From Sarah, With Joy

Sarah Allen on the craft, business, and joy of being a writer.

Writing tips every Monday

Story time every Thursday

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Morning Prayer

Morning Prayer

I forget
like dropping my sleep
mask on the floor by the bed,
not knowing where it is
when I come back at night.
The light comes in too early
these days and I forget
what I was dreaming
and how to close my eyes again.
My skin sucks in the chilly air
like gasping for breath
like a Christmas light buzzing, fritzing
and suddenly POP
a burst of light then darkness
and broken glass that will cut
if you're not careful.
I feel alive as broken glass.
Last night I dreamed a man came
into my room
to grab me, to hurt me
his hands were large, dirty when he
tied my wrists with rope.
But when I woke up into the cold
cold air
I was not afraid.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Matters Most? And Is That Why You Write?

I stayed up late this weekend and watched Sense and Sensibility for approximately the bajillionth time. I feel like I always kind of learn something or discover something new when I watch that movie.

This time I noticed what I guess I could call endurance versus intensity. Marianne undergoes something so traumatic and so deeply cutting in a moment of intense pain that she nearly, literally, doesn't survive. The punch is so hard it knocks her completely out for a while. Eleanor, on the other hand, has a less dramatic yet far longer struggle. Her battle is one of grit and endurance. She has to grin and bear a secret that breaks her apart inside all while managing family practical matters as well as caring for her sister in her lightning strike of a blow. Eleanor's type of battle has its own kind of intensity, I think.

This may be a bit more of a personal, thinky-type post, but I hope you'll bare with me. It's something that's been on my mind for the past little while.

Perhaps its the holidays, but I've found myself looking a bit more closely at my priorities list. Not reevaluating, necessarily. More experiencing emotionally how incredibly important the important things are, and how everything else is just so not.

Blogging is not important. The number of readers you have on Feedly or followers on Twitter is so not important. I am one of those very prone to getting that wrong--to letting my day feel crappy when I lose a follower on Instagram. To rising levels of anxiety when I think too hard about how many Facebook fans or YouTube subscribers I'd need to sell all the books I haven't published yet. Brain...what?

You know what is important, though? The people who read your blog. The bloggers you read. Not the number of followers, and not even necessarily the topics of the blogs, but the individuals themselves. They matter. You matter. And if even one person has read something on this blog that has been useful or calming in any way, that is the point.

We writers face battles all the time, of both the intensity and endurance type. (I mean, every one does, in every profession, but we're talking specifics here.) A rejection from an agent or a negative review can strike you down for a week. And the battle of submission is, I'd wager, the longest battle many of us have ever fought. Not to mention the battle for readers.

It is wearing. It can beat you down. Both kinds. There are times when I've felt like I've been walking the road for so long my metaphorical feet feel worn to the bone.

So why? What's the point, anyway?

I'm not here to answer that question, and not able to, anyway. At least not for anyone but myself, I don't think. All I know, though, is that when I focus on how many people came to my blog that day or how many Tumblr reblogs or Twitter favorites I got, I feel anxious and restless until it all feels pointless.

But you know what doesn't feel pointless? Watching the deleted scene from Sense and Sensibility fifteen times then fifteen more. Skyping with my family on the east coast. Disney music. Puppies, kitties, libraries, movie theaters. Making dinner for my dad during his layover visit. Sharing funny GIFS with my roommate. Helping input applications for a stressed out coworker. Smiling at the old man walking through the Bellagio atrium and getting a smile back.

What else never feels pointless? Praying. The tenor part in church hymns. Talking with my sister for half an hour about her boyfriend who thinks she lights up the world. Quoting Christmas movies. Putting on pajamas and finishing the last chapter of a really, really good book. Finishing the last chapter of your own book.

But why does that matter, the finishing of the last chapter? The writing and creating? How does it all tie in? I don't know about you, but after watching Sense and Sensibility, I feel like this lump of something hot and unpleasant and sharp has been expunged from me, and I feel grateful to Emma Thompson and everyone else for that. And it's not just about catharsis, or even escape. I've never had to walk to my own death, but I can feel good about the human race, and feel close to my own family, when Harry Potter brings back his mother and father to help him face Voldemort alone. I can start an hour long laugh-fest/philosophical discussion with my roommate based on a Disney movie GIF set that someone on Tumblr took the time to create.

And if we writers and artists can do that for any other human being--in a full length novel, short story or poem, in a 140 character tweet, in a joke on Tumblr or blog post about the latest episode of Supernatural--then that I think is what makes everything worthwhile.

That is why I write.

What matters most to you? And is that why you write?

Sarah Allen

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  • NPR Selected Shorts Contest: First Prize is $1000,  plus a scholarship for a 10 week course at the Gotham Writers' Workshop. Your story will be read to a national audience by a well-known actor. Due March 15.
  • Big Book of Useful Poetry: Submit "useful" poems as well as the tags for their usefulness. Tag examples: . Poems can be previously published as long as you have the rights for reprints. No limericks. Submit up to three poems. Until Filled.
  • Blue Heron Review: Please send 3-5 poems in the body of your e-mail. (Short, poetic prose will also be considered.) No attachments, please. Due Dec. 15
  • Understory Magazine: Understorey Magazine seeks fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and spoken word about motherhood. We publish online and pay $30-$50 (CAD) for accepted pieces. Rolling
  • Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: We’re looking for short stories! Think you can write a winning story in less than 1,500 words? Enter the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for your chance to win $3,000 in cash, get published in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference! Due TODAY.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Don't Touch Me, You Beach

I’m just going to come right out and say it. I don’t really get beaches.

Do people enjoy getting sand in every crevice of their body?

And the sun. In many ways I feel about the sun like I feel about cooking; it can be beautiful, and is necessary to sustain life, but as little direct contact as possible is preferred. (So maybe I’m a little vitamin D deficient…)

People say the beach is relaxing, but there is a big difference between relaxing and draining. Relaxing means rejuvenating; that you feel rested and ready to get back in action when the relaxing is over. The beach doesn’t do that for me. The beach leaves me feeling shriveled, and like the life-force has been evaporated out of me. Maybe it has to do with my Norwegian heritage.

There is only so much you can do when it’s hot. You can be Tony Stark naked and still be sweating like Bruce Banner in an elevator.

Make it cold, though, and you can pile on hoodies and blankets and a fireplace and a cup of grandma’s sweet-and-condensed-milk-hot-cocoa. And a book.

Here’s the thing about the beach. It can occasionally be too draining and too sandy and too bright to read.

Do you understand? TOO BRIGHT TO READ. Why would anyone VOLUNTARALY choose a place that makes it DIFFICULT TO READ A BOOK?

Okay, okay, so I know reading at the beach is a thing, and maybe I’ve just never learned the proper technique, because it doesn’t quite work out for me. My family loves the beach, so I’ve learned to cope by staking myself out under the umbrella, next to the Coke, draping towels over my shoulders and lap, and bringing a book. But by the time I’ve been in the sun and sand long enough to walk from the car to the umbrella and get myself settled, I already feel too drained and shriveled to focus on words on a page. And then I have to get in the water with my brothers for at least a little while, because even I can’t go to the beach and not get in the ocean, and then I’m wet and even MORE drained and shriveled.

Okay so even I have a good time at the beach, but like a cleaning at the dentist, I prefer only occasional and short appointments. When I think relaxing, give me a cabin with the softest couch and the largest fireplace and so much snow outside nobody can get in or out. Give me a large television and strong wifi connection and a library to rival the Beast’s. Give me a hoodie, a book, and no bedtime.

That, I get.

Are you a beach person or a snow person?

Sarah Allen

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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Monday, November 10, 2014

How Small Projects Can Get You Through The Dry Spells

I am incredibly honored today to be posting at C.S. Lakin's wonderfully inspiring blog for writers, Live, Write, Thrive. I am over there giving some ideas about smaller projects and how they can be especially beneficial during the times when our big novel projects aren't quite cooperating. Check it out and be sure to comment!

We will be back to our regularly scheduled writing advice/blog spotlights/submission opportunities next Monday.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Teaching Myself To Draw

Ok, so I'm not really drawing. I feel like that's probably too lofty of a term for my doodling. But as someone who wants to write in basically every format--definitely including picture books, comics, and perhaps even graphic novels--I feel like some basic illustrating/cartooning skills would be a good idea. This is not a natural area for me, but I want to expand my range, so I'm giving it a shot. I figure why not? So I'm putting myself on a practice regimen.

I love the childlike quality, humor, and story in every drawing from Ally Brosch. I love the spot on humor in both the language and comics from cartoonists like Gary Larson and Jim Unger. Obviously I will never be even close to the realm of these folks, but if I can have fun playing with that kind of thing and a few other people enjoy it too, I will consider my goal accomplished. I want to tell stories in every way possible, and make people smile and laugh.

So I'm working at it.

Don't worry. I won't be subjecting you to all my practice scratchings. I simply wanted to prove to myself that I am really doing this, and really putting it out there. We'll see how this turns out.

Are you working on any indirectly-but-still-writing-related projects?

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram.
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