From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, January 30, 2012

Slow and steady, eh? I hope so.

I'm at the scenario stage on novel number two. I have a main character and a slew of secondaries, interesting relationships and a couple intriguing scenes in mind. Getting from this point to a "plot" is the hard part for me, in terms of planning. I don't even like "plot-heavy" books, and I'm not trying to come up with anything intricate and I know life is basically plotless anyway. I know all that, but I still feel like I need something holding it all together story-wise, and that often takes me a while.

Novel #1 was about a 40-ish year old man. Novel #2 is going to be about a 17 year old girl. Obviously more towards my age and gender side of the spectrum. I want to get a broad range. We'll see how this goes. The last one had a paranormal element to it. This one isn't going to.

So the steps ahead of me now: Edit novel #1. Keep brainstorming novel #2. Give 1 to beta readers and begin work on 2. Hopefully start submitting 1 to agents and finish work on 2. Also a screenplay and a kids picture book and a short story collection somewhere in there would be cool.

Also a cute boy who wants to kiss my face and a stable job and a tortoise named Watson. Those things would be cool too.

Just sayin :)

Sarah Allen

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Losing Confidence in Your Book is a Good Thing

So, I'm still blah about my novel, but I've decided it's a good thing, and here's why.

It doesn't mean I'm not going to move forward exactly the same. I'm going to edit the crap out of it and then give it to other people to read and then start the submissions process. Feeling sort of whatever about it just means that the editing will be that much easier, and so will the putting it in other peoples hands. I still hope and want just as much for it as I did before, but I'm in a much better emotional place for accepting that whatever happens happens, and that it's okay if things just don't pan out for this one. Because they might not.

All this is true, but it's also true that I wouldn't be able to feel this way about this novel if I didn't have wild hopes and faith and ambition for my new novel. I have to be crazy about something. And I spent some time yesterday doing some good brainstorming, and I'm definitely starting to feel the excitement coming. If I've taken my eggs out of the old basket and sent it down the river, hoping it ends up somewhere nice, that just means my eggs are in a shiny new basket.

So, basically, this just means that I'm emotionally ready to push my baby out of the nest and can deal with the consequences. It also means I'll be writing my new baby like my life depends on it, because for a while it will. Then I'll grow hard to it too, send that one out, and get started on a new one. Circle of life.

I guess this seems kind of cruel. Maybe it is. Really I don't think my relationship with my books is going to turn out as black and white as all that. I'm just going through a phase that I'll probably go through with each novel, but once I give it time and get some fresh perspective on it I think I'll totally fall in love with it again.

Sarah Allen

Monday, January 23, 2012

The book, ladies and gentleman, is DONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes. It's done. The first draft, at least. Right now I'm feeling a bit like this:
Sorry, didn't mean to slober on your face. I'm celebrating by watching White Collar and Downton Abbey.

Now time for edits and brainstorming Novel #2.

Sarah Allen

Friday, January 20, 2012

Guest Post: How To Find Time To Write, by Rochelle Melander

Stephen King writes every day. A colleague of mine only writes when she has a book due. Most of the writers I coach wonder how they could ever write a book when they cannot dedicate all day, every day to their work. Writers, we need to think outside the box. There are plenty of ways to fit in writing time—if we get creative. Here are four ways you can honor your inner writer and keep a full-time job!

1. Take 20. Anthony Trollope was able write for three hours a day before going to work at the post office, but chances are he didn’t have to do his hair or make a lunch. Author Cory Doctorow has said that he spends 20 minutes a day on writing his novels—and that’s enough to finish writing a novel a year. All of us can find twenty minutes to dedicate to our work. Get up a bit early, go to bed later, or skip lunch—and use that time to write.
2. The Saturday (or Sunday) Writer. I’ve heard that the National Novel Writing participants who cannot write every day put in a big old marathon day each weekend. For writers who need time to get into the mood to write and hate quitting once they get there, taking a day each weekend to write sounds like a sensible thing to do. Pick up your computer, head off to a coffee shop, and write until your fingers get numb!

3 The Weekend Writer. A client of mine has written several of her fiction books on the weekend at hotels. She works full time and also has children, so taking a day a week to write is impossible. Instead, she books a hotel for one weekend a month through one of many available discount web sites. She enters the weekend with a chapter or word count goal and locks herself in the hotel until she finishes. (She does escape for food and exercise during the weekend.)

4. The Vacation Writer. Every summer, a writing friend takes a week of his vacation to participate in a writing workshop at one of the many writing programs in the United States. Other friends have given themselves a week at a remote cabin or friend’s empty house to work on their books. Wherever you end up staying, taking a vacation to write can be the perfect way both write and have a life.

Writers, there is no ideal or correct way to make a writing life. Do what works for you!

Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast:Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at

Thursday, January 19, 2012

3 Keys to Brilliant Dialog

Dialog has always been one of my favorite things to write. It's easy for me, compared to other things (like plot). In my years of getting critiqued, dialog is the one thing on which I consistently receive positive feedback (sometimes the only positive thing, but we take what we can get, right?). Anyway, I'm just saying this so that when I explain how this dialog thing and all the advice about dialog fits and works in my head, you can take that head at least somewhat seriously.

1. Read your dialog aloud. You've heard this one before, I'm sure. But what are they really getting at here? It's all about sounding natural, but what does that even mean? To me, thinking "I must write Great Dialog" can be really intimidating, as opposed to "Its just me, yo." In everyday conversation you just talk, easily, almost reflexively, with little to no analytical thinking. When you read your dialog aloud it should feel as close to that as you can get it. If you can write it in that conversational way to begin with, all the better. (Don't believe anyone who says literary dialog can't be conversational. Just write. There are always edits.)

2. Get in Character Mode. In my experience the worst thing a person can do for their dialog (both in writing and acting, actually) is to think 'How would this character say this?' Right there you've lost all your naturality, and made your dialog stiff and contrived. You can't know how someone else would say or even perceive something, you can only know how you would say or perceive it. But Sarah, you say, my forty year old zookeeper musn't sound like his sixteen year old niece or people will figure out I'm a hack and throw one-star reviews at me.

So we bring out our inner thesbians. You know you have one. If you didn't you wouldn't be trying to tell a story. If you're going to write believable dialog for this character, you need to be that character. And that's not so hard, because they all came from you to begin with. They're all part of you, all in your head. So it's less thinking "How would a teenager say this" and more "I'm a teenager saying this." It's not some generic "A Teenager", it's you. As a teenager. Or a trucker, or a pirate or a seventy-year old retired FBI agent living in a rest-home. If you get rid of any self-conciousness and just write, the nuances between characters will be seem incredibly subtle to you, but will make all the difference. The key is to not think of what they say as separate from what you say.

3. Hear brilliant dialog. This is the fun part. This is when watching genius television (*ahem* Sherlock) counts as research. It's like learning any other skill, the best way is to watch someone who knows how to do it. Or for that matter, someone who doesn't and you can learn from their mistakes. Reading great dialog is good too, but I particularly like the idea of hearing it because dialog should flow from your pen as naturally and realistically as great dialog flows from a great actors tongue, which is to say, as naturally as it flows when you're telling your roommate the weird dream you had last night. I think its perhaps harder to get that same experience when you just have words on a page and didn't experience the way they flowed from the writers mind to that page. Does that make sense? But once you've experienced the ease and flow of good dialog it is of course a great idea to see how that translates to ink and paper.

Is dialog one of the hard bits for you, or easy? What have you done to make your dialog the most effective?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sherlock...Benedict Cumberbatch...can't.handle.the.awesome.

Yes, I'm a few days behind, but last night I watched the last episode of Sherlock, called The Reichenbach Fall. words. My roommate spent a good five full minutes laughing at my face.

Let's just say it was possibly the most emotionally effective episode of television ever created.

There's a reason Sherlock Holmes is one of the top three most well-known characters of all time. (The others being Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan. Can't remember where I heard that). We want to be him. Sort of. We want to be able to look at someone and know everything about them. He's just a brilliant character.

And Benedict Cumberbatch. Oh wow. I mean, beyond the squeeing about his curly hair and blue eyes (holy cow oh my gosh his eyes), the man is a genius. His Sherlock could not be more perfect. And Martin Freeman as Watson? Yes please. The fact that they're going to be in The Hobbit together (AHHH!!!) way overflows the worlds cup of awesome and almost makes up for the fact that we have to wait a year and a half (freaking year and a half!) for the next episode.

And you guys. I don't know how I'm going to make it, like for reals. When this episode was done I wanted to slap the freaking freak freak out of Steven Moffat. And then kiss his feet. But mostly slap him.

So yes, all I can manage right now is this incoherently fangirl squee, but if you haven't seen this show, you need to fix that. Right now. It's only six hours total, but if it were six hundred I would say the same. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and watch this show.

Why does this happen, guys? Why do we (please tell me its not just me) get so entirely invested in made-up stories and characters? I relish what that says about the importance of story to our most basic nature, but I can't quite figure out how it makes any logical sense. It's not about the logic at all, which is why it doesn't make sense, but still...why?

And how do we make people feel that way about our stories?

*Sigh*. God bless the BBC for everything they do. And God bless Benedict Cumberbatch and those eyes...

Sarah Allen

Thursday, January 12, 2012

10 Ways to Get Paid for Online Writing, with Lior Levin

So pleased to have Lior Levin with us today, talking about making money with online writing. Lior is a marketing consultant for a css company, and also consults for a company that works with physicians and patients to evaluate the likely effectiveness of new cancer treatments that specializes in new cancer treatments.Take it away Lior!
10 Ways to Get Paid for Online Writing

Selling words for dollars is easy, if you are aware of two things:

-How to put down the words together.
-How to sell your piece in the right market.

Be it a full time day job or an online freelance gig, good writing pays. Almost, always.

For the past couple of years, I have made a good amount of money by “writing for the web”. Not with my pen but with the keyboard, to be precise.

When I started out, I was clueless about the sites where I could actually get paid to write about the things I would write on my blog anyway. That time, I had a blogspot blog where I wrote about random topics e.g movie reviews, technology, gadgets, gaming and personal rants.

Over time, I discovered that there are a good number of sources who need full time writers on the topics I am passionate about. If you are a newbie freelancer and want to get paid for writing online, here is a handy list which you should remember:

1. Write in your own blog

Writing in your own blog pays and pays better than writing for anyone else. But there is a catch - you have to maintain your blog/website and make it popular in the first place. If your website never topples the average popularity line, it would be hard to make money through sponsored advertisements.

On the other hand, if your blog gets quite a few thousand visits daily, you can monetize it with Google Adsense, BuySellads, Chitika, Kontera and other advertising programs.

This is better than freelance writing as you can write whenever you want to and get paid from clicks on advertisements, banner ads and so on. The result is certainly much more rewarding than writing for someone else.

2. Write in article directories

If you do not have a website and have no vision of creating one, I would recommend starting with article directories. Write for free article directories in early days and build a solid online portfolio first. When you have the trust factor attached with your name, other paid article directories would contact you and you will eventually end up working for them.

3. Join other blogs as staff writers

Blogs and forums is not a one man affair these days. Most large blogs have full time writers and staff authors, who research and write stories regularly. If you are a skilled person and know how the ins and outs of something better than anyone else, contact an authority blog and ask them whether you can join their writing team. Show them proofs of your writing and if you have the talent, they will be more than happy to hire you.

4.  Participate in Freelance gigs

Small and medium sized websites often need part time writers for bi-yearly projects. Keep an eye on freelance forum sites and be-friend other freelancers on Facebook and Twitter. By participating in the community of freelancers, you would be able to crack a deal, sooner or later.

5. Write your own book

Do you have expertise and full proof knowledge over something which people want to know badly? Consider writing an ebook and sell it through your blog, email newsletter or through Amazon. If your blog is not so popular, it will be very difficult to sell the ebook you wrote.

In that case, I would recommend you to contact authority blogs in your niche and make a deal. You can split the sale amount by 70-30, so if your ebook sale crosses 10,000 copies - you would make a decent income through the exposure of the authority site selling your ebook.

Tip: Make sure your ebook is top notch and one of its kind, or else authority sites wont accept your deal in the first place.

6. Help someone write his book

A lot of prolific writers often look for “seconds” who can help them write their ebook. As a “second”, you have to research, prepare documentation, write dedicated sections and complete assignments for the author.

The result is pretty rewarding because when the eBook sells, people will notice your name. This hardens your standing soil and you gain that “trust” factor. Keep an eye on online Job boards and freelance sites for these occasional offers.

7. Look for Internships

Top Technology blogs e.g LifeHacker, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Mashable often hire regular interns, so if you are really passionate about your subject,

8. Write For Startups

Startups are small organizations who are keen on developing their product and often need someone who can spread the word about their product, pitch authority blogs and maintain their official blog. Get involved with a startup and ask them whether they require a blogger or a media person for spreading the word. Almost all startups have interns who are responsible for writing documentation and maintaining their social media brand awareness.

Tip: research well ahead of time and make yourself familiar with industry jargon first.

9. Editing and Proofreading

If you have command over the English language, you can work as a copy editor for clients or blogs. The role of a copy editor is to correct grammatical mistakes, proofread and tweak the writing style of the author. This type of job is ideally suited for folks who are already engaged in a full time day job, as proofreading articles is not that laborious and takes only a few minutes.

But, where do I find these sources?

This is the million dollar question.

You have to be active on social networking sites e.g Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and regularly visit freelance portals/online job boards. Here is a list of sites where you can start:

  3. Problogger Job board
  4. Freelance forum
  5. Freelance Switch

Don’t jump for shortcuts, there aren’t any shortcut to make thousands of dollars within a few weeks. It is going to take some time, be patient and keep looking.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Green Day, Red Day, Work Day, Dead Day

You've heard the expression, "Treat every day as a gift."

What they never say is what kind of gift.

When I wake up, ready to open my day in its neat little box, I have certain expectations. I want certain things out of this gift of a day. When I look in this box I want to see writing, sleeping in, more writing, blogging, talking with roommates, going to the gym, reading, and at the end a nice little package of a chick-flick, kettle corn and peach citrus Fresca all wrapped up in a red bow.

What they never say is that gifts change, and are only rarely what you expect.

Sometimes I open the box and there's extra errands. Sometimes its puppies and rainbows. Sometimes its a new song or an old hoodie or sitting on the couch with my mom watching Biggest Loser and not wanting to leave. Sometimes its absolutely nothing. Sometimes it explodes.

I've learned that the best way to feel good about your writing and your life is to take what the box gives you and do the best you can with it. If its nothing, let it be a nothing day and don't beat yourself up about it. If its twenty juggling knives and a few flamethrowers, do the best you can and just try not to burn yourself. If you happen to wake up on a Saturday with no obligations, take advantage of it and write. If its puppies, give them to me.

It's just that I've been realizing lately that I'm spending too much time beating myself up about days that I don't get enough done and not enough time writing on days when I have more time to spare. Days can be unwieldy, but if we just go along with it, work with it, then I think we make more progress and stay healthier than if we try making bread out of vacuum cleaners.

So take what the box gives you and try to smile :)

Sarah Allen

Thursday, January 5, 2012

If you didn't write, what would you do?

My roomie and I were talking last night, like we do sometimes. She's a writer too. I don't quite know how it came up, but we were talking about people who write just for themselves, with no goal of publication at all. Just for the fun of it. I told her I couldn't write like that. That I need that end goal of getting my words to readers as something to work towards, and that without it I don't know if I would have the gumption to finish any serious project.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. What does it mean that I feel that way? Why did I get into writing in the first place? I got into it because of the fulfillment and genuine joy it brings me. This may sound ridiculous, but I sort of feel like I don't and never did really have a choice. I don't want to go so far as to call writing a "calling", but its been with me and part of me for as long as I can remember. There have been times when I've wanted to write and do something else (photograph for National Geographic was a big one), but I've always wanted to write. I don't know what I would do if I didn't write. I'm not saying I couldn't live, I really just don't know what I'd do instead.

That could be an interesting mental exercise. What would it feel like to just completely drop the writing ball right now, and what would I do instead? I actually think these are good questions to ask, especially for me at this point, because I've been so focused on the career/business aspect of a writing career. It would be good to remind myself why I love writing in the first place.

So, what would it feel like? Very scary, first of all. I would feel very hollow. I would feel like the effort I've put into things all these years would have gone to waste, and that I would be behind in whatever else I decided to do. I would jump into whatever else I decided to do with my whole soul and kind of go bat crap crazy about it just because I don't know any other way to do things. It would be the littlest bit exciting, and I would have fun going through possibilities. The first one that comes to mind is aiming for a career at some place like National Geographic or the World Wildlife Fund or some other environmental non-profit agency. That seems like it could be amazing.

But would something like that, or any other career be as fulfilling? I'm thinking out-loud and trying to be totally honest with myself here. I really don't think it would. I mean, it would be incredibly fulfilling, but it would not feel as personal. I love the idea that through writing, I will never die, or that I can continue to be an influence in the world not just generally, but in a very personal way. I could see acting filling that same personally fulfilling need, but I don't know if it would go as deep, and I'm pretty positive I don't have the claws it takes to succeed in that industry these days.

I'm having a hard time being patient with writing right now, which is why I think this exercise has been helpful. It has actually been extremely helpful. I'm allowing myself to imagine life without going crazy about a writing career, and as refreshing as it seems in some ways, I don't want it. I'm impatient right now, but that's all it is. Impatience. I'm doing the planting and sowing, I just have to wait for the harvesting and reaping. But it will come, and this is the garden I want to plant in. For sure.

Another way it has been helpful though, is that I've been having day-job uncertainties. Because all I want is writing, I've been unsure about what to do in terms of supporting myself. Just last night I was telling my roomie that I was in this weird place of not being totally stable but not really knowing what I wanted as far as jobs go. But this helped me realize that there are other things that would be amazing that could support me and that I could do as well as write. The environmental agency thing is sounding better and better, and every writer needs a second career as well, right? Who says they have to be mutually exclusive? Because I'm so obsessive it takes extra thought for me to imagine things in a dual-career kind of way--how do you obsess over and give yourself to more than one thing?--but I don't think it has to be that way necessarily. I might have to start doing some research and see what I can see.

Whew. Thanks for letting me do that, guys. I actually feel like I've just aired out and sorted a mental file cabinet. What would your answers be? Could you imagine life without writing, and what would you do instead?

Sarah Allen
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