From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

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!

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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