From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Music and Lyrics

Hey guys. Quick update. I'm not dead or in an emotional coma yet. Which is good. (My roommate and I may or may not have gone through almost two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but that's a different thing. Maybe). Anyway. School has officially started, and we've made it through the killer first two weeks of a move. And I think it's going much better than expected. I'll be honest, I've felt too weird and frazzled and delicate and nervous and excited and confused and more weird lately to be in the right place for normal blogging/social media life. I've barely made progress on editing, and that's really sad, although I'm pretty darn close to submission ready for novel two. Which I guess I haven't told you guys the title of yet, have I? Point is, I'm still here, and hopefully a rhythm will get in place very soon and we'll be off to the races faster and better than ever.

Blech. Boring update over. For today, here's a cool thing to try.

Take a song. One with lyrics you could submit as poetry, and a beautiful melody. Play it and close your eyes and find the character who is telling you these things, the person in this story. But the thing is, pay attention to what is being said over and above the actual words. What is the emotion, the music, telling you?

Here's the song I used in my class.

One student said she thought of a mother and daughter after an argument. Genius, right? And totally separate from the actual lyrics. Its the story she heard in the music.

Now try it with a song with no words.


I think the best writing is like this Rachmoninoff piece. What it says most powerfully, it says without words. What songs would you try with this?

Keep on!

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 26, 2013

Read Like a Teacher

One of the most ubiquitous pieces of writing advice we get is to read, read, read. It makes sense, right? We need to expose ourselves to what's out there, learn from the masters of the medium we want to work in. In fact, we are often told to "Read like a writer." That sounds all well and good, but if you're like me than you wonder what that means exactly. How does one read like a writer?

Well, as I've been preparing for the beginning of the school year, I've come up with somewhat of an answer to that question. I believe that to read like a writer, the best way is to read a piece of literature as if you were going to teach it.

Imagine that you were going to teach the book you're reading right now. When I think of it that way, as I have been the last couple weeks, it makes subtle changes to what I notice and pay attention to as I read. I'm focusing on plot arc and sentence construction and character development and theme. Things I can discuss with my class. Tools of our writers trade and areas in which we need to be continually improving. It's like being a watchmaker and paying attention to the mechanics of your watch rather than just what time it's telling you.

Reading like a teacher can inform your reading selection as well. I've kind of found three areas where I'm expanding my reading as I prepare to teach. First, I'm doing a lot more research type reading, online and otherwise. Secondly, the Norton Anthologies I used in college have become a bedside staple. Reading and studying (again) all these poems and stories from centuries ago has been so cool. I think its important for writers to explore and familiarize themselves with the beginnings of our language.

I'm also going back and reading classics I read in high school. I had a really unique and spectacular high school experience where we read a huge number of incredible books and I just devoured all of them. It is in large part thanks to my high school English teacher that I want to write. Anyway, since then, though I loved all the books we read and still have them on my shelves, I've mostly subscribed to the Stephen King philosophy of reading, meaning life is too short too reread. But now, partly because I want to see if I could teach any of these books, and partly just because its time, I'm starting to go through some of them again. Right now I'm on Their Eyes Were Watching God.

So anyway. All this is not to discount the pure joy of simply getting lost in a book, and there is definitely value in that as well. But when you want to read a book as a writer, as someone looking for technique and wordsmithing tools, it might help you to read like a teacher.

What book would you personally want to read like a teacher, for analysis and technique?

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 12, 2013

6 Things I Learned Working at Barnes and Noble

Whew. Okay. So I'm in the beginning stages of getting settled in Vegas. I start teacher training today, and I'm terrified and excited.

One thing I left when I left D.C. was a job at Barnes and Noble, and the incredible, hilarious and kind people I worked with there. I learned a ton while working there, and I thought I'd share some of those things that might be useful and applicable to us as we work towards furthering our writing careers.

1. Who goes to brick and mortar stores: The trends I noticed at the store were very interesting. I definitely noticed that three groups of people tended to visit the store more than any other. I almost always worked in the morning and early afternoon, so evening trends may be a little different. But the group I noticed most often were mothers with young children. This may have had more to do with our Lego and train table than anything else, but there you have it. I also noticed quite a few older people. I think the older generations are still simply more comfortable with paper books over electronic devices, and I don't necessarily think they're wrong. The other group I noticed were career professionals: nurses, artists, or businessmen looking for applicable books.

2. Two different types of promotion: There are basically two different types of promotions that Barnes and Noble stores do. The first is top down, nation-wide promotions of bestsellers, holiday promotions, stuff like that. The second type is set by the individual store and determined by local store management. Basically this means that it is possible to work with local management to get your books put in better spots, if the local management likes you and your book. Sometimes. Possible. It's worth looking in to, for sure.

3. You want booksellers to like you: This is a duh point, but I didn't quite realize how important this was until I was a bookseller myself. There are a few times when the booksellers are making decisions: picking this book or this book to send back, organizing shelves and picking which books to face out, answering customers requests for recommendations. All this means that if a bookseller likes you, or is even familiar with you a little, it is to your advantage. So whenever you go places find the local bookstore, drop in and say hi and offer to sign a few copies of your book. It was always fun when that happened, and besides, autographed copies can't be sent back to the publisher.

4. People shop differently for fiction versus non-fiction: What I found, and this is obviously a generality and not a hard and fast rule, is that people looking for non-fiction tend to have a specific book or author in mind. If not that, then at least a very specific topic. On the other hand, while people definitely were looking for specific novels, there were a lot more browsers in the fiction section, people just looking for books to jump into their hands. This is useful in terms of marketing, although I think taking aspects from both types of shopper is the best idea.

5. Media attention works: There is not much to say about this, accept that almost every day I had someone (usually an older person) come up to me with a folded newspaper, point to a review and say, "Where can I find this book?" So basically, take advantage of whatever media opportunities you can find, national, local and everything in between.

6. Books as gifts: Something I noticed that I didn't necessarily expect was this: People seem much more comfortable and willing to buy books as gifts for friends and family than they do buying books for themselves. Especially nice editions, hardcovers, etc. I definitely plan to find ways to work this in to my future promotional efforts.

There you have it. Those are some of the things I learned as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble. I'm very, very grateful to the team at the Falls Church Seven Corners store for letting me part of their team. Hopefully some of these tidbits can help you as you think about your marketing and such.

Keep writing!

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 5, 2013

5 Great Quote Posters About Writing

These are good enough for an office wall, and good enough to share:


We got this! Keep writing!

Sarah Allen

Thursday, August 1, 2013

5 Ways Writing is good for Children (By an 8 year old)

Hi. I'm Sarah's youngest sister. I wanna be a writer when I grow up. Here are five ways I think writing is good for children.

1. Writing helps kids learn more words. They have to discover more words to say what they mean.

2. Starting young gives you more time to improve. If you start young and write your whole life, you will have had practice and will be better when your older.

3. It stretches their imagination. It gives their imagination more practice.

4. Writing is a good activity for kids to do when they're bored. It's good for their education and they can do it anytime. And it's better than a video game.

5. When kids share their ideas with their friends, it makes everyone happy. When other people find out someone's ideas, it makes them excited. 

Kids, I encourage you to write :)
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