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...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't Fear the Silence and the Stillness...

"Life stand still here."  Virginia Woolf

Writers: Don't fear the silence and the stillness because, beneath it, there is fuel to light the fire for so many stories.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Some Days It's Good to Curl Up Creatively...

Snow outside, deadlines looming, taking a tip from Moseley Kitty: Curl up until you feel snug.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

PARITY: The Other Cat in the Room

It's Sunday and I'm finishing up two scenes for today's writing quota. Both these scenes center around two characters. Both scenes share the same viewpoint character. And I will rely on parity to make sure both scenes come to life.

In very simple terms for writers of fiction, "parity" means knowing your non-viewpoint character's desire(s) and goal(s) within the scene as well as you know those of your viewpoint character.

If you feel a scene going dead, try parity. Work the scene through the non-viewpoint character's eyes. Let the non-VP character drive the scene. Your protagonist is only as strong as she needs to be to face her antagonists.

If you've ever taken acting classes, you've improvised. And if you've improvised in a scene, you know how vital it is to truly listen to and interact with and react to your fellow actor. It's a dance. Use that dance in fiction. Parity.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writers: Pull Up from the Page for the High View and other De-stressing Tips

I'm on deadline for Penguin/Blue Rider Press and the book is due in less than three months. Do I feel the stress? Sure. Even after six previous novels published by the majors? Oh yeah.

But there are four things I've learned over my years as a pro writer that instantly help to drop my stress meter by notches:

1) Take ten deep breaths. That's inhale, and, yes, exhale, too.  Honestly, it sounds too reasonable and basic to mention, but when I'm stressing out, I am not breathing. Not smart. Oxygen helps everything.

2) Slow down to speed up. It's not a tricky koan. It means what it says. And it really goes with breathing. Slowing down makes me feel luxurious again and it puts me in touch with the joy of writing. That joy is the wellspring.

3) Take a break and find a new way of seeing. I snapped the picture of the mountains this past winter when my friend took me up in his airplane. I love flying because it changes my perspective and opens my mind and my imagination. During my writing day, I may not make it to 15,000 feet but I can still easily change perspective. Bird-watching with my cat, playing with my daughter, standing on my head...

4) Remember to trust the creative process. While process depends upon flow and flow means having the courage to jump in and sometimes there is free fall...technique and years of writing, writing, writing, these are the net.  Bounce, bounce...and breathe.