Tags: encouragement

Scriva Scribblings: A Book in the Works and The Blog on Hiatus

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 7, 2016
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As 2016 begins, the Scrivas always take time to reflect upon the past year and set writing goals for the new one.

We have a retreat in a few weeks during which we’ll talk about what’s working and what’s not in our writing lives. We’ll think on the strengths we have as a group and as individuals, and of course, we’ll eat chocolate and stare at the mountains and even do some writing.

In the last year, we’ve been talking about our blog presence. Is it reaching the people that we want to reach? Is it filling a need for writers who don’t have a critique group or want to make the one they have function at higher and higher levels? Do we have more to say?

We started the Scriva blog in 2011 in response to the frequently asked question: Do you have room in your group? Since then, we have had a lot to say about critique and the writing process! As a group we have written 339 posts. That is pretty crazy!

 

But 2016 will bring something new! The Scrivas are going to take a break from blogging for awhile. We’ve decided to comb through our posts, pick the best and brightest, write some more content, jazz it up, and publish an e-book!

We are all really excited about this new project. If you have topics you want us to address or if you are interested in hiring a Scriva to critique your manuscript, send us a note through the contact page. We always love to hear from you!

Big hugs and huge thanks for joining us on the journey,

The Scrivas

Pushing Beyond What We Think We Can Do

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2015
Comments: No Comments

Writing–at least Scriva-style writing–is NOT about playing it safe. We push each other to go deeper, to cross boundaries, and to trust in the story to carry its own weight. Pushing beyond is about offering encouragement and being a kind listener, but its also about thinking of the reader and what he or she may need.

As I worked on THE V-WORD, an anthology of essays about first time sexual experiences, the Scrivas and I had many conversations about what readers needed from the collection–good experiences and bad ones, unplanned and planned, and even stories of waiting to have sex.

The Scrivas supported me as I worked with contributors to meet those needs. As the editor of THE V-WORD, I was frequently in the position of having to push the writers to go deeper, to reveal more, to find the right words.

It was hard for me and even harder for them. Contributor Karen Jensen says this about the process:

If I’m being honest, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. On this blog I have shared about my history of sexual abuse, I have shared about my economic woes, and I have even shared about my struggles with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. But writing about having sex for the first time was hands down the hardest writing I have ever done. It’s so personal. Sex is something that is still so taboo to talk about…

Read the rest of her blog post here.

But I think all of us would agree that pushing beyond was worth it. We grew as people and writers. The book is far better because of it. And it is what readers (at least some readers) will need. Look for THE V-WORD on February 2, 2016. It is full of brave writers and honest writing.

 

The V-Word Cover

A Tale of Three Retreats

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 20, 2014
Comments: 3 Comments

Haven House, Hood River, OregonEvery fall, usually the first weekend in November, the Viva Scrivas gather somewhere fabulous for a weekend writing retreat. (If you’d like to learn more about these expeditions of extreme productivity and bonding, please check out earlier blogs such as DIY retreats, Insider View of a Scriva Retreat, and Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads, and posts about the retreats on their personal blogs such as Dreaming of a Scriva Retreat.

In a recent meeting, people began grumbling about how we had skipped our usual June retreat and that we all were starved for writing time and really needed to get a fall retreat on the books. The first weekend in November didn’t work for a few people so we started paging through our calendars.

“Well I could do Saturday the next weekend but not Sunday,” someone said.

“I could do Sunday that weekend, but not Saturday,” said another.

“How about midOctober?”

“Not ideal for me, but I might be able to make a day.”

And so it went, with no weekend being the perfect weekend. Amber suggested a one-day writing retreat at her house on a Friday. Miraculously everyone could make it. Then we thought about doing something close to home another weekend, so people could come and go as they needed to.   Two weekends seemed promising, so guess what we did? We booked both!

In midOctober, we will have four days at my friend Kate’s house in Hood River (Pictured above: a rental she is letting us use at cost).

Willamette Writers Scottland Yard writing roomAnd we will have three days and nights at the Willamette Writers house in West Linn (which by the way, offers six adorable writing rooms for rent all year round; we rented the whole house.)

So instead of one retreat with two or three days, we have three retreats with a total of eight full working days. What looked like an impasse turned into an abundance of writing time.

So if your groups is struggling to schedule a writing retreat, be creative. And think local.

Scriva Liz

NEVER Give Up on a Book You Believe In

Don’t give upWhen I was pregnant with my second child, who is now 10 years old, I started writing a picture book called Squeaks, Stumps, and Surprises: A Big Brother’s Guide to Life with a New Baby. I was trying to see my second pregnancy and the appearance of a new baby in the family through my first child’s eyes. I asked him and his friends what they thought about pregnancy and new babies, especially new siblings. And I learned that little kids don’t see things the way we adults do.

In the book, I tried to capture the voice of a slightly older, wiser kid giving insider advice about what life with a new baby would really be like. I loved writing it, I loved revising it, and when I submitted it to publishers, I got nice notes back about the writing and the concept. But all agreed it wouldn’t stand out in the crowded New Baby market.

So I went back to it, revising it again, making the voice stronger, fresher, funnier. This went on for several years (I had a new baby at home after all) before I submitted again. This time I found a few editors who liked it, too. It went to acquisitions several times, but alas, no one bought it.

I got busy with other projects, busy with my two kids, and forgot about the manuscript for a while, perhaps years. If I happened to think of it, I would open the most recent version and read it. I’d think: “I still really like this book.” Sometimes I’d play around with it again. I changed the boy to a girl. I broke the book into sections. I added more dialogue, more funny lists, more punch lines. I cut it radically. I added more material. I cut again. I went from one narrator to two: a boy and a girl.

I started working with a wonderful agent who sold some of my manuscripts. When I first showed her this one, she said something to the effect of: “I’m not sure this would stand out in the crowded New Baby market.” Sound familiar? So I put it away again.

In the meantime, I started writing a graphic novel. (MUDDY MAX, coming this August!) Sometime while working on the graphic novel, I took yet another peek at the new baby book. I thought: “I still really like this book.” And I had an idea. What if the book was a picture book/graphic novel hybrid with some main narrative text and some funny scenes in comic form? I carved out some time to try this, got great feedback from my critique groups, revised again and showed my agent. This time she said: “All right, let’s give it a try.”

And I am happy, ecstatic, thrilled to report, that TEN YEARS after first writing the book, we got an offer on it. I am still in shock that it actually happened. Look for The Big Kids’ Guide to Life with a New Baby sometime in 2016!

And don’t EVER give up on a book project you believe in.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. In case it’s not obvious from the story above, it is OK to put a manuscript aside for a while (months or even years), play around with it a lot, try some radical revisions, get feedback, put it away again, revisit it again. But if you like it, if you believe in it, if there is something in there you think is special, don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

What Do You Want In Your Circle?

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: January 20, 2014
Comments: No Comments

In a recent, early-in-the-new-year Scriva meeting, we did two short activities that are meant to sharpen focus, boost spirits and build community.

The first was inspired by Igolu.com, which has some wonderful goal-setting exercises, which you can check out here.

In the simple exercise that we tried, you draw a large circle on a blank page. Inside the circle you write all the ideas, emotions, things and qualities that you want in your life. You can do this for your writing life or your life in general – or both! Outside the circle you can write what you don’t want in your life. Then spend some time just thinking on what you wrote in your circle. How can you welcome those things into your life?

The second exercise is meant to shift the focus a bit to some very important people in your life – your beloved critique group members. This exercise is designed to build community and boost spirits by recognizing each member’s strengths and sharing your hopes and dreams for them.  For each member, complete the following sentences (write out your thoughts):

* I really admire/am inspired by the way you…

* The words that come to mind when I think of you are…

* The words that come to mind when I think of your writing are…

* If I could wish anything for your writing life this year, it would be…

Then give these slips of paper for people to read later.

Writing these thoughts down made me think about what I appreciate about each person, made me grateful that they are part of the group, made me hopeful about what the year might have in store for us.  And reading mine made me feel understood, appreciated, supported. And that is something we can all use more of in our lives.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

Dedicate Your Writing to Someone

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: November 20, 2013
Comments: 2 Comments
Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, Oregon

Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, Oregon

O.K., so I’m on a little yoga/writing roll, so I thought I’d share something else from a yoga class that I have applied to writing.

At the beginning of several recent yoga classes at Yoga NW, my teacher Sheila said:

“Take a moment to think about why you are here. Consider dedicating your yoga practice today to someone.”

Cool idea, I thought. I pictured several people in my head and tried to keep them in my heart as I practiced. The class, though challenging, was a joy. I didn’t do anything differently in class – the class just felt more meaningful and more joyful.

After a shower and breakfast, I headed off for a day of writing at the library. I liked Sheila’s idea so much that I decided to dedicate my writing day to someone. Since I write for children, I picked a child I know and tried to keep that child in my heart as I wrote.

That writing day felt more meaningful and joyful.

I am trying to make this a regular practice. Sometime I pick a family member or a friend. Sometimes I choose a child I know. Sometimes I pick a fellow writer, like one of my beloved Scrivas. Sometimes I choose a group such as kids who are passionate about science, or kids who live in poverty, or kids who read books to escape something horrible in their lives, or kids who love the ocean, or kids who have never been to the ocean. Sometimes I hold in my heart other people important to our world or somehow connected to the book such librarians, English teachers, science teachers, pianists or historians.

Dedicating a writing session to someone is like sending a prayer for them out into the world. I will never know if my writing, my dedication to them, my prayer for them made any difference in their lives. But I know it makes a difference in mine.

Elizabeth Rusch

YA Goes to the Oscars

by Michelle McCann
Published on: May 7, 2012
Comments: 2 Comments

While watching the Oscars a few months back, I noticed something strange: a large number of nominations were for movies based on children’s books, particularly young adult novels. I counted and it was a whopping 21 nominations this year: 1 for Tin Tin, 3 for Harry Potter, 6 for War Horse, and 11 for Hugo.

And then there is the staggering success of The Hunger Games movie. Best-ever opening weekend. Already surpassed grosses for all the Twilight movies combined. I went to my very first midnight opening and was amazed to see hundreds of grown people standing in line for 5 hours. For a movie. On a school night!

What is going on? Why are these movies suddenly so popular, with adults as well as kids? I think it is the same reasons YA novels are so popular right now, with adults as well as kids:

Today’s YA novels are incredibly well-written AND incredibly fun to read.

Soon after the Oscars I came across a great piece in the New York Times that eloquently expressed my feelings about why YA is sweeping the nation (and the Oscars). Lev Grossman, book critic for Time Magazine, wrote an op ed that’s title says it all: “Nothing’s Wrong with Strong Plot and Characters.” In the article he admits to being in a YA-only book group (another trend I’m noticing these days) and lays out some ways that today’s YA novels are different from adult literary fiction:

  1. YA novels tend toward strong voices and clear, clean prose. Adult literary fiction, by contrast, can be more focused on style: dense, descriptive prose, full of carefully observed detail, which calls attention to its own genius rather than urging the reader forward.
  2. YA novels focus on storytelling. Much of adult literary fiction, on the other hand, explores ways to break down storytelling, fragment it and make it non-linear. This kind of reading demands a lot of work from the reader.
  3. YA novels are rarely boring. They are written to grab your attention and hold it.

These are the same reasons I believe so many people, young and old, are flocking to see YA movies these days. The stories are great. The characters are great. The themes are meaningful. And they are not boring to watch.

Grossman ends his piece with a sentiment that pretty much sums up why I love reading YA so much (and by extension, going to YA movies as well):

“I’m not as young as I once was. At my age, I don’t have time to be bored.”

And for those of you who, like me, love seeing your favorite YA books up on the big screen, you are in luck. The floodgates are open and just about every YA hit I can think of is “in production.” Here’s a short list of what I found on IMDB:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sept. 2012 (starring Logan Lerman from Percy Jackson, and Emma Watson from Harry Potter)

Uglies, Nov. 2012

Incarceron, 2013 (starring Taylor Lautner from Twilight)

The Giver, 2013 (starring Jeff Bridges)

Ender’s Game, 2013 (starring Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Abigail Breslin)

Forest of Hands and Teeth, 2013

Maze Runner, 2013

Divergent, 2015

The Fault in Our Stars (TBA)

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!

Make your writers group a place of inspiration and hope in addition to a workshop of craft

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 30, 2012
Comments: 2 Comments

Every year, the Viva Scrivas hold a goal setting meeting.  Scriva Addie usually leads us in a series of activities designed to reflect upon the last year and create a plan for the new year. In the past, we’ve prioritized projects to work on, analyzed work-life balance, or identified strengths and weaknesses in our writer=small business owner activities.

This year, we ended up more like group therapy. There is discouragement among us.  The economic downturn has been hard on many of us – lost day jobs, fewer book sales, fewer school visits, glacially-slow acquisitions.  Many of us have had personal struggles.  We needed to vent, to share, to cry, and to re-focus on why we write when it is hard and hardly pays.

To start us out, Addie handed us each nine little slips of paper with the following words:

I really admire/am inspired by the way you…

The word(s) that come to mind first when I think about your writing are…

If I could wish anything for your writing life this year, it would be…

She asked us to fill one out for each member of our group including ourselves.  We put the slips of paper into envelopes and took them home to read later.

Wow!  Between our conversation yesterday and these slips of paper, I came away more focused, less troubled, and ready to take on the challenges of building a sustainable (both emotionally and financially) writing life.

I thought I’d share the list of words my Scrivas used to describe my writing.  I hope some of them will share their lists as well.

inspirational, on, more, razor-sharp, relevant, precise, powerful, strong, amazing VOICE, empowering, exciting, cutting-edge, passionate, intense, thought-provoking, cinematic, soulful, gut-wrenching (in a good way), visceral, brash, fast-paced, adventurous, edgy, creative, punchy, tight, interesting

 It’s important to remember why we do this AND that we can do it well.  Remember!

 

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.

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