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, December 4, 2014

Grateful for the Fleas

This is the post I was supposed to write for Thanksgiving. I've been thinking about this idea lately, enough that I want to write about it anyway.

I am a naturally very happy person. I tend not to think about the annoying or frustrating things very much, because I don't want them to get to me. I look for ways to go around or fix, at the expense of acknowledging when things really do feel annoying or frustrating. Not that there's been anything annoying or frustrating lately--in fact, things have been quite fabulous. But still, I want to look at the world with a clearer eye, and that includes the fleas.

Do you remember that moment in The Hiding Place? It's one of the moments that sticks out to me most all these years after reading the book. It's the moment when, after the two sisters have been incarcerated in a concentration camp, one sister tells the other that they still must have gratitude, even for the fleas infesting their clothes and beds, or what passes for clothing and bedding. The author is frankly a little appalled, and still full of righteous indignation and disgust at their entire situation and all the awful things that have happened to them, and to be asked to be grateful in the midst of all that seems wrong. But she listens to her sister, and they give a prayer of thanks, including for the fleas.

The fleas that keep the SS guards from wanting to come near them.

That's a very powerful lesson, I think. Being grateful for everything, even our metaphorical fleas, not only makes us more happy and peaceful, but can actually help us function and move forward more clearly.

There is a non-exaggeratedly infinite list of things I am genuinely grateful for. But today I want to try being grateful for the fleas.

I am grateful that this submission/querying journey is a long one. When I look back at who I was and what I knew when I started, I can see how disastrous it could have been for me to have early success. I simply didn't know enough to do things right. And I still don't, but now that I have time to look back on, it gives me perspective enough to know that I just need to keep learning, and as I grow more success will come.

I am grateful that my first novel wasn't immediately picked up. I still love that novel, and think it has potential, but I can see how it would not have been a good first foot forward for me. I am a different writer now.

I am grateful for the two and a half hour church organizational meeting I went to the other day. I am most definitely not the type of person who typically goes to long church leadership/organizational meetings, and honestly I am glad for the chance to see that maybe I can be, and maybe I can be the kind of person who serves that much. I have a lot of improving to do in that regard.

I am grateful I didn't get into MFA programs the first time around. I don't know all the ways this has, is, and will continue to influence my life, but I already know that I have learned a lot through the things that have happened since I got all those rejections. Things that wouldn't have happened if I'd gone immediately to school.

Anyway, those are a few of the fleas that I am grateful for. They're not fun, but they shape who we are.

What hard things are you grateful for?


Monday, November 24, 2014

A Writer's Guide To Holiday Travel

As we get deeper and deeper into the holiday season, many of us are finalizing preparations to visit family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Some of us are traversing countries, or even continents. The holidays come with some built-in travel, and as in any situation, it's best if we writer's are prepared. So here are a few things to make sure you've got in your carry-on.

Laptop/Notebooks. This is the most important thing to have. I know the holidays can be completely chaotic and crazy. They are for me, and I'm typically not great at writing when I'm visiting family. My goal is to do better at that this year, and one obviously needs their word processor or notebook in order to write. If you're limited on space, save your projects as word docs and use the computers at whatever relatives your visiting. And of course, make sure you have your creative writing notebook with you wherever you go. As always.

Books. Again, this is a given. I suspect that for most of us the issue is narrowing down our options. Make things easier on yourself by choosing paperbacks and ebooks. And may I recommend a subscription to You get a free audiobook just for signing up, and those are fantastic options for long car rides. I also recommend bringing poetry and short story collections, as those are easier to ingest in the quick, low-focus chunks of time you're likely to have when surrounded by relatives.

Headphones. To give yourself some music or background noise to help you focus while little ones play around you.

Camera. The holidays provide great moments to record for possible story ideas, and blog and social media posts. With the appropriate permissions, of course.

Plan your writing schedule. I know that for my family, once everything gets going we go and go until we're all basically asleep on our feet. But the thing is, we don't usually really get going until after lunch. That means for me, if I can get a bit of writing in earlier on in the day, then I get the writing done and don't miss or interrupt the Russian teacake baking and Muppet Christmas Album singing and the Jim Carey quote wars. (I can't miss that because I always win. No child can defeat the Grinch.) Basically, figure out the best way for you to incorporate writing into the holiday schedule. It may not be your normal schedule, and you may not get your normal amount done, but at the very least you can keep your momentum going.

Collaboration ideas. I have some siblings who also occasionally enjoy writing stories, and we've had some fun times doing the back and forth collaboration thing. Or maybe your cousin plays the guitar, and the two of you can write a funny Christmas song with which to annoy your aunts and uncles. Or maybe your aunt is a great artist and the two of you work on a book to give to your Grandma. Whatever your situation, holidays can be a fun time to collaborate, and I believe any creative endeavor is worthwhile.

What do you think? What other supplies and strategies can we writer's use in our holiday travels?

Write on!

Sarah Allen

This Week on Social Media:


  • 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 Dec. 15.
  • 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.
  • McNeese ReviewMcNeese Review, the literary journal of McNeese State University in Louisiana, is reading submissions for Issue 52, to be released February 2015. Send in your best short fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews, and original black and white art and photos. We value clarity of image, complex worldviews, genuine emotion, character, coherency, compression, and all the right words put in interesting combinations. Due Dec. 1
  • Split Lip Press: Split Lip Press welcomes submissions of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry for the first volume in its new book series, Utter Foolery: The Best Global Literary Humor, 2015. We’re looking for writing that makes us laugh, yes, but we’re also looking for work that shows a deep understanding of humor’s ability to elucidate serious subjects and disturbing truths. Due Nov. 30
  • In Fact Books: In Fact Books (US) seeks original stories that address — either directly or obliquely — the trials of living with mental illness for an upcoming anthology tentatively titled Beyond Crazy: True Stories of Surviving Mental Illness. Stories should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element, reaching beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning. Length: 4500 words max


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

This Week on Social Media:

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram. Or if you enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!


  • 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+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram. Or if you enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...