Categories: Business of Writing

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.

 

Query Advice from KT Literary

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: April 8, 2014
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ad·vice
ədˈvīs/
noun
  1. 1.
    guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.

 

Need help writing the perfect query for your middle grades or YA novel?

Go to this website, hosted by KT Literary. (They represent Maureen Johnson and Stephanie Perkins, two big names in YA.)

Every Friday, in the column About My Query, they critique a query letter from the slushpile.

Here are some tidbits:

I’d also always cut any mention of future books in a series in the query letter — save that for once you actually have an agent interested in the story.

— My first thought: Hooray! We won’t have to deal with a YA heroine looking in a mirror to describe herself!

— What I’d want to see in the author’s query is what sets it apart from the expected. In general, look to find a way to give us the details that make the main character’s specific story interesting, and her character one we’d like to hang out with for the length of a novel.

So helpful and addictive! Enjoy!

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate “Gift Offset Day” This Weekend

by Addie Boswell
Published on: January 24, 2014
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What do these things have in common? None of them were being used!

What do these things have in common? None of them were being used!

What is that?

“Gift Offset Day” is a little made up holiday my husband and I observe on a Sunday afternoon every January. The idea is to clear out the clutter that has accumulated all year long, and to make up for the influx of stuff the holidays tend to bring.

What do you do?

Find the number of items of your age. So, at 35, I need to find 35 items in my house that I no longer use or need to get rid of. You can choose how strict you are going to be with the definition of “item.” In our house one item = a pair of socks = a bunch of unused pens = a shirt = a recliner. We also allow vetos. (Hey! I saw the bottle opener first!) My items will likely come from the bathroom cabinet, the kitchen cupboards, the bedroom closet, and my studio, but if you have a serious clutter problem, you can choose one room (like the garage!) to cull from. Here are some simple rules.

1) Choose a day early in the year. Pick a time when the whole family has two or more hours to devote to the endeavor.

2) Give yourself a time limit. This is especially important if you have someone in the family who is prone to sentimentality and will get waylaid by the process. For kids, set a 30 minute limit and make it a race!  

3) Pile all your items in one place in the house — somewhere you are forced to deal with them immediately (like the kitchen table.) You might photograph your pile for posterity, before boxing and bagging to donate, recycle or trash.

Why?

If you’re getting excited about this holiday, you’ll have your own very-good-reason for participating. Think about this: how many new things enter your house every year in the normal business of living and shopping? And how many times every year do you go through the house and take things back out? If the answer is “never” or “almost never” you can imagine that someday you will walk into your basement and realize you have grown a monster. Gift offsets let you face down the monster on a smaller scale every year.

What if I can’t find 35 (or X) items?
This really can’t possibly be a problem for anyone in America. I promise you. Try harder.

What if I find 200 items? 

Yippee! Way to enter into the spirit of the holiday! Your age should work as the minimum, but there is no maximum.

And how does this relate to writing exactly?

Maybe it doesn’t. But if you’re like me, you can’t start on a new project, or a new year, in a messy space. I think old stories and drawings can have the same “cluttering” effect as actual stuff. So choose old drafts, dead pens, and that printer you’ve been meaning to sack. Sometimes clearing out your office is just what the editor ordered for getting back to business.

Surviving as a Starving Artist…with Kids

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: January 17, 2014
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THE POOR POET by Carl Spitzweg

 

I am a starving artist with two kids…by choice.

Rereading the sentence above, guilt fills me. How can one be a “starving” anything BY CHOICE when you have two kids??

Okay, just to clarify, my family is not technically “starving.”  Not in the least.  My husband and I have a home that we bought during good economic times. We have food.  My kids have gifts on their birthdays and at Christmas.  They have clothes. Holes in their clothes come from them playing hard outside.  We even get to travel sometimes due to all the hotel and airline points that my husband accumulates through his work. But we do live paycheck to paycheck, we pay for our own health insurance, we have had to borrow money in the really, really hard times from family, everything we buy MUST be on sale and bought with a coupon, we rarely eat out, we have OLD computers and no smart phones, we apply for class and camp scholarships, etc…all due to me not having a full-time teaching job in order to pursue my writing.

And at times, the guilt drives me crazy.

My husband works full-time, but he is a freelance journalist, so the money comes in waves.  My job many, many years ago as a full-time public school teacher was stable and secure.  But I left it all behind before I had kids in order to pursue art.  Now I often wonder if I’m being too selfish about my art.

Here’s a little backstory…

 

It seems that Wikipedia really does have a definition for everything.  Take its definition for “a starving artist.”

“A starving artist is an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects.”

Truthfully, I’ve always felt a bit of romanticism about the bohemian lifestyle and starving artists.  I love the mod Parisian poet lifestyle showcased in the Audrey Hepburn movie “Funny Face” (as well as the swell ponytail, black slimming pants, long-sleeved turtleneck, and ballet flats she wore.)  I love artist enclaves and neighborhoods in big cities, the bohemian vibe of many indie coffeehouses, and those lovable artists in the film, “Moulin Rouge.”

What’s interesting (and I have no reasoning for this that I am aware of right now) is that I didn’t actually follow that way of life when I was in college and early adulthood.  I was raised and trained by my family and conservative university to want a stable career and, God forbid, health care! So I buried my dreams of pursuing art and went into elementary teaching, got my first full-time job right after I graduated, began my new adult life in September wearing a conservative “vest dress”  (very popular in the early nineties for forty-something year-old women, yet  I was only twenty-one) and donning an apple necklace and earring set.  I knew in my heart that I loved books and loved writing since I’d been doing it since I was in elementary school, but I NEVER thought of ever risking stability in order to pursue my art. My conservative choice in career felt safe, and since I had just gotten married right out of college, I wanted security for our new life together as well as money for all those student loans I owed.

After seven years, writing and the artist life called to me so strongly that I couldn’t resist its advances anymore. Even though I was a teacher by training, I desperately wanted to become an artist by choice.

My road to the starving artist life began, albeit slowly.

I cut my full-time, public school teaching job to part-time in order to work on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  After two years, having finished my MFA, I decided to quit my part-time teaching job and be an on-call substitute, which enabled me to have more free time for my writing as well as become by all definition what I had romanticized about earlier in my life– a true “starving artist.” Finally, I could be a bohemian in pursuit of truth, beauty, freedom, and love in my writing (as they say in the film, “Moulin Rouge.”)

No, it wasn’t easy.  My husband and I had loved eating out.  I had liked shopping at Whole Foods Market. I had liked going to lots of movies.  But I also liked my new writing time, and my husband was (and still is) a good deal-finder and coupon clipper.  We made do and still were able to have few little luxuries.

Less than a year later, my first son was born.  As any artist with kids most likely understands, my writing went by the wayside as I began my new life as a mother.  It came back in tiny spurts, and after two years, a little more.  The economy was strong when I had my son, my husband was doing well in his work, and the “starving” part of my artistic life disappeared.  I became more concerned about how to be a “writer and a mother.”  Besides, it felt good that the starving part of the equation wasn’t there since I had a kid now…and another kid  three years after the first one.  How could one ever have kids and be a starving artist?  The two just didn’t go together.

Two years later, the economy, and my husband’s job, tanked.  Forget trying to find writing time and having an “artist’s life”.  Now we needed money in order to live.  I searched and searched for a full-time teaching job again, but could only find a part-time one.

Slowly, after a few more years up to the present, my husband’s work has come back, as has the economy.  Both of my children are now in school, and more teaching jobs are available again. I could look for a full-time job now.  I could go back to stability and security.  A part of my brain says I should.  I have kids.  Kids cost money.  They have needs.  College funds.  Cub Scout dues.  Soccer and baseball clubs to join.  Drawing classes to pay for.  Swim lessons.  The list goes on and on.

But I choose my art.  Surviving this fact is hard.  But my heart says that I must do it.  I must keep at this artist life, this writing thing.  Or there will be a hole in my soul.  And I don’t think I could be a very good mother at all with such a void inside of me.

I don’t have a tidy ending for this blog post.  I wish I did.  I wish I could leave you with “Ten Tips About How to Survive as a Starving Artist with Kids” or something like that.  But I don’t have any answers. All I have is hope. 

A never ending hope that…

my art will someday find a home,

my passion and priority for the arts will inspire my children to become creative and have an appreciation for the arts into adulthood,

my children will pass a love for the arts onto their own children,

my children will learn to follow their dreams and passions in life and that money and material possessions aren’t everything,

and

not denying my artistic self will make me easier to live with,

a happier, more-fulfilled person,

and a better mother overall.

 

-Nicole Marie Schreiber

 

Scriva Advice: Don’t Pay the Toll Twice

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 5, 2013
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toll-boothWe Scrivas have returned from our retreat, and I am here to report that we worked QUIETLY for hours and hours and hours and hours. On Saturday night, we took a break and focused on the 13 questions that Addie posted here about what worked in 2013, and what didn’t, and goals for 2014. Each of us tackled the questions separately. When we compared our answers, we were amazed to discover that we all had variations on these main themes for 2014:

  1. Lower expectations.
  2. Have more fun.
  3. Don’t stress.
  4. Worry is not preparation.

Advice: Don’t pay the toll twice. Deal with rotten events when, and if, they happen (that’s paying your psychological and physical toll once). Stressing over what might happen before it happens results in your paying the toll twice. Who knows? Maybe the event won’t be rotten after all. Try imagining a silver lining to that cloud, and you just might find one. In an effort to avoid setting yourself up for disappointment, don’t miss out on enjoying pleasant (though possibly improbable) expectations.

We writers have imaginations. Let’s not forget the power of building our own real worlds as well as the ones in our books.

Beginning Again

by Addie Boswell
Published on: October 25, 2013
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imagesIt is around this time of year, when weather and work starts to wind down, that I start to jump ahead in my mind. To 2014’s clean slate, the sparkling, blank planner I get to buy, and the new set of goals I might just accomplish. It is a new year! The sky’s the limit! I love beginnings so much that it is often an uphill battle to finish things. (Starting to dream about a new manuscript is so much more fun than revising the old one for the 17th time…)

So, not to get ahead of myself, there are two more months in 2013. If your holidays knock out some of your productive time (as they do mine), you really might have only five or six weeks. Along with a last chance to knock tasks off the 2013 list, these weeks are a good time to sit down and reflect on all that you have accomplished and traversed this year. A good way to start is to browse through your planner or calendar, remembering all the appointments, deadlines, trips, celebrations, high points, and low points. Then, sit down with your journal and some open-ended questions like these (which I’ve picked up from various books and coaches.)

When I think about my business in 2013…

  1. What surprised me?
  2. What disappointed me?
  3. What worked?
  4. What didn’t work?
  5. Where did the business excel?
  6. Where did the business fall short?
  7. When was I happiest?
  8. What does this tell me about the next year?
  9. Looking at the disappointments, what do I want to turn around in the next year?
  10. Which means I have to change…..
  11. Looking at the successes, what do I want to continue doing next year?
  12. What do I remain sure about in my career?
  13. If I could accomplish only three things in 2014, what would they be?

If data makes you happy, you might also start compiling some numbers to make your accomplishments more tangible. Some possible categories: royalties made, copies sold, submissions sent, author visits scheduled, words typed.

What Would You Do?

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: October 8, 2013
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Perhaps I would feel less like this if someone else conceptualized a novel for me…

 

Recently I finished a teen romance novel that I really enjoyed: Meant To Be by Lauren Morrill. (Check it out here). Then, as I skimmed the Acknowledgements section in the back, something caught my eye.

(What, doesn’t everyone read the Acknowledgements sections? It feels like you’re reading someone else’s yearbook.)

Anyway, it was this little blurb from Morrill that had me curious:

“First and foremost, thanks to Lauren Oliver and Lexa Hillyer, who took a chance on me and then whipped me into shape over many months of drafts. I was but a wee babe of an author before you two taught me that my characters should, you know, do stuff, and slapped that -ing construction out of me.”

Of course I know who Lauren Oliver is, author of the great Before I Fall, a book on lots of teen reading lists, including Scriva Michelle’s here. So was this a writing group that Morrill was referring to then? I got to googling and found Paper Lantern Lit, Oliver’s literary development company. Here’s their mission statement on the front page of the website:

“We build story. Major plot geeks, our unique literary incubator model means that we’re also author-focused and committed to excavating the freshest new voices. We mentor authors step-by-step through the novel-writing process, providing a conceptual foundation, teaching narrative architecture, and constructing a platform for success.”

Fascinating business model, right? Delving deeper into the website, it would appear that authors apply to write for Paper Lantern Lit (PPL) by sending in some writing samples. If they like what they read and have a project that they think fits the author’s voice, then they contact them to do some spark pages for their concept. If PPL likes the spark pages, then I think they do a contract-author kind of deal with the writer. Paper Lantern Lit makes the decisions regarding concept and plot, while the writer fleshes out and creates the story. Then PPL edits and sells the project when it’s all finished.

Side note: Isn’t that how a lot of movie studios do their scripts?

Ever since coming across this site, I’ve contemplated sending in pages from my W-I-P and applying here.

What would you do?

Update: I think I give the wrong impression with the photo caption and by mentioning that I would send in pages from my W-I-P. Paper Lantern Lit is not interested in developing writer’s projects, just their own. They are not interested in existing manuscripts, just fostering writers. The prospect of being mentored (should your application get a pass) just sounds so lovely. I’m sure the odds of getting chosen are very small…

Book vs. Baby

by Addie Boswell
Published on: September 24, 2013
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Expecting my first child, I have been thinking a lot about writing and motherhood, and how much I’ll have to give up of the first for the second. And then I think of how laborious writing a novel has been. Book versus Baby: which is harder? As far as gestation, a baby does take a mere 9 months as opposed to 1-10 years to write a novel. And those periods are similar: frustrating, delightful, insomnia-producing, tearful, surprising. Publishing your first novel, I assume, feels like sending the kid off to kindergarten or college.

Yet a novel, once published, leaves your hands and your heart and ventures forth into the world with near-complete independence. Children retain their grasp, even after their allotted 18 years. When I start to obsess about the (gasp) decades of child-rearing ahead of me, I try to think about the many successful writers and great parents I know and hear about. Here are some posts I’ve enjoyed on the balance of it all.

Writing and Mother: How I (sort of) do both, via Shannon Hale’s blog

How to be a Writer and Stay-at-home Parent, by Katherine Sparrow, via the Blabbermouth

Two (Sucked) Thumbs Up, by Jason McBride, for the New York Times.

And here are my favorite parenting books, from an ever-growing list of choices.

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