Tags: discomfort

The Emotional Stages of Revision

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2015
Comments: No Comments

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 Bustle.com.

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

A Lot to Read

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2015
Comments: No Comments

There have been times in the history of the Viva Scrivas when only one or two people were submitting work to be read most months. We wrung our hands about what to do about it, how everyone should be able to get something out of the meeting even if they didn’t submit, how to keep the group vital while reading only one or two people’s work.

Pile of PapersThe pendulum has swung recently. Everyone is super productive and super eager to get feedback on mostly long work. In our last meeting, we had 60 pages of an alternate history YA, 92 pages (single spaced) of a YA with documentary film making teen, 100 pages of a YA coming of age novel, and the last hunk of a YA novel set in Brazil.

The next month we’ll be tackling a whole MG novel (150 pages) and two chunks (50-100 pages) of two of the YA novels.

That’s a fair amount of reading.

So how do we do it?

First of all, when things seem to be heating up, when it seems like a lot of people want to share big chunks, we sketch out a schedule for submissions. That way we know what is coming when and can set aside reading time. It also helps prevent meetings with nothing to read and others with too much to read.

Also, we have a guideline (sometimes followed, sometimes not) that if you are submitting a large chunk (50 pages or more) you must submit a month, rather than just a week, before. Also as a courtesy, we offer print outs for longer chunks, especially full novels.

How do I personally manage all that reading? For one thing, I really look forward to it. I am excited to read my fellow-writers work, whether its pages I’ve never seen or a revision where I can see a work getting better and better.

I also print out all the submissions as the come in and put them on a table in my livingroom with a pen nearby, so I can curl up on the couch with the pages in the evening, away from my desk.

I try to get everything read a few days before the meeting so I have some time to let my thoughts percolate. I will often add a few notes last notes a few days after reading something or at the meeting itself.

Mostly I welcome a lot of reading from the Viva Scrivas. It means the group and the individual writers are on a roll. It means I have lots of great reading ahead. And finally, it means that I will likely learn a lot as I read and as we gather to share our thoughts on all this wonderful work. As ScrivaAmber once said: We learn as much by reading and commenting as we do by getting comments on our work.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

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

 

Some Yoga/Writing Principles

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: January 20, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Inspiration
Comments: No Comments

The new year is a time to take stock and a time to try to do things differently than we have before. When life gives us a lesson, we can respond as we always do –and then life will give us that same lesson over and over again. But what if life gives us a lesson and instead of responding the same way we always do, we respond differently? Perhaps life will be done giving us that lesson and we can move on to something else.

Take a rejection letter, or a harsh critique, or a writing project gone south for some reason out of our control. What if, instead of responding with our same old anger, frustration, and depression we respond with genuine gratitude.

I have found this is EXTREMELY hard to do. Though I can’t do it fully yet, I have discovered some principals that help me head in that direction. These are yogic principles that I try to adapt to my writing life. They are drawn from Rolf Gates’ Meditations from the Mat. I hope you find them helpful, inspiring, or at least intriguing:

“We already have everything we need.”

“The surest way to get what you want is to let go of wanting.”

“What is required is a radical, absolute, living trust in the universe.”

“Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and vocabulary.”

“Pride and ambition will get you hurt; humility will get you well.”

“There is wisdom within us that is more powerful than our despair.”

“Make a commitment to focus on the nature of our efforts and not the nature the result.”

It’s at least worth a try!

ScrivaLiz

Gas and Brakes

How long does it take you to write a book? How fast do you work? I get asked these questions a lot, especially the first one by school-aged kids.  The answer is that it varies – dramatically.

My fastest book was a school library title on tennis (draft in a month, final in a few months) because that was how long the publisher gave me.  Next fastest was The Planet Hunter: The Story behind What Happened to Pluto which went from proposal to final approved manuscript ready to be illustrated in a handful of months. (My editor and I wanted to get that book out as fast as possible to explain the fascinating story behind why Pluto was no longer considered a planet.)

Typically, my books take much longer. I am working on a book now called Mario and the Hole in the Sky that will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016. I started working on it in 2007. That’s nine years for a picture book.  My graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek which comes out this year (YAY!) began as a middle grade novel in 2006. That’s eight years. My book The Mighty Mars Rovers took a similar amount of time. I’m working on picture book now that I literally started a decade ago.

The reasons for these long periods of time can vary. Many times, I am writing multiple, completely different drafts of the same book – and that takes a long time. (Thank you Scrivas, for reading version after version after version!) Other times I get discouraged after submitting something that doesn’t sell and I put it aside for a while.

In fact, it would be misleading to suggest that I was working on all these projects all the time in those years. What is much more typical is that there are times in the life of project when I put on the gas and other times I put on the brakes.

A current project in development on the inventor of the piano is a good example. When I got the idea in 2010, I start researching furiously (gas). I worked on it off and on through summer of 2012 (little pumps of gas), when I took a research trip to Florence, Italy (gas, gas, gas). When I got back, I did some writing and thinking (gas). Then I got stuck and I got busy with some other deadlines (SCREEECH! Brakes).

I have to be careful because brakes are easier to sustain than gas (things at rest like to stay at rest.) I didn’t touch this project for almost a year. And that really bothered me because I really loved the idea. So I started to put on the gas – writing, rewriting, problem-solving, polishing. I heard that an editor I wanted to share it with would be going on maternity leave. So I put on the gas big time, getting the book ready to submit.

Alas, she turned it down.

I was disappointed but also a little relieved. I just felt like I need a little more time with the project – to do a few more drafts and try to get it just right. So instead of submitting it elsewhere, I put on the brakes. But only gently. I want to slow down but not stop.

In driving you’re not supposed to put your foot on the gas and brakes at the same time. But for writing, I’m going to try it. I need the gas to keep momentum. But I need the brakes, too, to give me time to get it right.

Elizabeth Rusch

Recommitment

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.

“I hate your manuscript” – Critiquing a manuscript that you don’t like

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 11, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment

Eventually it will happen.  Whether you are in a new critique group or a neighbor has asked you to read his pages or you’re on the faculty for a writing conference, you will need to critique manuscripts that you really don’t like.

That’s okay.

Really.

As Beth Revis discusses in a wonderful post on how to deal with negative reviews (the other side of the coin we’re discussing), tastes differ.  Some people hate Harry Potter.  Some people think Where the Wild Things Are sucks.  You can and should acknowledge the genres or forms that you are just not into.

That does not, however, get you off the hook of providing critique.

You can’t say, “I don’t like it.”
You can’t say, “It’s not my thing.”
You can’t say, “This is terrible.”

You can say, “I am not familiar with the conventions of this genre.”
You can say, “I heard that Silly Willy Press publishes goofy rhyming picture books.”
You can say, “I was wondering who the target audience is.”

It’s even better if you can…

… try to get past the fact that you hate rhyming picture books and provide useful comments on structure or story arc or character development

… figure out what you don’t like and frame this constructively.  For example, you hate the main character, but instead you focus on what would help you connect with him.  Is he too passive?  Does he feel mean-spirited?  Can he do less self-talk and more action?

… remember that you are not trying to help your critique partner write a story you will like.  You are trying to help her write the story she is trying to write.

And above all… Do No Harm.  Many of us have experienced manuscripts that looked like lost causes and low and behold, the writer has revised and revised until her story has emerged solid and polished and, yes, likeable!

Finding A Room of My Own

by Michelle McCann
Published on: March 7, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment

For months I’ve been struggling to find time to write in my working-mom-juggling life. I’ve tried writing at home, but there are too many interruptions and distractions. I’ve tried writing at a coffee shop, but I feel guilty if I stay more than a couple hours, which is about how long it takes my brain to get moving.

I have been intrigued by the strategy of fellow Scriva, Liz, who also has kids and a busy work-at-home life. She has a full writing day once a week, away from home. She begins her writing day with exercise (to clear her head and get into the writing mindset), then she walks to the library and writes on her laptop—undisturbed by phone calls, emails, children, husband—for eight hours!

Doesn’t that sound glorious!?!

Well it did to me, so I thought I should give it a try and see what happens. But I had a number of challenges to solve: what to do with my kids and where to do my writing.

First, I found a Boys and Girls Club in our neighborhood and discovered that for $5 a year my kids can take the bus from school to their facility. There they do their homework, play in the gym, read, whatever until my husband picks them up. My clearly sheltered kids were a bit horrified by this option when we took our tour (“Mom, it’s so loud and crazy!”), but they’re on week three now and so far they haven’t been stabbed or gotten lice. I keep reminding myself, “It’s good for them!”

Second challenge—where to write. Lucky Liz lives close to the downtown library with its wonderfully quiet Writer’s Room, so she can walk there and doesn’t have to pay for parking. Not an option for me, so I found a library close by that has street parking and plenty of tables to write at.

Challenges solved, I packed up my laptop and some snacks, and I headed off to write. My plan? To sit, butt-in-chair, and put words on the screen from noon (when they opened) until 8pm. The first trip was a learning experience. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Be thoughtful about your snacks. Within a few hours I craved something besides the gorp I’d brought, which of course distracted me, so I had to waste time walking to a store for new snacks.
  2. Don’t forget the coffee. After I drank the cup I’d come with, it was pretty much all I could think about. Yet another reason to stop writing—must go buy cups of coffee.
  3. Bring an iPod. While there were plenty of tables to sit at, none were empty. I was always sharing space with someone who was either watching TV on their laptop (why come to the library for that?) or playing a videogame. I was easily distracted by the soccer game or sitcom next door.
  4. Think about your butt. Those chairs at the library are unpadded. After a couple hours my butt cheeks were numb. Another excuse to get up and browse the library shelves instead of writing.

Yet even with the distractions, I was amazed at how much writing I got done in eight hours. The next week I went back armed with a grocery bag of snacks, thermos of coffee, butt pillow and iPod mix. Lo and behold, I got even more writing done.

It’s working!

And even though my kids grumble a bit about the two hours they spend at the Boys & Girls Club on Wednesdays, when I mentioned a new editing project I’ll be starting soon, they asked in worried tones, “You won’t have to work on Wednesdays, will you? How will you get your writing done?”

So if you, too, are having difficulty making the time and space to write, why not give it a try? Just don’t forget your butt pillow!

My work’s been critiqued and I feel (add descriptive word here)… More on PCSD

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 20, 2011
Comments: 1 Comment

Recently Nicole posted about PCSD (“post critique stress disorder”).  Her words seemed to resonate with readers.  What writer hasn’t had the experience of receiving a marrow-touchingly thorough critique only to sit and wonder what the heck to do about it?  Roni Loren went a step further and detailed (with hilarious pictures) the Ten Stages of Revision Emotions on her blog.

Here’s the teaser (paraphrased):

“Dammit, that makes sense.”
“I can totally fix this.”
“Oh, Sh*t”
Lalalalala, I can’t hear you.
Drowning in my beer.
Hello, Muse.
“Happy Dance Time”
Mania
Peace
What? You want another revision?

Take the time to read the whole thing here.   We’ve got some posts planned to take on how to revise based on critique so stay-tuned!

Innies & Outies: Respecting Differences in Critique Process

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 26, 2011
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: 3 Comments

Recently Addie posted When Talking is Better Than Writing.  It really resonated with me because I am one of those people who will spew words about anything and everything.  I love talking about my work in progress with anyone brave enough to bear the onslaught.  So my comment was something like “Why the heck doesn’t everyone talk about their writing all the time?”  In her typically gentle way, Ruth reminded me, “Amber Dear, sometimes the work is fragile for a while.”

Hmm… Cogs turned in my head.  Yes, I could see that.  Sort of.  But I am not very fragile (usually) and my work/ideas can take a beating.  Then one of our brilliant readers sent an email that illuminated this cobwebbed corner of the writing process (and maybe my marriage, too!)

She said:

I have learned over the years that there are basically two major groups (though most likely there may be shades of gray in there as well). Inward processors and Outward processors.

I am in the latter group. Things make so much more sense when I can talk it out.

Innies get so upset when Outies want to talk before *they* are ready. Outies NEED to talk before they burst into flames.

Ah-ha!

I should have realized this before since I (like our reader claimed to be) am an outie married to an innie! It’s taken me a decade of marriage to be comfortable with the way my husband works through things and for me to realize that if I want to process out loud, I should grab an outie friend before I subject my husband to my unformed ramblings.

As for critique, I see now why one of my previous groups was so disastrous for me. It had a rule that the person being critiqued could not speak or ask questions.  I might as well have been hog-tied in the corner with duct tape over my mouth.  No asking questions?  No discussion?  It was stifling. Does that mean it was a flawed structure?  No.  It means it was a bad fit for me.

There are both innies and outies in the Scrivas.  Outies are more likely to bring an idea and run it by us before writing.  Innies may wait until the entire first draft is done to start sharing.  Sometimes we have heated discussions propelled by questions asked by the writer about her work.  Sometimes comments are shared and then allowed to lay fallow, taking shape in the writers mind slowly.

I think one of the secrets of Scriva mojo is that we each feel comfortable asking for the kind of eyes we need on a manuscript. Therein lies the key… the writer drives the discussion so that it takes shape in the way she needs it to take shape.

 

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