From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Social Media Accounts Turned Books

A little bit ago Mashable put out a list of 12 Social Media Accounts That Turned Into Books. This includes things like Garfield Minus Garfield, Hyperbole and a Half, and Dear Girls Above Me. Maybe you guys aren't as fascinated by all that as I am, but for some reason I think the concept of turning a Tumblr or Twitter account into a book.

I just think its a fascinating glimpse into the world of modern entertainment and communication. Stories of a guy drawing pictures of T-rex trying to do normal, every-day things with his tiny arms can become a viral sensation and then a book. I'm a little bit in awe of the people who can do this.

Most, almost all, of these are in the humor genre, but I love that this is the modern way of bringing smiles and laughter to peoples lives. So that's part of it, the humor. But there are more awe-inspiring things, like Taylor Jones who created a Tumblr where people took a new photograph over-layed in the same place as the old place, and its just beautiful.

And of course, there's an element of luck.

Do you find these things as fascinating as I do? Can you think of any blog, Tumblr, or Twitter accounts that could be turned into books?

Sarah Allen

P.S. So hopefully we're all feeling a little more generous this time of year. If you have thought at all about making any kind of tax-deductible charitable donation before the end of the year, today is the day. Project for Awesome, through YouTube, is running through the end of the day. Donate to The Foundation to Decrease World Suck (Yes, a legitimate, tax-deductible organization) and vote to decide which charitable orgainzations will receive the raised funds. Seriously, this is an amazing event and a great chance to participate in making the world a better place.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Know Your Theme

When I was a student Ron Carlson came and gave a lecture and I got to go to a question and answer gig afterwards. As he was answering questions, he talked about how a lot of MFA students are super worried about not being too didactic or obvious about their message. They focus on being subtle. But he said something that surprised me. He said to throw subtlety out the window.

It hasn't been till more recently, though, that I've begun to understand a little what he's talking about, and how it applies.

See, I am definitely one of those writers who is hyper-concerned about being too obvious with their message. I love it when the text is rich enough to provide multiple meanings and solutions, and lends itself to deep analysis. Even more than that, I hate it when books or movies get into, like, children's talk show host mode and almost sound like, "And from this story, children, we learn that..." Or when a show (*ahem* Glee *ahem*) starts pushing their own agenda so hard you just feel like you're getting stuff shoved down your throat whether or not you agree with them.

So yeah, I don't like didactic or agenda-pushing stories. I like it when a story is ambiguous enough that I can sort of glean my own meaning from it. However, I've gotten feedback on a few things where people have told me that they're not sure what I'm trying to say, or what they're supposed to take from the story. I tell them, "I'm not trying to say anything, I want the reader to be able to take their own meaning."

And I think that's the problem. The point of writing is to say something, something important, something so important to you that you want to shout it to the world. I've realized, I feel that way about everything I write but sometimes I'm so scared of offending people or not connecting with people that I end up becoming too vague and obtuse and not connecting with anyone. I've had readers tell me to just come out and say what I want to say, that a reader really does need to know where the author is coming from. It's better to have a reader disagree with you than not know what you're trying to say in the first place.

I think the key is how you handle it. We are all writers because there is something we want the world to understand. We have a theme, a message, in each of our stories and we have to own it. We just need to be very, very aware of how complex issues and people are, and aware of the people who disagree with us and why they disagree with us, and acknowledge it with understanding and compassion. As long as you don't portray your theme in the light of everyone who disagrees with me in the slightest is a stupid, naive, misinformed, backward and brainwashed idiot (again, are you listening Glee?), you should be fine :)

Example time. Have you all seen Captain Phillips, the latest Tom Hanks movie? So, with a theme you have to make a statement, say that something is good and something else is bad, right? And do that with compassion and understanding and acknowledgement of complexity. Captain Phillips does this brilliantly. Yes, its a battle of sea-men versus pirates, but this movie acknowledges the humanity of the pirates, and the really complicated and hard things they themselves are dealing with. It acknowledges complexity and lets you leave the theater with much more than just, "pirates are scary and bad, huh?" It makes you think. And besides, its just a really gripping story and Tom Hanks is freaking genius, obviously.

Because being heard, getting our message out,  that's why writing is important. The world is a better place when all our voices are heard, which is why we became writers. And if we can speak with strength and determination as well as understanding and compassion, the complex people on all sides of complicated issues can benefit.

Do you agree? Have you read books/seen movies where the theme is either too vague or too exclusive?

Sarah Allen

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Science of Happiness

So, optimism is, a bit, my mantra. In high-school I once got into a heated argument with a kid in my class who stubbornly maintained that pessimism was realism and I was like NO YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. So when psychologists start talking about happiness from a methodical, scientific standpoint and talk about how evidence and studies suggest that 1) Being optimistic and happy is the natural, healthy state of mankind and 2) We as free agents and choice-makers have some control over it, I just have to shout and dance and mention it to everybody I know.

So here. I promise, it's well worth your time.

Have a very, very happy weekend everybody :)

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Google Trends: Social Media Secret Weapon

I've known about Google Trends for a while, but the last couple days I've come to a realization.

Google Trends, for those who don't know, is a pretty cool service from Google that tracks the daily top search trends. Basically it gives you the list of the top things people are searching for that day. (For example, "How To Cook a Turkey" on the day before Thanksgiving.)

Like I said, I've known the site existed for a while, but it hasn't been until I've been playing around with it the last couple days that I've realized how much of an awesome tool it could potentially be.

Google Trends is actually a great way to see kind of the major things going on in the world. Often the popular search terms have to do with a show finale or recent sporting event. But whatever's going on, whatever's being searched, what better way to brainstorm social media post topics?

We all want to be engaging and timely social media users, right? Well, Google Trends is the secret weapon that can help us do that. When we want to think of more things to post about, Google Trends can provide a good list. And I'm definitely not saying that anyone should always post about all the search topics all the time. That would just be really annoying. And uh, I have no interest at all in posting about sporting events, even though athletes and teams often make up half the list.

What I am saying is that occasionally checking out Google Trends can be a good reminder of what the hot topics are that day, and sometimes there will be topics that you find interesting enough to post about. And since they're hot topics, you're jumping in with the engaged and numerous crowd, which hopefully means your little ripple will multiply.

Another thing. There are charts of top searches in various categories, including authors. Outside of being able to use this info in social media use, I just think its fascinating.

So what do you think? Can Google Trends be helpful in social media, and can you think of any additional ways to use it?

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 9, 2013

Is Blogging Stuck in a Loop?

I'm gonna start with a caveat.

I love blogging. Adore it. I especially love the generous, supportive and intelligent people in the blogging community. I have learned more from the blogging community about the publishing industry than anywhere else. I've made tighter connections here on this blog than I have anywhere else online, and every time one of you amazing people leave a comment, I smile and my day gets a little brighter. I plan on being around the blogosphere for a long time to come, whether you want me or not.

That being said, its no secret that blogging in general has been in a bit of a steady decline in popularity almost since I started. But I think that maybe, from my perspective, blogging has reached its sort of plateau. The serious bloggers still around are staying, and the drop in blog readership has leveled out. I could be totally wrong, that's just my perspective, and who knows what will happen to blogging in the future.

All that's not really my concern, though. I don't care if blogging is no longer the most popular social media outlet around, I love it anyway. The thing I've been thinking about lately--and I'm going to be totally honest here--is that as I've been doing my reading, as fun and enlightening as each post is, I'm seeing the same topics discussed over and over again. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Hearing important advice in new and fresh ways, repeatedly, is how we learn. The key lessons need to be repeated. The danger--the thing I'm worried about--is that I feel myself getting repetitive.

This isn't just a case of hearing similar lessons from various bloggers. I know it's just a function of being around the blogosphere for a while, but I'm more and more frequently at a loss for intriguing and useful topics that I haven't discussed already.

I want this blog to grow and evolve. That is important to me. I want to be as informational and entertaining as possible. What I've been thinking about lately is how to do that. How to keep this blog from getting stuck in a loop, as it were.

The way I see it, there are two main categories of blogs that I personally find interesting. The first is on the more business, informative side. Examples of this type of blog would be The Business Rusch by Kristine Rusch or Anne R. Allen's blog. Both these fabulous ladies have incredibly valuable insight and inside info and experience in the industry. The second category is a more personal, humor-focused style. Two ladies that have found pretty wild success with this are The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson and Allie Brosch of Hyperbole and a Half.

I would love this blog to be equally enjoyable and informative as these ladies' blogs, but the thing is, I am way behind Kristine and Anne in intelligence, experience, and insight and am nowhere near as hilarious and witty as Jenny and Allie. I am doing my best to take lessons from these wonderful ladies, and all of you other amazing bloggers, but as the indomitable Walt Disney said, you can't beat pigs with pigs. These ladies do what they do brilliantly, and nobody can do what they do in the same way. I need to evolve in my own way, continue finding my own voice and niche.

All this is a rambly and round-about way of asking for your input. Do you agree that bloggers need to evolve to avoid being stuck in a rut? What do you believe is the best way for them to do it?

And also, what other examples can you give me of bloggers who have succeeded in evolving their voice and niche in this new world of blogging?

Sarah Allen

Friday, December 6, 2013

Do soul-bursting romance moments only happen on television?

A couple nights ago when my roommate and I got back from Frozen, we were both sort of riding the emotional high the movie had given us. We sat for a while listening to the songs from the movie and analyzing it together and then I was trying to decide on something to blog about. I sat there for a few minutes, unable to think of much besides the movie. Then my roommate said, "Just go with the emotion." So I did, and wrote out my Frozen squee. I'm sort of doing that again.

So, I don't handle pining and romantic moments in movies and shows very...calmly. The really, really intense ones that have been building up for seven seasons (i.e. Niles and Daphne) leave me sort of in shock for like a whole twenty-four hours and then I start feeling like I need to go jump on a trampoline or take an angry shower or write letters to the President or run laps around my apartment complex belting songs from Wicked.

Um, I've been catching up on New Girl. I know I'm a bit behind the times, but I just watched the episode where Nick and Jess and all the friends are playing the crazy bizarre game around the apartment. Nick and Jess end up locked in a room until they kiss. Nobody will let them out. They start, but Nick refuses to do it. He says, "Not like this!" and climbs out the window. You can tell Jess is a little hurt that Nick climbed out a window rather than kiss her. Eventually everyone leaves or goes to bed, but Nick comes back to help Jess deal with the scary noise. Then before she goes back to bed he grabs her arm and pulls her to him and gives her one of the best kisses I've ever seen on television. He says, "I meant something like that." Then he walks to his room and shuts the door.


Do things like that actually happen in real life? I'm asking sincerely, because my life right now is about as romantic as Teletubbies. Tell me this. What is the most romantic thing that's ever happened to you?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

Oh wow. Oh jeez.


SO MANY things done right in this movie. I don't even know where to start. John Lassetter produced, and clearly he just has a magic touch. I don't know why I expected any less. But yeah, Frozen was unexpectedly amazing.

There were several flip-the-Disney-trope-on-its-head moments, which I really appreciated. I'll try not to be too spoilery, but I love how they spend so much time making fun of the engaged-to-a-guy-you-just-met. And the necessary, saving act of love was between sisters. And that its about sisters. It's a sister movie. YISSS.

The animation was gorgeous. Beautiful, and exactly right, despite all the female character design complaints that have been going around. Both sisters were beautiful. And the setting was just as amazing as in Tangled.

I think my favorite was the humor. Let me just say, "valiant pungent reindeer king" are words said in this movie. Also the word gassy is included in one of the songs. And let me just say this. Any movie with a song called Reindeer are Better Than People is BRILLIANT BY ME.

And the music. Freaking Idina Menzel man. Idina Menzel. I would post a video of The Song if I didn't want to spoil it for you. But you'll know it when you hear it. In fact, my main complaint would probably be that they during the credits they had somebody else do an autotuned version of The Song when you already had FREAKING IDINA MENZEL.

Not to mention Josh Gad and Alan Tudyk and Ciaran Hinds.

So yeah, now my roommate and I are listening to Idina on repeat. Go see this movie.

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 2, 2013

Writers and Our Own Magic Feathers

First of all, can I just say how freaking excited I am that it's December? December has all the best things. Big coats, twinkle lights, hot chocolate, The Osmond Family Christmas album, Albert Finney as Ebeneezer Scrooge. All the best things.

Anyway. I've been thinking a bit lately about magic feathers. I've talked about this subject occasionally with my writer friends and its something interesting to think about.

As writers, there are a lot of things that can become our "magic feathers." Maybe its NaNoWriMo, and you can somehow only make yourself really crank out during the month of November. Maybe it's a hat or a robe you wear when you write that puts you in Writing Mode. Maybe it's certain music or a certain spot on the couch or a certain caffeinated beverage. Maybe it's a scheduled time during the day.

I think for me, I don't necessarily have a magic feather as much as I'm way too willing to give in to excuses. I'm too worried about money, or I didn't get enough sleep, or I only have a half hour chunk of time, or bla bla bla. So I guess my problem is that I don't have a magic feather and have a hard time making good progress without one.

My point is this. I actually think magic feathers are a good thing. The problems arise when we become over-reliant on them and can't write when situations arise where we don't have our magic feathers (which is my problem). But, knowing what our magic feathers are and manipulating and taking advantage of them to push and "trick" ourselves into crushing it every day...I say use whatever tools we got, man.

So I'm going to get me a magic feather and stop folding under all the lame excuses. I'm going to make solid, specific word count and pitching/querying goals and actually write them down and use whatever magic feathers I can find to accomplish them. No excuses, and here's to flying.

What are your magic feathers?

Sarah Allen
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