From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Little Spiders, Strong Webs: Blog Stickiness for Newbie Writers

Today is another other-blogger inspired post, this time from the wise, down-to-earth and totally sexy Roni Loren. She gives a great overview of making your blog sticky, i.e. keeping people with you for longer and enticing them to come back. Definitely worth the read. In fact, go read it and then come back, okay?

Back? Good. So. Roni's article has gotten me thinking about the goodies that keep your blog sticky and interesting. I want, however, to focus on how this can work for us aspiring/newbie/unpublished writers. It's still vitally important for us to start building up our own little crowd of friends and supporters, and part of that is keeping people interested and coming back. But we don't have the previously published extras type goodies to work with. So, what can we do? (Sorry for doing lists two days in a row. What can I say...it's a listy week?)


  • Frequent updates: On projects, life, everything. Dynamic is way more sticky than static.
  • Mini-pieces: If you have short stories or poems or any other artsy stuff going on, make sure you have that available. It's sort of like an hors d'oeuvre. It gets people ready for the entree. 
  • Best Of from your own blog: good way for new people to get right to the heart of you.
  • Links to other social media profiles: these are like the outer strings of your web, potentially just as sticky as the hub. Or more so.
  • Links to the wiser: I know sending people to other places seems counter-productive, but if people know you're a good moderator of the collective wisdom out there then you become a logical first stop.
  • Pictures and music: Pinterest has made having your own personal art gallery a matter of point and click. You can post character pictures, book covers, general inspiration, anything you want. And I know I'm always looking for music recommendations. Everyone loves music and pictures.
  • Videos: Book trailers, funnies, informative, whatever.
  • Recipes: Since the Food Network, everyone's a foodie. Post recipes of dishes from the book your working on, or just good soul food that keeps you going.
  • News and Events: Your own personal news and events, as well as general interest. Book club meets, author readings, publishing news (which happens all the time these days). Lots of options.
  • Quizzes, polls, and contests.
Ok, those are the ideas I can think of right now. What other things can you do to make your blog sticky? Be prepared for some of these to start popping up in the tabs right up there :)

Sarah Allen



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Addition, subtraction, and editing a novel

See, we writers do math too. Sort of. Some of us (not me) much better than others.

Anyway, I've recently begun edits on Keeper, novel #1. It's coming along pretty well. I'm getting dangerously close to the point where I'm ready to shove it into someone else's hands and be done with it, but not yet. I've come to accept the fact that it's not going to be anywhere near perfect, that there's no such thing as perfect, and that I'm going to need lots of other people's help to make this thing as good as it can possibly be.

With that, there are some things to keep in mind while editing, and for my own sake I thought pulling them all together would be helpful. And so, here is some attempted mathematics of editing a novel.

Addition:

-Use of the 5 senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. I've heard that smell is particularly powerful.
-Active, exciting, unique verbs that say enough on there own. 'Pelted' or 'barreled' instead of 'ran fast'.
-Higher and higher stakes. What's the worst that can happen? Then make it so (number one).
-Internal conflict. Personal stakes are the highest stakes.
-Flaws. Nobody's perfect, including your characters.

Subtraction:

-Adverbs and unnecessary adjectives. Basically any unnecessary words.
-Grammatical errors and overuse of !, ..., and whatever your habit words happen to be. (Mine are 'just' and 'even').
-Unnecessary back-story and/or exposition
-Cliches, and any phrases you got from somewhere else
-Melodrama and gratuitous cussing.

Ok, I think this is a fairly good list, I need to keep it in mind as I go. What else would you put on the addition/subtraction of editing list? I for one could use all the advice I can get.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Make Your First Book Not Totally Suck

I realize some of you may be past the point of first book. I also realize I've only recently finished my first, and have yet to have editors and agents and other real people look at it, so I may not be the most qualified to give this advice. However. Even if you've finished and published your first book, there's always room for improvement. Also you may take what I say with a grain of salt and do your thing. Anyway. Onward.

Yesterday at The Kill Zone blog (which is totally and completely fabulous) there was an incredibly wise and infinitely practical post by Joe Moore called The Pancake Rule. The Pancake Rule basically says that a writers first novel typically serves as a test novel but isn't usually edible. Like a first pancake, which usually ends up burnt. He gives a fantastic print-this-out-and-put-it-by-your-desk list of the flaws in first novels that make them turn out this way.

But I've made my first pancake, and I want it to be edible. I want it to be delicious, in fact. I needed that hope and ambition to make it through the hot stuffy kitchen. If we didn't think our projects were worthwhile, we wouldn't spend as much time and effort on them, right?

So is there a way to make a fluffy, golden-brown, delicious and succulent first pancake? Er, novel? Optimism + come on I did all this work=I believe there is.

1. Read. Of course I'm going to say this. It is so incredibly obvious and cannot be stressed enough. If you're going to learn how to play the violin and play it well, you need a proven and talented teacher. The more serious you are, the more you'll study and practice and the better the teachers you'll seek. Writing is NO DIFFERENT. Read Dickens and Shakespeare. Read Austen and the Brontes. Read the Greeks and the postmodernists and poetry. Read modern writers in and out of your genre so you know what style of music is being played today. Not that you need to follow the trends, but it expands your repertoire. I am a firm believer of literary osmosis. The better you read, the better you write. I am the dork who read the unabridged Les Miserables during the bus drives on a highschool exchange in Germany for fun, so this better work.

2. Study. This is similar but different to reading for pleasure. See, merely the fact that we have Joe Moore's list of newbie mistakes helps us avoid making them. Reading blogs has taught me literally everything I know about the publishing industry. There are some really great books on writing out there (as well as some not so great ones), and they help too.

3. Real Life Teachers. This of course means English and Creative Writing teachers in high school and college, but its not just that. A critique group works. Beta readers. Outside perspective can help you figure out your blind spots.

4. Experiment. Try a few short stories before you dive into a novel. Or poetry. These are the kinds of things you can give to your teachers and beta readers. Then take their feedback into account as you start on your first real pancake.

5. Have passion and know how to translate it. Of course you have to care about your story. Everyone can tell if you don't, and they won't either. But this passion has to translate into an emotionally captivating story and characters, not sappy and cliche writing. And really, sometimes the line between them is very fine indeed. This is where the reading and studying and experimenting and teachering come in to play. They're your translators, they make your writing comprehensible and beautiful to the world outside your head. But you're heart has to be there too.

What do you think? Do you agree that its possible for a first novel to be delicious? I mean, of course it is because its happened, but do you think that consciously doing these kinds of things can really increase a first-time novelists chance of success? I sure freaking hope so. Any tips you would add to this list?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why I can't write villains

I've tried. And I'll keep trying, but the problem is that I end up sympathizing with them too much, and then they turn out much more anti-hero than straight up villain.

See, all the best villains have back story, right? And there are few villains, particularly good ones, who don't believe that what they are doing is right. The notable exception to this is The Joker. But really, every character is simply trying to get what they want the best way they know how.

Because of this, I pity my villains and want them to get what they want, and because villains are layered and complex I usually end up rooting for them way more than the boring, unrealistically perfect hero types.

This is why Severus Snape is my ideal character. He's definitely not a hero in the traditional sense, but he's not the villain either which puts him in the anti-hero space, which makes his efforts at goodness way more heroic, in my mind, than it would be otherwise. He had to work for it, consciously choose good over bad. Although to be fair, Rowling does a pretty darn good job of making all of her characters complex, including Harry.

Basically what I'm trying to say here, is that when I try to write villains they always end up more Snape than Voldemort. Which I suppose isn't a bad thing, unless I really want a Voldemort. But really, we all just write what we write, right?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The 1 Social Media Tip a Writer Ever Needs. Also Rumpelstiltskin.

There is so much said everywhere about how to use social media. And by so much I mean SOOOOOOOOOO much. In terms of how to use it and what to use it for, the advice is endless and can't really be taken as more than opinion. Everyone has different personalities, goals, and strategies, and all that comes in to play when using social media. It's point is to be personal, and while taking other peoples tips and ideas can definitely help, it really comes down to what you want.

How to manage social media, however, is a different can of worms.

Whatever you do, however you do it, social media can get complicated. There's so much out there, so many possibilities it easily becomes overwhelming. I mean, sure we all want to take advantage of as many social media opportunities as possible, and sure we may have some creative ideas, but how do we put it all in to play without going crazy and putting the rest of our life in jeopardy?

The answer is extremely and ridiculously simple. And believe it or not, it can truly be boiled down to five minutes a day.

Make a spreadsheet. Along the top, list all your social media accounts. Get the big ones in there first, like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Then down the side list the days of the week. On mine I've included a "Daily" section for things I want to do every day. Then you schedule out your social media strategy for each site, each day. For sites like Twitter, where daily posting is appropriate, I've listed a sort of category or topic for each daily Tweet. I have planned what days I'm going to post on Facebook and Google+, and what type of thing I'm going to post.

My list of things is pretty broad: stuff like music videos, funny videos, cool pictures, quotes, links to other cool blogs, stuff like that. It cuts down on sitting-trying-to-think-of-something-to-post time, and scheduling helps so it actually gets done. And even with as many sites as I use, when you break it down it comes to a couple comments, a link and a quote or something like that everyday, spread across a few sites, and that, my friends, can be done in only five minutes.

(Blogging is slightly different. Obviously it does take more than five minutes a day, and even more time commenting and reading other blogs is good too. This other stuff is a way supplementing your blog, really, though keeping track of what you want to do blog wise on the chart is a good idea too.)

Hope that all makes sense. On a completely different but equally important note, is anyone else watching Once Upon a Time? Freak, guys. I have a damaged-man complex or something. I kind of flipped out a little bit. Tell me it broke your hearts too. He's going to save Belle and she's going to save him right back and it will be beautiful, and this show has finally paid off. Mr. Gold has officially been added to my Snape, Ben Linus, Mr. Rochester, Men who shouldn't have a love interest and do and I love them list. *Sigh*. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. Anyone else as crazy as I am?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, February 9, 2012

5 Ways to Replenish Your Muse

This is in part (ok, ok...in full) inspired by Roni Loren's post from yesterday about protecting your muse. It's a great post, and I'd definitely recommend checking it out. But I thought I'd add some of my own thoughts on the subject.

Roni talked about protecting your muse. I'd like to talk about feeding it. Nurturing it. Making it grow so you can live a long and happy life together. So here goes.

1. Meet other people's muses. Muses are social creatures, and shrivel up and become embittered when you don't let them out to play. So read good books, listen to music, go to art museums, watch great movies and television. It's like school and recess for your muse all rolled in to one.

2. Lube the engines. (Lube...ha.) Your mind is not a separate entity from your body. It's part of it. People think a lot about the mind controlling the body, but not so much about the body controlling the mind. And it happens, in a negative way, if we're not careful. If you don't get the right foods, or not enough sleep, or don't get the blood pumping often enough, your mind (your Muse) pays the price, not just your body.

3. Give your Muse a break. This is probably the hardest one for me. This also goes back to the whole sleeping thing. But it's not just that. Often your muse needs a break in your waking hours as well. Sometimes its helpful to let yourself think about nothing, and don't stress about it. I'm not good at that, or the sleeping thing. I think, though, this is where your subconscious can work wonders.

4. Stock your pantry. This is why I carry around a notebook. When our muse is happy and working well, we need to make sure and take advantage of it. Keep all your ideas written down and ready for any dry spells. Then you'll still have stuff to work with when your muse takes a sick day.

5. Stretch new muscles. Let your muse try something she hasn't tried before. If you write young adult, try historical or sci-fi. If you write novels, try short stories or poetry or a screenplay. Try painting or writing music. Your muse may grumble and say its too hard, but try it anyway. You could end up with some pretty impressive results.

And remember, be happy. You love this, remember? And whether or not she wants to admit it, so does your muse.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Anne of Green Gables and other reasons life will be okay

Life is weird. I think I started another post this week with those same words, but its true, and its one of those times for me when its especially true. I'm feeling good, occasionally even great, though I do feel a bit like I'm holding my breath or standing on one foot, waiting for things to fall into place so I can breath, put my foot down, and keep going. Soon would be good, universe, just saying. But like I said--I'm doing good. And here are some reasons why.

My roommate and I watched Anne of Green Gables last night (or at least half of it. YouTube pooped out on us after a while.) I've been sort of stuck on my novel for a while, and the movie turned out to be the breath of fresh air that I needed to clear the cobwebs. It was her idea, and I was just kind of going with it, and I'm glad I did. It made me feel happy anyway. Anne of Green Gables is good at that.

I have some awesome friends. They get me, and don't get too frustrated with my ranting and whining. They do things like make cookies and smile really big when I walk into a room. I have a relatively new friend who does that, and it makes me happy. We drink peach Fresca together and talk about boys.

Even though from my perspective the future makes no sense, it does to God, and it will all work out. It always does, even though that's hard to remember or fully appreciate when you're in the not-worked-out-yet phase. It's just an interesting time of life, the not-quite-an-adult-yet time. But I don't know if anyone ever really gets out of the insecure and unsure phase, and the future is always scary. I hope it gets less scary, but really all we can do is pray and work and hope for the best and know it will come, and enjoy good friends, peach Fresca and Anne of Green Gables in the meantime.

C'est la vie!
Sarah Allen

Monday, February 6, 2012

What your childhood play says about your writing

Life is such a weird thing. We grow up, we think we change, but really we don't, so we have to re-contextualize what we thought we were. But that's okay because we've learned along with our growing up, so the context we're trying to fit Us into is larger and deeper and more terribly beautiful. Things we thought we didn't like about ourselves become okay and things we thought we did right we realize are incredibly unimportant. We look at the faces around us and how the most infinitesimal muscle movement in one face can trigger a physical and emotional reaction in ourselves which then feeds back into all the other faces; we realize that this is the only important thing.

We knew this inherently as kids. My high school English teacher used to say, "Creativity does not happen in isolation." It's true. Playing is just not as much fun when you're alone. We think of emotion and personality as coming from the inside, but we miss out on so much when we leave it at that. We are not isolated beings, and creativity is not a self-sufficient resource. We are a direct part of our environment, and it is our interactions with that environment which help mold us. That environment is constantly changing, and so is our relationship with it. But I don't think we so much change as see ourselves from different angles.

That is what play is all about. Seeing ourselves, individually and collectively, from different angles. And as I've grown up I've discovered that the best toys are words. There is also music and paint and dance and, in the theatrical sense of the word play, pretending to be someone else. But inhabiting someone else's existence using these toys and this play isn't so much us being in someone else's shoes as it is showing us the true shape and size of our own. This is why, to me, art is as necessary to life as food and air. This is why we must play.

As a kid, my cousin and I used to take my grandmothers gold-framed mirrors into the bathroom, pretending the shower was our enchanted castle, and ask the mirrors to show us where our princes were. Whereupon we ventured forth to save our true loves. Now, the obvious interpretation of this would be that I am a born feminist, someone who likes to hold the reins. I used to think that, but I've since re-contextualized. While I am a feminist of sorts, and equate sexism with idiocy, I'm still not really a ride my own horse kind of girl. I want to be swept off my feet and taken care of in a damsel-in-distress sort of way. The thing is, I just want them to need me as much as I need them.

This is why, I think, my favorite characters have always been pining men. Severus Snape, Ben Linus, Niles Crane, Mr. Darcy, Dr. House. Men who to some extent appear to have things under control, appear to carry the power, when really they are the ones desperately in need of saving. Their role as "big strong man" is as much for their sake, if not much more so, than for the sake of their "damsel". What kind of needed is deeper than being needed by someone strong enough to sweep you off your feet?

What games did you play as a child? What roles did you perform? And what does that say about your adult self and your writing?

And guys? Don't forget to play.

Sarah Allen
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