From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Monday, August 31, 2015

How To Strengthen Your Feedback Backbone


I've been thinking about this topic for a very specific reason: I start my MFA program today. I've already had assignments given and work to do. I'm taking several workshop classes, and all of this means that I'm going to start having my work critiqued on a very regular basis.

That's a little scary.

And also wonderful. I am beyond excited to go back to school, and learn from my peers and people with talent and experience, and hopefully improve. That's the point of all this, and as we all know, improvement can sometimes mean a little bit of pain.

We writers are getting our worked critiqued and looked at regularly anyway (hopefully), so how do we become good at dealing with that? How do we grow writerly backbones strong enough to take feedback and work with it?

1. Practice. When I was a kid I had to give myself daily shots. (Its a long story). At first I was scared, and it took a long time for me to be able to do it myself, rather than have my mom do it. But after a while it became no big deal. Sure it stung a little, but not much, and sometimes hardly at all. It was the anticipation that was always worse than the sting itself. Get feedback on your work often, and hopefully habit will lessen the pain.

2. Have a "Safe Start." Have a friend or family member who can be your gentle first reader. This has often worked for me in the past. I have a few people who will read my piece, point out any glaring errors, but overall tell me its great and I'm great and everything's great. Now I don't want to stop there, because that means stopping improvement, but it can at least help you move forward with confidence in your step.

3. Know its not personal, and you're still in charge. Its pretty impossible to be objective when giving writing feedback, and its helpful to keep this in mind when you're reading comments on your work. Maybe this isn't their favorite genre, or maybe they have something to prove, or maybe they're just in a bad mood. Maybe they're just not your reader. I personally think it can still be super valuable to get feedback from people like this, to get that opposing perspective. However keep in mind that you don't have to take it personally, and in fact you don't have to take it at all. You, ultimately, are the writer. You make the final decisions. Its still best to take all feedback into very serious consideration, in my opinion, and be humble enough to improve. But if consideration is where it stops, then that is a-okay.

Mostly, don't be scared to put your work out there. I'm consistently surprised by how many hopeful writers become stalled because of that fear. Don't stall. It's scary, but worth it if this is really what you want. Remember that if this experience is painful, its not meant to be knock down punches, but a refiners fire. (If you find people merely trying to get you down, avoid them. Like the plague. Be nice, but really. Plague.) You'll come out better on the other end.

You can do this.

Sarah Allen

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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

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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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+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram. Or if you enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!
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