From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zoinks

We did it! We're at the last day of the A-Z challenge. For new challenge followers, welcome and thank you, thank you. I hope to keep things just as busy and updated here, so keep checking back. For longer term followers, thanks to you too, and I hope you found the A-Z theme helpful and valuable.

There are two reasons I picked Zoinks. First, when someone says zoinks, you know exactly who they're referring too. Having clear, defined, unique and memorable characters like Shaggy will help our story live on in the minds of readers long after they turn the last page. The other reason is that its important to have things that make your readers go ZOINKS! Whether its a King-ian gutter monster clown thing, a shocking plot twist, or a really great kiss, (or maybe all three? hmmm...)give your readers scenes to remember.

I just finished watching Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemon and Walter Mathau, so I'm in a pretty happy mood :) Talk about Zoinks moments. If you've seen that movie, there's definitely a zoinks moment in the middle. So cool. Anyway, hope you're all having a good weekend and hope the writing is coming along wonderfully!

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for YouTube: How and Why Writers should use it for Marketing

For a while now, I've been mentioning YouTube, and hinting at my master plan to use it to become the next J.K. Rowling. Ok, not really, and there isn't really a master plan, but YouTube is definitely a huge resource for modern day marketing for writers. Its one of those things that I really think can end up being worth the time and effort you put into it.

See, there are some YouTube videos that get millions and millions of views. Now, imagine of those millions and millions of people were watching your book trailer. That would definitely help with publicity, huh? I think most of us would be ecstatic with a few thousand views on a book trailer.

So here's my plan. I think it might be wise to start networking and getting a following on YouTube before I put up a book trailer, because that way there is automatically a group of people who it will go to right off the bat. Easier to spread that way. I'm still figuring out how exactly to do that, all that networking getting a following stuff, but I figure its better to start now, with perhaps less important videos, and work my way up to when it really counts. So the few tricks I've learned so far is to go around commenting, friending, and messaging as many people as you can. Friend the really big YouTube channels, that might get you something, and find people with similar video interests as you. Friend them, comment on their blog, share your video. It will get you many more views and subscribers then if you did nothing but wait for your video to get noticed. Most likely it won't, before a lot of ground-up work on your part. Put up good quality videos and keep contacting and sharing it with people. Twitter and Facebook can help you with this too. Like I said, I'm learning as I go here on this, so if any of you have experience and good ideas, I would absolutely love to hear them.

Here's a video poem I did:

I've got some other cool stuff on my channel, and I would love to connect with you there too. We can help each other.

Keep writing!
Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for xkcd

No time for a long post today, but I thought I'd share with you one of my all-time favorite web-comics. Many of you are probably already familiar with xkcd, but if you're not, its worth checking out. The humor is incredibly intelligent, and I don't get it a lot of the time, but what I do get is usually hilarious. It can be creatively inspiring, or just provide a laugh when you need one. So check it out, find something new. And keep writing!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Waiting

Is it just me, or does it seem like life involves a lot of waiting? I feel like I'm in a kind of 'waiting stage' of life, where I'm waiting for...a lot. I'm waiting to finish up things with this dumb jaw surgery so I can move to Oregon. I'm waiting to hear back from all the jobs I applied to so I know if I'm going to starve or not once I do move. I'm waiting to have the space and money to buy a puppy. I'm waiting to not be single anymore. I'm waiting for January so I can apply to the University of Oregon MFA program, and others, after which I will be doing more waiting. I'm waiting to be accepted for publication in The New Yorker, or some such. I'm waiting (and working) to finish my novel so I can submit it to agents, so I can do more waiting, so they can submit it to editors, so I can do even more waiting.

Frankly, my dear, I don't care a whit for waiting. I hate it, despise it, and am very, very bad at it. Its amazing how bad a waiter I am considering how much practice I have. (That's another kind of waiting I might end up being good at, depending on the job market in Eugene). See, what really bothers me, is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you market and write and submit and apply, there comes a point when you are forced to wait for someone else. Waiting for them to accept you for publication, representation, a date or a job, waiting for them to follow your blog, watch your YouTube video or buy your book. You can work and work and work, but it just leads to waiting and waiting and waiting.

So you keep working. Work while you wait. Its better than doing your waiting sitting around. It still sucks, and I'm still very bad at it, but at least it takes the edge off of the antsyness of not doing anything. Books, movies and good TV shows also help de-drearify the waiting period. Especially when all the waits for everything in your life seem to converge. But keep working and keep enjoying. Waits always end eventually. I hope.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Voice and Vulnerability (Or What I Learned in Acting Class)

About a year ago I took an acting class. Not only was it life-changing, but I learned quite a bit that applies directly to good writing. One of those things was what good, natural voice feels like. I learned that better in that class then I have anywhere else.

When I thought too much and over-prepared; when I thought 'Alright everyone, now I shall ACT'; those were the times the teacher would stop and correct me. Tell me to be more natural. When I just stood up there and said my piece, that was when I was told I had done right, and complimented. The thing is, after the good times, I would sit down and feel like I had done absolutely nothing. I would feel slightly exposed, but not like I had just given a performance, and definitely not like I had been 'Acting.' I felt like I had not given enough, or been self-concious or thoughtful enough, until I realized and was told that was how it was supposed to feel. What I learned about voice is this: when you feel you've done the least is when you've done the most.

Here's why I think it works this way: because when you are most yourself, most natural and vulnerable, you don't feel like you are "performing" or creating anything artistic or spectacular. You just feel like you're being you. EXACTLY. I still worry that me being me will be dull, too wacky, or incomprehensible to someone else, but thats what readers and editors are for. They'll help you know where to make changes, but 95% of the time, you will be pleasantly surprised at how unique, wonderful and appreciated you are when you're you. Seriously. You're used to being in your head, but no one else is. Let them. You don't have to say, 'Ok everyone, now I shall WRITE!'. Just write. The more vulnerable you are, the more people will relate to you, which is the point of all art. (see Empathy). It will be uncomfortable, especially at first, but it is worth it.

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Ups and Downs

We all have them. Sometimes things are going great, you get an acceptance letter, your manuscript is coming along, you get an acceptance letter...then you loose your umph, and things just stop coming as easily. Your writing becomes a slog, and not as exciting as it was before.

Here is the thing. The writer is the one who stays in the chair and writes even during the downs, the slumps, the doldrums, the dog days, the dry spells, whatever. You keep working even when you feel like your losing your edge, when it actually feels like work. I always worry that trying to write during these times will make my writing feel bland and forced, but thats what editing is for. The important thing is to take a lesson from Dory and JUST KEEP SWIMMING.

It always makes me feel better knowing that other people feel this way too, because I know I'm not alone, and I know I'll get over it eventually. Just knowing I'll get over it helps me work through it. Books, music, movies and favorite TV shows also help me feel a little better about life in general. Food also helps, especially if it involves a fun restaurant and a group of friends. Take a walk, go to the gym, go to a movie with your significant other. Whatever. Get out of the house. That almost always helps me shake the blues, at least for a little while. And it really does go away eventually.

Happy writing!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Titles

Another perhaps widely used word for today, but also important. The Title is the first impression, and we all know what people say about those. I'll keep things short today and just give you a list of some titles from the back of my notebook. See if you can do anything with them. For me personally, I can almost never use the title itself, but they often spark a story idea. So here goes:

Important as a Window
The Stick Was
Making Digs
The Praying Mantis Society
The Darker Side of Yodeling
Carmel and the Moon
Old Year Resolution
Queen Entropical
Mutably Good
I Left my Lunch in Yugoslavia
The Definition of an Unhealthy Relationship
My Name is Recyclable
Not Machine Washable
Shoe Talk
A Dad Grows Up
Blow with the Harmattan
The 9 1/2 Wives of Oscar Pickendoom

Hope you find those entertaining and somewhat useful. I'd love to hear if they spark any ideas :) I was going to reveal the title for my WIP today, but its still too tentative. So, stay tuned...

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Reading

Of course. This might be a bit of an obvious choice, but to be a good writer you need to be a great reader. I'm one of those people who think the best idea is to read as widely and deeply as you can. Even if its not your genre, even if its crappy writing, even if its a textbook, I feel like you can learn something from it, if not enjoy it. Here are different kinds of books you might look in to.

Novels, old and new. This is another obvious recommendation, that novelists read novels, but my point is that we should read all kinds of novels. Read novels published from last year, in the 1800s, in ancient Greece and modern China. Read romance, historical fiction, horror, fantasy and sci-fi, modern mainstream, paranormal, steampunk, and I would say most importantly, the classics. Read everything. I think every writer will tell you this, but it bares repeating, and its something we can all work on. Unless of course there is no book you haven't read, in which case you should just read them all again.

Magazines. Literary of course. Thats a given. But also magazines for science and gardening and architecture and animal husbandry. All that. National Geographic is a classic, and one of my favorites. They are a fun, quick way to both read new work and learn about things you might not know much about.

Biography and memoir. Get in some good non-fiction. It can help you really get into the head of someone else, which will help in making your characters more developed.

The Bible. I know, I know, but I'm being serious. Even if you're not religious, to say the Bible cannot be ignored is an gross understatement. I wish I remembered where, but I heard someone once say that the absolute best source of creative inspiration for writers was the Bible, and I think that might be a good point. While you're at it you might try the Qur'an, the Talmud, Confucius, the apocrypha, the Ramayana, other cool stuff like that.

Textbooks. I know they're boring. Trust me, I just graduated. But still, the reason for why read textbooks is simple; it is always worthwhile to learn. Even glancing at a couple charts every now and then is better than not. Maybe your next MC is a chemist or art historian. You might need a textbook for that. At least you would if you were me.

Anyway, hope this helps. I'm going to have to do better at taking my own advice as far as this goes, and expand both my reading time and substance. Any recommendations from you all?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quintessential

Quintessential is one of my favorite words. When people/artists have a clear and relatable quintessence, they become the people that you can never forget, that you seem to be reminded of all the time.

What are some examples of quintessential? Long, seemingly endless codas are quintessential Beethoven. Crazy hair and bursting entrances are quintessential Kramer. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are quintessential jazz artists. Jane Austen is the quintessential romance novelist, and Steven King is the same for horror.

What do all these have in common? They are originators and very recognizable. You could recognize Kramer just by the way he twitches his shoulders, and know Louis' voice on the radio within a few notes. I think there are three things you have to do as an artist to become quintessential.

1) You have to stop trying to be anyone else.
2) You have to be a very strong version of yourself. That entails knowing who "you" is.
3) You have to not be afraid to try something new, break new ground.

We all have it in us to become one of "those" people, if we just keep working on it. So happy writing!

Sarah Allen

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Networking

In todays publishing world, it is vital for writers who want a successful career to do as much of the networking and marketing themselves as they can. We've talked about this before, and will talk about it in the future, because its important. Personally, I find this aspect of a writing career fascinating, and one that everyone can continually learn about and improve on, which is why I think its worth talking about every once in a while.

Right now I'm working on compiling a list of at least a couple dozen of the best websites writers can use for networking and marketing. I'll probably post that list once the April A-Z challenge is over, so get ready for that. (I'll want some advice from any of you who are familiar with any of those sites, so get ready for that too). I thought I'd start today, though, with what I like to call the Big Five networking sites:

1: Facebook
2: Twitter
3: LinkedIn
4: YouTube
5: Flickr

I know these are not author specific sites, (I will get to those in the later post) but authors can still use them to reach the widest possible online audience. Facebook and Twitter are obvious ones, fairly easy to use, with HUGE audience potential. LinkedIn is a bit of a weird one, and I'm still figuring out how writers can best use it. What I've come up with so far is connecting with people in the LinkedIn groups and using your network to connect with editors, agents and publishers. LinkedIn definitely adds a sense of professionalism to your online presence. YouTube and Flickr also seem strange recommendations for people who work in the medium of words, but they are a huge resource that it would be a shame not to tap into. Really, all you need is a camera.

*As a side note, I would not recommend using your personal Facebook or LinkedIn page to connect with people you don't know, though Twitter, YouTube and Flickr could work that way. However, a Facebook Fan page is perfect for gathering a huge audience, and LinkedIn can help you make incredibly useful real life connections.

I'm saying all of this assuming that you are using these sites along with a personal author site or blog. A website or blog is kind of like home base, the place all of these other sites are pointing towards. Like the hive, and the other sites are worker bees bringing in honey (or, you know, readers). Like those smaller dragons on How To Train Your Dragon who had to bring in sheep for the big monster dragon (except the home site is probably a bit nicer and less scary looking). Like...ok, I'll stop.

It takes effort to be successful on one of these sites, let alone all of them. But it can make all the difference, and if you manage your time, energy and resources wisely, it is definitely possible. If any of you have advice or experience on these sites, I would love to hear it.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for LOST and Linus. Benjamin Linus.

So, as some of you may know, I was a big fan of LOST. A HUGE fan. Of the show, but mostly of the brilliant, god-like genius that is Michael Emerson and his portrayal of to describe?...well, Benjamin Linus. If I could write half as well as Michael Emerson can act...anyway, I'm excited to take L day to geek out about something and someone I haven't been able to geek out about in a while. There are absolutely lessons writers can learn from both LOST as a whole and specifically the character of Benjamin Linus.

Mystery, cliffhangers, and twists. This is what LOST did brilliantly. Every episode ended with you (ok, me) shouting at the TV screen wondering how in heavens name you were going to wait till the next week. If it was a book, it would be the kind you would read until three in the morning even though you had an eight AM final the next day.

Creating (even requiring) a loyal, dedicated fanbase. One of the big complaints about the show was that if you started halfway through you would be totally, to be punny, lost. It required its audience to be dedicated and loyal for the full pay-off, and it also required a certain level of intelligence. More then the average television show, at least, which admittedly isn't requiring much. Of course we writers want to be inviting to as many different kinds of readers as possible, but whats more realistic is carving out a niche of loyal groupies who will understand you and support your every book. Having as big a niche as LOST would not, of course, be a bad thing.

Consequences of meandering focus. The biggest complaint I heard about LOST, particularly from watchers, was that around season 3 it lost (so punny today) focus and started drifting, getting bizarre in a not-so-good way, loose strings and red herrings everywhere. I agree, though I feel they picked it back up in the last two seasons. Anyway, the point here is that find what you do and do. Make sure every story you write has a clear focus, even if its offbeat and never been done. Try not to let yourself or the story get distracted.

Ending an epic. So, besides 'The Sopranos' I'm not sure any show has had as controversial an ending as LOST. Many felt like there were WAY too many unsettled story lines, and that it was somewhat of a cop-out. Personally, I really liked what they did with the end of the show. I feel like if they had gone technical and traditional and tried to tie everything up neatly it would have been clunky and somewhat unsatisfying. The show was larger then life and required a larger then life ending, which I think they gave. As someone who liked the ending, the lesson here I think is that transcendent, perhaps ambiguous endings help give the story an expansive, numinous feel that will stay with the reader for a long time.

Every character needs complexity, including (especially) the villain. This is where Ben Linus comes in. I feel like both Michael Emerson and the writers handled the character brilliantly. They added layer upon layer, so we never quite knew where he stood or how we felt about him (Ok, I knew how I felt about him, but I'm weird). Perhaps not every character can be this ambiguous and disconcerting, but the villain certainly can. I enjoy stories much more when they are not straight black and white, because life is like that most of the time. At least people are. Snape, Javert and Gregory House are all characters that have this kind of complexity, never quite good, never quite bad, always entirely fascinating. Every character has good and bad in them, and emphasizing this in stories make them round and leaves us feeling like we know them even better then we know some of our own family.

Anyway, looks like I went on too long again after all, but I hope you'll forgive me. You guys are just so fun and rewarding to talk to :) And besides, its LOST. Even if you didn't watch the show I hope these are valuable lessons. I'd like to leave you with a video, of course, of probably my favorite scene of the entire show, in any season:

If you're me, you're shouting I'LL HAVE YOU, BEN, I WILL, I WILL!!

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Joy

Considering the title of this blog, I thought I'd take J day to explain what exactly I mean by "Joy". I apologize in advance for being rambly, vague or philosophical, and for the heavy use of C. S. Lewis quotes. I sort of think that this is going to be one of those things that you either totally get or don't, which probably just means you're a bit saner than I am. But here goes.

So, for as long as I remember, I've had this kind of passionate, unsatisfied craving thing inside of me that kind of felt too big for my body. The way it comes across in my personality has been called effervescent, which has subsequently become one of my favorite words. Anyway, I've needed, hated, and been confused by this feeling for as long as I've had it. I didn't know why I felt that way, or even what exactly I was feeling. Most of all, I didn't know how to explain it or if anyone else felt anything similar. Then a couple years ago I took a C. S. Lewis class (best class I ever least one of them) and he hit it exactly. I mean EXACTLY. He put into words what I thought was impossible to describe, and suddenly I knew I wasn't alone or crazy.

Here come the C.S. Lewis quotes. He said, "I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described." That was my first clue that he knew what I was feeling. Then he defined it perfectly as "that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is."

So that's what I was feeling. I had a name for it now. Like Lewis said, it is never in our control, though for he and I what often brings it up are memories from the past, nature, intensely deep love for someone, and, a big one for me, art (meaning literature, music, theater, art, etc.) Now I knew why I could watch certain movies and feel like exploding, painfully but gloriously unsatisfied, like watching it again and again would not be enough...I wanted to be the producer, director, actor, every member in the audience, and the movie itself, and still that wouldn't satisfy me. That seems kind of weird to say, but its how I felt, and I felt like Lewis was corroborating me.

Where this feeling, this kind of "Joy," comes from, is where it gets spiritual for me, and you're free to disagree or form your own thoughts about it. But as for Lewis and I, when (in my header quote) he says "meant for another world," he means Heaven. He says, "Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing." He says that the things that bring us this feeling "are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." This works for me as an explanation. I like the idea that "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

In terms of creating this in our own art, this is where we can turn to Lewis' good buddy J.R.R. Tolkien. He says "The peculiar quality of the 'joy' in successful Fantasy [any art] can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth." So basically, in his definition Joy comes from accessing or glimpsing the universal Truth or Reality of a thing. He says good art provides "a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and let's a gleam come through." I think honesty and vulnerability have a lot to do with getting to this "universal" point.

Anyway, this has already gone on WAY longer than I'm sure any of you time for, but it explains the title of this blog, the two quotes I have in the header, and basically it explains me, if thats not too presumptuous to say. In talking about this I always feel that I haven't done the subject justice in the least, that it would take volumes. I also feel slightly exposed, and kind of hope you do too. Mostly right now I hope, with Lewis' help, that I've explained everything at least somewhat understandably, and that you find help, ideas or corroboration as I did in what Lewis has to say. If I could wish you anything it would be that today, you find joy.

Sarah Allen

p.s. Several of you mentioned wanting my answers to the questions from yesterday. I was going to post those today, but clearly I've gone on much too long, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow. I know it will be hard, that you are just dying to hear even more about me, but you'll just have to be patient.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Howett and Halitosis

photo credit

There are so many ways to make oneself odious and unattractive to others. I'm sure we all try hard to be pleasant and at our best, and it only takes caution and watchfulness to avoid committing what I like to call professional or literary halitosis.

Take care of yourself. No literal halitosis, please. I know writers spend most of our time alone, but still. Shower, brush your teeth, and try not to burp too much at the dinner table.

Don't be a pest. Don't send rude, annoying or inappropriate emails to agents or editors. Or anyone else, for that matter. That obviously is not going to help you. Persistence is okay, plaguing is not. Also, don't make your online presence a bother to anyone through any kind of spamming.

Treat everyone with kindness and tact. It can be hard, I know, especially when people are rude and tactless to you, but don't stoop.

Jacqueline Howett, whose last name happens to start with H, has provided us an excellent example of literary halitosis. Her rude, unprofessional and vulgar rampage against a negative(ish) review went viral astonishingly fast, and just goes to show that bad behavior really doesn't pay. She really shot herself in the foot with this. More then just halitosis, her behavior was downright vomitrocious.

So work hard, play nice, carry gum. Anyone who says nice guys finish last is trying to rip you off.

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Graduate School

To MFA or not to MFA. That is a good question. There is so much "advice" out there about this, its hard to wade through. I've sort of always leaned towards getting an MFA for myself, and still plan on it, but the research has shown me that MFA's are definitely not the answer to everything. Going in or staying out with eyes open is the important thing, I think.

What I plan on getting from an MFA program:
Time and guidance towards improving my writing.
Fellow students and new friends who understand about this whole wanting to be a writer thing.
Networking with professors and perhaps agents and editors who can provide artistic and professional help for the rest of my career.
A final product I can be proud of. (Hopefully)

What I do NOT plan on getting from an MFA program:
A job.
Lessons in marketing and the modern publishing industry.
Immediate acclaim and mass popularity, though that would be nice.

What I plan on doing for myself:
Putting time and study towards improving my writing.
Reading as much as I can, both critically acclaimed and popular, to learn.
Networking with other writers, agents, editors and potential mentors whether inside of academia or out.
Working until I have a final product I am proud of. A published final product.
Getting any kind of job that will support my writing habit for as long as it takes.
Reading blogs and doing other research to teach myself about marketing and todays publishing industry.
Praying for acclaim and popularity.

My point with this last list is to show that an MFA is not necessary, particularly if you are willing to put in the necessary work yourself anyway. I believe an MFA can give you a quick boost with certain things, which is why getting one interests me, but perhaps more importantly, I plan to supplement whatever I get from an MFA on my own time, plus working to fill in as much as I can wherever an MFA is lacking. I guess the whole point is, your success is up to you and the work you put in.

What are your thoughts about this? Do you think an MFA is worth it? Do any of you with MFA experience have any advice you'd be willing to share?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for Fairy Tales, Folklore and Frasier

Once Upon a Time by James Christensen

What better way to be inspired then by collecting stories and characters from the fairy tales and folklore all around the world. The original way is to listen to the stories you hear from other people, and that still works. But with the advent of the internet we have an endless supply of fairy tales and folklore at our fingertips. Plus there is still the good old fashioned book.

There is a great list of people to look to for these kinds of things: The Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault, Andrew Lang, Hans Christian Anderson. I think thats where I plan to start. I've got the Grimm Brothers collection and a Hans Christian Anderson, but the other two look fantastic. It's amazing to look at each of them and see what stories we owe to them.

There are lots of ways to use folk-tales as inspiration in your own writing. You can use them directly and put your own twist on them. The new Red Riding Hood movie did that. Or you can do a blend of them and see what you come up with. Even for us mainstream writers, though, there are proven plots and character types that come from these stories that are usable in any genre, and can actually do a lot to help. Think of how many wicked stepmothers and kindly strangers we have in literature that probably all originate from these fairy tales. The more you know, the more you can use. So get reading and writing :)

And of course, I could not let F day pass without sharing one of my favorite all-time scenes from probably my all-time favorite show. If you have the same poignancy and sweetness in your writing, I want it.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

p.s. Back to the design theme, I'm having a minor frustration (there's an F word :). I've been trying to work with the blog description text to make it slightly more legible, but the template designer won't let me change it, though it will let me change the title, and the trying to fiddle with the HTML isn't working either. Any ideas would be fantastic!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Empathy

If I had to pick one word to describe why I think writing (or theater, music, painting, photography, or any other kind of art) is important, that word would be empathy. In my mind, the greatest purpose of art is to help us understand and appreciate the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of another human being.

Think about it. After reading a good book you have a sense of someone else, through both the characters and the tone and voice of the author. We feel their pains and joys, and understand and sympathize with their flaws, sometimes major ones. If I met a greasy, creepy, rude, hook-nosed middle-aged man I would be nervous and antagonistic. But after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, maybe not. I might try to understand.

Each book we read (each play we see, painting we view, song we hear) elicits an emotional response that helps us understand the emotions and thought process of others in a way we would not have been able to without that personal experience. We are so stuck in our own heads, and art is a way to help us out. I have not had experience with intense betrayal or rejection, but after Jennifer Hudson and Dreamgirls, I know better what it is and even a little bit what it feels like. If I had a friend get cheated on, this would help me empathize.

Another thing. If I was the one cheated on or betrayed, I would have seen it before, and might have some perspective. I would have seen someone cope, and know that coping is possible. Perhaps most importantly, I would know I wasn't alone. C. S. Lewis said, "We read to know we are not alone," and that is absolutely true. I am just beginning Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and already the main characters self-consciousness, self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy have helped me in my own struggles with those kinds of things. Every book gives you someone who understands.

And you can give it right back. Art helps us properly appreciate the good and understand the bad in others. This is why I think writing is such a noble profession. To create art that can make this connection between people, we have to be utterly and vulnerably honest with ourselves and get the gut core of our feelings and thoughts. Its hard to explain, but it puts a mirror up to the reader and the human race.

I know this is a bit philosophical, and a bit of a nebulous idea, but I hope it kind of makes sense. To put it as simply as I can, art is meant to help us understand each other. In that cause, happy writing :)

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Design

Its important. I'm mostly talking about web design here, with your social platform on things like blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc. If people can't understand whats going on or your sites are inaccessible or unnavigable, they're not going to know what your all about let alone come back. Thats the beauty of Blogger and YouTube, which make clear, comprehensible design easy.

Although, adding flair and snazziness is still up to you. I'm obviously not much of a designer, and though I've tried to keep my sites from being confusing or muddled, I would love some ideas about adding a little sum'n sum'n. Pretty sure there are some cool sites to help personalize or beautify your sites, aren't there? I just don't know where to go, so ideas would be great. I've found some absolutely gorgeous blogs out there, and I'd love to know all your secrets :) One of my favorite examples of beautiful design is the website for the magazine Cavalier Literary Couture. Although they still haven't responded to a submission from September...whats up with that?

Anyway, best of luck your web designing. Keep things simple and clear and you, so that people can find you easily and like what they find. Happy writing!

Sarah Allen

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Cliche

They make your writing flat, uninteresting and impersonal, and yet come oh so easily. I feel like there are all kinds of cliches all around us every day. Avoiding them in our own work is what truly gives us our voice and makes us unique. There are some things I think can help us do just that.

Detail. I firmly believe detail is what makes the writer and grounds the reader in any story. Without detail the story means nothing. Here's what I mean. Compare:
Blake wanted her so bad it hurt
Blake ran over and over in his mind the lopsided dimples that deepened when she saw him, the way she shuffled through radio stations like a deck of cards and stood on her tip-toes at drinking fountains, and the merest whiff of the cinnamon vanilla scent of her hair put a constrictive pressure all around his ribcage.
Which is more interesting?

Research and experience. Know a lot (from books and personal experience) and get realistic in how you describe things. I once heard somewhere that some famous writer spent an hour looking at the faucet dripping so he could describe it for himself and not have to rely on anything trite and overused. Maybe we don't have to go that to those lengths, but you can bet that writers description of a faucet dripping was absolutely not cliche. Experience and read about everything you can. That way you can know for yourself and know what and how other people have written.

Be honest. No matter how painful it his, dig down until you get to the real gut emotional truth of something. Nothing genuinely true is cliche. Be honest with your characters, your story, and yourself. There are lots of ways to do this, too. Some writer pour their whole heart into something, whereas writers like Ernest Hemingway keep things incredibly gritty, stark and factual and let what they present do its own emotion invoking in the reader. Whatever works for you, but be honest.

Even being conscious of cliche helps you avoid it. Try the best you can, your writing will benefit greatly from it. Hope this helps, and happy writing!

Sarah Allen

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Bowie

So, I know David Bowie isn't everybody's cup of tea, and to be honest, up until recently he wasn't mine either. It's not that I ever didn't like him, I just thought he was a bit too strange for me. But here's the important thing: I always found him interesting and intriguing. He has a unique, dramatic style that just took a while to grow on me. And those eyes...

My path to Bowie love I think has some lessons for us writers. I had some limited exposure to Bowie as a kid through the movie Labyrinth, a cult classic if their ever was one. Even as a kid, the movie and Bowie himself were interesting and oddly appealing, but just not my groove. I got older, watched the movie a few more times and even listened to a few of his other songs. Still, interesting, but not something I wanted to put lots of time and energy into. Then recently, I was babysitting my little sister and she picked Labyrinth for our movie. It was then it all kind of culminated, and I realized the awesomeness, newness, talent and deep albeit strange attractiveness that was David Bowie. He is still not my typical thing, still not an easy jive for me, and I still have some getting used to as far as his music goes. The thing thats different, though, is that I want to get used to it. Even though it has taken time, Bowie has successfully drawn me in to being an official fan, and being willing to put in time, effort, even money to being a fan. He did this through being new, unique, and himself so that I was interested and attracted from the beginning, even if it took time to make me a full on groupie. And now, when I had one songs worth left on an old iTunes gift card, what did I pick? David Bowie.

So enjoy something unique and untypical today and see what it brings out in you. Happy writing!

Sarah Allen

Friday, April 1, 2011

A-Z: A is for Application

For those of you unaware of the A-Z blogging challenge, its an awesome blogfest hosted by Arlee Bird's Tossing it Out. The challenge is to blog Monday through Saturday, with posts themed A through Z. I've been trying to blog every single day, including Sundays, and this will provide some organization and motivation as far as that goes. It's not too late to sign up, if you're interested. So, for the letter A.

A is for Application.

Apply yourself. Get your butt in the chair and work. Make goals and work for them every day. Writing is fun and wonderful, but work still needs to be done. Applying yourself will truly make the difference between failure and success.

Apply to contests, magazines, agents editors. Submit your work, even though its scary. Get your poetry and short stories to some literary magazines, and even after rejection, keep it circulating out there. Submit your manuscript to agents and editors. Nobody can read you if you're not out there, and you miss all of the shots you don't take.

Apply your tools correctly. Writers have more responsibility for marketing these days then the ever have, so learn how to successfully use tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, even more niche sites like GoodReads, AuthorDen, Authonomy, any of those other writer network sites you can use for your benefit and that of your readers. And you don't have to do this all by yourself, either. Don't be scared to ask for help. If you have a brother who can do beautiful blog design, ask him if he'll help. Network with people, don't be shy. Correct application of all these tools will help you reach the largest number of readers.

Hope this helps! Tomorrow we'll talk about B...
Sarah Allen
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