From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Monday, October 28, 2013

Inspiration for Child Characters

I've had several conversations with my roommate about how difficult it is to write child characters. And it is. However, I think its something many of us come up against in the course of our writing careers. I think when we get down to it, we all know what it feels like to be a kid. It's just that we have several years worth of experience fogging up the accuracy of our memory. Maybe all it takes to get ourselves in the right mindset is the right picture. If a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe one of them will say exactly what we need to hear.

If you're writing a child, now or in the future, maybe one of these pictures can help you strip away all the jaded years and get down to the truly childlike. Maybe one of these pictures will inspire its own story. If nothing else, you'll get a smile.


Anybody writing a child character? Which picture do you think carries the best story? If nothing else, I hope these shots brightened up your Monday as much as they did mine :)

Sarah Allen

Thursday, October 24, 2013

3 Reasons I Love Writing Young Adult Literature

My first novel is an adult novel, about a 40 year old zookeeper named George. It is definitely the story that needed to come out of me first. I was a bit that pretentious and presumptuous high school kid reading Les Miserables on the bus, and actually didn't really come to young adult literature as a genre until I was in college.

I am fixing this. My roommates in college were and are very good sources for great YA lit recommendations, and I've found some new loves. The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, anything by John Green. Such good stuff.

So when the next character in my head was a fourteen year old girl, I was pretty excited. I had a blast writing from her perspective. And not just that I had fun, but I've been doing some thinking, and there are three major reasons why I think I will keep writing YA.

1. Length. This is probably the most superficial of my reasons, but its still a reason. I am naturally a short writer. Quite short. I look with envy on my friends who write too much and have to pare down. I, on the other hand, have to add and add to get to the length and level of story I want. So the shorter length acceptable for YA is a good thing for me.

2. First Person Voice. Not all YA is written in first person, obviously, and not all adult lit has to be written in third. However, often the tone of YA fits with a voice-driven, personable first person. That means that once I had my character in my head, the tone felt smooth and natural. It felt much easier to just listen to her tell the story rather than try and be some omniscient observer without sounding clunky. It's been said that first person is a lazier choice, but I don't care, and I disagree anyway. It was dang fun.

3. The Next Generation. If you really want to impact this world--if you want to influence the people who will be the movers and shakers--you write for teens and kids. Think about what books shaped you as a person, or changed you. I'll bet the first books you thought of were books you read as a kid. Judy Blume, anyone? She was one of mine. Also Sharon Creech, C. S. Lewis, and Beverly Cleary. I think we would all love to be somebody's Judy Blume.

Who knows, the next book I write may not be YA. In fact, the idea cloud in my head is shaping into more adult than YA. However, I think I will always be contemporary (magical realistic a bit?), and will always come back to YA.

Do you write YA? If yes, do you agree? If no, what do you love about your specific genre?

Sarah Allen

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thinking of Social Media as an Artistic Outlet

In my last post I mentioned that author marketing/social media ing can take as little as ten minutes a day. I've made similar statements before, and I'm always a tiny bit surprised by how many commenters say they're not sure that's possible, or aren't sure how to make that work. I want to say a quick something about that and then expand on a related idea.

So, the ten minutes a day social media thing is absolutely possible. Yes, that's probably minimum level and you're not going to write a genius blog post in ten minutes, of course. But think of it this way: keep a spreadsheet of all your social media accounts and the type of thing you want to post each day, topics, ideas, etc. For example, for Twitter I might have 'highlight a fellow bloggers post' on Monday, 'ask a writing question' on Tuesday, 'post a funny cat video' on Wednesday, etc. Something like that for all your social media accounts. Then, on really busy days, you can whip through that spreadsheet and post whatever you can in ten minutes. On days when you have a bit more time you can work on writing blog posts and leaving thoughtful comments, spending more than your base ten minutes.

There's that. Okay. New but related thought. I hear a lot of writers talk about how managing social media stuffs feels like a duty and a chore. It can be, for sure, but I think actually one of the best ways to look at social media is as an additional artistic or creative outlet.

Think of it as creating art for a specific platform, then just publicizing on that platform. Think of the platform set up not as restrictive, but as a tool or place to base your ideas. This means that you use the specific platform to express your artistic self.

One of my favorite examples is from Pinterest. Australian blogger Tiffany Beveridge created a board highlighting the adventures of her "Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter." So hilarious and cute and fun, and I'm sure Tiffany had a blast doing this. Fairly simple and easy, just a fun and uber-creative way Tiffany found to express herself using Pinterest. And now she has a book deal. Same with the Tumblr user who posts Texts from Dog.

I myself am having a fun time experimenting with Tumblr, trying out my own photography comic in somewhat the same vein as A Softer World or Tiny Ghosts, just on Tumblr. It's called A Fountain Troubled (points to anyone who can say where that comes from?). Here's something I posted.



Often I just use pictures I have on my phone and edit them and put them together with PicMonkey.com. Fairly easy and simple and a fun creative outlet. I also have some ideas brainstorming for a Pinterest board idea that I have. And don't even get me started on the possibilities there are with YouTube, although that's probably a whole different more time-intensive thing. My point is, this can be a fun way to be artistic, but not just that, this brings you to the attention of all the people using that site, which is what social media marketing is about, isn't it? Best of both worlds.

The hitch in this way of looking at things, I think, is that some platforms, like Pinterest and Tumblr, lend themselves to this kind of thing much better than others. Even Twitter I think you could do some fun things, but with Facebook and Google+? Those seem more straighforward, and harder to manipulate artistically in that kind of way. Probably not impossible, but harder. And I'm not saying we all have to be artistic geniuses on every platform out there, but this might be a fun way to expand your social media horizons: to pick one social media platform to add to your tool belt and to use as a form of artistic expression in this kind of way. If you have already, or if you create one, please let me know so I can check them out and share them.

Does this make sense? I hope this doesn't scare/intimidate people, that was not my intent. I just think social media can be really fun if we look at it this way. Because we're artists after all, right?

What are some of your ideas that you'd be willing to share? What are some ways we could use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr and Twitter as artistic outlets, and can you think of any good examples?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Three Things a Writer Should Do Every Day

So, my mind works best when I divide things up into smaller chunks. My brain likes categories and lists. I think probably most people function best that way. Basically, I've sort of done that with building a career as a modern-day writer.

I'm pretty sure I've talked about this before, but it definitely bears repeating because I honestly believe that by following these three categories both simplifies things and streamlines our efforts, but also is the most efficient way to work towards success. This is obviously from my very limited and inexperienced perspective, so if those with more wisdom out there have things to add, I definitely want to hear them. This is the way my mind has categorized things, but if there's more to be done on this writing journey, I want to do it.

Anyway. Without further ado, here are the three categories I think we writers should be working at every day. And don't stress, because two of these can generally be done in like fifteen minutes a day.

1. Writing. First and most important, obviously. Writers write. I'm still working on building up to the pace I really want to be at. This is simple and straightforward, but the major key. And I guess what I want to say about this is that it doesn't necessarily have to be working on your big novel. Those big projects are probably the most important, yes, but in the between or down times work on short stories or essays or song lyrics or a movie script or a one act play or video poem for YouTube or a web comic. Just keep writing and creating.

2. Submitting and Querying. Really all we're doing as writers is creating as high quality as product as we can, and then doing our best to put it where people will see it. The major things in this category are submitting to agents and publishers, I think. But we do a disservice when we limit ourselves to that, I think. Submit your short stories and poems to magazines, your essays to journals, your web comics and one act plays to competitions. The internet is a vast resource for all kinds of opportunities. And for you self-publishers out there: submit to book review blogs and journalists and self-publishing competitions and other media outlets. Just one or two submissions a day could really pay off.

3. Marketing and Networking. Now for many writers this is the scary side of being a modern-day author, but it totally doesn't have to be. This really can take just ten minutes a day, up to however much effort you want to put into it. In some ways this overlaps with submitting: network with reviewers and journalists and media sources. Also take advantage of social media in whatever way works best for you. Take ten minutes a day updating that and sending press packages wherever you think you can do some good. You never know what could come of it.

There you have it. And this is as much a reminder for me as anyone. I need to get back to doing better at this. But thinking of it this way might help simplify things and help us all know where to put our biggest efforts. Here's to big success for all of us!

Sarah Allen
[Image source]

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dealing with Writerly Weaknesses

I've been thinking quite a bit about weakness lately.

We all have things that are naturally harder for us than other things, but sometimes serious weaknesses show up like a brick wall in the middle of the road. Like, very real handicaps and disabilities. That's not something we talk about very much, but I'm pretty sure basically everyone is directly affected in one way or another.

So I know this is a writing blog, and I realize I've been slow and relatively personal lately, and I hope that's okay. It's interesting, I feel like the past several weeks have been sort of the culmination of everything that has happened to me since I graduated college; been the real ringer. And that's actually a good thing, because I'm beginning to sense solid ground in a way I haven't since I graduated college, which includes a very solid look at my own weak areas. But again, good thing, because a person must have both solid ground and as solid a concept of themselves as possible to move forward as successfully and effectively as possible. I'm hoping that's what's been happening these last couple years, and these last several weeks particularly.

Anyway. Writing blog. So how does all this make a difference for us writers, is the question. In the general sense, moving forward with a solid grasp of ourselves and solid ground under our feet means our writing life. But I think we can make it more specific. Within the act of writing itself, we all have weaknesses. Mine is plot. I play with characters and scenarios for months before I get anywhere close to a story that can carry a novel. Maybe someone has the opposite weakness, where they constantly think of incredibly exciting stories, but have a hard time fleshing out the characters. Or maybe your weakness is setting, or dialog, or whatever. How do we deal with that?

Practice. One philosophy is to just practice until you get stronger. As pianists do scales, as ball players shoot hoops, so should we writers practice and practice until our weaknesses no longer hold us back. Find an example of someone who does what you're trying to do extremely well and learn from them.

Focus on your strengths. Maybe the weak spots don't matter. Shaq succeeded in the NBA without being able to shoot free throws worth anything. Didn't matter, because he was valuable for other reasons. Maybe sometimes I'll work and work until I get an exciting plot, maybe sometimes I'll just let the characters lead the story slowly forward and see what happens.

Use your weaknesses. Sometimes we just need to step back and stop thinking of our weaknesses as weaknesses. Nobody has exactly our talent and ideas and perspective, weaknesses, strengths, and all. We are uniquely situated to give the world exactly what only we can give. I'm realizing lately that I'm just not able to do certain things. I'm just not. So I'm going to try and not beat myself up about it and instead focus on the fact that because I'm not doing these certain things, I can do other things which means different things will happen and work out and be wonderful anyway. Sorry, that's kind of abstract, but I guess I just mean that we are as we are and placed where we're placed for a reason. Don't wait to be someone else before you start giving the world whatever it is you can give.

Anyway, to be honest, there may be a little bit longer of slow pace and reflective type posts. I also know I've said that full speed is coming for what feels like a long time now, but I'm pretty certain I mean it this time. Just a few more things to get sorted out and then I'm hoping I'll be/feel more stable than I ever have, and more able to really DO THIS THING. In spite of, and because of, my weaknesses.

Sarah Allen
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