From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, July 28, 2014

6 Things Writers Can Learn From Scrubs

I recently finished going through the series Scrubs.

Guys, I'm a little in love.

With all of them. Seriously, the writers and actors on this show knew exactly what they were doing. The deftness with which they moved from gut-busting laughter to tear-jerking poignancy was mind-blowing. And they did it every episode. So what lessons can we writers take from this hilarious and well-done show?

1. Sarcasm + Vulnerability = AWESOME. Dr. Perry Cox was my first love of the show. I have serious thing for grumpy, sarcastic, hilarious old men who you just know have a mushy, kicked puppy center. In other words, Dr. Cox was basically tailor made for me. Somehow characters who are for the most part hardened and witty and then stumble into these desperately vulnerable moments make both the wit and the vulnerability that much more piercing. It is really this character (and the genius that is John C. McGinley) that can take the show from this

to this

and back again faster than you can say Percival Ulysses Cox.

2. Running gags make the audience feel included. I don't know about you guys, but this show made me want to Eagle and drink appletinis and start giving people titled high fives. Because I could laugh along at the inside jokes, I felt included. These guys were my friends. And I think this can work in books too, including stand alone novels. When you know the characters' inside jokes, you start feeling like you know them intimately.

3. Let your losers win one every once in a while. Often we have characters that spend the majority of the story being downtrodden. Often its humorous, like with Eeyore, and my maybe other favorite character in Scrubs, Ted Buckland. Yes, I admit, it's funny to see him be Bob Kelso's whipping boy, but seeing him get a win is extremely satisfying. And kinda freaking adorable.

4. Know what drinks your character likes. Saying that JD drinks appletinis is basically a shorthand. We get a glimpse of who he is just by that detail alone. It's all those little details and quirks that make us as an audience feel like we really know the character. It's like how, if you notice, 93% of the time the camera pans to Ted, he's doing this:
That constant hair-pulling, that little appletini, almost tells us more about these guys than entire paragraphs could do.

5. There's just something about buddies. We love watching their antics, and rooting for them as they conquer the world together. Watching a buddy pair that you just know will never, ever be separated...there's just something so comforting and so bolstering about that. And there's just no buddy pair...okay we'll say it, guy love, quite like Turk and JD.

6. Feminine strength comes in different forms. There was no shortage of strong women on this show. I mean, in their own way, every woman was strong. Carla was strongly grounded in her identity. Jordan was strong in her sharp and wacky ferocity. And even Elliot was strong in owning up to her own neurosis and not letting any of them stop her for long. So just remember that "strong woman" is not a character type, because every strong woman is strong in their own unique way. When you recognize that, it might even help you dig deep into your female leads to see what special thing about them actually provides them their strength.

I hope that helps, even if you aren't super familiar with the show. For those of you who are, are there any other lessons for writers that you might take from it?

Write on!

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  • North Dakota Quarterly: "North Dakota Quarterly, an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal, seeks contributions for a special issue on the theme of “Slow.” We invite nonfiction essays, short fiction pieces, poems, and artistic images that address or are inspired by this concept of “slow.”..." Due Oct. 1.
  • The Drunken Odyssey: "The Drunken Odyssey, an amazing writing podcast, needs personal essays for its “Book that Changed my Life” segments. Send pitches for essay ideas to For approved pitches, essays should be between 500 and 800 words..."
  • Snake Nation Press: "A prize of $1,000 and publication by Snake Nation Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Submit a manuscript of 75 to 100 pages with a $25 entry fee by August 31. E-mail or visit the website for complete guidelines..." Due Aug. 31.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Blog Schedule


So I've been considering and thinking and pondering about this for a long time.

I have been blogging since 2009. The community I've discovered (i.e. you guys) is absolutely incredible. Perhaps the most incredible part of my writing journey so far. I have no intention of ever leaving, no matter what anyone says about blogging being "dead."

But I feel the need for something more. I don't want my blog to simply be a platform for other things, I want it to provide value in and of itself. And obviously that's what every blogger tries to do--provide entertainment and value. For a long time now I've been trying to think of a way to up that. To make this blog a better resource and a better creative outlet.

And so I'm taking a lesson from one of my favorite bloggers, Anne R. Allen. (No relation. Unfortunately.) I have thought about this for a long time, and decided that in the case of this blog, less may in fact be more. I feel that sometimes in trying to keep up a daily or every-other-daily schedule, I end up with quantity more than quality.

That's not what I want. So from this point on, we are switching to a once a week schedule. I will be posting every Monday. And, like Anne's posts, the slower schedule will help me put up more in depth posts and valuable resources. It will allow me to hopefully create things that are really worth checking out, as opposed to quickie whatevers every day.

In other words, I'm hoping to give you much more researched and thought out posts. And these posts will also include a round-up of some of the best blog posts of the week, as well as spotlighting contests and submission opportunities.

I should add that I have another idea cooking that may bring us back up to twice a week posts. But if that does eventually happen, writing posts will still be on Mondays, and this something different will be...something different. So stay tuned.

I hope this ends up working out best for new readers, future readers, and those of you who've stuck with me for a long time. I really think it will. Any thoughts or suggestions or ideas about all this? Your feedback is very important to me. Like I said, I really think this will take us up a notch, and I'm kind of excited at the kinds of things this new schedule will make possible.

So folks? I'll see you on Monday :)


Monday, July 21, 2014

Writing Lessons from the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame

Vegas has some really cool things. One of them is the Pinball Hall of Fame a couple miles east of The Strip. Some friends and I recently took a trip there and so I decided to make a thing of it.

I used my trip to the Pinball Museum as a chance for another writing tutorial video. If any of you are the type who like YouTube videos on writing, I hope these are useful to you.


I also want to point out the new newsletter sign-up on the right hand sidebar. This is more a casual random updates thing. By random I mean no more than once a month, and by updates I mean mostly writing tips and resources from around the interwebz and funny awesome things. You also get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers. So if you're interested and pop in your email I won't abuse it. Unless you count pictures of cats and Benedict Cumberbatch as abuse. Just kidding. Sort of. 


Write on!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Using Contests and Submission Calls for Ideas

Lately I have been struck by just how many opportunities there are for writers out there, and I'm thrilled. Just within fiction and poetry, there are way too many calls and contests and submission opportunities to even keep track of, let alone submit to. But its fun to try :)

I have recently discovered a way that working on multiple projects has been great for me. I'm not sure I could ever do more than one novel at a time, but working on my novel and then also working on short stories and other pieces for submissions has been an absolute blast.

One of my favorite resources is the Calls for Submissions page on the NewPages website. I like to go through it and several other pages and then curate it into my own list of options that look interesting. (Check the "Paying Gigs for Writers" tab up above for other great resources). A couple of my favorite are are First Line Magazine's upcoming deadline on Aug. 1, and a Mars Colonization anthology due in November. When I am stuck or worked through on my novel for the day, I work on shorter projects like this.

It adds variety, and a feeling of satisfaction that I'm getting more done.

People often talk about how they like absolutely no restrictions in order to feel creative, but I've actually found the opposite to be the case. Rather than staring at a blank screen wondering what to work on, these contests and submission calls provide enough of a prompt to get me going. It's not at all about working on something I don't find interesting; its about searching for opportunities and prompts that spark something. Then when you're done, you know exactly where you're sending it first.

Sometimes random brainstorming works great too, and I think that's a valuable strategy to have. I just wanted to share a strategy that has been working well for me lately. Working well in terms of getting me writing. Publication success on these projects is, of course, TBD. But even if the pieces aren't accepted by the original prompter, I will have more pieces to submit other places.

Do you think this is a useful strategy? What other strategies do you use for getting ideas and/or finding writing opportunities?

Sarah Allen

Monday, July 14, 2014

Watching True Masters

Over the July 4th weekend I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time in St. George with a lot of extended family. This was a family reunion and celebration of my Grandpa's 80th birthday. At an art gallery in St. George, three of my aunts put on a concert. All three of these incredible ladies have graduate schooling in music, and work as professional musicians. Two of them are pianists, one a violinist, and seriously, watching them is a little bit mind-boggling.

It's great to see family members in their element like that. They are true masters of their craft. Watching them got me thinking about mastering our craft of writing, and how that long, often arduous process is similar for both writers and musicians.

It takes time. This is probably the most necessary element of becoming a master. In many ways its simply a time game. We have to put in our 10,000 hours, and that takes, ya know, 10,000 hours. My aunts have all been playing music since they were basically toddlers. Not that if we didn't start that early we've lost our chance, but we do need to acknowledge that its just going to take some time.

It takes consistency. I took eight years of piano. (My mom comes from this musical family after all, and is also an accomplished pianist and singer.) But its been a while. So a while, in fact, that basically all I have left is a plunky version of Silent Night. If I had been consistent, and kept going, maybe I would also know how to play Away in a Manger. Really though, even though the daily efforts we make may seem small, and may feel like we're not accomplishing much, it's like the dots on a Seurat painting. It's true, one or two dots by themselves may not be much, but all together, and over time, they add up into something absolutely stunning.

It takes mentors. Each of my aunts have had a multitude of teachers and mentors. It is so important that we find people who we can emulate, and who can teach us. As writers we can do this through classes, through blogs, through books on writing, and lots of other ways. A good mentor can not only give you the lay of the land, but can help you identify and strengthen your weak spots. They also provide the encouragement when all you're seeing is the uninspiring individual dots, and not the beautiful picture as a whole.

So keep working, keep putting in that daily effort, and learn from everyone you can. It's a lifelong journey, but these things can help us become greater masters of our craft.

Write on!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

3 Resources That Have Really Helped Me As A Writer

There are so many great resources available in this online age it's almost impossible to keep track, or feel like you're getting it all in. I hate the thought of having my progress impeded because of misinformation or simply not being aware of the proper tools and resources.

Now, I'm still looking for all the great resources out there, and part of the point of this is to get ideas from you guys. But I thought I'd share some of the things that have been the most helpful for me and then get some of your best resources.

1. Reading blogs. This is perhaps an obvious one, but one of the most helpful things for me in terms of learning about this business has been reading blogs. I started this blog in 2009 and the blogs I've read seriously since that time have guided me on this whole writing journey. I couldn't possibly list all the wonderful, amazing blogs that have been such informative and inspirational resources for me, but some of the best include Anne R. Allen's blog, TerribleMinds from Chuck Wendig, Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman's blog, and Write to Done

2. Writing Excuses. I've mentioned the Writing Excuses podcast on this blog a couple times, but it truly has been one of the most helpful and inspiring resources for me. Reading articles about writing is great, but to actually hear a group of successful writers talk, question, and joke about this life of a writer really sticks with you. And even though each of them are speculative fiction writers, they talk about every aspect of being a writer, from crafting characters to querying agents to balancing marketing and writing. I can't even express how worth a listen it is. I would also highly recommend The Writing Show with Paula B. and Mur Lafferty's I Should Be Writing.

3. Going to Meetups. I suppose "writer meetups" includes conferences, but it doesn't have to be that big or dramatic (i.e. expensive). If you look around, you'll be surprised how many options there are for getting together with fellow writers. Here in Vegas, for example, the RWA has a small monthly meeting at a local library, and there are multiple writing groups that also meet regularly. Check out for your area and see what options you've got. Even when the topic at hand isn't one of particular interest to me personally, I always feel inspired and rejuvenated just hanging out and networking with other local writers.

There you have it. These things have perhaps helped me on my writing journey more than any other resource and I hope they can help you too. What resources have been particularly useful to you?

Sarah Allen

Monday, July 7, 2014

How to Use Your Nonfiction Writing Skills as Research Writing Skills

Today we'd like to give a warm welcome to Nikolas Baron from Grammarly.

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Take it away Nikolas!
Remember All That Time You Spent Before?
Nonfiction and research writing have a lot of similar characteristics. Both focus on facts instead of fiction, both focus on spending timing looking for information, and both like to utilize quotes and citations. When you write a memoir or biography, even if it’s about yourself, do you not spend many hours looking through photos or remembering stories to catalog? Do you not spend hours interviewing another person trying to smooth out the details? With research writing, you end up performing the exact same tasks. In order to write a well-researched essay or paper, you must find credible sources, interview experts, and find important quotes to include. The love for digging up information from your, or someone else’s, past can be used to search through many sources for research information. If you’re looking to expand beyond nonfiction, why not use the skills you already have and try research writing.
Skills to Utilize
Researching: When you write nonfiction whether it’s a book or a blog, you have to be a good researcher and find truthful information. Research writing is, at its very core, extremely dependent on good research. You interview many different people for your book, but when you research write, you want to make sure that you cross-check the information between different sources. It may take you awhile to learn what sources are the best to use and you may have to shift gears slightly, but your nonfiction research skills can easily translate into research writing skills.
Interviewing: For a biography, you need to spend quite a large amount of time tape recording interviews, coming up with great questions, and getting the answers to those questions. Research writing follows along the same lines. Although you may not always be talking face-to-face, coming up with a list of questions you want to answer makes researching and finding the right sources easier. If you work for a university and need to write an article about the school’s new water purification system implemented by a new professor, you’ll need to interview them, but also confirm the answers are right by researching. Interviewing sources, whether to check for credibility or get quotes, is something that nonfiction writers should be comfortable with; therefore making it easy to use for research writing.
Factual, clear-cut writing: The style of nonfiction writing can sometimes be straightforward and not as dreamy as fiction writing. This works in their favor when it comes to research writing. Although it’s nice to have some spice here and there, the audience of a research paper, essay, or article is more closely related to a nonfiction audience. Nonfiction writing focuses on facts and information; just like research writing. It should be simple to implement your nonfiction style of writing to research writing.
Proofreading/editing: This skill set crosses all forms of writing. If you’re an excellent nonfiction proofreader/editor, then editing research writing should be a breeze. They have similar styles, punctuation, grammar, and syntax. They focus on facts and quotes that can be checked and cited in the same exact way.
Plus, you can use great online tools such as Grammarly to help you check for plagiarism if you think you have an issue. When you’re retelling someone’s nonfiction story, plagiarism may not be as big of an issue as it is in research writing. If you plagiarize, even forgetting to cite a source or a quote, the research article could be in serious jeopardy; especially if you’re writing for a technical client. Always reviewing your work for plagiarism is critical when it comes to research writing but by using Grammarly, this can be easily accomplished. Changing over editing skills shouldn’t be an issue for any writer who typically proofreads nonfiction.
As a nonfiction writer, you can sometimes feel trapped when it comes to what to write about. Research writing can be a breath of fresh air because it uses the same set of skills but lets you immerse yourself in new material. Individual’s stories are not always the focus of research writing. You could be writing about the plight of tigers instead of someone’s memoir. Your skills are your business. Expanding it as much as possible, including research writing, is necessary to keeping your writing alive.
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