From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, December 14, 2015


You'll notice I've been slacking off a bit on this here blog. (This isn't an apology post...I hate those.) I've been doing a lot of thinking and growing in the last few weeks. It has been a really important time for me as a writer. But this blog is also a really important thing to me, and I've missed it, and we're going to get back on track here. In a real, sustainable way I think.

I've noticed so much lately how there are really only two things a writer needs. These two things will guarantee your success. Every time.

Those two things are endurance, and a willingness to learn.

My thoughts about my own writing have really changed the last month or so. In a good way. I've been shown areas I thought were weak and told they are strong, and areas I thought were strong, and shown all their holes. I believe my writing has improved more over the last few months than it has in a while.

Get people around you who will be honest with you. That's the first thing. Find a way to get consistent feedback. That has been one of the most valuable parts of the MFA program. Second, set yourself a schedule, and STICK to it. Get those words in. And more then that, set up a submissions schedule too. Whether its one a day or one a week or whatever, do your submissions. Use sites like Newpages and Duotrope to help you out. They're invaluable. If you just keep going, YOU WILL SUCCEED.

Want a case study? I really don't know how this happened, but I've been submitting to Writers Digest Your Story competitions for years, and this time around, I got picked as a finalist. This is actually where I ask for your help. The finalist with the most votes gets published in Writers Digest. So if you can head over and vote for Entry A. It has Dragons.

Anyway, how is the writing going for all you guys? What projects are you working on?

Sarah Allen

Monday, October 26, 2015

Quality vs. Quantity: Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?

One of the best things about being in an MFA program is that it is absolutely forcing me to learn, and to look all my writing habits straight on and determine with a clear head weather they are productive or not. There are a myriad of ways to do this, not just school, but I encourage you to find a way to put yourself in this situation. 

One thing this school situation has been forcing me to think about is quality versus quantity. (And I don't mean to dichotomize these two things--I definitely do NOT think they are mutually exclusive, but let me explain.)

So, I've been doing this writing thing for a long time, which means I've got a good chunk of stuff in the metaphorical drawers. I'm definitely not talking quality here, because much of my backlog is about as pretty as a baboons poop drawing, but its, ya know, there. I've even got a few novels handy, which are hopefully better than baboon poop.

In my efforts to make my creative writing workshops the most effective and beneficial I possibly can, I've been forced to make some decisions: do I focus on reworking old stuff, getting as much feedback on it as I can? Or do I put out something new?

The ideal answer to this question is obviously both. We want bright, polished trophy-winners, and actually an armful of them would be nice. But the thing is, I think we as authors tend to naturally fall somewhere on this spectrum of Rework to New, and each extreme comes with writerly downfalls. There are two extremes:

Stuck in a rut. If you've been working on the same piece for the last several years and are still workshopping it, it might be time to do some re-thinking. I mean, if this piece is one that you've totally flipped, and you're just getting the new version off the ground, that's one thing, but if you're niggling over the same things you've been angsting about for years and years, you might want to consider moving on before your writing partners feel tempted to duct-tape you to a chair and force you to watch them feed page after page of your glorious manuscript into a fiery furnace. If this piece isn't working, let it not work. Write something that does.

Pez-dispenser. Does anybody really like Pez's? The candy, I mean (the dispensers are pretty cool). They're just sort of meh. You can eat chalky brick after chalky brick, but it doesn't really do much for you. Don't be a writer like this. And I confess, this is the tendency I'm working against. It's so easy for me to put down a piece, get a little feedback on it, and then move on. It's like leaving the pot unpainted, or the cake unglazed. DO NOT LEAVE THE CAKE UNGLAZED. I have to consistently remind myself that no one particular piece is going to be my magic pill that makes everything happy happy rainbows of author fame and fortune. The true magic is in a long career of high quality stuff. That means taking time with each worthwhile piece and massaging it and doing whatever needs doing to help it reach its fullest potential. Don't leave that baby half done. Let it gestate until its heart beat is nice and strong. Don't let it live at home until you retire, either, but give it its needed care.

Okay, my metaphors are getting weird now, so its time for me to stop. Anyway, my point is that there is, as in all things, a need for balance. I'm working on not rushing--on taking a very serious look at the feedback I get, and looking very closely at each piece until I can really, truly hear it sing. It's like hitting a tuning-fork--you know when its got that right pitch. No piece will every be perfect, but its important to work with it until it has that music, and then to Let. It. Go.

I'm going to try to do both.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Tips For Creating an Engaging Author Website

People's lives are basically entirely online now, right? (Is there such a thing as offline anymore?) When you're trying to get peoples attention, websites are the new billboards. Except instead of large, evenly spaced and easily readable billboards you glance at as you drive down the freeway, now imagine literally millions of billboards all of different sizes crowding yours 100 layers deep plus there's a gigantic, enormous FACEBOOK billboard blocking out all the others anyway.

That's kinda how it is trying to get your author website noticed.

*Please note, also, that I'm largely talking about static websites now. This can apply to your blog, too, if it is your author website, but blogging is another topic all together.

Here are a few things you might have on your author website to keep people engaged and coming back.

1. Be a curator of good content. Whether its cat videos or book recommendations, if people know they can get their entertainment fix by coming to your website, they'll come back again and again. You don't have to do everything for everyone, but if you're a connoisseur of, for example, Anime, don't be afraid to show visitors to your website that cool new Japanese art you found.

2. Music/Playlists. DO NOT--I repeat, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES have music play as soon as someone enters your site. It is PURELY annoying. Nobody likes it. If I come to your website and it has music playing I will be gone faster than shampoo on Severus Snape's beautifully greasy head. That being said, people love music, and are no doubt inspired by it, as you are. So share the songs that secured that character in your head, or helped solve your voice problem. And change it up every once in a while too. People may come to appreciate your taste.

3. Book Club Info. You may do well to have a page on your website dedicated for book club organizers. This is where they can come to get answers to FAQs or even a handout made by you, the author. You may inspire someone to pick your book because you make it so friendly to do so.

4. Quizzes and Polls. Yeah, yeah, you may think all those Buzzfeed quizzes are annoying, but they sure get traction, don't they? You can use PlayBuzz or many other sites to create your own quiz. Let your readers know which character of yours they most resemble, or poll them to see which British Victorian novelist they like most. Whatever works for you.

5. Fan Slideshow. Its always great to see authors appreciating involvement from their fans. If you can, make a slideshow on your website of nice letters or fan art you receive. (With permission, of course.) That way fans feel like they are involved, and part of a community.

So what does this look like? For a beautifully designed author website, visit Meredith McCardle. (She has bios for all her characters too!) And for interactivity, Jody Hedlund has a website with many of the things listed here. She's a great lead to follow. (Her blog is great too!)

What makes you look twice at an author website? What makes you come back for more?

Write on!

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Literary vs. Popular: FIGHT TO THE DEATH!!

I've noticed some very interesting things in the last few weeks. MFA programs often get the reputation for being snobby, and condescending. Now, I haven't noticed that systemically at BYU. My professors are wonderful, and take my (and others) fantasy and speculative work just as seriously as anybody elses, and they're perfectly happy to let me do an MG or YA novel for my thesis. But a couple things happened to me on the same day that made me realize how strong this seeming battle is in people's minds, and I don't like it.

So, as I said, my professors are great. I mentioned in a previous blogpost, though, that there are definitely times when I feel a little intimidated, and to be completely honest its just a small handful of the other students that make me feel that way. So, in class one day, we were going over publishing and conferences and the professor asked one of the other students about a particular conference that he'd been to. The student said something like, "It was good, yeah, but it seemed more like, toward the popular side of things, not so much literary, you know what I mean?"

And then. Later that same night, I was volunteering at Leading Edge, the science fiction and fantasy magazine at BYU. (They're having a flash fiction contest right now, and you should totally submit, or just submit a short story anyway because they need good work. Like seriously, submit!). Anyway, these are such fantastic people, and I feel so comfortable and myself around them. We talked about Salt Lake ComicCon and Doctor Who and Brandon Sanderson, who teaches at BYU. One of the people there asked me what I was studying, and when I told him I was doing an MFA, he said, "MFA's don't really do anything for you. You should drop out and just write."

So. Here's my thing. I think each side has it about 50% correct. When people get snobby or hyper-literary about their writing, I want to say, "Well I won't see you on the New York Times Bestseller list anytime soon, will I?" And when spec writers say MFAs are pointless, I want to say, "You realize that Brandon Sanderson, the idol of so many in this room, has an MFA, right?"

It is vitally important in ANY story to 1) Tell a good story and 2) Tell it well.

Why do so many feel like those things are contradictory? It is so incredibly frustrating to me when literary writers look down on genre fiction, or when genre writers don't feel obligated to learn and practice their craft. Haven't we proven time and time again that genre fiction can be incredibly literary? *ahem* Ursula Le Guin *ahem*. Haven't we proven that literary fiction can spin a ripping good yarn? *ahem* Anthony Doerr *ahem*.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir here, a bit, because y'all are awesome and I'm sure you don't have too many disagreements with me here :) I'm also not saying one has to be genre to be popular, or has to get an MFA to write well. Neither of those things are remotely true, its just my particular situation. Anyway, it's just fun to rant about this every once in a while, isn't it? Especially when its so present in my current situation, more so than ever before. But its kidna funny, really, and I just smile and say, yes, I'm going to write YA supernatural, and yes, I'm going to get an MFA. Because both sides are important. You guys know this :)

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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Monday, September 21, 2015

If You Fangirl At People Everyday Clap Your Hands

So the other day I was at the car shop getting my front tires replaced. (ugggghhh amirite?) Anyway, there were two guys sitting across from me and one was wearing a Captain America shirt and the other was wearing a Superman shirt. So duh, of course, we got into an excellent conversation on Marvel vs DC, and the awesome Marvel movies that are coming out and how DC is doing its best to keep up and all that fun stuff. It was fun, because I often get this like, uh...calm down look from people but these guys were like, "Yeah! And Captain America Two was great!" and then I was all, "Sorta, but number one was so much better!" and they were like "And Ultron was kinda disappointing!" and then I said, "We just totally need Tom Hiddleston back to play like all the supervillains!" etc, etc.

I started my Poe class today asking if anyone had seen last nights season premiere of Downton Abbey (HAVE YOU? HAVE YOU?) and one guy said he hadn't, but was sort of familiar with it and then I went on about how he should totally watch like all of it except totally skip season 4 except for the last few episodes. When I got done talking my professor was just looking at his books and grinning. I tend to do that to people a lot. Then during class we were talking about one of Poe's stories and I said something and he said, "Like John Lock in LOST," and I was like "OMG I LOVE LOST CAN I WRITE ABOUT POE AND LOST IN MY FINAL PAPER," and he was like, "Well probably writing about Borges and LOST would be better" and I was like "OKAY I'LL DO THAT."

Anyway, I'll sit down know. Except THE NEW MUPPETS SHOW PREMIERES TONIGHT. So no. No I won't.

Write on!

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Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Learn from Award-Winning and Best-selling Authors Every Day

Isn't modern technology miraculous? We hear stories of friends going to a lecture of a New York Times bestselling author, or a friend running into a Pulitzer winner on the Subway. Imagine what we could learn if we were friends with these people, or could hear them speak!

Hey guess what. You can listen to writers like that every day, and its easy.

There are so many resources out there for listening and learning from amazing writers. Why should you spend time with these resources? Because it helps us other writers engage in the conversation. Maybe a throw away comment from one of these people will help you understand the publishing industry in a way you hadn't before. Maybe you'll hear a solution to a plot problem you're having. When you're doing dishes or driving in the car, these are some of the most productive things you can be listening to, in my opinion. This is as much for myself as anyone else.

So how do you listen to great writers every day? Well I can give you a start.

University reading series. Almost every university has a weekly or monthly reading series, where writers from all over come to present their work to students. Often these may not be writers you've heard of, but they have incredibly great talent, and great stories and advice to share. My university for example does a weekly reading series, and anybody can watch the recordings of those here.

The National Book Festival. When I lived out in DC, the National Book Festival was one of the greatest parts. And even though I haven't been able to go to it since, I've been able to watch any lecture from the festival that I'm interested in because they're all on YouTube. Seriously. You can watch Billy Collins or Lois Lowry or John Green or Steven Millhauser or Walter Dean Myers or so so many more. You can find the playlist for the 2014 festival here.

TED Talks. I've mentioned TED Talks several times on this blog and I'll continue doing it. It is such a great series of thought-provoking talks on subjects that probably haven't even registered before. And what could be better for a writer? Even though most of these talks aren't specifically about writing, or even given by novelists, many speakers are non-fiction writers talking about their ideas. And that can be a great thing for any writer.

The Writing Show and Other Podcasts.  There are a large number of great podcasts with great guest writers, but one of the my favorites is The Writing Show with Paula B. It was canceled almost three years ago, but the archive of episodes is a treasure trove of knowledge.

Because we're all continually educating ourselves as writers, right?

Write on!

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Monday, September 7, 2015

First Week of the MFA: What I've Learned Already

So I've survived week one, and am on my way to start week two. It's been a very enlightening week. I've already had to make some pretty big mental adjustments, and make decisions about strategies and expectations. Still working on that part, really. But here's what I've learned already.

Other writers can be intimidating. Especially poets, not gonna lie. It's going to take some adjusting to get back in the swing of academia again. Outside of school, you sort of think you know what you're doing, but all that feels like it has to go out the door once you're in a workshop with a bunch of other writers. But I've decided that this is going to be a good thing. It will be good to learn from writers that intimidate me (both professors and fellow MFAers) and it will be good to learn not to be intimidated. Which brings me to my next point...

Don't lose yourself or what you already know. I've been blogging and researching marketing and the industry and working on short fiction and novels and poetry since I graduated college. I'm sure many of my fellow students have too, but my point is that the work I've already put into a writing career doesn't necessarily have to do with them. What I've learned about the industry and who I've already become as a writer will grow with the program, but that most definitely doesn't mean that the work I've already done isn't valuable.

Optimize your opportunities. So I have had to make some decisions about how I want to approach this program, as all students do. I think most have the tendency to come back on campus with guns blazing and eyes popping and ready to take on absolutely anything that comes there way. I have decided that is not the most effective or efficient approach. There will be so many opportunities on campus, and there are so many opportunities for writing in general. But between presenting a conference paper on 19th century American literature and submitting a short story portfolio for a creative writing scholarship, I know which opportunity I need to focus on. And if that means saying no to other things, then so be it.

I want to especially point out that these lessons, and others I will learn throughout this MFA program, are available beyond a university campus. I am most definitely not getting this degree because I think I have to to be a writer. That's false. I'm doing this because 1) I believe and hope it will make me a better writer and 2) I hope it will help me increase understanding of and make connections within the publishing industry.

Anyway, I hope you all had a fantastic labor day. Write on!

Sarah Allen

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Monday, August 31, 2015

How To Strengthen Your Feedback Backbone

I've been thinking about this topic for a very specific reason: I start my MFA program today. I've already had assignments given and work to do. I'm taking several workshop classes, and all of this means that I'm going to start having my work critiqued on a very regular basis.

That's a little scary.

And also wonderful. I am beyond excited to go back to school, and learn from my peers and people with talent and experience, and hopefully improve. That's the point of all this, and as we all know, improvement can sometimes mean a little bit of pain.

We writers are getting our worked critiqued and looked at regularly anyway (hopefully), so how do we become good at dealing with that? How do we grow writerly backbones strong enough to take feedback and work with it?

1. Practice. When I was a kid I had to give myself daily shots. (Its a long story). At first I was scared, and it took a long time for me to be able to do it myself, rather than have my mom do it. But after a while it became no big deal. Sure it stung a little, but not much, and sometimes hardly at all. It was the anticipation that was always worse than the sting itself. Get feedback on your work often, and hopefully habit will lessen the pain.

2. Have a "Safe Start." Have a friend or family member who can be your gentle first reader. This has often worked for me in the past. I have a few people who will read my piece, point out any glaring errors, but overall tell me its great and I'm great and everything's great. Now I don't want to stop there, because that means stopping improvement, but it can at least help you move forward with confidence in your step.

3. Know its not personal, and you're still in charge. Its pretty impossible to be objective when giving writing feedback, and its helpful to keep this in mind when you're reading comments on your work. Maybe this isn't their favorite genre, or maybe they have something to prove, or maybe they're just in a bad mood. Maybe they're just not your reader. I personally think it can still be super valuable to get feedback from people like this, to get that opposing perspective. However keep in mind that you don't have to take it personally, and in fact you don't have to take it at all. You, ultimately, are the writer. You make the final decisions. Its still best to take all feedback into very serious consideration, in my opinion, and be humble enough to improve. But if consideration is where it stops, then that is a-okay.

Mostly, don't be scared to put your work out there. I'm consistently surprised by how many hopeful writers become stalled because of that fear. Don't stall. It's scary, but worth it if this is really what you want. Remember that if this experience is painful, its not meant to be knock down punches, but a refiners fire. (If you find people merely trying to get you down, avoid them. Like the plague. Be nice, but really. Plague.) You'll come out better on the other end.

You can do this.

Sarah Allen

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Making Connections When You're Not Good At Making Connections

So, I am really, really terrible with names. It's kind of embarrassing. It takes me a good few months to get to know more than a couple people in my local church group, and often even after a month of knowing someone it takes me a minute of panic before I remember their name. Then I worry I'm getting it wrong. And don't even get me started on birthdays.

This is something I want to get better at. But not just to avoid those "Oh hi skldhg" moments. Being good at remembering people, and a natural ability to make connections, can be a tremendous asset as a writer. In so much of this business, as in any other, a lot of it comes down to who you know. Still, though, being a good networker isn't natural for everybody. I'm not necessarily shy, but I'm ridiculously bad at social follow-through.

So. We writers who want to make connections but aren't super great at doing it...what's to be done?

1. Learn to say yes. Here's what I mean--maybe we're not great at connecting with people and forming those strong networks, but random opportunities come along all the time. This is our chance. Say yes. Because we might not be great at creating our own networks and opportunities, saying yes is a way to get in with people who are great at it.

I'm thinking about this because this morning an email went around to the people in my grad program (eeeeee I start next Monday and I am so freaking excited!!) about getting volunteers to introduce writers who come for a weekly reading series during the semester. I jumped on the opportunity, and now I get to introduce Ron Carlson in October! (I said the prayer last time he visited BYU...we're becoming good buds.)

2. Use lists and calendars. Now that you've said yes to a connection or opportunity, then what? This is where people like me really struggle. How do we make these chances more lasting, rather than flash in the pan type situations? Well, there's no shame in making name lists. We have great tech for doing just that. You could even make a networking calendar (hmmm, maybe I'll do this myself) and put things like, "tweet to so and so this day" or "email a follow up to this person" or even "send a thank-you note to this person." That could come in extremely useful.

Those are the strategies I'm going to try and employ to make up for my lake of natural networking ability. For those of you out there who might be super good at this, what suggestions can you give me? What are your top tips for making and keeping great connections?

Sarah Allen

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Shakespeare Had a FitBit

Okay not really, but Shakespeare and FitBits are what I want to talk about today so yay?

Anyway. New FitBit user here, and of course its got me thinking about writing. I regret not having one of these beauties earlier, because it makes daily intake and output so precise and clear and understandable, and you can see it all in one click. I'm a writer rather than a mathematician for many, many reasons, but its true that you can't argue with numbers.

So why has this got me thinking about writing? Maybe being so precise and...well, mathematical about our writing could do us some good. Maybe 1000 words is your daily 10,000 steps. I know that can put a lot of pressure on people, but think of it this way. Even if you NEVER reach 1000 words, keeping precise track of what you do get to can show you patterns of 150 word days versus 650 word days, and that can be a very useful thing to know. And then on days when you do reach that 1000, its time to celebrate! (Pass the ice cream, please).

That's output. What about input? FitBit has a spot where you can track intake on things like water. It tells you how much you need, and then you log your water until you reach it. Super helpful. What if we did that for ourselves with writing? And what would writerly intake be? Reading of course. Set yourself a daily goal, and it doesn't have to be ginormous. Two poems a day. A chapter a day. A page a day. Whatever it is, keeping such precise goals and records can help us gauge how our days are going, and where we might using up time that could be better spent.

Here's my input and output goals, just to give you an idea.

-1000 words.
-1 submission. (Includes short story subs, agent queries, article pitches, etc. At least one per day).
-Social media. (Nothing major. Just a tweet here and a Facebook update there, and sometimes an Instagram.)

-1 poem per day.
-1 novel chapter per day.
-A writing lecture/video/podcast 3 times per week. (Writing Excuses podcast and National Book Festival speeches are some favorites.

Anyway, do whatever works for you. But keeping track can be super helpful.

What does all this have to do with Shakespeare, you ask? Not much, really, I just wanted to show you this amazing, hilarious, catchy video. You'll seriously be glad you watched it:

Sarah Allen

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Social Media is Not Really for Book Marketing

Like the ever-wise Anne R. Allen said in her most recent blog post, social media is still a writers best bet to visibility. But it's not really about book marketing. Social media has gotten a bad rap in the writing community, and for good reason. Anybody's whose gotten a BUY MY BOOK message on Twitter knows how spammy things can feel. Social media is a weird thing, because on the one hand, it's the last thing that's going to help you sell books, and on the other, its the only thing that's going to help you sell books. I'll try to explain what I mean.

Social media is not marketing. At least not what we think of as typical marketing. If you're trying to use social media as a billboard or a flier or a sales pitch, its not really going to work. If people don't really know you, they're hesitant to give you any of their spare seconds, let alone spare change, especially if what's coming from you is sales and not anything particularly helpful for them.

Social media is social. Social media is an excellent platform for meeting like-minded and interesting people. This is why, in my opinion, consistency and longevity, are the most important things to focus on, rather than flash in the pan type of strategies. You can start making industry connections before you've ever written a word. You can start learning from the professionals, engaging with other writers, and learning about all the various opportunities. That is what social media is good for. And then when you've learned and improved and have a quality book ready to go out into the world, you'll have a community of people who know you and are supportive and excited for you.

This has been on my mind lately in part because of Anne's excellent post, and also because of the Pitch Wars competition going on this week. (Deadline is Monday, so you still have time. Seriously, it is so worth checking out, and check out the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter too.) This is one of the most supportive and engaging online writing communities I've ever participated in. I've met new people who've given me great feedback on my chapters and query letter. I've had questions answered and interacted with writers who are much further along in their careers than I am. I've even had the opportunity to answer a few questions myself.

To me, this is what social media is all about. Start now, and be genuine. That way people know that what you have is valuable, and then when they see you have a book out, they'll trust that it will be valuable too.

Sarah Allen

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Writing by Moonlight: A Writing Career in Your Free Time

Whether you're doing all in your power to build a full-time writing career, or you prefer the balance of writing plus some other kind of work, many of us writers are in the position of having to manage our writing careers in our off-work hours. I know it can feel like trying to hold a tray of wine glasses while washing a cat, but it can be not just manageable, but fun and non-stressful. Because we want our writing careers to be sustainable, right? Regardless of what else is happening in our lives.

Here are some Sarah's-brain suggestions for managing writing in your off-work times. This is what has worked for me, but I'd love to hear other suggestions and tips from your experience!

Lists are your friend. Make lists of everything. Make a list of the kinds of things you need to do every day. Mine is Writing, Submitting, and Social media. Make a list of magazines you want to submit to. That way you don't have to spend as much time on research when you're ready to submit.

Strategize day by day. Its good to wrap your head around what you've got to do before you've got to do it. With your writing, there are a couple ways to do this. Taking some pre-bed time to plan your next day is a great idea. Or, uh, maybe brainstorm during staff meetings? I mean, I've never done that. Whenever works best, take some time to list what writing projects you want to work on, and what submitting you want to do, before you're home and at your desk.

Time and reward yourself. One of the hardest things for me is coming home from work with energy and motivation. I mean, you've used up your creative umph for the day, right? This is where Butt In Chair comes in. Just get in the chair. That's step one. Remind yourself you just have to do one submission and write for just thirty minutes. That's manageable and not scary, right? Then when you're done you can flop in bed and watch another four episodes of Bones. Or you may get to the end of your half hour and feel like you can manage another thirty minutes. Then maybe thirty more. Maybe three hours and a thousand words go by before you know it. But if not, that's okay. Remember this: writing careers can be built in an hour a day.

Take time to refresh. Refreshing means different things to different people. It may mean a trip to an art museum or three episodes of Friends or a chocolate shake or three miles on the elliptical. Or a combination of these things. Sometimes a five minute walk around the block will do the trick. Sometimes you need a trip to Disneyland. Just keep track of yourself and what your brain needs. When you sit down to write and submit, you need your brain to be refreshed and happy with you.

These strategies have helped me. What works for you?

Sarah Allen


  • RattleA prize of $10,000 and publication in Rattle is given annually for a poem. Due July 15.
  • Glamour: Win $5000 and possible publication in Glamour magazine for personal essay of 2500-3000 words on "My Real Life Story." Due July 15.
  • Fairy Tale Review: Win $1000 and publication in The Fairy Tale Review for a group of poems or work of prose influenced by fairy tales. Due July 15. 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Am I Showing or Telling?

Sometimes it can be really hard to tell.

We've all heard it so many times. "Show don't tell!" Yes. Yes, you think, I know. I get it. But maybe we get it in the same way my eighteen month old nephew "gets" eating with a spoon. Do we all secretly have mashed carrots on our faces and nobody's telling us? Wait where was I going with this? Oh yeah. Are we showing or telling, and how do we know?

Beware of "was." Lately I'm super, super grateful for amazing beta readers who help my manuscript become so much better by making it more active. "Was" is a great clue that you're telling rather than showing. If someone is "wassing" they're not doing anything. (Is wassing a word? Can we make it one?)

Avoid passive voice. I think sometimes bloggers throw things out there and even though as readers it sounds good and we try our best to follow it, we're not exactly sure what they're really talking about. Maybe that's just me. I've always found actual examples of passive voice to be super helpful, and if you just do a quick google search you'll find plenty. (Like this one, that also includes how to edit to active voice.) Essentially, just remember linking verbs. IS, AM, ARE, WAS, WERE, BE, BEING, BEEN. If you're using one of them in your sentence, especially was, were, or been, it's probably too passive. Change it to a simple "Subject Verbed" and stay safe.

Use active verbs. Good writing--good active voice--is more than just getting your characters to move on the page. It's about really seeing them. I'm getting an awesome lesson in this from my beta readers, and its been super helpful. Don't settle for okay verbs. Really see what your character is doing. Then your reader will too.

This advice is as much for me as anyone, but since it's what I'm thinking on lately I thought I'd write it out.

Write on!

Sarah Allen


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