From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Monday, August 14, 2017

5 Writing-Based Instagram Ideas for Writers

1. Its #Bookstagram, baby.

#Bookstagram is a large and vibrant community of book-lovers on Instagram. We got into this inkslinging business because we love words, right? And now with modern social media, we can pretend to interact with others who love books as much as we do without actually having to speak to another human or put on pants! Whatever you're reading, take a fancy schmancy picture of it and share your thoughts! And don't be intimidated by the intensive setups and photo voodoo of some of the most popular bookstagrammers. Just do you! If you can work a fuzzy, feathery, scaly friend in there somewhere too, all the better! The point is to make social media non-stressful, fast, and easy, right? This is all in support of the real work, the way ants pick food for grasshoppers. (Because that's how nature works, right?)

(Hint: some of the top hashtags to use are #bookstagram [duh] #bookishfeatures #bookstagramfeatures and #books. Or try a #shelfie!)

2. Blackout Poetry

So, I've never been a fan of when people post like screenshots of their poems from note apps and stuff. To me that looks as tacky as the underside of a 3rd grade desk, but hey, if you like it, more power to ya. However, I do think blackout poetry can look pretty freaking awesome when it's done well. Check out Austin Kleon's Instagram for some excellent examples. I downloaded the PicsArt app on my phone and that makes it pretty painless. Just snap a shot of a page of whatever you're reading and play around. Because social media should be your playground. Have fun and your audience will have fun. We know when you're having fun on that tire-swing and when you're not. We're watching.

(Hint: Try tagging your blackout poetry with #poetry #blackoutpoetry #makeblackoutpoetry #poem and #poetrycommunity)

3. Quoth the Instabard

Step one. Pick a pretty sentence you read recently. Step two. Find a pretty picture of a sunset or a tree or a baboon butt that you took on your recent safari in Botswana. Step three. Use something like Canva or PicMonkey to overlay and mash them together like butter on toast. Step four. Pick a pretty filter and share that gorgeousness that's just so gorgeous we're all gonna cry till we puke. Step five. Climb that tree and dance with that baboon into that sunset, you inspiring butterfly of awesome you.

(Hint: For real, people love this stuff. Try using #quote #instaquote #writing and #writer)

4. It's a bird! It's a plane! It's WORDS WORDS WORDS!

They're all around us, man, like Weeping Angels. And if you look close they stay still. Remember that church sign in your neighborhood with the hilarious misspelling? We want to see it too! (Heck, Lynn Truss made a whole career out of finding grammar mistakes). Burnt out bulbs or scrubbed off paint making a catchphrase much more interesting? Share! Quaint wooden plaques with words that make you smile? Come on friend, don't hog those smiles for yourself. That's just plain rude. Slap a pretty filter on that grin and blind us with the dazzle. Or just, ya know, look for pretty words. They're there.

5. The World is Your Writing Desk

I once took a boomerang of the book I was reading while I was on a roller coaster. If you're a writer, you're a writer all the time. Yeah we're not working in a visual medium like paint or cartoons (although if you do that too, then post that shiz!) but we're still working, and we work everywhere. Show us your writing desk, and you don't even have to move the 37 Cheetoh's bags. Notebook on a beach? Instaperfect. Taking your typewriter on the A train? Well don't be a dippy ya hippie! If you want to use Instagram in your social media arsenal (and if you don't that's totally okay, pick the faceswords or tweetsabers, whatever works for you) then take advantage of the work you're already doing every day and share it. And really, that can go for any social media platform. Like Austin Kleon says, show your work! If you do, your tribe will find you. Arms outstretched, moaning braaiinzzzz over and over, we'll find you.

As with any writing/writelife advice, take what works for you and ditch the rest. Got other ideas for writerly Instagram posts? Share in comments!

Write on!

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Read More: From KidLit: How to Hook a Reader

Submission Opportunity: If you've thought about working on something historical check out this awesome fellowship opportunity with the American Antiquarian Society!

Monday, August 7, 2017

5 Different Ways To Think About "Write What You Know"

1. Write What You Want To Find Out.

If we all stuck with what we knew, our libraries would be full of pretty dull ink blots. J.K. Rowling would have never written about wizards living under staircases. J.R. Tolkien would have never given us Hobbitses, precious. Dan Wells would never have been able to write about a straight up psychopath. (At least, one would hope...). So really, the only thing stopping me from writing a story about an NBA star isn't that I'm a 5'4 white girl with the coordination of a banana, but that I... well, frankly, Kobe I don't give a flan. It's not what I want to find out about. If you're a 5'4 white girl with the coordination of a banana and for you the NBA is one of those brown paper packages favorite things type of things, then don't let anybody tell you you can't write about it. Write about what you care about. Write about what you're willing to dive into. What you're willing to research and put your blood, sweat, and other bodily fluids into.

2. Write What You DON'T Know.

This isn't actually contradictory to the traditional "write what you know" advice slung from every level of writer blogdom high and low. In fact they go hand in hand. Let me explain. No there is too much, let me some up. Buttercup is marry Humperdink in little less than...wait, where were we? Oh yeah. Ok, so there are lots of things you DO know lots about, right? Maybe you're the worlds foremost Han Dynasty expert. You've read all the books just because you're a Han nerd. (Lay off Leia, he's mine! Wait, wrong Han...) You can tell the difference between a Han pot and a Shin pot in thirty seconds flat. Maybe you know you want to write about the Han dynasty in your novel, but are having a hard time figuring out what approach to take. Well, think of it this way. What are the gaps in your otherwise extensive knowledge? Where's the loose tooth in your jaw? The gap in the fence that your creepy neighbors keep spying on you through? Cover that hole! Find that missing plank and form it into something beautiful. Write the thing you DON'T know.

3. Write What Puts You In The Freak Show.

You know you have a freak side. We all do. What I mean is, we all have something that puts us in the maligned 1%, and it ain't gotta be moulah. Maybe you grew up with a neighbor who cast spells on your house every night. Maybe you're dad works on a station in Antarctica and you've visited him. Maybe you were born with a rare disease that makes all your farts smell like grass clippings. I don't know. But you do. And maybe it's not something you normally think of as that strange, or it might take you a while to realize how unique it is. Take that part of you and run with it. Don't be shy. Fart those grass clippings. It might be hard. It might be vulnerable. But it sure could be the claw that pulls your little squeaky alien self out of the overcrowded prize box.

4. Write Where You Live.

So maybe this one hits home for me specifically because I live in a city that I don't think I've ever seen represented in fiction. Heck, my entire state isn't particularly hot on the Hollywood/Bestseller list. (What was the last show to be set in Utah...Sister Wives? Ugh). Ok, ok, obviously there are plenty of awesome and wonderful things set in Utah and in my little old Provo specifically, but there could definitely be more. And in all likelihood its the same for wherever you live. Everybody wants to set their stories in New York or Chicago, but you're not everybody, you're you you shimmering, powerful, rainbow-studded stallion you. Plus, writing where you live won't merely help you stand out, it'll also make it easy for you to write a totally authentic and refreshing story because it's a story from where you're standing. So go outside, breathe the Natchitoches or Pocatello or Karaganda air, or wherever it is you breathe where you live. (Hey, you might be a blobfish with good wifi. I don't know your life.) Then come back inside and breathe it onto the page, rich and pungent.

5. Write Who You Know.

Ok, so I don't mean copying wholesale your weird uncle who dyes his beard turquoise and whose footprints look like claws. (Ok, but if you for real have an uncle with claws for feet write that shiz.) I don't even necessarily mean digging out the strangest humans in your vicinity and morphing them so they fit on a page, although that's not necessarily a bad idea. In fact, sure, do that. But also don't forget that large groups also have personality. We call it culture. It's why you're called "Ma'am" in Texas and... something less nice in New York. Whoever you're surrounded by has already got their grubby, grimy, culture-filthy stench all over you, so you might as well take full advantage of it. The people in Baton Rouge are different from my people here in Utah Valley. They just are. And I want to see that. Zoom in and show us those differences. Get right up close enough to count the nose hairs. Okay maybe you don't need to be that close, but take the people around you and use them as inspiration. Tell your story and don't forget that they're the context.

More ideas for thinking about "Write What You Know"? Leave them in comments!

Read More: From Kristen Lamb: What Truly Makes a Powerful Female Character
Submission Opportunity: Parabola is accepting Non-Fiction articles.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Have You Diversified your Writing Portfolio?

Firstly, check out this awesome post from Chuck Wendig about making a serious career/living out of this wordsmithing we do.

One thing he talks about in this post that I've been trying to focus on lately is diversifying your writing paths. There are a lot of great writerly options out there, and I don't think we have to pick all of them, but I think we should at least pick a handful.

I like novels, and I think most of all y'all do too, and that is and will stay the largest egg in my basket. But I think Chuck is wise to advocate incubating more than just one egg. (If you're looking to make writing your career, at any rate. There are other writing choices and lifestyles that are beautiful and wonderful too.)

Since writing for a living has been my dream since I was in middle school, this is advice I've been trying to take to heart. And now that I've finished grad school, this is where I'm focusing my energies. I'm querying the novels, of course, but I've also started seriously learning about pitching articles to magazines, news stories to newspapers, working on projects like picture and chapter books as well as my MG and YA novels, researching screenwriting, professional blogging opportunities, etc. Because those are the writing paths that seem at least sort of interesting to me.

There are a ton of other writing possibilities too. TV writing, technical writing, medical writing, legal writing, tons of stuff. In fact, so many it can feel overwhelming. But narrowing down your focus and energies on the opportunities and projects that really excite you can help you take steps towards full time writing.

Do you think this approach to a writing career is helpful for you? What three writing paths would be your top choices?


Monday, July 3, 2017

Two Ways You Might Be Self-Rejecting Your Own Writing

I'm fighting self-rejection at this very moment, actually.

As I'm sitting at my computer trying to decide what to blog about, every idea I come up with seems dumb. Including this one. You guys are already pros. You don't need my two bits. I've got a shelf next to me of books by Ellen Degeneres and Jim Gaffigan and Dave Barry and when I'm working on bloggy stuff I pull one of those books out and glance through it for inspiration, but what often ends up happening is that I see how hilarious these guys are and I'm like, well, if I post anything ever, someone's going to hold up my drivel next to the genius of Dave Barry and it will by like Tyra Banks entering a beauty contest with a blob fish.

Okay, I'm being over-dramatic here, but there are some not very nice monsters that can sneak into our brains sometimes. And really, self-rejection and self-doubt can be like an anvil tied to the ankle of a swimmer. You may be Micheal Freaking Phelps but if you're attached to that anvil you ain't goin nowhere.

As I've struggled with starting new projects lately, and as I've talked with writer friends, I've noticed too serious ways we writers tend to self-reject ourselves. I mean, we get rejected enough. We get the proverbial door slammed in our face all the time, there is NO reason we should be slamming it on ourselves.

1. We Self-Reject our Original Ideas. This is the one I've been dealing with lately. I finished a novel several months ago and it was one of the easiest novels I've ever written and it just felt natural and fun. But ever since then, every tiny idea that's come through my head has been like a little ant under the boot of self-rejection. Every idea has felt stupid and dumb. I get a spark of something and then the monster in my brain says, "No, that's not how things really go." Or, "No, that idea isn't going to interest anybody but you."

So what to do about? I say we should call it the jerk-face meanie poo monster that it really is, see it as a voice separate and apart from our true selves, put a sound-proof glass box around the nasty beast, and ignore it. Or at least do our best to most of the time. This has helped me. I've wanted to write short stories to submit to places like Asimov's or FSF but I've been stuck. But once I realized that this doubt voice was one I didn't have to listen to, I thought to myself, well heck, I'm going to write a story about sister missionaries in space if I darn well please. Who knows if it's going to end up succeeding anywhere, but I'm sure having a dang fun time writing it. And more importantly, I can already tell that the writing is more vibrant, engaging, and alive, then it would be if I was trying to paint-by-numbers some idea I thought would be what everyone else wanted to see.

2. We Self-Reject our Final Product. We're writers, which means words are our business. Ink-blobs on the page is what we're trying to sell, and sometimes it can feel weird. Like standing on the street corner asking people to by a picture of us. But it's not that. You know how the best writers have impacted your life, and what they have done for you. They've given you everything, haven't they? I know that's what writers like C.S. Lewis and Wallace Stegner have done for me. Now, I'm not saying we're going to be Lewis's and Stegners, but we shouldn't be embarrassed that we're doing what they did either. We're making beautiful things. Maybe even art.

When you have a finished piece (and I mean redrafted, beta-read, spit-shined finished) then don't let the self-doubt monster stop you there. You've done it. Now show it. Let the world benefit from your voice and your hard work, and trust that it will in fact benefit. Because someone will, and you may never know. But trust. Yeah you'll still get rejected from the outside, and that rejection sucks too, but just keep going. Make them reject you, don't reject yourself from the outset. Keep your finished pieces out in circulation. When your poem is done, send it. When your novel is done and the best you can make it, query.

You can do it.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Is Everyone taking Anti-Depressants Without Me?

Okay. So the first and by far the most important thing that needs saying here is this: modern medicine is wonderful. Mental and emotional disorders are real, should be treated compassionately, and if anti-depressants or other pharmaceuticals can help you, then that is great. The ensuing thoughts are just me word vomiting my own experiences because this is my internetz space and I feel like it, okay? But we’re all going to remember that modern medicine is hooray and every single one of you people is wonderful and lovely, outside of whatever medicines or vitamins or fish oils or oozing laboratory concoctions you put into your body. Any questions about this, I’ll refer you to Dr. Bruce Banner. Who is lovely.

We good so far?


I’m pretty much the ultimate stubborn optimist, so I tend to move forward viewing things as pretty great. I have bad days like anyone, sometimes really bad, and sometimes for a long time, but I’ve always been able to figure things out and move forward. I’ve never taken anti-depressants or been to a therapist. I did once take anti-anxiety meds after I got surgery on my jaw, and at first I was stubborn and thought, pssh, why are they giving me anti-anxiety meds? But that only lasted until the middle of that first night home when my heart wouldn’t stop racing and I couldn’t stop crying and I had no idea why. Then I took the anti-anxiety meds, and felt much better.


Because optimism is what I’m built with, there’s a thing that happens to me every so often. I’m going along, living a pretty happy life, and then something will inform or remind me that someone I know and love has a brain space or personal life space that’s pretty darn crappy. That’s broken or sick. And this inevitably, although it shouldn’t, takes me by surprise and throws me for a small loop.

So, yes, because of the way I see things, I often find myself discovering that a situation I didn’t know much about was a lot worse than I thought. Or that someone I love who I thought was doing just fine actually isn’t, that they’re getting therapeutic and/or medical help for some really hard, crappy stuff. Basically, that things are much more terrible than I thought they were when I was looking at them.

Now, obviously, this little mental jolt is a million percent less of a deal than the actual hard stuff that other people are going through. Obviously. But it’s still a jolt. When it’s bad, I end up feeling like I can’t trust my own head. Like somehow I’m being deluded. That what I experience isn’t real.

I end up thinking, is everyone seeing the real world except me?

I end up wondering if maybe I’m not as complex, nuanced, or profound as other people.

Of course, I am a stubborn, defensive, and firm believer that one person’s reality is no more “Real” than another person’s. My White Utah Mormon Girl reality and a Black Inner-City Chicago Boy reality and a Chinese Rice Farmer Grandma reality are all Reality. They’re all part of the “Real World.” And I get back to that mindset eventually, usually pretty fast. But I guess what I’m saying here is that everyone has weird neurosis, and that’s what makes us so wonderful.

At moments like this I take my own form of medication, which is a self-prescription for a forty-seventh viewing of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Remember when Dev Patel’s character is watching all his dreams collapse around him and his hotels going out of business and his mom hates his girlfriend and he’s doing his best to keep things together but they’re basically imploding. He’s distraught, but then he finally says, “Things will be alright in the end. If they are not all right, then it is not the end.”

And that’s the thought I’ll leave you with.

Until the end.

Blog Spotlight: Blogging Can Lead To Many Career Paths, by Anne R. Allen
Submission Spotlight: Tomaz Salamun Prize (and a residency in Slovenia?!?!?)
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