From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Monday, February 8, 2016

Blogging As An Unpublished Writer: Am I A Sham?

I've been having some blurry thoughts about blogging in the last few weeks and months. I feel all conflicted about it, and perhaps unnecessarily so. But still, I have so many questions and vague ideas and I want to make sure I'm doing this right. Often I feel like an impostor.

I've decided a few things about blogging:

I love it. I do. Genuinely. I love that it forces me to write, and I love that I get to talk to all of you guys.

It feels obsolete. In some ways, it really does feel like blogging has gone the way of payphones. Maybe a few people still use them, but you gotta kind a look at them a little suspiciously, and wonder why. People post funny GIFS and videos all the time, but I don't know the last time someone on my Facebook or someone even IRL was talking about a blog post they'd read.

It still feels necessary. So, even though blogging isn't The Thing anymore, and even though its not going to sell books or make me wildly popular, I'm still very glad I have it, and am definitely not giving it up. To me blogging is sort of like a dictionary for any given writer. The dictionary itself isn't going to be the glitz and glam that gets the career going (probably not, anyway) but its important to just have it there, so people can come back to check it every once in a while.

The Chuck Wendig vs. Anne R. Allen philosophies. Chuck and Anne are two of my all-time favorite bloggers, but for completely different reasons. I actively look forward to Anne's weekly posts because they are by far the most informative of pretty much any blog out there. She goes in depth, and makes sure every topic and angle is well covered. Its a master class in being a writer. Chuck, on the other hand, posts irregularly and his content is widely varied. He posts his own photography, or flash fiction contests. His blog you can pop in whenevs, get some laughs, have a good time, and head out. In my ideal blogging world, I want to have both sides. I dunno if its possible, but I'd like to.

I don't like giving writing advice. Both Chuck and Anne give great advice, but I've noticed something: its less about how to write and more about how to be a writer. The business and lifestyle side of things. That makes sense to me, because I don't know if I like sort of anonymous writing advice. A person improves there writing by learning from people and mentors in real life, and especially by having other people read their actual writing.

So with all that in mind, I'm trying to figure out what I really want to do with this here blog. I want to do some exciting cool things with it. I know I couldn't be another Anne or Chuck. I'm not as funny as Chuck, and not nearly as smart and wise as Anne. So I'm trying to figure out me as a blogger, especially given that I haven't published yet. (Still working on that. I'll be working on that till the day I die).

So here's my question: What are your favorite blog topics? And who are your most regularly checked, consistently favorite bloggers?

I'll take all the ideas I can get :)

Write on!

Sarah Allen

Monday, February 1, 2016

There IS a Magic Key to Writing Success

People say all sorts of things about writing. In fact, so many people say so many things that all the advice can seem confusing and really, really complicated. Peoples advice on "Achieving Success As A Pusher of Words" can feel like "Stand on one foot while singing the national anthem and flipping pancakes and if you do that just exactly at 8:88 PM when Venus and Jupiter are aligned you just might get an agent to read your work."

I'm here to tell you, its much simpler than that.

There IS a magic secret to success. And for a mere $200,000, that secret can be YOURS

Just kidding. It's not really a secret, its just something I've learned in the last few months. I've come to the conclusion that there really is one single thing that can make ALL the difference. That doesn't mean you don't still have to put in the work, but there is just ONE thing you can do that will take you from being someone who likes writing to being someone who's an ink-slingin writer by darn. Ready for the magic secret? Here it is.

The key is writing groups.

With a good (emphasis on good...we'll get to that) writing group, so many of your bases are covered. Writing groups help you:

1. Write better.
2. Feel like writing.
3. Write to a schedule.
4. Write betterer.
5. Learn the industry.
6. Make connections.
7. Make more connections

I could go on. Every single one of these benefits has happened for me in the last few months (even weeks) because of writing groups. I am really not good at networking. I am quite friendly, but I am clueless about how to turn friendliness into meaningful connections. However in my workshop last semester I met someone who is literally a genius at connecting and networking, and for the people I've met alone, the price of tuition is so worth it. I am learning so much, and feeling a part of something great more than I have maybe ever. All because of writing groups.

Now, of course, there's a caveat. We all know that writing groups can totally fail too. But just do whatever you gotta do to find a good one, because honestly without it I feel like you'd be trying to compete in NASCAR on a camel. If you are serious about writing, or really about anything, get other people to help you. Its so much better than trying to do it alone.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Its Not Over Till You've Won

Computer games, whatever your opinion of them, can actually be quite an apt analogy for life, in my opinion. 

You start out, excited and ready. You work hard, you learn a lot. You make progress and hit your first Big Boss. It might take a few tries, but finally you beat him. You've developed skills that finally enable you to beat the boss and get to the end.

And then you go to level two.

Level two teaches you how much you still have left to learn, and it hits you maybe for the first time how many levels there are ahead of you. It's very easy to give up at this point. You've had some success. You've beat a Big Boss already, haven't you?

This is the make or break moment, and we all face them. Maybe in some areas its okay to leave it here, but we all have something that we're determined to see it through to the end. For us its writing.

I've had half a dozen rejections in the past week, and that can be really disheartening. Here are a few things I'm remembering, and maybe remembering will help you too.

  • I'm remembering that I'm getting so many rejections because I'm doing so many submissions.
  • I'm remembering that many of these rejections are personal and final cut rejections. I didn't get any of those a few years ago. This is progress.
  • I'm remembering that Brandon Sanderson wrote 12 novels before he got one published, and now look at him.
  • I'm remembering that I am two writing groups richer than I was a few months ago, and this has made my writing much better.
  • I'm remembering that I just have to keep writing, because something eventually will work out.
  • I'm remembering that music always makes me feel good.

Write on!


Monday, January 18, 2016

Do You Have Your "Happy Things" Arsenal?

One of the worst parts about feeling down, for me, is that I feel completely not myself. Feeling sad and depressed is like wearing stilettos in the Amazon, or bringing an elephant to the New York Stock Exchange. It just doesn't feel natural. And then I get frustrated for feeling like I'm not myself, which only adds to the cycle of melancholy.

I don't know about you, but I don't work very well under those conditions. To me its like trying to write while wearing a space suit, or while a ferret is bouncing on your head. I know there are many writers, dead and living, who are able to use these really heavy feelings as fuel for writing, but that's just not the way it works for me. I think sadness and depression can be incredibly important in writing, and I use them as sort of the rods that hook the story to the ground, but they're not the concrete foundation.

Plus its just no fun living that way. 

Caveat: I'm not talking about clinical depression here, and other chemical imbalances. Those issues need to be dealt with very carefully, and if that's what you're dealing with, please don't feel afraid or ashamed to seek help. 

What I am talking about is knowing oneself well enough to know what yanks you out of those slumps and back into feeling your happy, normal self. Have your "Happy Things Arsenal" ready for when those slumps inevitably come.

Here are three things from my arsenal:

Exercise: I never thought I'd say this, but exercise makes me happy. I've finally learned that the begrudging preparation for going to the gym pays off big-time in how I feel when I leave. So I'm recommending exercise, but with this thought in mind: don't listen to/watch what anybody else is doing. And that includes your past self. If you've previously felt obligated to love running, and actually despise it, but secretly love swimming laps, then by all means, SWIM LAPS. If your friends all love Yoga but you love biking, then go biking! Or just take slow walks with your dog, or dive into cross-fit if that's your jam. But essentially, listen to what YOU love, and do that. That's what ends up being sustainable.

Friends and Family: This is an obvious one, but so obvious that I've occasionally found myself forgetting that its there in my Happy Arsenal. I forget that I have a couple people in my life that ALWAYS make me feel better after I talk to them. My mom, my college BFFs. Figure out who those people are in your life and don't take them for granted. When you start sensing melancholy coming on like a bad cold, call them immediately. Maybe even while you're on the way to the gym. It will stop the sadness snowball from causing an avalanche.

Faith: I think sometimes, at least for me, sadness and depression is directly related to imbalanced priorities. It's the whole mountains and molehills thing when you're not looking at things with that clearer perspective. We all know what's most important in our lives, but its so easy to forget. So whatever you do that reminds you of something bigger, that strengthens your felt connections to divinity, do those things. Pray, read the Bible or the Quoran or Wallace Stegner. Watch The Prince of Egypt or take a walk or meditate. Do all those things, or whatever it is that brings you spiritual peace.

Here's the video that directly got me out of my slump this week. It's a talk given by LDS apostle Dieter F. Utchdorf, and though its directed toward young women, I recommend it to all. I personally don't see how one can listen to this talk and feel sad afterwards. In fact, (and I know its 20 minutes so this might be asking a lot) but I'm very, very curious what you guys think of it. I'd love to know in comments:

Write on!


Monday, January 11, 2016

Why Should We Ever Do Things We Don't Wanna?

It's been harder than I thought, retracting from an "adult" back to being a student. There's a sense of independence and autonomy that you just can't get as a student because you're constantly under deadlines, constantly trying to balance things like money and social life, constantly dealing with the niggling in the back of your mind whenever you're doing something that's NOT HOMEWORK.

Don't get me wrong, I'm also totally loving it, and being around real life people who have much the same passions and are on much the same trajectory as I am is wonderfully refreshing. I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I've learned so much about my own writing through just getting all this great feedback and there's no way I would have been able to learn it on my own. (I'm beginning to believe that basically the BEST thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to make sure you're in a good writing group.)

I've been thinking about the idea of doing hard things that we don't want to do, partially because I'm confronting a little of that myself (uuughh literary theory) but mostly because I think its such an odd cultural phenomenon in our modern society. We just aren't used to doing things we don't want to. Or not doing things that we really wanna.

Writers deal with this pretty regularly, I think. The most passionate writer still has areas they really don't enjoy. (Editing? Social media? We all have 'em). And we also have days where all we really want to do is pull up Netflix and watch the last season of Parks and Rec for the third time. (I really don't blame you. Leslie Knope is my idol, and Ben Wyatt is my squee. Plus, ya know, Chris Pratt.) So why don't we? Why should we ever deny ourselves when nobody's forcing us to sit in a chair and write? Why should we edit that bleeping chapter AGAIN when nobody has a gun to our head?

The solution, I think, is to take the longer view. Yeah, for this 6 hour period, I really, really, really just want to eat muffins and catch up on Downton Abbey, but tomorrow and next week and next month I will be very glad if I use these six hours to get in 750 words instead. Or, as another example, blogging and social media has been a real struggle for me lately. That stuffs not the most important part of a writing career, by any means, but its still important, and its been frustrating for me mostly because its typically been one of the parts I enjoy most. I LOVE blogging and talking to you guys, and posting on social media and interacting with intelligent people who love what I love. So why am I sitting here tonight writing this even though I'd much rather be reading? Because I know that first, its not really that difficult once I get into it, and also, the reward is fantastic. Brightening or enlightening one persons day is worth any effort I put into my little blog posts. That's the long view.

So maybe as we start this new year, we should start it with a little grit and courage. I'm going to try to, anyway. We can do the things we are afraid or impatient about doing. We can avoid doing things, even good things, to an extent that it takes us away from the most important things. There's a joy that runs much deeper than pleasure, and even though pleasure is important, I'm trying to remember not to sacrifice the one for the other.

Write on!

Sarah Allen
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