Friday. Miraculously everyone could make it. Then we thought about doing something close to home another weekend, so people could come and go as they needed to.   Two weekends seemed promising, so guess what we did? We booked both!

In midOctober, we will have four days at my friend Kate’s house in Hood River (Pictured above: a rental she is letting us use at cost).

Willamette Writers Scottland Yard writing roomAnd we will have three days and nights at the Willamette Writers house in West Linn (which by the way, offers six adorable writing rooms for rent all year round; we rented the whole house.)

So instead of one retreat with two or three days, we have three retreats with a total of eight full working days. What looked like an impasse turned into an abundance of writing time.

So if your groups is struggling to schedule a writing retreat, be creative. And think local.

Scriva Liz

Critique as Creative Collective

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2014
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

I read a wonderful article in the Sunday New York Times called “The End of Genius” that I think captures why we Scrivas, and you and other writers, thrive in critique groups.

It’s about how our brains are wired to be in conversation with others about our ideas, about our creative work. Though this researcher focused on creative pairs and many critiques groups include more than two people, the idea of creative conversation still applies, I think. When we Scrivas critique, we go around and give comments one at a time. We address our comments directly to the writer. The conversation for each critique is mostly one-on-one. People do pipe in (interrupt politely) and add comments. But in most cases these comments are productive, broadening, focusing or stirring the conversation.

I have heard that in some critique groups, the writer being critique is supposed to remain quiet the whole time, taking notes. In both my critique groups, the writer certainly listens quietly and take notes at first, but most critiques become conversations, and I think that is good thing. Do you?

Scriva Liz

Celebrate!

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: July 20, 2014
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

Scriva Amber recently sold her wonderful YA novel THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN in a two book deal (YAY!) and I asked her what she was going to do celebrate. The conversation went something like this:

Amber: Well, I’m not sure when to celebrate.

Liz: I know. If you do it when you get the offer, what if it doesn’t work out?

Amber: We both know that happens. I don’t want to jinx it.  Maybe when I accept the offer?

Liz: Or sign the contract?

Amber: But that’s just paperwork.

Liz: Yeah, kind of anticlimactic…

But we both agreed that we MUST celebrate these successes because we face so many challenges, frustrations, and yes, even failure along the way.

With that in mind, I want to invite you all (especially Portlanders!) to join illustrator Mike Lawrence and I to celebrate the launch of our first ever graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek on Saturday, August 2 at the Fremont Fest outside A Children’s Place bookstore at 4807 NE Fremont, from 12 pm-4 pm. Festivities will include:

  • * Tubs of mud for kids to dig through to discover what is in mud.
  • * Squirt guns for kids to test their demudifying skills on mud dunked dolls
  • * Temporary mud tattoos
  • * A raffle of original Muddy Max art

Good dirty fun for the whole family! Join us! Celebrate!

Scriva Liz

 

NEVER Give Up on a Book You Believe In

Don’t give upWhen I was pregnant with my second child, who is now 10 years old, I started writing a picture book called Squeaks, Stumps, and Surprises: A Big Brother’s Guide to Life with a New Baby. I was trying to see my second pregnancy and the appearance of a new baby in the family through my first child’s eyes. I asked him and his friends what they thought about pregnancy and new babies, especially new siblings. And I learned that little kids don’t see things the way we adults do.

In the book, I tried to capture the voice of a slightly older, wiser kid giving insider advice about what life with a new baby would really be like. I loved writing it, I loved revising it, and when I submitted it to publishers, I got nice notes back about the writing and the concept. But all agreed it wouldn’t stand out in the crowded New Baby market.

So I went back to it, revising it again, making the voice stronger, fresher, funnier. This went on for several years (I had a new baby at home after all) before I submitted again. This time I found a few editors who liked it, too. It went to acquisitions several times, but alas, no one bought it.

I got busy with other projects, busy with my two kids, and forgot about the manuscript for a while, perhaps years. If I happened to think of it, I would open the most recent version and read it. I’d think: “I still really like this book.” Sometimes I’d play around with it again. I changed the boy to a girl. I broke the book into sections. I added more dialogue, more funny lists, more punch lines. I cut it radically. I added more material. I cut again. I went from one narrator to two: a boy and a girl.

I started working with a wonderful agent who sold some of my manuscripts. When I first showed her this one, she said something to the effect of: “I’m not sure this would stand out in the crowded New Baby market.” Sound familiar? So I put it away again.

In the meantime, I started writing a graphic novel. (MUDDY MAX, coming this August!) Sometime while working on the graphic novel, I took yet another peek at the new baby book. I thought: “I still really like this book.” And I had an idea. What if the book was a picture book/graphic novel hybrid with some main narrative text and some funny scenes in comic form? I carved out some time to try this, got great feedback from my critique groups, revised again and showed my agent. This time she said: “All right, let’s give it a try.”

And I am happy, ecstatic, thrilled to report, that TEN YEARS after first writing the book, we got an offer on it. I am still in shock that it actually happened. Look for The Big Kids’ Guide to Life with a New Baby sometime in 2016!

And don’t EVER give up on a book project you believe in.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. In case it’s not obvious from the story above, it is OK to put a manuscript aside for a while (months or even years), play around with it a lot, try some radical revisions, get feedback, put it away again, revisit it again. But if you like it, if you believe in it, if there is something in there you think is special, don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

A Tense Surprise

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2014
Comments: No Comments

In an earlier post about how I sometimes do multiple simultaneous drafts of the same manuscript, I mentioned how a critiquer had suggested trying to rewrite my picture book biography of piano inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori in present tense. PRESENT TENSE? A biography from 1700s, late Renaissance Italy, in PRESENT TENSE? Sounds crazy. I balked, as did the rest of my fellow critiquers.

But I have a little rule for myself to at least give most suggestions, even the ones I don’t agree with, a try. Especially if its something I can do easily or test out with a small section. So I did it. I rewrote the whole thing in present tense.

I didn’t really look at the manuscript again until reading the two versions aloud at a critique group meeting. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, the present tense version of the story came to life. It jumped off the page. It sang. I knew it as I read it and the comments were unanimous: “I didn’t think the present tense would work, but I love it.”

So there you have it. Two lessons for me from this experience: Even if you don’t agree with a suggestion, consider giving it a try. And play around with tense. You never what how it could transform your manuscript.

Elizabeth Rusch

www.elizabethrusch.com

 

YIKES! Social Media?!

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2014
Categories: Challenges, Other Topics
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

MuddyMaxMech.inddIn a conference call with AMP for Kids, the publisher of my forthcoming middle-grade graphic novel called Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek, I asked what I could do to support a successful launch of the book. Their answer: A social media campaign. GULP.

The whole idea seemed vague and scary to me at first.  What does that mean? I thought. What would I post about? Who would care?

We began brainstorming ideas and one rose to the top: Since the book is about a kid who gets superpowers from mud, what if I posted 25 to 50 items about mud? Weird mud animals. Mud masks. Cool slow motion mud splashing videos. Funny tips like how to walk in a swamp. Mud jokes.  Hands-on mud activities. Beautiful mud sculptures. Yummy mud recipes. I decided if it’s something I would like to read, if it’s fun, funny, or useful, I’ll post it.

To mix things up a bit, I’ll throw in some contests, a quiz and some free giveaways. Starting now!

Max and Pig inked (3)Everyone who likes my Facebook page this month will be entered into a drawing to win either a copy of the galley signed by both the author (me) and the illustrator (Mike Lawrence) with a Muddy Max book mark or this wonderful original art by created by Mike.

Wish me luck. Like my page. Join the fun.

SPLAT!

Elizabeth Rusch

The Madness of Multiple Versions

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: March 20, 2014
Categories: Other Topics
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

So what does the Nike swoosh have to do with writing? Well, it’s more the motto than the logo, actually.

Let me explain. As you might know from past posts, I’m working on a nonfiction picture book biography about Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano in Renaissance Italy in the late 1600s. As I mentioned in my last post, I had a draft that we submitted to one editor in the fall. She turned it down. Instead of submitting the manuscript elsewhere, I put on the brakes so I could keep working on it. So what exactly am I doing? Multiple drafts.

I don’t mean multiple drafts that follow each other, draft5, draft6, draft7. Rather I am writing starkly different versions of the same story at the same time. I’m working on:

1. A radically shortened version of a 32 page book. This one I am cutting mercilessly. I’m seeing if by dramatically shortening it, I can find a musicality and fluidity to the story. (This worked with a book I wrote on Mexican-American chemists Mario Molina, which will be published in 2016.)

2. I am revising a medium 32-page version based on feedback from the Scrivas and my other critique group. (Revising based on feedback always makes my books better.)

3. I’m rewriting the medium 32-page version into present tense, to see if it helps makes the story more lively. (I’ve never done a tense revision, but someone suggested it, and I thought I should try it.)

4. I’m expanding the story into a 48-page version where I tell everything I know and present primary source material as I go. This will help me identify all the very best, most important material so I will be sure to include it in the final version.

5. I am also dummying out a 40-page version to see if that is the right length for the book.

Why would I subject myself to the madness of writing and dummying out so many different versions? Because I’ve learned from experience that sometimes I should JUST DO IT.  I will never know for sure if present tense is the best way to tell the story unless I try it. I will never know if the book should be shorter or longer if I don’t see the 32-, 40- and 48-page versions side by side. I will never know if I should include primary source material in the main story or save it for the back matter if I don’t give each way my best shot.

This may not be the most efficient way to write a book, but I know that when I’m done, I will be satisfied that I found the best way for me to tell this story.  And if it’s true that we learn to write by writing, then banging out all these versions should make me a better writer.

So maybe there is a method to my madness.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. Just so you don’t think I’m completely insane, I want you to know that I’m not trying absolutely everything people suggested. Someone suggested I write a middle-grade version of the story that delves into the Renaissance and the Medici and I knew instinctively that that was not the story I wanted to tell. So that’s it. I’m limiting myself to five different versions. For now…

page 2 of 6

Welcome , October 18, 2017