From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stuff I Do While I Wait to Hear Back From Graduate Schools

I look at this. I try and fail and try and keep trying to flesh out a new outline for Novel #2.

I watch this:
And this:
I eat cereal and watch Chopped with mom and think about pirates and the Iditarod and check out the website for the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico and text my friends in Utah and Arizona and Thailand (Well, with her its usually online chat). I work and stress about money, but not too much. I check my email AGAIN to see if any more agents have gotten back to me. I think about short story collections and screenplays and songs I want to write and ideas for projects on Tumblr and YouTube that may have to wait until I am even less stressed about money but are still fun to think about. I think about walking to the library but then decide its too cold. I eat the chocolate covered raisins my mom always buys from Costco DANG HER.

I read Jeffery Eugenides with the same mixture of awe and wonder and jealousy and disgust that I feel towards many writers working in literary fiction (Though with Eugenides its heavy on the awe and wonder and jealousy and a little lighter on the disgust.)

I think about what to blog about and my fun Tumblr and short story ideas and then think I should be focusing much more on getting this next novel going and so I go back to that and try and fail and try again and...

Back to my outline.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Single Most Important Quality a Writer Needs

There are a lot of things a writer tries to be.

Creative. Funny. Clever. Good at networking. Intelligent, talented, lucky.

All those things are important, and I think can definitely make our writing journey go that much smoother. Whichever talents God has blessed us with, we should use them to our advantage. Use our strengths to make up for our weakness, collaborate with people who can do certain things better then us, and, without beating ourselves up for our weak points, try to do better.

All this is well and good.

However, there is another quality that is absolutely more important than any of those things. It has nothing to do with which school we went to or which agents we know or what genre we write in. You can take the most wacky, wild, obscure path to success and you will find it, if you only have this one thing.

That one thing is persistence. Keep working, constantly and consistently, and you WILL get where you're going. Flaws and weaknesses in any other area can be made up for with basic persistence. If you know your writing is weak in certain areas, write and practice and read and get feedback and write some more until you've learned to do it better. If you really don't know much about marketing and publicity, learn what you can and don't stop until you've found someone else who can do the job as well as you want them to. Just don't stop.

Maybe we've heard this a lot before, and maybe I'm not the best person to be reiterating this advice since I'm still in the trenches myself. But to me its a good and nice thing to think about on down days, when I feel like I'm going nowhere. I was talking to my brother about my querying process and how many rejections I've gotten so far and how many letters I have out at the moment and he said it showed "dedication." I'm glad he thinks so, because if I can be dedicated and keep it all up every day then I know eventually something good will happen.

For all of us, because we will never stop.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

3 Writing Lessons From Chopped

My mom and I have gotten in the habit of watching Chopped together at night. It is the perfect decompression show. It's entertaining, fun, and the perfect show for working on other stuff too like folding laundry, job-hunting on craigslist, eating a midnight snack. Blogging. Sometimes I don't drive back to my own apartment until...well, late.

So what am I learning while I watch?

1. Take what life throws. Nobody knows what's coming, but I believe that those who find success are the ones who figure out a way to roll with the punches. Rejections will come, publishing will change, someone might screw you over. Take what happens and find a way to use it to your advantage. Get a rejection? Use it to make your writing better. Write a useful and relatable blog post about it and promote it to new readers. Seeing some publishing industry changes? Experiment, use it to reach new readers. Get screwed over? Find new people and write a book about it.

2. Don't Be Cocky. This ones kinda simple. The cocky people are annoying and the ones we as an audience want voted off. Don't be that person. We need the support of not only readers but all the people involved in our publishing journey. Writing may seem like a solitary endeavor, but none of us is doing this alone.

3. Be Yourself, Be Original. Take the ingredients you've got and do something new and fresh. Find an original way to promote your book. Find an original media outlet or tie-in. Go for that weird story idea. I think we gotta at least recognize and be aware of the rules and the normal way of doing things, but then take it and use it as the base for something uniquely your own. 

Of course, if you look like Scott Conant that doesn't hurt either.

Anyway, there you have it. Anybody else a fan of Chopped?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

3 Ways to Publish Your Work

From what I've seen, it seems like the battle between Big Publishing and Indie Publishing is waning. Most of us are realizing that it is a false dichotomy. There are multiple ways to go about putting your work out there, and perhaps the best route is a combination of all three.

1. Traditional Big Publishing. Getting a publishing contract with one of the big New York publishers is still the dream scenario, at least for some of us. This route involves finding an agent, who then finds a publisher, and then there's even more waiting while your book goes through the very long process. The waiting and potential frustration is definitely a downside, but the prestige and backing of a big publishing house and its resources might be worth it. Check out for agents working in your genre.

2. Small Publishers. Many small publishers accept direct submissions, and you are not required to have an agent. Many writers like this route, particularly if your work is suited for more of a niche market catered to by the small publisher. Personally, I think this might be a cool route to try for short story collections. Check out Poets and Writers list of small publishers for ones that might be a good fit for your work.

3. Self Publishing. Whatever bad rap self publishing has gotten, perhaps for some good reasons, I still think there are some advantages. Maybe you have a backlist you want to get back out on the market. Maybe you're flipping into a completely different genre that your agent and publisher don't work with. Maybe you think that the market for a certain book is one you can reach better on your own. I definitely want to try this one out in the future.

Do you agree that the best route is a combination? Or could that do some professional damage?

Sarah Allen

Monday, January 7, 2013

How Do You Write Emotional Reactions?

So its official. I've had more than one person tell me that they want more emotional reaction from my main character. Or just, more reaction in general.

I didn't think about this when I was writing, but I think I know what's going on here. I think there are two main reasons people are feeling like there's not enough emotional reaction in certain parts of my book.

First, I guess I subconsciously assumed that the scenario/situation itself would raise certain emotional responses in the reader, which they would then fill in for the characters reaction. Does that make sense? I don't want to say that George is obsessively worried about his daughter right now, I want the fact that he sleeps in the hall outside her door to speak for itself. That already bespeaks a certain emotional state. Am I thinking wrongly here? So, basically, since the reader knows how he or she is reacting, there is no need for me to spell it out for them.

Second, I believe and have always believed that writing emotional reactions, perhaps emotion in general, is very, very dangerous and a fine line. On the one hand, you need emotion in your book (unless you're Hemingway) or people won't as easily relate to your characters. On the other hand, it must be done perfectly or it will stink up your story like rotten cheese. There is nothing that can so easily slip in to cliche, nothing to expose ones amateurity like bad emotional reaction. My sister makes fun of me for not finishing my sentences and I think that comes from the same place; she knows my general meaning, I want her to experience the rest for herself :) Obviously I'm still figuring this out.

Therein lies my dilemma. I stand by my theory that the best emotional reactions are what the readers themselves are feeling, and that I don't want to condescend or fall into cliche by spelling things out for them. That ruins the emotion anyway. However, if I'm getting relatively consistent feedback that parts of my novel need more of an emotional response from my MC, something needs to be done.

That means I'm coming to you guys! This is very similar to when I asked about writing vocal tone and facial expression, and in many ways I'm asking the same question, just in different words. So how do you do it? How do you write emotional reactions? Some people make it work, but I refuse to go the "quickened pulse" and "chilled spine" route. Maybe give me some examples from your own work, if you're willing.

I also think I'm going to look very, very closely at some Wallace Stegner and Marilynne Robinson to see how The Bests do it. That might be an interesting exercise.

Your turn :)

Sarah Allen
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