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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!)


by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2015
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While revising my middle-grade novel April Fool, I have found Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION to be enormously helpful. The whole book is terrific, but I’ve been focused on Chapter 3: Scenes that Can’t Be Cut. I have heard many times that a character should want something in every scene and that something should change for the character in every scene, but I haven’t always been sure about how to accomplish that. Using exercises Maass offers at the end of this chapter, I have created a scene worksheet that I have found helpful. Pick a scene, answer the following questions, and then revise the scene with your answers in mind.  I hope you find it as powerful as I do! The questions from my worksheet, adapted from The Fire of Fiction, follow below:

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great











I hope you find this exercise as powerful as I do!

Elizabeth Rusch

The Time of Day

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: March 20, 2015
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I’m not a morning person and I am committed to getting some exercise (walk, run, or yoga) almost every day. As a result my basic schedule for MANY YEARS has been: wake up, get kids off to school, workout, shower, eat breakfast, and then get to work.

Oftentimes this means I don’t get to my desk until 10 or 10:30 in the morning. After a couple of hours of work, I’m hungry, so I have lunch. By then, it’s 1 p.m. and my daughter gets out of school at 2:15, so I cram to get some work done. Work time per day: Two hours and then one hour — so three total.

But recently, I have made a tweak in my schedule that has changed everything. I don’t have any more time, and yet, I have more time!

Instead of working out when my kids leave, I get right to work at 8 am. At 12:30 or 1:00, if I’ve worked intensely, I am so ready for a walk/run/yoga break. I eat breakfast with my kids in the morning and then eat with them again when they are gorging on their snacks, so eating takes less of my work time and I gain nice mealtimes with my kids. But best of all I get FOUR TO FIVE HOURS of uninterrupted writing time each day!

Is that INSANE?! What took me so long to figure this out? I mean at least a DECADE!

The moral of this story is: Take a hard and creative look at your schedule. Forget your old habits and assumptions and try something new. You may have more writing time than you think.

Reading Bad Books

by Addie Boswell
Published on: February 27, 2015
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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.

Bullet Journal Your Way Into Writing

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: February 20, 2015
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Do you find it hard to find time to write? When you do have time to write, do you waste time wondering what to do? Inspired by a blog post by the wonderful children’s book author Kate Messner, I have started bullet journaling.

Instead of reading my lame description of how to do this, watch the video here.

Take the time to think out your month, think out your days and week, and break down your writing projects into distinct steps, and you might find, like me, that you have more time to write when you make it a priority and when you know just what to do when you sit down.

Hope you find it as helpful as I have!


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.

The Life of a Writer, Skills Needed and Salary

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2014
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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

When the ice is thin…

by Amber Keyser
Published on: November 12, 2014
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Frozen lake in Algonquin Park (Photo by Voyageur Quest)

Frozen lake in Algonquin Park (Photo by Voyageur Quest)

Currently I am in the very final revisions of a contemporary YA novel called THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, which will be published in Fall 2015 by Carolrhoda Lab. At this stage in the process, I have moved from my usual methodical application of hardwork and craft to something more uncommon and harder to understand even for me.

As I work my way through the manuscript, I come upon passages that to my eyes and to my mind seem okay. The writing is tight. The descriptions are vivid. The dialogue feels real. But my gut says that something is off. It’s as if I am on a frozen lake and suddenly a subtle sense of danger grows. The ice is too thin here. It will support neither me or the story.

I sit and stare at the screen, imploring the page to reveal what is missing. I pace my office, wondering what is off-kilter about the emotion and sentiment in the paragraph. I imagine myself as each character, plumbing the depths of their inmost selves.

Eventually I will feel the way before me. I will caress the words. I will shape them into struts and support. They will become as thick as reality itself. It is both mystical and terrifying. I wonder if I will lose myself to the depths.

The Order of Things

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: October 27, 2014
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2014-10, Things Organized Neatly, Marianne Viero(AT LEFT: “Things Organized Neatly” or “Out of Order #1” by Marianne Viero)

Nicole and I started writing together a year or two before Viva Scriva came to be. She was working on a historical novel—and writing all the scenes in order. I was working on a fantasy novel— and finding out the story line by skipping and hopping, as the spirit led, from scene to merry scene.

Some time later, I set aside this and other works-in-progress to write the historical middle-grade novel I’m working on now. In this new book, I thought it was important to write the scenes in order, and I did so. I finished the earliest draft (that the Scrivas as a whole never saw) in this manner, as well as the almost-to-the-end re-write that followed.

In the meantime, Nicole attended a workshop with author Emily Whitman. One of the tips she came away with was to write the scenes she saw most clearly, or felt most strongly, first, then write the connecting bits later. That’s what she began to do, halfway through her novel.

You see what had happened, don’t you? We’d switched positions. She was now hopping around in her novel, while I was writing linearly.

More recently, I shook up my not-quite-finished novel and began to submit in a big way to the Scrivas. I gave them a fresh beginning, earlier in time than the version they’d seen before. But then… See, I need to have a finished draft to submit somewhere soon. And I realized that what I most needed, for my peace of mind, was to write the ending next. I finally knew how I wanted the book to end, and needed to know that I’d set that down.

So what did I do? I took a page from Nicole’s book. From my earlier story exploration. I wrote out of turn. Instead of revising my way through the middle of my story, and giving that to the Scrivas next, I skipped on to the end.

Then I backtracked and gave the middle to the Scrivas—well, the middle of the middle. Then they saw that section’s end.

Going forward, I’ll revise and fill in bits in the beginning, do the same with the first part of the middle, and then carry on all the way to the end.

Confused? So are the Scrivas. Still, they’ve been able to give me awesome comments, even though they (and I!) are looking forward to seeing the whole story in proper order.

The point of this post is that—learning from Nicole and me—at different times, for different reasons, you may need to write or revise your story linearly. At other times, you may need to skip around. Don’t worry about it. Just do what best serves the story and your current writing needs.


In case you’re wondering, what the Scrivas saw of my draft was:

-Beginning, 1
-End, 1
-End, 2
-Middle, 3
-Middle, 4

What they’ll see going forward:

-Beginning, 1—revised from above
-Beginning, 2
-Middle, 1—revised from a couple of years ago
-Middle, 2
-and so on, to a proper end.


Best wishes for your writing, in or out of turn.


-Sabina I. Rascol

Would You?

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: October 8, 2014
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Recently, I stumbled across this article in the New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

“Swoon Reads, a young-adult imprint that is part of Macmillan Publishing, is upending the traditional discovery process by using crowdsourcing to select all its titles. By bringing a reality-television-style talent competition to its digital slush pile, the publisher is hoping to find potential best sellers that reflect not editor’s tastes but the collective wisdom and whims of the crowd.”

So here’s the deal. Once you finish your manuscript for your YA romance, you upload it to the Swoon Reads site.

Then you sit back and see what people have to say about it. If you get a lot of reads and likes on your manuscript, the editor considers publishing it. Submission guidelines are here.

Would you give it a try?

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