From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Grateful for the Fleas

This is the post I was supposed to write for Thanksgiving. I've been thinking about this idea lately, enough that I want to write about it anyway.

I am a naturally very happy person. I tend not to think about the annoying or frustrating things very much, because I don't want them to get to me. I look for ways to go around or fix, at the expense of acknowledging when things really do feel annoying or frustrating. Not that there's been anything annoying or frustrating lately--in fact, things have been quite fabulous. But still, I want to look at the world with a clearer eye, and that includes the fleas.

Do you remember that moment in The Hiding Place? It's one of the moments that sticks out to me most all these years after reading the book. It's the moment when, after the two sisters have been incarcerated in a concentration camp, one sister tells the other that they still must have gratitude, even for the fleas infesting their clothes and beds, or what passes for clothing and bedding. The author is frankly a little appalled, and still full of righteous indignation and disgust at their entire situation and all the awful things that have happened to them, and to be asked to be grateful in the midst of all that seems wrong. But she listens to her sister, and they give a prayer of thanks, including for the fleas.

The fleas that keep the SS guards from wanting to come near them.

That's a very powerful lesson, I think. Being grateful for everything, even our metaphorical fleas, not only makes us more happy and peaceful, but can actually help us function and move forward more clearly.

There is a non-exaggeratedly infinite list of things I am genuinely grateful for. But today I want to try being grateful for the fleas.

I am grateful that this submission/querying journey is a long one. When I look back at who I was and what I knew when I started, I can see how disastrous it could have been for me to have early success. I simply didn't know enough to do things right. And I still don't, but now that I have time to look back on, it gives me perspective enough to know that I just need to keep learning, and as I grow more success will come.

I am grateful that my first novel wasn't immediately picked up. I still love that novel, and think it has potential, but I can see how it would not have been a good first foot forward for me. I am a different writer now.

I am grateful for the two and a half hour church organizational meeting I went to the other day. I am most definitely not the type of person who typically goes to long church leadership/organizational meetings, and honestly I am glad for the chance to see that maybe I can be, and maybe I can be the kind of person who serves that much. I have a lot of improving to do in that regard.

I am grateful I didn't get into MFA programs the first time around. I don't know all the ways this has, is, and will continue to influence my life, but I already know that I have learned a lot through the things that have happened since I got all those rejections. Things that wouldn't have happened if I'd gone immediately to school.

Anyway, those are a few of the fleas that I am grateful for. They're not fun, but they shape who we are.

What hard things are you grateful for?


Monday, November 24, 2014

A Writer's Guide To Holiday Travel

As we get deeper and deeper into the holiday season, many of us are finalizing preparations to visit family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Some of us are traversing countries, or even continents. The holidays come with some built-in travel, and as in any situation, it's best if we writer's are prepared. So here are a few things to make sure you've got in your carry-on.

Laptop/Notebooks. This is the most important thing to have. I know the holidays can be completely chaotic and crazy. They are for me, and I'm typically not great at writing when I'm visiting family. My goal is to do better at that this year, and one obviously needs their word processor or notebook in order to write. If you're limited on space, save your projects as word docs and use the computers at whatever relatives your visiting. And of course, make sure you have your creative writing notebook with you wherever you go. As always.

Books. Again, this is a given. I suspect that for most of us the issue is narrowing down our options. Make things easier on yourself by choosing paperbacks and ebooks. And may I recommend a subscription to You get a free audiobook just for signing up, and those are fantastic options for long car rides. I also recommend bringing poetry and short story collections, as those are easier to ingest in the quick, low-focus chunks of time you're likely to have when surrounded by relatives.

Headphones. To give yourself some music or background noise to help you focus while little ones play around you.

Camera. The holidays provide great moments to record for possible story ideas, and blog and social media posts. With the appropriate permissions, of course.

Plan your writing schedule. I know that for my family, once everything gets going we go and go until we're all basically asleep on our feet. But the thing is, we don't usually really get going until after lunch. That means for me, if I can get a bit of writing in earlier on in the day, then I get the writing done and don't miss or interrupt the Russian teacake baking and Muppet Christmas Album singing and the Jim Carey quote wars. (I can't miss that because I always win. No child can defeat the Grinch.) Basically, figure out the best way for you to incorporate writing into the holiday schedule. It may not be your normal schedule, and you may not get your normal amount done, but at the very least you can keep your momentum going.

Collaboration ideas. I have some siblings who also occasionally enjoy writing stories, and we've had some fun times doing the back and forth collaboration thing. Or maybe your cousin plays the guitar, and the two of you can write a funny Christmas song with which to annoy your aunts and uncles. Or maybe your aunt is a great artist and the two of you work on a book to give to your Grandma. Whatever your situation, holidays can be a fun time to collaborate, and I believe any creative endeavor is worthwhile.

What do you think? What other supplies and strategies can we writer's use in our holiday travels?

Write on!

Sarah Allen

This Week on Social Media:


  • Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: We’re looking for short stories! Think you can write a winning story in less than 1,500 words? Enter the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for your chance to win $3,000 in cash, get published in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference! Due Dec. 15.
  • NPR Selected Shorts Contest: First Prize is $1000,  plus a scholarship for a 10 week course at the Gotham Writers' Workshop. Your story will be read to a national audience by a well-known actor. Due March 15.
  • McNeese ReviewMcNeese Review, the literary journal of McNeese State University in Louisiana, is reading submissions for Issue 52, to be released February 2015. Send in your best short fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews, and original black and white art and photos. We value clarity of image, complex worldviews, genuine emotion, character, coherency, compression, and all the right words put in interesting combinations. Due Dec. 1
  • Split Lip Press: Split Lip Press welcomes submissions of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry for the first volume in its new book series, Utter Foolery: The Best Global Literary Humor, 2015. We’re looking for writing that makes us laugh, yes, but we’re also looking for work that shows a deep understanding of humor’s ability to elucidate serious subjects and disturbing truths. Due Nov. 30
  • In Fact Books: In Fact Books (US) seeks original stories that address — either directly or obliquely — the trials of living with mental illness for an upcoming anthology tentatively titled Beyond Crazy: True Stories of Surviving Mental Illness. Stories should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element, reaching beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning. Length: 4500 words max


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Morning Prayer

Morning Prayer

I forget
like dropping my sleep
mask on the floor by the bed,
not knowing where it is
when I come back at night.
The light comes in too early
these days and I forget
what I was dreaming
and how to close my eyes again.
My skin sucks in the chilly air
like gasping for breath
like a Christmas light buzzing, fritzing
and suddenly POP
a burst of light then darkness
and broken glass that will cut
if you're not careful.
I feel alive as broken glass.
Last night I dreamed a man came
into my room
to grab me, to hurt me
his hands were large, dirty when he
tied my wrists with rope.
But when I woke up into the cold
cold air
I was not afraid.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Matters Most? And Is That Why You Write?

I stayed up late this weekend and watched Sense and Sensibility for approximately the bajillionth time. I feel like I always kind of learn something or discover something new when I watch that movie.

This time I noticed what I guess I could call endurance versus intensity. Marianne undergoes something so traumatic and so deeply cutting in a moment of intense pain that she nearly, literally, doesn't survive. The punch is so hard it knocks her completely out for a while. Eleanor, on the other hand, has a less dramatic yet far longer struggle. Her battle is one of grit and endurance. She has to grin and bear a secret that breaks her apart inside all while managing family practical matters as well as caring for her sister in her lightning strike of a blow. Eleanor's type of battle has its own kind of intensity, I think.

This may be a bit more of a personal, thinky-type post, but I hope you'll bare with me. It's something that's been on my mind for the past little while.

Perhaps its the holidays, but I've found myself looking a bit more closely at my priorities list. Not reevaluating, necessarily. More experiencing emotionally how incredibly important the important things are, and how everything else is just so not.

Blogging is not important. The number of readers you have on Feedly or followers on Twitter is so not important. I am one of those very prone to getting that wrong--to letting my day feel crappy when I lose a follower on Instagram. To rising levels of anxiety when I think too hard about how many Facebook fans or YouTube subscribers I'd need to sell all the books I haven't published yet. Brain...what?

You know what is important, though? The people who read your blog. The bloggers you read. Not the number of followers, and not even necessarily the topics of the blogs, but the individuals themselves. They matter. You matter. And if even one person has read something on this blog that has been useful or calming in any way, that is the point.

We writers face battles all the time, of both the intensity and endurance type. (I mean, every one does, in every profession, but we're talking specifics here.) A rejection from an agent or a negative review can strike you down for a week. And the battle of submission is, I'd wager, the longest battle many of us have ever fought. Not to mention the battle for readers.

It is wearing. It can beat you down. Both kinds. There are times when I've felt like I've been walking the road for so long my metaphorical feet feel worn to the bone.

So why? What's the point, anyway?

I'm not here to answer that question, and not able to, anyway. At least not for anyone but myself, I don't think. All I know, though, is that when I focus on how many people came to my blog that day or how many Tumblr reblogs or Twitter favorites I got, I feel anxious and restless until it all feels pointless.

But you know what doesn't feel pointless? Watching the deleted scene from Sense and Sensibility fifteen times then fifteen more. Skyping with my family on the east coast. Disney music. Puppies, kitties, libraries, movie theaters. Making dinner for my dad during his layover visit. Sharing funny GIFS with my roommate. Helping input applications for a stressed out coworker. Smiling at the old man walking through the Bellagio atrium and getting a smile back.

What else never feels pointless? Praying. The tenor part in church hymns. Talking with my sister for half an hour about her boyfriend who thinks she lights up the world. Quoting Christmas movies. Putting on pajamas and finishing the last chapter of a really, really good book. Finishing the last chapter of your own book.

But why does that matter, the finishing of the last chapter? The writing and creating? How does it all tie in? I don't know about you, but after watching Sense and Sensibility, I feel like this lump of something hot and unpleasant and sharp has been expunged from me, and I feel grateful to Emma Thompson and everyone else for that. And it's not just about catharsis, or even escape. I've never had to walk to my own death, but I can feel good about the human race, and feel close to my own family, when Harry Potter brings back his mother and father to help him face Voldemort alone. I can start an hour long laugh-fest/philosophical discussion with my roommate based on a Disney movie GIF set that someone on Tumblr took the time to create.

And if we writers and artists can do that for any other human being--in a full length novel, short story or poem, in a 140 character tweet, in a joke on Tumblr or blog post about the latest episode of Supernatural--then that I think is what makes everything worthwhile.

That is why I write.

What matters most to you? And is that why you write?

Sarah Allen

This Week on Social Media:

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram. Or if you enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!


  • NPR Selected Shorts Contest: First Prize is $1000,  plus a scholarship for a 10 week course at the Gotham Writers' Workshop. Your story will be read to a national audience by a well-known actor. Due March 15.
  • Big Book of Useful Poetry: Submit "useful" poems as well as the tags for their usefulness. Tag examples: . Poems can be previously published as long as you have the rights for reprints. No limericks. Submit up to three poems. Until Filled.
  • Blue Heron Review: Please send 3-5 poems in the body of your e-mail. (Short, poetic prose will also be considered.) No attachments, please. Due Dec. 15
  • Understory Magazine: Understorey Magazine seeks fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and spoken word about motherhood. We publish online and pay $30-$50 (CAD) for accepted pieces. Rolling
  • Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: We’re looking for short stories! Think you can write a winning story in less than 1,500 words? Enter the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for your chance to win $3,000 in cash, get published in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference! Due TODAY.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Don't Touch Me, You Beach

I’m just going to come right out and say it. I don’t really get beaches.

Do people enjoy getting sand in every crevice of their body?

And the sun. In many ways I feel about the sun like I feel about cooking; it can be beautiful, and is necessary to sustain life, but as little direct contact as possible is preferred. (So maybe I’m a little vitamin D deficient…)

People say the beach is relaxing, but there is a big difference between relaxing and draining. Relaxing means rejuvenating; that you feel rested and ready to get back in action when the relaxing is over. The beach doesn’t do that for me. The beach leaves me feeling shriveled, and like the life-force has been evaporated out of me. Maybe it has to do with my Norwegian heritage.

There is only so much you can do when it’s hot. You can be Tony Stark naked and still be sweating like Bruce Banner in an elevator.

Make it cold, though, and you can pile on hoodies and blankets and a fireplace and a cup of grandma’s sweet-and-condensed-milk-hot-cocoa. And a book.

Here’s the thing about the beach. It can occasionally be too draining and too sandy and too bright to read.

Do you understand? TOO BRIGHT TO READ. Why would anyone VOLUNTARALY choose a place that makes it DIFFICULT TO READ A BOOK?

Okay, okay, so I know reading at the beach is a thing, and maybe I’ve just never learned the proper technique, because it doesn’t quite work out for me. My family loves the beach, so I’ve learned to cope by staking myself out under the umbrella, next to the Coke, draping towels over my shoulders and lap, and bringing a book. But by the time I’ve been in the sun and sand long enough to walk from the car to the umbrella and get myself settled, I already feel too drained and shriveled to focus on words on a page. And then I have to get in the water with my brothers for at least a little while, because even I can’t go to the beach and not get in the ocean, and then I’m wet and even MORE drained and shriveled.

Okay so even I have a good time at the beach, but like a cleaning at the dentist, I prefer only occasional and short appointments. When I think relaxing, give me a cabin with the softest couch and the largest fireplace and so much snow outside nobody can get in or out. Give me a large television and strong wifi connection and a library to rival the Beast’s. Give me a hoodie, a book, and no bedtime.

That, I get.

Are you a beach person or a snow person?

Sarah Allen

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram. Or if you enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Small Projects Can Get You Through The Dry Spells

I am incredibly honored today to be posting at C.S. Lakin's wonderfully inspiring blog for writers, Live, Write, Thrive. I am over there giving some ideas about smaller projects and how they can be especially beneficial during the times when our big novel projects aren't quite cooperating. Check it out and be sure to comment!

We will be back to our regularly scheduled writing advice/blog spotlights/submission opportunities next Monday.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Teaching Myself To Draw

Ok, so I'm not really drawing. I feel like that's probably too lofty of a term for my doodling. But as someone who wants to write in basically every format--definitely including picture books, comics, and perhaps even graphic novels--I feel like some basic illustrating/cartooning skills would be a good idea. This is not a natural area for me, but I want to expand my range, so I'm giving it a shot. I figure why not? So I'm putting myself on a practice regimen.

I love the childlike quality, humor, and story in every drawing from Ally Brosch. I love the spot on humor in both the language and comics from cartoonists like Gary Larson and Jim Unger. Obviously I will never be even close to the realm of these folks, but if I can have fun playing with that kind of thing and a few other people enjoy it too, I will consider my goal accomplished. I want to tell stories in every way possible, and make people smile and laugh.

So I'm working at it.

Don't worry. I won't be subjecting you to all my practice scratchings. I simply wanted to prove to myself that I am really doing this, and really putting it out there. We'll see how this turns out.

Are you working on any indirectly-but-still-writing-related projects?

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram.

Monday, November 3, 2014

5 Things To Help You Win NaNoWriMo (and any other novel)

On Halloween, writers everywhere wait anxiously around their clocks for the stroke of midnight. No, not for the arrival of witches, or ghosts, or the walking dead, but for the arrival of November.

The arrival of National Novel Writing Month.

50,000 words in a month? writers say. No problem. But a month is a long time. Long enough for distractions, for losing interest, for life to get in the way. And a month is also a short time. Short enough to make you want to tear out your hair when you realize you have 1/3 of the month left to write 2/3 of your novel.

So how to make it through this Herculean endeavor that is NaNoWriMo? There are a few tools and strategies that might help. And these strategies can be used not just for your NaNo novel, but for any other writing project throughout the year.

1. Community Support. This is something the NaNoWriMo group has down to perfection. The wonderful NaNoWriMo site has community boards and inspirational posts and ideas from a great crop of talented and successful writers. Not only that, but by using the #nanowrimo hashtag on sites from Twitter to Instagram, you instantly have access to other writers partaking in the same adventure you are, and coming up against the same struggles and difficulties. This community can give you ideas, encouragement, and emotional support. Set up NaNo parties with your friends. Make sure your family knows what you're doing, and what times you need to be alone to write. Find friends on Twitter or throughout the Blogosphere that can help and support you. This goes not just for November, but for the whole year.

2. Online Tools. There are lots of online tools that use tricks and gimmicks to help spur you on. One that I personally find terrifying, but imagine could be extremely effective, is Write or Die. With this website, you set your parameters and then start writing. And if you stop writing, your words start getting deleted. Gone. So you have to just write and keep writing to keep that from happening. For those who like a more positive reinforcement approach, I like the site Written Kitten. The premise is simple. You type into the text box, and for every 100 words you write, you get a new picture of a kitten. Pretty sweet, right? In lots of ways :)

3. Setting the Mood. There are a couple methods for picking your background "noise" while you write. When I'm looking for music to underscore my words, Pandora is an obvious but easy and incredibly useful tool. I highly recommend the Michael Giacchino station for writing background.

The other option is to go for writing talks and podcasts. I'm not one who can write while listening to anybody else's words, but whether you listen to writing talks while you write or while you take a break, they can be incredibly beneficial. I've compiled a list of my 3 favorite TED Talks for writers, and if you haven't discovered the Writing Excuses podcast, do yourself a favor and check it out. I've mentioned it before on this blog, and I'll probably mention it again.

4. Poetry Collection. I know, I know, we're writing novels here, not poetry, but here me out. I don't think a writer can get a bigger zap of inspiration, or give their Muse a bigger kick in the pants than by reading poetry. Poetry is like the 5 Hour Energy drink of writing. There's a hump we just have to get over when we sit down at our keyboard of just getting the words to start coming, and poetry can ease us more quickly over that hump. Read a poem before you start your writing for the day, and I can guarantee it will make things go a little more smoothly. I recommend the 180 More anthology from Billy Collins, or the Good Poems For Hard Times anthology from Garrison Keillor. 

5. Reminders. Reminders can be very helpful, and can come in many forms. You can set an alarm on your phone to tell you its time to sit down and write. You can make your little brother your official alarm. You can buy a hat and set it apart as your official "writing" time hat, that signifies to both you and others that when you're wearing it, you are WRITING. You can post pictures of your favorite authors and inspirational quotes above your desk. And of course, you can make an actual reminder list. Reminders to tell your internal editor to shut up, this is a first draft. Reminders to take breaks every 300 words if that helps you keep your stamina. Reminders to eat. Reminders that this project in its final stage will be AMAZING.

So use these tools, and maybe November will go more easily for you. And not just this month, but every month next year, and the next. And of course...

Write on!

Sarah Allen

This Week on Social Media:

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram.

  • Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: We’re looking for short stories! Think you can write a winning story in less than 1,500 words? Enter the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for your chance to win $3,000 in cash, get published in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference! Due Nov. 17.
  • StoryShelter Personal Essay AnthologyStoryShelter is accepting submissions for personal essays of 400-1200 words for a book called I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People. Due Dec. 31
  • Museum of Words Micro Fiction Contest: The competition is for very short fiction pieces of up to a maximum of 100 words. The winner will receive a prize of $20,000, with three runners-up each receiving $2,000. This contest is open to writers from all countries and entries are accepted in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. All stories entered must be original and unpublished. Due Nov. 23
  • Jane Lumley Prize for Emerging Writers: The Prize is awarded annually to a writer who has not published a full length book of poetry or prose. This year is poetry. The winner will receive a prize of $300 and will be featured in Issue 6 of the Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal. Due Nov. 30.
  • Schnieder Family Book Award: These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Due Dec. 1


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't Let Your Child Be This For Halloween

Oh happy day! The time draws near when parents far and wide send their children gallivanting down the street to beg sweets of strangers and neighbors and strange neighbors. Children everywhere are pre-planning not just the best routes, but the rules and strategies for the post-trick-or-treat candy swap, a process so intricate and nuanced it makes the New York Stock Exchange look tame.

But as adults have learned in recent years thanks to information previously unavailable before the internet, Halloween can be scary. There might be real life monsters out there! Many parents have addressed this issue by sending their child trick-or-treating accompanied by an elite SWAT-trained team of body-guards. While this addresses many of the physical safety concerns, there are still emotional and intellectual risks to keep in mind.

When a child dresses up as someone else, they take upon themselves elements of that character’s persona. By changing their physical appearance, their mentality also goes through a shift. Though subtle, these changes can have a lasting influence on our children’s mental and emotional state. Therefore, we must approach our children’s Halloween costume choices with extreme caution.

Here are a few costume choices you should NOT under ANY circumstances allow your child on Halloween.

Witch. There are many reasons that a witch can be a dangerous costume choice for a young girl. Think of the historical context! Witches are known for their power and independence, not to mention intelligence, and often beauty. Imagine the danger to our society if young girls thought of themselves as intelligent and powerful! And independence? I shudder at the thought. Witches are known to cause change, and challenge the status-quo. Imagine our society if girls were being intelligent and independent and powerful all willy-nilly!

Princess. This is looking at largely the same issue from the opposite angle. We live in the modern age, after all. We’ve made great strides forward from our Puritan ancestors. Remember the old fairy-tales? It seems in all those old stories, the princess did nothing for herself. She was taken by the dragon, remained inactive, than was rescued by the prince. Do we want this lesson taught to our daughters? They must learn to do for themselves! How dare they think they need anyone else’s help for anything, right? And wanting a happily-ever-after with *gasp* a man is not just cliché, but old-fashioned. And nothing old-fashioned can possibly be helpful or useful or good in this modern world.

Superman. Now this is a dangerous one. The mentalities shaped in our childhood form us as we grow, and we must be incredibly careful of the seeds we plant. Imagine teaching our children that they can overcome impossible odds, or defeat evil villains. Imagine allowing our children even for a moment the idea that they could have super-human strength, or fly among the clouds. This would only be setting them up for disappointment! We must teach them to keep their feet on the ground, and heads down. This is the way to avoid pain and hurt. If our children look up, if they try to fly, they could easily crash and burn, and we must ensure them that this is never, ever, EVER, worth the risk.

Policeman. This is a costume and career choice you should help your child avoid if at all possible. Policemen and women put their lives on the line every day for other people, and spend their time putting others’ comfort and safety above their own. This is not good, healthy, prioritized, Number One thinking. I mean, of course we are grateful that these select men and women do this job, so the rest of us can continue looking out for Number One in safety. But if your child wants to be a policeman or woman for Halloween, dissuade them. They might start envisioning themselves making other people their priority.

Zombie. It is not a good idea to portray, let alone acknowledge things that are dangerous, scary, or different from ourselves. Bruce Wayne clothed himself in his worst nightmare to prove to himself that this nightmare wasn't as petrifying and nebulous and unconquerable as he thought, but I say that’s bunk. (Batman is another dangerous idea). We are much better off pretending danger, fear, and difference doesn't exist. That way we decrease our chances of confronting things that are scary or different, because if we don’t see them, they won’t see us. And remember, it’s always Them versus Us. Always. Portraying something scary and “other” may suggest otherwise to your child, and that, of course, is dangerous.

So parents, and all those who care about the rising generation, be careful the tales in which you let your children partake. Those are the true spells every Halloween, and you never know the ways your child will emerge different and changed on the other side.

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

[Photo Credit]

Monday, October 27, 2014

How Recording One Second A Day Will Make You A Better Writer

I have never been super great at living in the present. Doing the whole "live in the moment" kind of thing. My mind is always thinking about my novel and the short stories I'm working on and the agents I've submitted to and ideas for social media. I am pretty much always projecting into the future, imagining how things might be.

Basically this:

Then a while ago I listened to this incredible TED Talk from a guy who did a project recording one second every day. Just one second.

I remember that idea really hitting me. He talks about how there were days when it was really hard, and days when he had to be creative, and it ended up really making him focus on how each day was different and unique.

In other words, it helped him live in the moment.

So why do writers want or need to live in the moment? Why will it make us better writers? Well, as an example, my Monday/Thursday blog schedule has presented me with some interesting challenges, and not ones I necessarily expected. Especially with the more personal Thursday posts, where my goal is more connection and entertainment than information and instruction, like the Monday posts. But I've often found myself having a difficult time coming up with ideas or topics when I sit down to write my Thursday posts. I find myself thinking, "What can I say that's entertaining? I work and I write, that's about it."

Living in the moment provides us writers with the material. And it's something I'm working on improving. When I make a conscious effort each day to think about why this day is unique and different, or why my particular situation or view on the world is different, then I start seeing more of the richness of life. And that richness is exactly what provides the stories and ideas and thoughts we writers need, not just for personal style blog posts, but for any writing we ever do.

So how do we do it? How do we get better at noticing and observing and gathering the day-to-day things into usable material?

We record one second every day.

And by no means does it have to be video recording either. In fact I suggest three other methods of recording and observing our day that might even be more useful for a writer.

1. Write in a journal. I've made a rule for myself recently that I must write in my journal every day, even if its just once sentence. Just one sentence is enough. This has helped me temper my natural tendency to project into the future rather than noticing that actual lived moment. It helps me go over my day and think about what I did that was different than every other day, even its only one thing. And I can go back and look over the journal too to remind myself and find stories. We are writing anyway, right? If you don't currently write in a journal, try out just one sentence a day and see what it does for you.

2. Take one picture. Okay, so we already know I'm a bit of a social media nut, but Instagram is my newest obsession. (I go through phases). Don't worry, I'm not here to suggest that every writer use Instagram. My point is that increasing my activity with it has forced me to look for unique and beautiful images throughout my day. It's forced me to take notice of my day, even in the things I do all the time like drive to work or go grocery shopping. In other words, taking pictures has made me open my eyes a little more and be more observant. These little moments of discovery or interest that we all have throughout our days, if we notice them, and even if they're not major events, are exactly the types of moments we use in all kinds of writing. And even if you're not one who likes sharing pictures everywhere, try it out for your own sake. Make a goal to just take one picture a day and see what happens.

3. Call someone. Now that my family is a little more grown up and a little more spread out, I have to make a conscious effort to keep in touch. We call each other a lot. And when you talk to someone on the phone, it not only forces you to go over your day and find the stories, you get to listen to someone else do that for their day too. And I think both are incredibly valuable. We've already talked about how going over our days can be a great help, but going over another persons day adds that extra layer, that extra depth. You get to hear the unique differences and stories from other peoples day-to-day lives too. This is exactly how we train our inner eye to notice those daily things that are beautiful and unique and that matter. Plus, talking with the people in this world that you love just makes you feel happy. And that's a good thing.

So why take the effort of recording and going over and analyzing our days? Because it helps us live in the moment and find the stories that are already there, and that already have meaning. And meaningful stories is exactly what writing is all about. So try writing in a journal and taking pictures and calling someone up every once in a while. Gather these stories, and maybe next time you start a project, whether its a novel or a blog post, your bout of writers block won't be quite as bad.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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  • Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: We’re looking for short stories! Think you can write a winning story in less than 1,500 words? Enter the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for your chance to win $3,000 in cash, get published in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference! Due Nov. 17.
  • Humber Literary Review: The Humber Literary Review is seeking submissions of prose, poetry, artwork, and comics for their third issue, scheduled for release in Spring 2015. Pays $60 per poem, and $100 each for essays, fiction, and reviews. Due Dec. 8.
  • Workers Write!: Issue eleven of Workers Write! will be Tales from the Coliseum and will contain stories and poems from workers in the sports industry. We're looking for fiction from sportscasters, scouts, referees and umpires, agents, front office employees, vendors, groundskeepers, trainers, and even athletes—as long as the tale is about the "job" of sports. Due Dec. 31.
  • Infinite Acacia: Infinite Acacia is now accepting urban fantasy submissions for our Infinite Urban Fantasy One anthology. Due Dec. 31.
  • Microfiction Monday Magazine: Microfiction Monday Magazine is seeking exceptional stories told in 100 words or less for publication every Monday. There are no restrictions on genre or content, just punch us in the chest with characters we can feel, images we can't get out of our heads, and stories that are complete despite their brevity. Rolling.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

10 Things That Make Me Happy

1. This performance of this song (get ready for chills):

2. This trailer of this movie:

3. This GIF of this dog:

4. This cover of this magazine (Like really MERYL STREEPS HAIR WHAT? I can't even):

5. This illustration of this fairy-tale (by Cory Godbey):

6. This person hugging this person:

7. This kiss from this show:
(and this one)
(Okay and this one I'm a romantic okay?)

8. This tribute to these stories/characters/writers:
9. This kid in this costume:

10. This man on this planet:

And of course YOU, you gorgeous reader you.

Have a happy filled day!

And write on!

Sarah Allen

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Monday, October 20, 2014

6 Ways To Let Others Do Your Book Marketing For You

We are writers, not marketers. Writers, not publicists. We are creating art, not peddling "product."

Writers write, right?

Cue enormous *le sigh*.

Writing, creating those beautiful words like brain babies, is absolutely our most important calling. It's top priority. But we still want people to see and read and ooh and ahh over those brain babies, and that involves what the vampires and soul-sellers of the world call "marketing," and unfortunately, in the modern publishing world, if we don't do that marketing ourselves, it's probably not going to get done. And in most cases its certainly not going to get done as effectively as we could do it ourselves.

As we writers are commanded told time and time and time again, by everyone from "authorities" to Authorities, from every conceivable platform, we modern writers are now responsible not just for creating our beautiful brain babies, but for raising them smartly and releasing them into as loving and large a throng as we can muster.

But as someone from an eight child family can tell you, isn't it enough to worry about keeping our creations alive and healthy, keeping them from lopping off their hair or blowing out their diapers, without also having to be the one that bribes all the student body to be their friend and vote for them as Homecoming Queen? Okay, so maybe I'm getting a little out of hand with my metaphors here, but you get what I mean, right?

I'm here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to be low on the sleezy and high on the lazy efficient sides of book marketing. We all know the "it takes a village" aphorism, right? Well I think it applies to book marketing too. In other words, there are lots of perfectly appropriate ways to piggy-back on other people and let them do lots of your book marketing for you.

Now, just to be clear, we are mostly talking about long-term marketing here. These are things that will be most effective months or even years before your book comes out, or in the times between books while you're just working on platform building. During the heavy-hitting book release times you're probably going to be doing so much direct marketing work yourself that you'll need a year's supply of RedBull and a tribe of energizer bunnies just to get you through. These are long-term, slow building strategies, but they can really help out in the long run, and can help us be effective while still focusing our efforts on the most important thing: those brain babies.

1. Pinterest is your new best friend. When I read Anne R. Allen's post from her incomparable weekly blog I had to grin a little with the irony. I was in the middle of writing this post and in some ways we are looking at the two sides of one thing. If you haven't read Anne's post this week about the dangers and frustrations of living in our modern cyberworld, do yourself a favor and check it out. All the points she brings up are vitally important and need to be kept at the forefront of our online strategies. As we said at camp, "Safety first!"

That being said, Pinterest can be one of your most useful tools when used correctly. The many social media options and "must-do's" out there can be completely overwhelming, but before you get scared off, let me explain about Pinterest. One of the dangers of adding to your social media platform is the time-suck, and people are afraid of that with Pinterest especially. But honestly, give it a chance and Pinterest can be one of the least intimidating and least involved platforms out there. It can absolutely be a black hole of where-did-the-last-seven-hours-go if you want it to be let it, but it by no means has to be. Being an active user of Pinterest can mean no more than five minutes a day of looking at and maybe repinning pictures of motivational writing quotes, beautiful book covers, great blog posts, and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch. Honestly. That's all it requires.

And did you catch that thing I just said about blog posts? I get more traffic to this blog from Pinterest than almost any other site. The way Pinterest is structured, it is easier to get discovered and spread on this site than any other, at least in my experience. What I do is make images almost like book covers for a blog post, using an applicable and appropriate photo. (Like the one at the top of this post). I edit and text overlay using a photo-editing site like PicMonkey. Don't let that scare you off either. It may be a learning curve but you'll end up being able to whip one up in less than five minutes. And then put it up on Pinterest, and bam, you have other people spreading your word. I am by no means an expert, but for an example of how I've been using Pinterest at least relatively successfully, check out my Pinterest boards, especially the ones for writers. (Whew, I didn't realize I had so much to say about this site. Maybe it deserves it's own how-to style post...)

2. Take advantage of the @Mention. The @mention feature on Twitter is one of your best tools for doing some totally appropriate piggy-backing of other people's audience. On Twitter itself, when you communicate directly with people in your industry using the @mention, you increase your chances of getting your tweet favorited or retweeted, thereby being introduced to the other tweeters audience. I.e., letting them do some of the work for you.

But the @mention can help in even more ways. I've had tweets mentioned in other author's newsletters that led people to both my twitter account and this blog. And you know how I make a spotlight list of other blog posts every week? I make sure to mention those bloggers on Twitter too. Of course doing this expecting other people to owe you any favors is totally obnoxious, (and this tool is mean to be the opposite of harassment) but I've been lucky enough to have my post mentioned or retweeted on other authors blogs and that has led to some great traffic that another writer already had ready and waiting. Plus its just a great way to be involved, and involving yourself with others creates involvement for you.

3. Guest post. "Wait!" I hear some of you saying. "You said this was for lazy marketers and writing more blog posts isn't lazy-friendly at all!"

True, but think of it in terms of return on investment. Letting other people do your book marketing for you is all about efficiency. Yes, you have to spend an additional 3-4 hours crafting the guest post. But if you put in the effort, do your best work, and are lucky enough to get accepted by some of the huge platform blogs, then guess what that means? That means you spent 3-4 hours reaching a crazy large audience that it would have taken you hundreds and hundreds of hours to reach otherwise. That blogger has already put in those hundreds, even thousands of hours building up that great audience, and guest blogging is the perfect way for you to piggy-back. In an appropriate, non-creepy (hopefully) way that is beneficial to both parties.

4. Create or discover interview opportunities. Again, this can take less effort than you expect. And it's all about efficiency and return on investment, right? The good thing is that there are already some tools in place that make this strategy quite simple. Help A Reporter Out is a newsletter sent directly to your inbox every day that lists topics reporters from everywhere want to get quotes about. For example, perhaps a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee needs to interview three middle school librarians, or a blogger for a major corporation wants to talk to work from home moms. Stuff like that. I've found a couple applicable postings, and if I can, you definitely can. And there's no easier way to piggy-back on that publication's audience.

The other tool is Blog Talk Radio. Caveat: I haven't used this site yet, but I've heard a lot about it lately and plan to get started soon. What I know so far is that this is a platform for anyone to create their own radio show or podcast, and some have audiences in the thousands. If anyone has any experience using this site I'd love to hear about it.

5. Blurb, collaborate, and bundle with other authors. How do you get your name and the title of your book on the cover of someone else's book? Blurbs! If you get a chance and it seems appropriate, blurbing might be a good opportunity.

And collaborating. Writing a book with another author is an automatic introduction to their already-built audience. However it doesn't even have to be as involved as all that, because I know writing a book with someone else isn't for everyone. But what about anthologies? That's collaboration, right? Or co-authored blogs? Or working with an illustrator to create a picture book or illustrated poetry? All great collaborative opportunities that mean access to someone elses in-place audience. Efficiency in book marketing is all about getting access to these already-built audiences. A reader who buys an anthology because they know another writer might end up loving your work just as much. And all you had to do was write.

And don't forget bundles. I've never done one myself, but selling your work in a bundle with some other authors gives you basically the same advantages of an anthology, but may have an even wider reach.

6. Ask. You know who else probably has a built-in audience? Your family and friends. Maybe they don't have the reach of some of the big industry influencers, but they can still help. Again, I have to emphasize, my point here is the opposite of "be entitled and pushy." In fact as a general online rule you should be giving help as much if not much more than you're asking for it. But you also shouldn't be afraid of asking for help when its appropriate. Asking your friends and family for a boost on their Facebook and Twitter pages, especially when your book is nearing release, can be a big help in your push to get the ball rolling. And most likely you'll have plenty of people who are more than happy to help.

So. There are ways that we can appropriately piggy-back on other people's audience and let them do some of our book marketing for us. Keep in mind that this is about being pro-actively efficient and smart, and is absolutely not about being entitled or sleazy or pushy. Have I said that enough? Also keep in mind that many of these strategies are long-term and slow-building; more about building our blog readership and growing our email list than direct sales. But if we use these strategies effectively then when its time for our precious brain baby to be released into the world, we already have a bit of a network in place and ready to go.

Do you think these strategies can help? What other ideas do you have for piggy-backing on other peoples audience and letting them do some of our book marketing for us?

Write (and minimally market) on!

Sarah Allen

This Week On Social Media:

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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  • First Line Magazine: Submit a story with the assigned first line. Due Nov. 1.
  • Critical Pass Review: Calling all poets, writers, photographers, and visual artists! The Critical Pass Review is now accepting submissions for its Fall 2014 Issue. Due Nov. 19.
  • Madcap ReviewThere are two weeks left to submit to Madcap Review! Due Oct. 31.
  • Imitation & Illusion: For I&A 2.2, we're looking for submissions that combine the styles of poet Jillian Weise and sci-fi writer James Blish. Each author uniquely approaches a specific subset of the science fiction genre, broaching the subjects of biology, self-awareness, and society. Due Nov. 21.
  • Big Book of Useful Poetry: Submit "useful" poems as well as the tags for their usefulness. Tag examples: . Poems can be previously published as long as you have the rights for reprints. No limericks. Submit up to three poems. Until Filled.

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