From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Three Things An Editor Notices First


Just kidding. Actually, editors seriously rock. Especially the good ones.

Anyway, this Saturday was the annual Life, The Universe, and Everything conference, where us hopeful and dewy-eyed writers got to learn at the feet of masters such as Brandon Sanderson, M.T. Anderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Shannon Hale. There's just something so completely cool about actually seeing in real life the actual, flesh and blood person behind the books that have changed your life. 

*We now interupt this program for a Public Service Announcement*: Shannon Hale is amazing and a goddess and she gave the keynote address and you should all go read this post on her blog RIGHT NOW. I'll wait. Back? Okay. *ahem* Now back to our regularly scheduled program.*

So anyway, one of the most practical workshops I attended was given by a professional editor who spoke as cleanly as he preached, and had some seriously great advice to give. One of the things he mentioned were the top three things he and other professional editors notice when they receive a new manuscript.

First, though, why should we care? That's a fair question. We are artistes, after all. What care we for the gruff and superficial opinions of others? Well, first of all, we need others. As the analogy goes, be the artist for a while, soak in the muse and creative juices, make your masterpiece shine, and then LOCK that artist in the closet, STEAL the manuscript and run away cackling and SELL IT for as much moulah as you can get. I'm sorry, if you want writing to be your job, that's how you've gotta do it. If you're just writing for yourself, then just write for yourself. But if you really want to get your work out there and be taken seriously, then plain and simple, you're going to be dealing with editors.

Editors are great. They're human just like everybody else, and are trying to get the best work they can to publish the best product they can. Our job as writers is to make it easy for them to say yes. As easy as possible. (Yes, this means following submission guidelines. If they ask you to send your manuscript in size 42, Comic Sans font on yellow paper, then you darn well send it in size 42 Comic Sans font on yellow paper.) But these guys see so, so many submissions a day, that even you follow the instructions to a T, how can you make yourself stand out of the pack in a positive way? Well, according to this one editor at least, here are three things editors notice first when they pick up a submission:

1. The Prose: This may seem backwards. We often think of clean prose as the icing on the cake, and all the meaty, juicy stuff like character and plot and theme and voice as the stuff that really matters. However, thinking this way may be doing yourself a disservice. You may have the coolest characters ever, but if your prose isn't clean and flowing as rainwater, then they can't even see those awesome characters. They're buried and distorted under the brackish muck. There are SO many resources out there about good characters and cool plot twists and how to improve your writing voice, but not so many on good grammar. However it's not as nasty as it sounds, and this editor even has a rare great resource. Check out his blog The Story Polisher. I plan to go through his posts, and I know it will help make my writing what I envision it to be.

2. Structure: After making sure they can read your writing, the editor wants to know if you can tell a good story. Spin a good yarn. They want a chauffeur who knows what they're doing--student drivers make us all sick. Make sure you're reading a lot, and picking up what the overall structure of a successful story looks like. Have other people read it to make sure there aren't confusing or boring bits. Make sure your ending feels right in the story, and the editors who receive your piece will cry in gratitude.

3. Creativity: Editors also look for something they haven't seen a heptillion times before. Don't stress out too much about this though. C. S. Lewis says, "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." Just be you, as you as you possibly can, and you're work will be a breath of fresh air.

Two more quick things the editor said that I think are worth mentioning. First: we all make stupid mistakes. All of us. Don't feel bad when you do. Just learn and fix and improve for next time around. (I'm working on this as much as [more than] anyone). And second, this editor actually said that items two and three are what he can help you with. He can help your story's overall structure and help you make your idea a little more unique. However, if your piece is riddled with errors and the prose is broken, it will take him twenty times longer to try and teach you the rules of language, and fix every mistake. So make sure you're learning that well on your own (or in a class). I hadn't thought of things that way before, but I'm glad I know now.

Whew. This was kind of a long one, but I hope it was helpful. Get that writing polished and don't be scared to submit!

Sarah Allen

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Blogging As An Unpublished Writer: Am I A Sham?

I've been having some blurry thoughts about blogging in the last few weeks and months. I feel all conflicted about it, and perhaps unnecessarily so. But still, I have so many questions and vague ideas and I want to make sure I'm doing this right. Often I feel like an impostor.

I've decided a few things about blogging:

I love it. I do. Genuinely. I love that it forces me to write, and I love that I get to talk to all of you guys.

It feels obsolete. In some ways, it really does feel like blogging has gone the way of payphones. Maybe a few people still use them, but you gotta kind a look at them a little suspiciously, and wonder why. People post funny GIFS and videos all the time, but I don't know the last time someone on my Facebook or someone even IRL was talking about a blog post they'd read.

It still feels necessary. So, even though blogging isn't The Thing anymore, and even though its not going to sell books or make me wildly popular, I'm still very glad I have it, and am definitely not giving it up. To me blogging is sort of like a dictionary for any given writer. The dictionary itself isn't going to be the glitz and glam that gets the career going (probably not, anyway) but its important to just have it there, so people can come back to check it every once in a while.

The Chuck Wendig vs. Anne R. Allen philosophies. Chuck and Anne are two of my all-time favorite bloggers, but for completely different reasons. I actively look forward to Anne's weekly posts because they are by far the most informative of pretty much any blog out there. She goes in depth, and makes sure every topic and angle is well covered. Its a master class in being a writer. Chuck, on the other hand, posts irregularly and his content is widely varied. He posts his own photography, or flash fiction contests. His blog you can pop in whenevs, get some laughs, have a good time, and head out. In my ideal blogging world, I want to have both sides. I dunno if its possible, but I'd like to.

I don't like giving writing advice. Both Chuck and Anne give great advice, but I've noticed something: its less about how to write and more about how to be a writer. The business and lifestyle side of things. That makes sense to me, because I don't know if I like sort of anonymous writing advice. A person improves there writing by learning from people and mentors in real life, and especially by having other people read their actual writing.

So with all that in mind, I'm trying to figure out what I really want to do with this here blog. I want to do some exciting cool things with it. I know I couldn't be another Anne or Chuck. I'm not as funny as Chuck, and not nearly as smart and wise as Anne. So I'm trying to figure out me as a blogger, especially given that I haven't published yet. (Still working on that. I'll be working on that till the day I die).

So here's my question: What are your favorite blog topics? And who are your most regularly checked, consistently favorite bloggers?

I'll take all the ideas I can get :)

Write on!

Sarah Allen

Monday, February 1, 2016

There IS a Magic Key to Writing Success

People say all sorts of things about writing. In fact, so many people say so many things that all the advice can seem confusing and really, really complicated. Peoples advice on "Achieving Success As A Pusher of Words" can feel like "Stand on one foot while singing the national anthem and flipping pancakes and if you do that just exactly at 8:88 PM when Venus and Jupiter are aligned you just might get an agent to read your work."

I'm here to tell you, its much simpler than that.

There IS a magic secret to success. And for a mere $200,000, that secret can be YOURS

Just kidding. It's not really a secret, its just something I've learned in the last few months. I've come to the conclusion that there really is one single thing that can make ALL the difference. That doesn't mean you don't still have to put in the work, but there is just ONE thing you can do that will take you from being someone who likes writing to being someone who's an ink-slingin writer by darn. Ready for the magic secret? Here it is.

The key is writing groups.

With a good (emphasis on good...we'll get to that) writing group, so many of your bases are covered. Writing groups help you:

1. Write better.
2. Feel like writing.
3. Write to a schedule.
4. Write betterer.
5. Learn the industry.
6. Make connections.
7. Make more connections

I could go on. Every single one of these benefits has happened for me in the last few months (even weeks) because of writing groups. I am really not good at networking. I am quite friendly, but I am clueless about how to turn friendliness into meaningful connections. However in my workshop last semester I met someone who is literally a genius at connecting and networking, and for the people I've met alone, the price of tuition is so worth it. I am learning so much, and feeling a part of something great more than I have maybe ever. All because of writing groups.

Now, of course, there's a caveat. We all know that writing groups can totally fail too. But just do whatever you gotta do to find a good one, because honestly without it I feel like you'd be trying to compete in NASCAR on a camel. If you are serious about writing, or really about anything, get other people to help you. Its so much better than trying to do it alone.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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