Tags: comfort zone

Needs Updates

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 11, 2015
Comments: 2 Comments
Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness Scotland

Needs updates

I am in the process of moving. Putting my current house on the market is turning out to be way more stressful than I anticipated.

First, I had a bunch of workers fixing all the little things that I should have fixed for myself long ago. Then the stagers rushed through, moving furniture and rehanging art. I get kicked out of my home with a one-hour notice as strangers walk through my home, poking and peering at all of my stuff. Shortly after each showing, my realtor sends the “feedback” and I get to to hear how the driveway is all wrong or the kitchen needs updating.

I feel homeless and violated and judged all at once.

I am also in the process of sending my debut novel, THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, into the world. It releases October 1st, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the experience is going to be much like moving. In some ways it already is. Selling a book to a publisher is the first step into a wider world. Editors and designers, publicists and marketers all get into the mix. They move things around. They re-envision the way the book will look and feel. They change things.

Unlike the home selling process, I have enjoyed the collaboration with the team at my publishing house. I know it is a better book because of their expertise. I also have valued the distance it has created between me and the book. Just as my house doesn’t feel like my home anymore, the book doesn’t feel like as much a part of me, of my very sinews and bones, as it did before.

I am hoping that this helps.

Because soon, terrifyingly soon, readers will make their way through my book. They will examine its rooms, poke in its dusty corners, and lift the sheets. And they will decide, just as the strangers walking through my house will decide, if they like it or not, if they want to live here.

I try to remind myself that tastes differ and that this is a good thing, but I anticipate it will be hard when the reviews start coming in. I may wish I had updated the kitchen after all.



by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2013
Comments: 1 Comment
Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, OR

Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, OR

How are yoga, writing and critique groups connected? I don’t know but I often find myself thinking about how much that happens in yoga class applies to my writing life.

During one recent class at Yoga NW, we were holding a warrior two pose for what seemed like FOREVER. My arms were burning, my legs ached and I was ready to be done.  Seeming to reading my mind, my yoga teacher said: “Just when you feel like giving up on the pose, instead try recommitting to it.”

Grrrrr, grumble, O.K, I’ll try, I thought.

I didn’t really do anything different. I just thought about recommitting to the pose and some energy swelled up and got me through it.

Being a writer is hard and can sometimes even be infuriating and deeply uncomfortable. Sometimes, I’m ready to be done. This can be on a daily scale, like I’m stuck, bored, having a hard time focusing and things like washing the muddy dog towels or grocery shopping seem like they would be a lot more satisfying.  Most of the time (not all the time), instead of washing the dog towels, I recommit to the writing. I stay in my seat, remind myself that I chose this work and try again. Most of the time (not all the time) I’ll get a little something done and feel satisfied about that.  Recommitment can get me through.

On a larger scale, I have been a writer long enough (since 1988) that I have faced a number of times when I ask myself: Why do I keep banging my head against this wall? Sometimes I do have to turn off my computer, take a break, take a vacation. But I have found that eventually, what I really need to do is recommit, to jump hard into a big revision or a new project.  And the energy swells up.

Our critique group has also been at it long enough that members have certainly faced times when we have wondered whether it’s worth coordinating schedules, missing evenings with our families, taking time to read the submissions, etc. But when I’ve faced these times, I think about how amazing the Scrivas are, I recommit and I have never regretted it.

Some things are worth recommitment.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. I just came back from another great yoga class and wanted to add this quote: This is not supposed to be easy. Surrender to the effort.

Can you kill a book?

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2013
Categories: Challenges
Comments: No Comments

Tom Riddle’s Diary


Currently, I’m deep into revisions for a contemporary, realistic novel, and I’m also deep in anxiety that I am going to kill this book.

Large scale revisions which require me to adjust characterization or radically reconstruct my plot, make me feel like a puppet-master.

“Ah, my pretty!  You thought you liked boys?  Surprise!  I’ve decided you’re going to be hot and bothered for the girl next door.”

“What? Your showdown with the ax murderer happened at night in a convenience store?  Not any more.  Try the art museum in front of a tour group of little old ladies!”

Boggart Goes Poof

I’m confident that both my characters and my plot can withstand this sort of earth-shaking revision a few times, but can you go too far?  What if I force my character to try on so many things (Shy or more assertive?  Close to mom or distant?  Soccer or ballet?) that she implodes like the boggart in Lupin’s Defense Against the Dark Arts class?

What if I revise the life out of my story?

I don’t know the answer.

What do you think?

Have you ever killed a book?

Critique Group Speed Dating

by Amber Keyser
Published on: August 9, 2012
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: 5 Comments

On this blog, we Scrivas love to talk about effective group process and good critique, but I fear we may gloss over the hardest part of critique groups: FINDING ONE!  I know I had several botched attempts before finding the Scrivas.  It’s very difficult to assess compatibility of potential critique partners.  You’ve got to get into the process a little before you have any sense of whether it will work or not.

And that’s kind of like jumping into the sack with someone you’ve just met.  Could be fun. Or it could be an epic disaster.  Is there a way to streamline the process?

Well, I’ve been tossing around the idea of critique group speed dating for a while.

In looking for a critique partner, you want to find someone whose writing you respect.  That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s got potential that you can get behind.  You also want someone that you get along with on a personal level. Ideally, this is also someone who offers productive critique.


Here’s one idea for how it could work:

  1. Each participant brings in one page of their writing with enough copies for all participants.
  2. Two people sit down at a table and talk about their writing goals, creative process, and projects (NOT about the first pages).
  3. If you like the person, set their writing aside to check out later.
  4. After five minutes, switch partners.
  5. By the end of the evening, you’ll have identified a handful of people that you think are pretty cool.
  6. Go home and read the first pages.
  7. Select the people that you think would be a good match based on personality AND/OR writing.
  8. Pass your selections onto the event organizer and see if you’ve made any matches.

Voila!  A critique group is born!

What do you think?  Could it work?  Would you be interested in trying?

To join or not to join, that is the question

by Michelle McCann
Published on: December 7, 2011
Comments: 2 Comments

Hi, I’m Scriva Michelle–the new girl. A few weeks ago I was officially inducted into the Viva Scrivas (a terrifying hazing from which I am unlikely to recover). It’s been a long, ambivalent road for me deciding whether or not to join this talented writing group. I work part-time and have young kids, so finding time to write has been a major struggle for me. THE major struggle. I’ve had a number of children’s books published, but I wrote them all before I had children. Ten years ago!

Once the kids arrived, I felt like if I was taking time away from them, paying someone else to watch them, I should be doing something that actually paid more than the cost of the childcare. My writing virtually stopped.

But my old writing partner, Scriva Liz, never gave up on me. During those non-writing years she continually reminded me that I can write, that I love to write and that I should get writing again. She is a persistent gal, that Liz.

In an effort at full disclosure, I’ve been thinking about why I resisted the pull of the critique group. Here are the fears that have kept me away until now:

1) I HAVE NO TIME. I will fill up the tiny amounts of time I have for writing with critiquing other people’s manuscripts (which is already what I do for paid work–I’m an editor). After all, critiquing is much easier and more fun, at least for me.

2) I HAVE NO TALENT. I will be discovered as a fraud, a non-writer. I will either not be able to actually write again (it has been nearly 10 years, after all), or the group will realize, once they read my first submission, that I actually suck.

Neither of these fears is unique. In fact, they are cliché writer fears. But there you have it: not only do I have no talent, I am also a cliché!

So why do it?  Why not write at home, alone, and never show it to anyone? Now that I’ve taken the leap, I’m seeing the positives:
1) I NEED A KICK IN THE ASS. What has happened in the past few months that I’ve been dipping my toes into the group to see how we fit is that I’ve actually been thinking about writing all the time. I’ve been listening to the similar struggles of other writers in the group and realizing that I’m not alone. Feeling the pressure to do it. And I’ve been writing. For the first time in 10 years.

2) I NEED DEADLINES. Meeting once a month forces me to at least sit down once a month and try to get some words on the page. If I don’t submit something to the group at some point it’s going to be embarrassing. So I have to work. Someone is waiting.

3) I NEED SUPPORT. I’m starting to realize that maybe the reason I stopped writing for 10 years is that I needed some support. Some cheerleaders encouraging me to skip the kids’ soccer games for once and choose to write instead. Some talented people to sit with as we all stare at the blank white page and painfully pull the words and the stories from our heads.

And I think it’s working. I went on my first writing retreat last June, and now, five months later, I have about half of a middle grade novel written and the rest outlined. I actually survived the first critique of my early chapters, and while the Scrivas have given me plenty to work on for revisions, nobody laughed me out of the room. Nobody said, “You suck! Who in the world ever suggested you could write for kids?” At least not out loud.

And yes, I do struggle to find time to write my own stuff AND read/critique the other writer’s manuscripts. But there are words on the page. Finally. And another deadline next week.

I’m in. Time to get writing.

Concrete Ways To Suss Out Potential Critique Group Members

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 4, 2011
Comments: 3 Comments


Our readers often ask how they can find a group like ours.  In the FAQ section of this blog, we offer general suggestions for how to connect with other writers, but that is only the first step.  Once you’ve identified a list of people that all want a great critique group, how do you make it happen?

FIRST, ask questions up front to try and assess fit.

How long have you been writing?
How much time do you have for writing?
What are your writing goals?
How often would you like to meet?
How often will you have a piece to critique?
What is your writing/publishing experience?

There are all sorts of reasons we write, and there needs to be a match in terms of purpose.

I was in a group once where one woman was a visual artist who was writing to keep her creativity alive  until her kids were old enough for her to go back to oil painting.  I was trying to build a career as a professional writer.  Mismatch!

Another time I was with a group of women where everyone but me was primarily interested in writing stories for their own kids.  Again, mismatch!

Finally, I exchanged writing with one superbly, talented writer, who had a very demanding full-time job.  She and I could not keep the same pace. Mismatch!

SECOND, ask potential critique group members to participate in a book round table.  It would work like this.  I’ll use a picture book group as an example but this will work with any genre.  Ask each participant to bring in 2-4 picture books (published by strangers) and be prepared to point out what works and what does work about each one.  This is a non-threatening way to see what kind of a critique that person might give.  Plus it is a fun way to practice analyzing manuscripts.

THIRD, do a test drive manuscript exchange — a clean version of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”  Read each other’s work.  This will enable you to assess whether you can get behind that person’s writing.  One key to Scriva mojo is that we have an immense amount of respect for the writing of the other Scrivas.  You’ll know quickly whether your potential critique partner is doing work that you can believe in.

The EXPERIENCE question.  A fit on the “experience” level is the trickiest.  The truth is that new writers benefit most from being with experienced writers.  Experienced writers tend to need each other while a group of new writers may not have the expertise to proceed effectively.  There is an obvious problem here.

What is a new writer to do?

Remember that many unpublished writers are very good writers and may be very good critiquers as well. The missing piece is knowledge about the business and professional connections.  A group of new writers can divvy up tasks and take steps to educate themselves.  (Wondering how to do this?  I’ll have to do a blog post!)  You can also invite more established, local writers to come as a guest to your critique group.  Many may be flattered by the opportunity to share their knowledge.

And you experience writing professionals out there…  consider taking a flyer on a newbie.  It just might be the best thing you ever did!



Law School, Critique, and Creativity

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 23, 2011
Comments: 2 Comments

case law

An eon ago in law school I studied the 1929 case of Hawkins v. McGee. Here’s the plot: Hawkins injures his hand and goes to Dr. McGee. McGee says he’ll fix that hand as good as new. He does a skin graft from Hawkins’s chest, resulting in the hairiest palm you ever did see. Hawkins is not a happy camper.

In class that day, my professor let me get nice and comfortable arguing for poor, hairy-palmed Hawkins. Then, bam! He forced me to defend Dr. McGee. Unfair! How could I make the case for such an unscrupulous quack?

Now I see how well my law professor would have fit into Viva Scriva. The Hawkins-McGee flip pushed my brain to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Discomfort puts our brains on alert. It can spark curiosity, if we are lucky—or fear, if we are not. Too much discomfort and we freeze. Too much comfort and we stagnate. The mental gymnastics of a Hawkins-McGee exercise helps us to find the right balance that keeps us moving. It’s a way to shake up the primordial soup that nourishes creativity and sustains a good story.

A critique group session works best for me when it travels into the discomfort zone and then assures me that I’ll somehow manage to turn my discomfort into a better manuscript. So my advice to you: Get comfortable with discomfort. Argue the other side. And watch out for skin grafts.

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