Categories: Humor

The Emotional Stages of Revision

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2015
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As I’m revising my middle grade novel, I feel distracted. I feel alone. I feel like no one has ever felt this lousy and distracted and unproductive while revising a novel ever before in the history of literature.

So what do I do? I google my problem. I type in “revising a novel sucks.” I think I want to tell someone (the google search box?) how much it sucks. And I think maybe someone has blogged about it and I can read it so I won’t feel so alone. (Also, this googling mean I’m not working on revising my novel for the moment, which is good cause REVISING SUCKS.)

Anyway, I found this: The Ten Emotional Stages of Revising a Novel, by Farrah Penn on

I have been in all of these stages! Resentment. Second guessing. Fear. Distraction. Maybe not always in this order but I have BEEN IN ALL OF THEM!

And I’ve come out on the other side before. So maybe I will again.

And maybe if you’re stuck in one of these stages, you will too.

Feel free to tell me all about. Turns out we are not alone…

Elizabeth Rusch

Writer Wanted—A Job Description

by Amber Keyser
Published on: October 16, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Creativity, Humor
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Requirements of the position:

  1. Navigate social media with authentic (non-threatening) mastery
  2. Engage constantly (except during twice weekly showers)
  3. Market yourself and your work with love (not slime)
  4. Advance causes without being didactic or confrontational (use hashtags)
  5. Teach at every opportunity (schools, libraries, conferences, bus stops, laundromats)
  6. Juggle everything (deadlines, family, second jobs, fire, occasional small carnivores)
  7. Manage complicated projects (including life) on extremely limited funds (the reward is the doing)
  8. Be a role model for everything (all the time)


Snark aside, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a working writer. There are many expectations (see above). Some of them (maybe not juggling fire) do seem to be required of the position. But what does it really mean to do this job? What are my “responsibilities”?

Only this… to think hard about what makes people tick, to open myself to deep emotions, to tell stories that move me, and to wrestle with words until a world is born anew on the page.

This is my job.

And it is good.


The Problem with “Butt in the Chair”

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2015
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I’ve heard at least dozen writers talking about overcoming writers’ block with one simple rule: Sit your butt in the chair.

I have two problems with this advice. First of all, I don’t really get writers’ block, I get writers’ inertia. Writers’ block is when you don’t know what to write…you don’t have any ideas or any direction. Writers’ Inertia is MUCH worse. You  have ideas, you know what you want to do, you know the direction you want to take…but you just can’t get started during a given writing day or session. Putting my butt in the chair does not solve my Writers’ Inertia.



That’s because when I get my butt in the chair with my computer on and ready to go in front of me, I can do SOOOO many things other than write or revise!  I can:

Check my email.

Check facebook.

Check twitter.

Post on facebook and twitter.

Research lodging, flights, car rentals, and things to do for upcoming schedule trips OR trips I would like to take some day…

Answer some emails.

Check to see if an article of clothing I want has gone off-season and on-sale yet.

Clear out my email.

Check the weather.

Check the hourly forecast.

Check the forecast in someplace I’m visiting in the future or hope to visit in the future.

And now, look!, I found another one! I can write a Scriva post!

Writing this post kind of counts as writing — and it serves another purpose, too. For me the only way to overcome writers’ block or writers’ inertia is to write.

Thanks for the warm up. I’m going back to what I SHOULD be doing, which is revising my novel. Chapter 11 is next.

Elizabeth Rusch


Exploring Narrative Arcs? Leap!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 2, 2014
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Amber-danceOkay, this isn’t exactly how it looked at our last critique meeting of 2013, when Scriva Amber choreographed the narrative arcs of several subplots in Scriva Nicole’s manuscript. First off, we were in my dining room, and Amber was wearing her coat. Still, Amber is a former ballerina, and when she performed her brilliant “show, don’t tell,” this is how it felt: Awe-inspiring.

We Scrivas have charted each other’s works. We’ve made graphs and drawn pictures. I think, however, this is the first time that we’ve turned to interpretive dance. I wish I had had the presence of mind to capture Amber on video.

The best part of this unique critique is that Amber completely captured her proposed narrative trajectories for a love story, a friendship story, and the protagonist’s main inner and external challenges. Her dance got the point across with equal parts enlightenment and entertainment.

So, my advice to you for the New Year is bring it on! Look at your work in a new way. And show your work to others, so that they can use their gifts to enhance yours. Who cares that 2014 isn’t an official leap year? Leap anyway. Leap!

The Scriva Bullies

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 20, 2013
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Be careful what you suggest in a critique group meeting – even in jest. A writer might just do what you say.

At a critique group meeting a while ago, we Scrivas observed that ScrivaNicole kept giving us revisions of the first 50 pages of her amazing middle grade novel over and over again. While we loved reading it each time (see post equating Nicole’s luscious writing to fudge), we also wanted to see where the story went, what happened next. And after months of seeing the first 50 pages over and over, we worried that Nicole might be stuck in a rut.

So we told her, jokingly: “Maybe we should sneak into your house, raid your computer, steal the first 50 pages of your novel, and lock them up so you would have to move on.” We all laughed and thought this was a wonderful, if silly, idea.

Then, the next meeting, Nicole said: “I did it.”

“Did what?” we asked.

“I had Danny [my husband] take the first 50 pages off my computer,” she said. She handed us each a small stack of paper. “Here they are. You can read them and comment, but don’t give me any comments, even if I ask for them…”

She looked a little worried and we felt a little guilty for teasing her, but at the next meeting Nicole handed over – and purged from her computer – another chunk of the book. She kept plugging away at it, handing over chapters. Before we knew it, she finished the whole thing!

Apparently in a critique group, there is a time and place for everything, even a little good-natured bullying.  Maybe sometimes we all need a little tough love.


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.


A Safe Place to Share OBSESSIONS

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2013
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We all have them:  Subjects that fascinate us. Topics that we can’t get enough of. Areas that grab our interest whether we’re browsing headlines, blogs or twitter – or overhearing a snippet of conversation.  If you will read anything on a subject, click any link that deals with a subject, and if you feel compelled to write on a subject, you are probably OBSESSED. Obsessions haunt, possess and preoccupy us. And the sad truth is that not everyone around us shares our obsessions (can you believe it?!)

So that’s where critique groups come in! They have to read and discuss everything you write about your obsession!  There is no way out!  Ha, ha, ha (evil laugh here).

Someone asked me recently how I became obsessed with volcanoes.

“Me? Obsessed with volcanoes?” I was truly puzzled. I read about and write about a lot of topics.

“Uhm, don’t you have like three volcano books?” she said. “Writing three books about a topic constitutes an obsession.”

Oh! You mean THAT obsession. I didn’t think it was the right time to tell her about idea I was developing for a fourth volcano book…

So yes, my name is Elizabeth Rusch, and I’m obsessed with volcanoes. And if you didn’t know better, you would think every single Viva Scriva was obsessed with volcanoes, too. They must be, or why would they so gracefully and enthusiastically read draft after draft of book after book?

That’s why critique groups are such wonderful, safe places to share your obsessions. There is an unspoken code: If you let me explore my obsessions, I’ll let you explore yours.

Obsessions can become contagious. We Scrivas tend to get interested in each other’s obsessions.  I will always scroll through the cool historical photos emailed by historical fiction writer Scriva Nicole. I find myself reading, rather than passing over, articles on the violence in Brazil’s favelas after critiquing Scriva Addie’s gripping YA novel Essa Vida. And I couldn’t wait to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow when Scriva Amber, author of the middle grade novel Archer, pulled hers out at a retreat.

But here is the reality: Nobody in the group is anywhere near as obsessed with volcanoes as I am. Their enthusiasm is most likely one part shared-obsession and nine parts generosity and graciousness.

For their generosity and graciousness, I am truly grateful.

On June 18, Houghton Mifflin released my second volcano book, Eruption: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives.


And August 1, Charlesbridge will release my third: Volcano Rising.

Cover Final

Volcano Rising is dedicated to the Viva Scrivas. Thank you for sharing my volcano obsession – or at least indulging it. You are the very best Enablers 🙂

Scriva Liz


Some Literary, Bawdy Fun

by Guest Posts
Published on: February 20, 2013
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When a member of my critique group announced she was getting married recently, we threw her a bachelorette party. But not just any bachelorette party, a literary/bawdy bachelorette party. If you find yourself somewhere with your critique buddies and paper and pens, and you’re looking for some laughs, try these games:

Two Lies and a Truth: Easy for creative types who love to make things up. Each person makes up two lies and remembers something unbelievable that really happened. Everyone tells their three stories and people try to guess which one is true.  (Can be as clean or naughty as you want.) You could also do this for your characters…but just don’t forget which stories are the made-up truths and which are the made-up lies.

Poetry Prompts: On 20-30 small note cards write a romantic word on each (like roses, fire, smooch). On another 20-30 cards write funny domestic words (like nose-hair, laundry, compost). Everyone takes a card from each pile and must compose a poem with the two words.

Dirty Balderdash/Dictionary: This requires a bit of prep. Someone must do some internet research to find some naughty terms or slang phrases that they think no one would know. Write each with its definition on a note card or slip of paper. To play, someone picks one out of a bag and reads just the word out loud. Everyone writes the word down and makes up a definition. The one who knows the correct definition collects the definitions and reads them all aloud with the real definition mixed in. Vote on which is the real definition (if you can stop laughing long enough!)

Dirty Pictionary: Great for author-illustrators. Someone writes a bunch of sexy words on small notecards or pieces of paper. Break into teams of two or more people. The “artist” picks a card, reads the word silently and tries to draw it while the other teammates guess out loud. Teams can race to successfully draw the same word or you can set up a timer and teams get points if they guess in the allotted time.

Dirty Scrabble: My guess is that you can figure out how this should be played.

Have fun!




Just in case you thought it was easy…

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: February 8, 2013
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Comments: 1 Comment

…This video reminds us that it’s not. Jerry Seinfeld discusses how it’s taken him several years to write a single joke about pop-tarts. Fascinating!

Watch it here.

Happy Friday!

Back to School, Back to Work, Yay…Sigh…

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 20, 2012
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So after an incredible and incredibly relaxing summer, my kids are back to school and I find myself back at my desk. For the last few weeks of the summer, I found myself dreaming wistfully about really getting back to work, to doing some serious writing and some serious all-that-other-stuff-we-writers-have-to-do.

Then I dropped my kids at school for their first day, and I sat down at my desk. I answered some emails. I made a “to do” list. I checked it twice. I answered some more emails. I looked outside the window. The sun was shining brightly. The trees rustled gently. What a pretty shimmery-green color…

Oh, wait, work. I’m back at work. I sat up straight, checked my “to do” list and picked something. I opened a file. My dog Reba walked in and dropped a tennis ball at my feet. I patted her head. I got down on the floor and gave her a belly rub.

Oh, wait, work. I’m back at work. I read through some copyedits on my book on Nikola Tesla. I answered an email. I looked at my “to do” list again.

I could hear kids laughing and screaming out on the playground at recess, and suddenly I missed my kids. I wondered how they were doing in their new classes, and I hoped that they were doing a better job focusing than me.

This is what I wanted, right? Some time to work? What I was looking forward to? So why was I having so much trouble?

That night, I gave myself some homework. A pile of stuff to critique for the next Viva Scriva meeting had been sitting on my desk for weeks. It was time to pick it up.  I curled up on the couch with a novel and two picture books. As I read and made notes and thought about what the writers were trying to do, I felt a part of my brain kick on. My writing brain. My work brain.

Sometimes taking a good hard look at someone else’s work can help you with your work. If nothing else, it might get you in the right mindset to do some work.

The next day, I took the kids to school, turned on my computer and wrote 1,000 words. Thanks Scrivas.


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