Category Archives: Writing

Writing is hard

I’m really, really trying to write a blog post once a week. I am failing. But at least I’ve done a few. The thing is, it is really easy for me to write certain things. I can explain things pretty well. I can write some darn good math content at this point. But writing things that are just entertaining/interesting/nobody is being FORCED to read? That is a bit more pressure!!

Today on a Facebook writers group I joined, someone mentioned that they blog every single day – movie reviews, book reviews, whatever. That was a bit awe inspiring. I get stuck between wanting to get a bunch of stuff written and out there so that eventually something will be interesting and someone will want to read it vs. writing very few things that are very interesting so I don’t scare away the 3 followers I have.

So I do neither. Ha!

I’m not sure if I will ever finish my novel. I am pretty sure I *will* finish some educational writing I’m working on, and some that I just have planned. Someday I might write something about my completely totally screwed up family (not the part of my family that I live with, they’re all very awesome…) although really I hope one of my aunts or cousins does that (maybe one from each side of the family, since both sides are nearly equally interesting). Maybe I’ll even write something memoir-ish at some point about my experiences with losing various family members in various terrible ways, some permanent and some not necessarily permanent.

Until I have something ready to send to a publisher though, I have no audience, so my blog has no audience. This is terribly frustrating. That’s why I keep talking about it lol. So instead of writing, I complain about how I don’t know what to write. Now this is exciting content!!

Ok, this is me convincing myself to write, even if I don’t want to. I am going to aim to write something every day or two or three, with permission for myself to bore my 3 followers to death if necessary. Sorry guys!

What do I write?

At a recent writers conference, the first question people asked when meeting for the first time was, “What do you write?”

This was a weird question to answer. I was there because I was writing a book and thought I was almost finished with it. It’s pretty much a fantasy book, but whenever I answered, ‘Fantasy,’ it just didn’t feel right. I don’t even consider myself a fan of fantasy, which is kind of ridiculous because my very favorite authors are George R.R. Martin and Anne Rice, both fantasy writers and I have spent many hours playing fantasy roleplaying games.

I have written a lot in my life, many short stories, poems, essays, blog posts, journal entries, emails, letters, etc. Not to mention a lot of curriculum – lesson plans, workbooks, tests, online lessons, etc. One time I wrote most of a fantasy book, too. Does that make me a fantasy writer?

So, my blog is supposed to draw the audience that will want to read my book. I have no idea who will want to read my book.

My blog is supposed to reflect my area of expertise. But my areas of expertise, assuming I have them, have nothing to do with my book. I think I have some areas of expertise, or at least experience: education, math instruction, science instruction, online teaching and learning, homeschooling, curriculum, parenting, mental illness, recovery… I have lots of areas of interest as well – piano, music, reading, politics, religion and spirituality, female empowerment in third world countries, gardening, poodles, crocheting, simple healthy eating (as in healthy but lazy eating), lifting weights (may be a temporary interest…), the list goes on.

None of which have any connection whatsoever to the story I may tell one day. I am supposed to keep writing no matter what, even when nobody is paying attention. So that’s what I’m going to do. I figure if I keep writing long enough, somebody will find something interesting in it, and may want to hear more. And if not, at least I tried! There’s no telling what I will write about, but it will be something.

[Failing at] Meeting with an agent at a writer’s conference

[chart by Susan J. Morris at]

I did *some* research before I went to the TMCC writer’s conference last weekend.

I thought I was fairly prepared for the experience. I had read through the little paragraph summaries of each person you could meet with, picked the one that seemed to most fit with my project, and  signed up for a $35 10-minute meeting with an agent.

I read that I should bring a few copies of my synopsis of my book; that I should print out chapters 1-3 in case someone asked for it; that I should have a query letter ready. I did the first two of those ahead of time, and wrote out a query letter during the conference as one of the speakers guided us through the process.

The meeting was almost completely unhelpful. Here’s what I did wrong (and hopefully can help someone else to do right!)

  • I didn’t research the agent very well. Yes, I did read the paragraph blurbs on the conference website but AFTER I had paid the $35, I went to his agency’s website and read more about him. Turns out he doesn’t like fantasy, which is my genre. Oops! That’s ok, I thought. I’ll just find out from him what I should do *next time* I meet with an agent. There was another agent there I wish I had met with instead.
  • I had no idea what sub-genre my book was. My query letter called it ‘fantasy’, but apparently that was not nearly specific enough. We wasted like 4 of the 10 minutes with him listing off sub-genres of fantasy without describing what any of them actually are and asking me if my book fit into any of them. Since I didn’t know what any of them were, I had no idea.  Turns out it’s a ‘portal fantasy’, which I dismissed immediately when he said it because it sounds silly. It also is not on any of the ‘Fantasy sub-genre’ images I found. Did my research after the fact to find out what all the subgenres were.
  • My book was way too short. I had read on some website somewhere that 40,000-65,000 was a good word count for a young adult book. That may be true, but apparently young adult *fantasy* is running about 100,000 words these days. Whatever!
  • I only had time to ask 1 question, which was, “How’s this query letter, and what should I change?” Did not get an answer.

So there you have it. It was a totally lame experience. The conference itself gave me all kinds of good tips though, and I am really looking forward to the local one here in September!

What’s with the J.T.?


All of my many fans are clamoring to know, “Sarah, what is with the J.T. in your name?”
If you are observant you may have noticed that a couple of years ago I added the J. middle initial to my name on Facebook, and then just this week I changed it to J.T.

Well, there’s a few important reasons for that!

  1.  George R.R. Martin – need I say more? Two middle initials are just cool.
  2. Sarah Bruce was too generic, and the domain was taken. So I switched to Sarah J. Bruce for my writing name a couple years ago. J is for Jo-Nell, my middle name. I was named after my maternal grandmother, a prolific writer who never got around to publishing any of her stories, but she had some amazing ones and she entertained us all with them. Her  dad, Lyman Gentry Barrett, was a reporter and newspaper editor.
  3. Though I nabbed the domain a couple years ago, SarahJBruce was not available for gmail or twitter. So I added the T – for Thoman, my maiden name. After not-that-much discussion with Will when we were engaged, I went along with giving up my maiden name and going with his. But there are a number of amazing Thomans that I am proud to be related to:
    • Roger Thoman, my dad; a missionary and minister, and writer, and all around great guy
    • Evelyn B. Thoman, my dad’s mom; a published author of books and articles in peer-reviewed journals in her field of Psychology; also a former professor at University of Connecticut and Stanford University (among others)
    • My aunts and uncles:
      • Lila Thoman Nissen, former VP at Houghton Mifflin, with her name in probably more math textbooks than can be counted
      • Lynda Thoman, who appears to be completely missing from the internet but is a professor of economics at Purdue
      • Kim Thoman, artist extraordinaire and retired art teacher
      • Marta Thoma(n) Hall – an artist, author of an art textbook, and President of Velodyne
      • Eric Thoman, retired lawyer and current business owner running a charter boat in Alaska during the summer
    • My great-uncle, Richard S. Thoman, retired geography professor and author of geography textbooks. When I was at Cal Poly, my geography teacher actually recognized my last name and informed me there was a famous geographer by that name. He was talking about “Uncle Dick”.

So there you have it. The origin story for Sarah J.T. Bruce. Someday, someone somewhere will care! 🙂

They told me to build a platform

Apparently writing a book is the easy part. I thought I was almost done writing my novel (more on that another day), so I went to a writer’s conference this weekend with my good friend to find out more about what to do next.

Turns out, writing a book is not the hard part. I am also supposed to be writing tons of other things and sending them off to various places to be published, somehow enticing lots of fans without having given them anything to be a fan of yet, and also getting my novel ready to send off to be rejected 9,000 times.

Without having writing published in various other places and  thousands of fans waiting with bated breath for my story to come out, agents and publishers are apparently not interested.

In case you’re interested and missed the memo, I took notes on Brooke Warner’s (of SheWrites Press and Warner Coaching) conference talk about what a platform is.

Publishers and agents want you to come in with readers, and to act as a business partner. Here are some of the components of your platform:

  • Social media is not a platform, but it is a component. Pick one or two social media outlets and do them well. Build followers.
  • You need to have your own website.
  • Your expertise – why should people listen to you?
  • Connections you have and people you know
  • Articles, blog posts, ebooks, etc. that you have published somewhere

The goal is to ‘figure out who your readers are and draw them in.’ All of the above information should be included in your contacts with a publisher or agent, apparently.

Brooke also said that blogging is an important part of building your platform. Keep talking even when nobody is listening, and eventually someone might come along. Hence the photo of the empty theater (The Opera Theatre de Metz, in France).

Of course, I couldn’t find any tips on *what* exactly to blog about, since my area of expertise and my novel topic are not exactly the same! So bear with me while I figure it out by blogging about everything.