From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

TED Talks for Writers

Ok, so I know these are long. I really was going to come up with my own thoughts based on these three talks, but they're just too good not to pass on. If you have to wait till your boss isn't looking, or even till you're home later tonight, so be it. But watch. You won't regret it.

Andrew Stanton: Writer for Pixar

Amy Tan

Elizabeth Gilbert

Anyone else have some good TED talk recommendations, or just know of some good writerly vids?

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to stop yourself from dying your hair blue

So I don't know about you, but I'm pretty much one of the most impatient people ever. I get really, really antsy and stir-crazy when I know how I want something and it's...not that way. Combined with an Amazon sized stubborn streak, this leads to some pretty single-minded, bull-headed plowing forward.

However. Sometimes there's just nothing you can do but wait. When you're waiting to hear back from grad school, jobs, beta readers, agents, there's simply nothing you can do to speed up that process. I feel like I'm waiting on all the things right now, and sometimes it drives me crazy. Grad school, beta readers, jobs, the final spark for the next novel. All of it's up in the air, and sometimes I feel like pounding the desk and screaming "I need some instant gratification right now! Or at least some kind of win." I haven't even been waiting that long, really, for most of these things (except job...*le sigh*), but like I said. Impatient to the max.

But yeah, since there's really nothing we can do to make someone else go faster, we can only manage things on our end. This pent up ball of crazy wibbly wobbly waiting energy has been's led to a spontaneous haircut (thought of dying my hair blue...but I'm green...yeah...) and a spontaneous $80 spree on art books and colored pencils and markers and a sketch book. I'm still working on finishing up edits for novel #1, and brainstorming/outlining novel #2, which is the next big project. But I've got to do something while I wait or I will go mad. So here are some ideas for side projects that I've come up with. Any of them sound interesting to you?

  • Video: Oh the things YouTube has made possible. Everything from vlogging to interactive stories. Or audio-visual poetry and children's picture books. All things I've thought about and wondered if I'm crazy.
  • Art: Anyone who's cracked open my sketch book can tell you I'm definitely no artist, but it's actually been super fun to just see what we can come up with. It's a very interesting mental exercise to use your hands in that way. Carpentry, sketching, painting, clothes-designing. I highly recommend it for the antsy pants.
  • Photography: In a way a blend of the above, but also cool. Photoshop might be a worthwhile investment, and you could do some cool stuff with that plus superimposed poetry. 
  • Music: This is the one I've dabbled in the least. I guess I'm more intimidated. I think trying my hand at lyrics would be awesome, but I wouldn't even know where to start with the music part. I can read music, but that's about it. So much for those 8 years of piano. But yeah, maybe this is one of your secret talents/passions that you can unleash for a little while.
  • Mini writing projects: Still working on putting together that short story collection. Really that means waiting on the magazines to reject the rest of them, because I might as well give them a shot. More waiting, right? But still, this kind of project. Amazon and the Kindle has opened all sorts of options. If you have something you just really want to get out there, you can. I've actually considered starting work on a non-fiction book. (about having Turners Syndrome...we'll see).
  • Real life cool things: Like auditioning for plays or volunteering at the local aquarium or animal shelter. Or visiting national parks or museums in the area.
  • Gardening: Because it's spring and it's beautiful outside.
Anyway, these have got to tide us over, and really I think they could turn into some pretty cool things. What do you think? Do you need mini-projects too, and what are some other project ideas?

Sarah Allen

Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

No spoilers, don't worry.

So it's three in the morning and I just got back, so these thoughts are preliminary, scattered, and written on a very empty angry stomach, but I need to get my thoughts out.

Because guys, it was awesome. Really, really well done. Totally enthralling, and I literally jumped higher and screamed louder than I have ever in a movie before. You'll know which part I'm talking about.

YA dystopia is definitely an acquired taste for me, meaning it took prolonged exposure and conversation with friends (i.e. my roommates) who consider it their favorite genre, to convert me. I think it has something to do with my frequent difficulty in relating to the heroine in a lot of YA books, something to do with their being way awesomer and, to be honest, a little stupider than me. And given my propensity for older, slightly weathered, damaged men (see Aragorn; Snape; Edward Fairfax Rochester), it's probably not surprising that I don't usually find the teenage love interests, well, interesting. Hence my incredible difficulty in writing YA love interests, which actually only makes me want to give it a serious go at some point. But really, give me Mr. Darcy or Arthur Clennam any day.

Having said all that, I do legitimately love YA literature, and like I said, plan to try my hand at some point. And I really liked this movie. Yes, I'm coming back to it. Some slight awkward moments, (me and teenage romance...hmmmm), but also kind of hilarious. But mostly terrifying and scary. Not something to bring you're six year old to, obviously. Some fantastic acting (Stanley Tucci anyone?), good pacing, great graphics. Mostly I appreciated how well they kept to the source material. Actually one of the closest I've seen. It was fabulous to be sucked in like that, and we all were, let me tell you. This is why I love midnight showings. The crowd energy is tangible.

Anyone else go? Planning to? Once you see it let me know what you think.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Titles ideas from the notebook

I gather title ideas in the back of all my creative writing notebooks, and it's been a while since I've given a list of some of them. So here goes:
  • Rise Ye Sunken Ships
  • Lilith Don't Live Here
  • Aftermath
  • The Honey Union
  • How To Land on the Moon
  • How To Spy in French
  • Refrigerated Voice
  • Through the Clowns Mouth Darkly
  • The Darker Side of Yodeling
  • Blow with the Harmattan
  • What I Really Learned at Traffic School
  • The Boots My Mother Gave Me
  • If Leaves Fell in Springtime
  • This Time Not in Petticoats
  • On a Solo Saxaphone
  • The 9 1/2 wives of Oscar Pickendoom
  • 13 Ways to Love a Black Boy
Hee hee, that was fun :) I like looking through my old notebooks, and titles are fun. Do you have any fun title ideas? Which of these do you like best, and what story ideas do they inspire?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Things To Do While Waiting for Beta Readers

It's happened guys. I haven't finished editing the whole book, but I'm done-ish with the first 16 chapters, and I had an oh-duh moment when I realized I could just send those chapters off to readers so they could start. So I did/am in the process of doing so. Meaning some people have them and some others will get them/be invited to get them soon. Gah! It is crazy guys. I wrote a novel that people are reading. Another former roommate came to visit my visiting former roommate and I came home from work and saw her reading my book on the couch and she was even distracted by it instead of talking to visiting roommate for a while and it made me smile and giddy and warm and !!!!!!!!!!!! inside.

Now comes the beta-reader wait. And since waiting can really suck, here are some ideas for what to do in the meantime, which may or may not come from personal experience:

  • Flail and squee and dance around singing loudly to Wicked and Pocahontas and Smash.
  • Read 'The Book Thief' in one day.
  • Finish editing.
  • Work on the cover and formatting of a short story collection to upload on Amazon once the rest of the stories get rejected from the magazines to which they are currently submitted.
  • Think of fun/weird/random/plausible ideas for YouTube videos (marketing and creative outlet rolled into one) like audio-visual poetry or video children's books. Then realize that if you want this to be your own project and not have to rely/impose on anyone else you have to do the illustrations yourself. Spend more time deciding if that's possible/ridiculous/worth it.
  • Spend inordinate amounts of time on Pinterest, IWasteSoMuchTime, and AccioBrain. Realize it's probably good that Pottermore isn't open yet.
  • Re-watch series two of Sherlock
  • Spend increasing amounts of time on QueryTracker and AgentQuery.
  • Also the gym. Hopefully.
  • Try hard to start or at least brainstorm novel #2.
  • Freak out some more and try really hard not to bug the readers, at least not the ones who've only had it for a 24 hours.
  • Look up pictures of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.
  • Browse Craigslist, stressing and over-analyzing the best way to support yourself for the next year before you apply to grad school.
  • More flailing and squeeing and trying not to bug.
So yeah. That's sort of what I'm thinking will happen for the next little while. Anyone else waiting on beta readers? What are your suggestions for making the wait more bearable?

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing Lessons from Thor. The movie. Not the god.

I'll be honest here. When I took my brother to see Thor in theaters, my main reaction was pretty much:

The rest I was kind of just, meh. So when my former roommate/one of my bestest friends saw it and became OBSESSED (I mean obsessed obsessed. I'm talking look up the word obsessed in the dictionary and it would be a picture of her. After the picture of me) I was, frankly, surprised.

But she's in town this week, and nothing is as wonderful as being obsessed together, even though it may scare other people sometimes, and we've been geeking out about it and all the things, and whether I'm just easily infected or whatever, I'm officially in the ranks of those freaking out about The Avengers movie coming out on May 4th.

So here's what I've learned from this new introduction to Thor:

1. A sympathetic, complex villain is absolutely key. And sexy.
Snape. Benjamin Linus. Mr. Gold. The Phantom. Need I say more?

2. Biblical and Mythological basis/allusions are awesome. It automatically adds scope, history and complexity to whatever story you're writing. I honestly believe it reaches and connects people on a deeper, more universal level, which is part of its mythos. So yeah, reading and studying is good. And watching super hero movies.

3. Subtlety works magic. I'm a big fan of subtlety, which is honestly why super hero movies aren't typically my favorite. They're not about being subtle. However, Tom Hiddleston is. And really, for this movie, that's enough.

4. Women kick butt. Ok, ok, so I still haven't quite forgiven Natalie Portman for Star Wars, but she wasn't my favorite in this one either. (Meryl Streep should have done it. Just saying) However, I did appreciate that they emphasized strong, smart, and courageous kick butt women, even if they weren't totally developed.

5. Virus' do their job well. This is not the first time my roommates have infected me. (The Next Generation, Big Bang Theory, Sherlock, Firefly, Doctor Who...all their fault.) Granted I'm easily infected, like I said, but I still wouldn't have enjoyed it all as thoroughly as I did without their being some inherent awesomeness in the things they exposed me to. If you can infect a group leader, you infect the group. Word of mouth is something you want on your side.

So yeah, hope this helps. More pictures of Chris Hemsworth? Oh sure, why not.
Mmmm :)

Sarah Allen

Friday, March 16, 2012

Please excuse the crazy lady mooing at cats

So my parents have a cat. His name is Jasper. This is him.

He is fat and fluffy and has more personality than any cat I've ever encountered. He will literally roll on his back and meow and flail his paws when you walk in to the room. Not in a doggy way either, in a very twisty pathetic feline way. My parents have a drinking fountain, and if he hears anyone pressing it he will run into the room and jump up to watch. He lays on the drinking fountain all the time, making squirting him a constant temptation. And if you're in the bathroom with the door closed he will swipe his paws under the door until you let him in. He only likes to be pet on his head or behind his ears, and will snap at you if you try to pet his back or belly, which is ironic considering how much time he spends doing what looks like begging for belly rubs.

Anyway. Yesterday we were all about to leave my parents house, and he escaped into the front yard. He's not exactly the hardest cat to catch, considering that if you start cooing and sweet-talking him he rolls onto his back, but yesterday he was anxious to stay outside and had barricaded himself behind a bush.

Backstory: My little sister has a stuffed cow that makes a horrendous mooing noise. For a school psychology project she used tuna fish to condition Jasper to come when he heard the noise. And it worked.

We were in a hurry, and I didn't know where the cow was. So yes, I mooed at him. And not just once. Needless to say, it didn't work, and I had to crawl through the bushes and sweet-talk him, which is, of course, much less ridiculous.

I'm not even sure how, but I feel like mooing at cats is a metaphor for life sometimes, and that I've been doing it a lot lately. But either the cats start mooing back or the cows come home, right? Or something...

Sarah Allen

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chaos Writers vs. Structure Writers: Which are you?

I wanted to tell you guys about a conversation I had with my roommate last night. And let me just say, I love being able to have these kind of literary analytical discussions with my friends. Anyway, since both of us are in the recent graduate trying to decide what to do with life phase, we've been talking a lot about what options we have and which ones are best and that kind of thing a lot, especially lately. We were both English majors and both have novels in the works, and a lot of our conversation revolves around how to make our lives conducive to writing careers, among other things.

This is what we discovered last night. For her, when life is structured and relatively calm, the writing suffers. She feels dry. When life is exciting and a bit chaotic, it fuels her creatively and the writing somehow happens on top of everything. She even said that writing is her way of making sense of, and even putting structure on, all the chaos.

This is totally foreign to me. I crave stability and structure. Heavens I need stability. And actually, this is a relatively new realization for me. But really, when I can plan (back to planning. Of course) for writing time, marketing time, all that, and when I don't have a million little worries and stresses and undecideds crowding my mind, and can just WRITE, things work out so much more easily for me. I love being able to start from a solid, stable, structural base, and then building and adding more things from there, perhaps even some adventure.

Of course, the key here is to make the writing happen whether or not life is boring or chaotic. But knowing which end of the spectrum you fall on may help you make some life decisions. It can maybe tell you why the writing hasn't been going well for a while and what you could do about it. I know thinking of things this way has helped me understand that for me personally its best to find me a stable, structured place, work from there, and not necessarily feel bad or lame for not doing something totally crazy. Maybe later, when my feet are planted on solid ground. But solid ground first, at least for me.

What do you think? Is this a fairly accurate dichotomy, and can it help? Which type are you, chaos or structure, and why do you think that is?


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Live in the present for 15 minutes a day

I'm really bad at the whole living in the present thing. Like, really bad. I have a pretty bad memory of the past as well. In my head it's all about the future. I tend to see today as a way to get to where I want to be later on. I plan relentlessly--how to get an agent, how to do more marketing, how to manage a day-job, how to get this book out as successfully and efficiently as possible--all plans to take me to some future place.

Which is okay, even good, in some ways. Planning is good. However, there are two major consequences to taking the future planning thing to the extreme, which I'm noticing in my life. First, the awesome things I already have in my life go horrifically under appreciated. Second, when plans don't work out as planned, or when, for whatever reason, planning itself is impossible for a while, it tends to lead to some pretty major freak out.

So, I'm challenging myself and anyone else who wants to join me to spend at least 15 minutes a day not thinking about the future, and immersing myself in the here and now. It is going to be hard, but I'm going to do it with certain awesome present presents:

  • Music. Maybe some days I'll just lie on my floor close my eyes and feel the rug and totally focus on some really good music. Or maybe dance around to it. I'm not above admitting that sounds fun.
  • Nature. This is an obvious one, but for a reason. This is a great time to do it too, when things are starting to get warm and green. I've got some way cool parks and lakes (and even sandstone arches if I want to drive that far) in my little desert bubble of a state, and I could definitely be taking more advantage of that. Every place has beauty, you just gotta find it.
  • Food. When was the last time you sat down to a really good meal and just enjoyed the taste of the food in your mouth, and took your time, without thinking of anything else? For me, way too long.
  • Other people. This is the most natural anchor-to-the-present for me. I can be listening to music or outside or eating dinner and still easily be thinking about plans for the next blog post or agent research or next writing project or whatever. But when I'm in a good conversation with someone else I just forget to think about all that other junk. It's refreshing, really.
What does this have to do with writing, you ask? (Even my plan to not plan is a plan. I told you, I'm relentless). Becoming more observant will automatically make you a better writer. Your words will be much more vivid and exciting when you know intimately what a crow sounds like or the smell of a wet parking lot or the taste of barbecue ribs. Living gives you something to write about. As well as being, you know, better than not living.

So there's the plan. What do y'all think? Are you as plan-crazy as I am? What other suggestions do you have for enjoying the present, even just for a little while every day?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Today's Writing Tips Brought to You By Disney Songs

My Pandora has been set on Disney pretty constantly for the past couple weeks. I've needed it. Also talks by Dieter F. Utchdorf, but yeah. Disney music. There's an optimism and magic in these songs that makes me feel better.

So here are the writing lessons I've gotten in the past little while, listening to Disney music.

Endurance. Sometimes it just boils down to pure grit. We have to fall back on our moments of clarity when we knew what we were doing, and what we wanted, and just let that propel us forward. The important thing, though, is to not give up. Keep writing, keep blogging, keep submitting, because really, we're almost there.

Don't forget you have help. Both professionally and personally. Editors, agents, publishers, don't be afraid to use their help, and be grateful for it. And in your own life, there are people who truly love you and care about you. They want to help, and want you to be happy. Humans are not solitary creatures, and being with people who care can make things better very quickly. Without them, you wouldn't have nothin.

Don't be afraid of uncertainty and risk. This one is particularly hard for me. I like everything to be planned and settled, but that's been the opposite of what's actually happening in my life. But you know what, that's okay. Really it's an adventure, seeing what's around the riverbend.

There you have it. I was going to do more, because Disney has lots of good stuff. But I'll just leave it here for now. Because now you're going to have one of these stuck in your head for the rest of the day :)

"What I like most about rivers is, you can't step in the same river twice..."

What is your favorite Disney song, and why?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rejection and a Bucket List

Yesterday was a pretty heavy day for rejection. I got rejected by The New Yorker (not unexpected), I didn't get the job I wanted, and most of all, my roommate did not get into the University of Utah's graduate program. That means she will not be going to Salt Lake in the fall, which means all the options are open, which is a whole new can of crazy scariness.

Anyway, the rejection along with the limbo-ness I talked about yesterday has gotten me thinking about how to shake things up, keep them happy and exciting and inspiring, when you're down and figuring out what to do. Every day can seem like such a repeat of the day before and when things don't work out like you want/expect them to, it can really suck.

So what do you do? I think its time for me to start an actual physical bucket list. I've had reservations about doing it before, because I don't want to gauge the value or success of my life on how many things I can cross off some arbitrary list. I've been thinking about it, though, and here's the thing. When you're in limbo, when you're down, feeling rejected, conflicted or confused, it could be a very good idea to give yourself something you can feel excited about. It may even give you a little bit of the fulfillment you may or may not be missing in the dry times.

And that's where I think a bucket list could come in handy. Not to judge the success of a life, but to have a list to go to when you're thinking, I need something a little ambitious and exciting to do today. It gives you a goal, something to work towards, and something that matters to you. Even on a mini-scale this can be such a big help. I hope this makes sense.

So I'm off to start my list, but here are a few that came to my mind first. (Trying to keep it day-to-day, general life category here, the big career writing ones are of course there too):

-Watch every Best Original Screenplay awarded film.
-Make bread pudding
-Read the entire Bible
-Record a song
-Spend some Saturdays going to cool place within driving distance that I've never been before (like museums or lakes or such)
-Own a puppy (I'll accept playing with one for now)
-Become an amateur graphologist

Then of course there are the other things like meeting Meryl Streep, getting published, and going to Antarctica. But we're talking things you can work on when you need something to work on ideas here.

What day to day things could you do to spice things up? What are some fun things from your own bucket list?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Creative satisfaction in the betweens

I feel so incredibly in limbo right now. In every aspect of my life. Including and especially the artistic/creative part of my life. I've finished one novel, basically, but haven't gotten quite to the putting it out into the world phase yet, and the next novel is still in the fuzzy brainstorming stages and being quite stubborn about not wanting to leave it. So yes, limbo is the right word, though I'm still trying to work and push forward.

But the limboness has gotten me thinking; what kinds of things can we writerly artsy people do when one project hasn't sold and the next hasn't started? For me at least, the satisfaction comes in either putting something out in the world, which is sort of the 'end', or in the creation of something brand new and lovely, which is the 'beginning.' When neither of those is happening at the moment, are there ways to keep feeling rewarded to make the going a little easier?

I suppose that means doing the publication or creation thing on a smaller scale. Maybe we're not writing the new novel yet, but we can work on short stories or poetry. There are always random artsy things to try out too, like writing music or making movies or experimenting with photography.

What about the publication side? Are there ways to give ourselves mini-publication rewards in between the big times? If that even makes sense. I've mentioned before that I'm working on a short story collection that I plan to indie publish, right now I'm mostly waiting on hearing back from the magazines where the stories are currently submitted. That's kind of the thing I'm talking about. Part of me thinks I would feel better about this limbo period if I had that littler project to work with. Hopefully soon?

And I think I do want to try the video, music, photography thing, see what I can come up with.

What do you think? What mini-projects or general life things do you do to keep yourself motivated and feeling good between the big things?

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 5, 2012

Magic ingredients for the perfect setting

To be frank, most of the discussions I've had on the subject of setting have been in relation to theater. Which makes sense, but I definitely think it can be applied to writing. I take a pretty minimalist approach to setting, basically meaning that I believe your reader must know exactly where they are, but not necessarily be distracted by it. Your characters can be distracted, but probably not your reader. Anyway, some pretty smart people have told me some pretty wise things about setting, so lets see what we can pull together here.

Five Senses. What does your setting look like? That is an obvious one. But go further. What does it smell like, sound like, feel like? What does the air taste like?

Room Conflict. In theater, room conflict is a term that basically means whatever way the actual room the characters are in is escalating the conflict. So, for example, if the air conditioning is broken and its sweltering hot, or the neighbors are blasting Eminem and you can't quite hear what the other person is saying, or it smells like rotted milk or there's a pipe leaking. A couple trying to decide who's going to take the kids this weekend is interesting. It's much more interesting if the house is being painted and they have to talk around an eavesdropping painting crew.

Inescapable. When you give your characters a conflict and put them in a place they can't leave, it forces exciting things to happen. Stuck them in an elevator or a car or a family dinner. Especially family dinners. Those can be rife with dramatic tension.

Amp it up. I'm definitely guilty of having too many scenes set in a kitchen. But when possible I try to move them to grocery stores or baseball stadiums or somewhere where its easier for the setting to play a more exciting role.

Here is a list of potential places for you to set up your scenes:

Police station
Bus stop
On a boat
Family dinner
Company meeting
Rest home
The Vatican
School for the blind
Road trip
Back stage

What do you think? Think these might help? What other ideas would you add for making your setting fantabulous?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A cure for teenage boys who don't like to read?

I was talking to my brothers last night. I sometimes do that. They're all total studs. And younger than me, though one is somewhere around six foot and the others are gaining on me more and more every day, so they're my big little brothers. Did I mention they're studs?

Anyway, the youngest was telling me about his practice ACT (something like that?) English scores, how he does really well on the grammar sections, but bad on essays and reading. And that he doesn't like reading. 

I tried not to act too hurt.

It's not like we sat and had a long discussion about it or anything, just a casual passing conversation, but he did tell me a few interesting things. See, this brother is a total jock. He has this incredible natural talent and watching him play basketball is a beautiful, beautiful thing. He's also a total sweetheart, definitely the most sensitive of my brothers. He's the brother who's had crushes on cute girls since preschool, and voluntarily folds his laundry right out of the dryer before putting it in the basket so it doesn't wrinkle. What teenage boy does that? So yeah, he's a very smart, sensitive, athletic and totally sweet kid.

Who doesn't like reading.

What he told me is this: he said when he reads he feels like its a waste of time, when he could be doing something else, i.e. playing basketball. I asked about awesome books like Harry Potter, and he said even if its a really good book he can't read for too long before he feels totally pooped out. He likes watching movies of books instead.

This is nothing new, I know. I thought, however, I'd get some of your thoughts on anything that could possibly be done to lead teenage boys towards an appreciation of reading. Not just for him, but in general. For future reference. I've got a few ideas: find relevant books on topics the boy loves. Maybe a rewards system? A good selection of books is key here, of course. Fun, exciting books, maybe that don't have a movie he can go to instead. But the whole reading-is-a-less-worthwhile-activity-than-other-things mindset is a really hard one to fight against. Perhaps that warrants it's own blog post. But yeah, do you have any ideas? What have you done when you've encountered this kind of thing before, and how has it worked out?

Oh, and anyone have recommendations for basketball books? Non-fiction, biographies, novels, whatever. For reals, I could use some brother may be getting a random and perhaps not quite wanted present in the near future.

Sarah Allen
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