Thursday, September 18, 2014


Janus, the ancient Roman god of beginnings and endings, thresholds, doorways and gates, is most often depicted as a two-faced guy because he is looking to the future and the past simultaneously.

With those thresholds, gateways and passages in mind, take a moment in the present to listen to Mac Barnett's delightful, funny and provocative TED talk. You might just get a whale of an idea!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Always End With a Smile~and Other Writing Lessons from Puppy Class

Last week my daughter and I and our 10-month old recently rescued puppy, Jazz, all graduated from 'Puppy Basics'.

Jazz, who is 13.5 pounds of clever terrier-plus-guess-what, and my daughter, who is wise and a few days shy of her 11th birthday, breezed through the lessons: relax, sit, stay, off, down, lineup, come, and leave it. I did fine, too, as I am fascinated by animal behavior and what it teaches us about ourselves and others.

At the end of the class, as is her custom, our instructor Judy reminded us to generously praise our dogs and ourselves because the most important rule is, "Always end with a smile!"

"Your puppies crave approval," Judy reminded us repeatedly over the six weeks of classes. "You want to set up a success model for their training. Praise and treats are powerful reward messages and your dogs learn quickly because learning is fun!"

As we enjoyed our success at the end of that class, I made a mental note to post a blog about reinforcing success when it comes to writers and their creative projects.

Everyone, whether canine or human, wants to succeed at whatever the task, and praise, treats, and smiles reinforce and reward a job well done.

Simple formula: task accomplished = reward.

And judging from the wagging tails and big smiles all around the class, task accomplished = reward is also a powerful formula for success.

The need for a reward at the end of a task accomplished may be even more important for writers and other creative people who often work in solitude.

If you spend hours alone at your desk or easel, working with words, paint, or clay, you want to set up your very own simple system of task accomplished = reward.

1) Decide what you are going to accomplish today (or tomorrow) when you sit down to work.

2) Don't make your task too big or too small (think Goldilocks); make it doable in the time you have.

3) Accomplish your task--whether you set out to draft 500 words, edit a chapter, sketch out your basic shapes on canvas--do so without judging your results. You will come back to your work tomorrow or the day after.

4) Reward yourself for task accomplished!  Tell yourself, "Good job!" Eat a chocolate. Watch 15 minutes of your favorite binge TV, go for a walk--make your rewards tangible and pleasurable!

5) Throughout the process, be aware of your intrinsic rewards: the pleasure you take from your self-expression, the anxiety released because you did not procrastinate, freedom from self-attack, ease because you put one foot in front of the other and showed up at the page or palette.

One final word on Always End With a Smile: There is no failure, only "oopsies".

No one gets it right every time. During 'Puppy Basics', Jazz and the other puppies sometimes missed commands and so did their human owners. Judy made sure we all selected a word we would use for those tasks not quite accomplished. My daughter and I chose "Oopsie!"  It's a word we use for ourselves, too.

If I'm not thrilled with a paragraph I revised or a plot point in a story I'm developing or the lead for an article, then I tell myself, "Oopsie!"  The paragraph will be there tomorrow when I come back to work. As for today, I accomplished the task at hand, and I've earned myself a nice piece of dark chocolate with almonds and a true smile!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


When I was nineteen I started a business with a partner and we called it “Hat Trick Hats”. We wanted to be portable. We sold our hand-stitched leather creations on the sidewalks of Santa Barbara and on the Wharf and Union Square in San Francisco. We wanted to be free to make our own designs and decisions and we accomplished both. We needed to make a living and sometimes we actually ended the month with a financial surplus! Of course that money was quickly spent to replenish our supplies to make more hats. Our goal was never to get rich—and we weren’t disappointed. We did want to have fun—and, happily, we were not disappointed on that front, either. Eventually, we moved on to new creative endeavors but we are still friends and we both remember that business fondly, in large part because we accomplished our most important goals.

As a writing coach and mentor I encourage my clients to name, clarify, and hone their goals. I also ask them to identify the meaning they attach to reaching those goals. I ask myself those same questions. When we understand what we want and why we want it, we don’t lose our way. We can use what we know to stay on course for days, weeks, months—whatever it takes to reach the finish line.

As a story coach, I work with writers to structure, strengthen, and develop their stories and the characters who drive those narratives—from the opening event, through major turning points to the climax and the resolution. I ask writers to explore the dilemma at the heart of their story, and to look at the protagonist’s driving goal and the meaning she attaches to that goal. In fiction there is a disconnection between what the character wants in contrast to what she truly needs.  (Okay, often that’s true in life as well, but we’re talking about storytelling now…)

As the writer, the exploration of these questions will help keep you motivated and on course through the first draft and the revision. When you delve into these questions and let them resonate through the story world you are creating, they will serve as your story compass.

As a working writer with seven novels published by major houses, I look for ways to expedite my own story development and writing without getting in the way of my creative process.  I love sharing my (sometimes hard-earned) knowledge with other writers. If I can help keep you on course—or guide you back when you feel you’ve lost your way—then we are both much closer to reaching our goals.

Cheers and happy writing, Sarah

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My January 2014 post for Algonquin Redux on "How Dilemma is Vital for Storytellers"

I was recently invited to join the Algonquin Redux writers roundtable. This is a terrific site for writers and readers. I will be posting a new essay on the 9th of each month. I'm sharing the link and also encouraging you to browse the archives to find a variety of brief essays by amazing authors.

Sharing my Jan 2014 post now on Algonquin Redux

Friday, December 27, 2013

Solstice Sky After Snow

Dare to dream, write, share...