From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Monday, August 24, 2015

Making Connections When You're Not Good At Making Connections


So, I am really, really terrible with names. It's kind of embarrassing. It takes me a good few months to get to know more than a couple people in my local church group, and often even after a month of knowing someone it takes me a minute of panic before I remember their name. Then I worry I'm getting it wrong. And don't even get me started on birthdays.

This is something I want to get better at. But not just to avoid those "Oh hi skldhg" moments. Being good at remembering people, and a natural ability to make connections, can be a tremendous asset as a writer. In so much of this business, as in any other, a lot of it comes down to who you know. Still, though, being a good networker isn't natural for everybody. I'm not necessarily shy, but I'm ridiculously bad at social follow-through.

So. We writers who want to make connections but aren't super great at doing it...what's to be done?

1. Learn to say yes. Here's what I mean--maybe we're not great at connecting with people and forming those strong networks, but random opportunities come along all the time. This is our chance. Say yes. Because we might not be great at creating our own networks and opportunities, saying yes is a way to get in with people who are great at it.

I'm thinking about this because this morning an email went around to the people in my grad program (eeeeee I start next Monday and I am so freaking excited!!) about getting volunteers to introduce writers who come for a weekly reading series during the semester. I jumped on the opportunity, and now I get to introduce Ron Carlson in October! (I said the prayer last time he visited BYU...we're becoming good buds.)

2. Use lists and calendars. Now that you've said yes to a connection or opportunity, then what? This is where people like me really struggle. How do we make these chances more lasting, rather than flash in the pan type situations? Well, there's no shame in making name lists. We have great tech for doing just that. You could even make a networking calendar (hmmm, maybe I'll do this myself) and put things like, "tweet to so and so this day" or "email a follow up to this person" or even "send a thank-you note to this person." That could come in extremely useful.

Those are the strategies I'm going to try and employ to make up for my lake of natural networking ability. For those of you out there who might be super good at this, what suggestions can you give me? What are your top tips for making and keeping great connections?

Sarah Allen

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Shakespeare Had a FitBit

Okay not really, but Shakespeare and FitBits are what I want to talk about today so yay?

Anyway. New FitBit user here, and of course its got me thinking about writing. I regret not having one of these beauties earlier, because it makes daily intake and output so precise and clear and understandable, and you can see it all in one click. I'm a writer rather than a mathematician for many, many reasons, but its true that you can't argue with numbers.

So why has this got me thinking about writing? Maybe being so precise and...well, mathematical about our writing could do us some good. Maybe 1000 words is your daily 10,000 steps. I know that can put a lot of pressure on people, but think of it this way. Even if you NEVER reach 1000 words, keeping precise track of what you do get to can show you patterns of 150 word days versus 650 word days, and that can be a very useful thing to know. And then on days when you do reach that 1000, its time to celebrate! (Pass the ice cream, please).

That's output. What about input? FitBit has a spot where you can track intake on things like water. It tells you how much you need, and then you log your water until you reach it. Super helpful. What if we did that for ourselves with writing? And what would writerly intake be? Reading of course. Set yourself a daily goal, and it doesn't have to be ginormous. Two poems a day. A chapter a day. A page a day. Whatever it is, keeping such precise goals and records can help us gauge how our days are going, and where we might using up time that could be better spent.

Here's my input and output goals, just to give you an idea.

Output:
-1000 words.
-1 submission. (Includes short story subs, agent queries, article pitches, etc. At least one per day).
-Social media. (Nothing major. Just a tweet here and a Facebook update there, and sometimes an Instagram.)

Input:
-1 poem per day.
-1 novel chapter per day.
-A writing lecture/video/podcast 3 times per week. (Writing Excuses podcast and National Book Festival speeches are some favorites.

Anyway, do whatever works for you. But keeping track can be super helpful.

What does all this have to do with Shakespeare, you ask? Not much, really, I just wanted to show you this amazing, hilarious, catchy video. You'll seriously be glad you watched it:

Sarah Allen

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Social Media is Not Really for Book Marketing

Like the ever-wise Anne R. Allen said in her most recent blog post, social media is still a writers best bet to visibility. But it's not really about book marketing. Social media has gotten a bad rap in the writing community, and for good reason. Anybody's whose gotten a BUY MY BOOK message on Twitter knows how spammy things can feel. Social media is a weird thing, because on the one hand, it's the last thing that's going to help you sell books, and on the other, its the only thing that's going to help you sell books. I'll try to explain what I mean.

Social media is not marketing. At least not what we think of as typical marketing. If you're trying to use social media as a billboard or a flier or a sales pitch, its not really going to work. If people don't really know you, they're hesitant to give you any of their spare seconds, let alone spare change, especially if what's coming from you is sales and not anything particularly helpful for them.

Social media is social. Social media is an excellent platform for meeting like-minded and interesting people. This is why, in my opinion, consistency and longevity, are the most important things to focus on, rather than flash in the pan type of strategies. You can start making industry connections before you've ever written a word. You can start learning from the professionals, engaging with other writers, and learning about all the various opportunities. That is what social media is good for. And then when you've learned and improved and have a quality book ready to go out into the world, you'll have a community of people who know you and are supportive and excited for you.

This has been on my mind lately in part because of Anne's excellent post, and also because of the Pitch Wars competition going on this week. (Deadline is Monday, so you still have time. Seriously, it is so worth checking out, and check out the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter too.) This is one of the most supportive and engaging online writing communities I've ever participated in. I've met new people who've given me great feedback on my chapters and query letter. I've had questions answered and interacted with writers who are much further along in their careers than I am. I've even had the opportunity to answer a few questions myself.

To me, this is what social media is all about. Start now, and be genuine. That way people know that what you have is valuable, and then when they see you have a book out, they'll trust that it will be valuable too.

Sarah Allen

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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Monday, July 6, 2015

Writing by Moonlight: A Writing Career in Your Free Time

Whether you're doing all in your power to build a full-time writing career, or you prefer the balance of writing plus some other kind of work, many of us writers are in the position of having to manage our writing careers in our off-work hours. I know it can feel like trying to hold a tray of wine glasses while washing a cat, but it can be not just manageable, but fun and non-stressful. Because we want our writing careers to be sustainable, right? Regardless of what else is happening in our lives.

Here are some Sarah's-brain suggestions for managing writing in your off-work times. This is what has worked for me, but I'd love to hear other suggestions and tips from your experience!

Lists are your friend. Make lists of everything. Make a list of the kinds of things you need to do every day. Mine is Writing, Submitting, and Social media. Make a list of magazines you want to submit to. That way you don't have to spend as much time on research when you're ready to submit.

Strategize day by day. Its good to wrap your head around what you've got to do before you've got to do it. With your writing, there are a couple ways to do this. Taking some pre-bed time to plan your next day is a great idea. Or, uh, maybe brainstorm during staff meetings? I mean, I've never done that. Whenever works best, take some time to list what writing projects you want to work on, and what submitting you want to do, before you're home and at your desk.

Time and reward yourself. One of the hardest things for me is coming home from work with energy and motivation. I mean, you've used up your creative umph for the day, right? This is where Butt In Chair comes in. Just get in the chair. That's step one. Remind yourself you just have to do one submission and write for just thirty minutes. That's manageable and not scary, right? Then when you're done you can flop in bed and watch another four episodes of Bones. Or you may get to the end of your half hour and feel like you can manage another thirty minutes. Then maybe thirty more. Maybe three hours and a thousand words go by before you know it. But if not, that's okay. Remember this: writing careers can be built in an hour a day.

Take time to refresh. Refreshing means different things to different people. It may mean a trip to an art museum or three episodes of Friends or a chocolate shake or three miles on the elliptical. Or a combination of these things. Sometimes a five minute walk around the block will do the trick. Sometimes you need a trip to Disneyland. Just keep track of yourself and what your brain needs. When you sit down to write and submit, you need your brain to be refreshed and happy with you.

These strategies have helped me. What works for you?

Sarah Allen

Submissions:

  • RattleA prize of $10,000 and publication in Rattle is given annually for a poem. Due July 15.
  • Glamour: Win $5000 and possible publication in Glamour magazine for personal essay of 2500-3000 words on "My Real Life Story." Due July 15.
  • Fairy Tale Review: Win $1000 and publication in The Fairy Tale Review for a group of poems or work of prose influenced by fairy tales. Due July 15. 

Best of the Week:
For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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Monday, June 29, 2015

Am I Showing or Telling?


Sometimes it can be really hard to tell.

We've all heard it so many times. "Show don't tell!" Yes. Yes, you think, I know. I get it. But maybe we get it in the same way my eighteen month old nephew "gets" eating with a spoon. Do we all secretly have mashed carrots on our faces and nobody's telling us? Wait where was I going with this? Oh yeah. Are we showing or telling, and how do we know?

Beware of "was." Lately I'm super, super grateful for amazing beta readers who help my manuscript become so much better by making it more active. "Was" is a great clue that you're telling rather than showing. If someone is "wassing" they're not doing anything. (Is wassing a word? Can we make it one?)

Avoid passive voice. I think sometimes bloggers throw things out there and even though as readers it sounds good and we try our best to follow it, we're not exactly sure what they're really talking about. Maybe that's just me. I've always found actual examples of passive voice to be super helpful, and if you just do a quick google search you'll find plenty. (Like this one, that also includes how to edit to active voice.) Essentially, just remember linking verbs. IS, AM, ARE, WAS, WERE, BE, BEING, BEEN. If you're using one of them in your sentence, especially was, were, or been, it's probably too passive. Change it to a simple "Subject Verbed" and stay safe.

Use active verbs. Good writing--good active voice--is more than just getting your characters to move on the page. It's about really seeing them. I'm getting an awesome lesson in this from my beta readers, and its been super helpful. Don't settle for okay verbs. Really see what your character is doing. Then your reader will too.

This advice is as much for me as anyone, but since it's what I'm thinking on lately I thought I'd write it out.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

Submissions:

This Weeks Best:


For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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