Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

My Writing Process Blog Hop


Thanks to Natacha (from Science Fiction, Transmedia, & Fandom ) for tagging me in this writing process blog hop!

What Am I Working On?

I am on the umpteenth draft of my latest novel, Hooligans in Shining Armour (working title). My “high concept” logline is: Romeo and Juliet in Belfast. Special thanks to a friend in my writer’s group for that. I spent months and months researching the Troubles, current events, dialect, issues facing youth living on the peace lines, paramilitary, etc. I wrote the first draft in September and since then I’ve reworking it and having members from my Singapore Writer’s Group tear it apart. I’m sending it for development editing by a professional editor in Belfast in a few weeks—so excited for feedback.

Right now I have to sit on my hands and NOT work on Hooligans, so I’ve been focusing on the business end of writing. I’ve put together my query letter and synopsis and started researching agents in the US. I’ve been hardcore working on building my social media platform, which has turned out to be really fun. I’ve met so many supportive writers—a great reminder of how spectacular fellow writers are!

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

I write Young Adult. Obviously, the market is flooded with YA. What makes mine unique? For my current novel, I think it’s the setting. I’d wager most Americans don’t even know that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. They have no clue about the sectarianism and tribalism that still divides, that peace walls still separate Catholic working class estates from Protestant fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement ended The Troubles.

Here’s a one picture from my trip to Belfast that stuck with me…


One section of a half-mile-long, forty-foot-tall wall dividing a Loyalist/Protestant neighborhood from a Republican/Catholic neighborhood. Someone painted over the mural meant to beatify the wall: “It’s time to kill all Republicans.”  Picture taken July 2011.

Professionally, I am a school psychologist. I have training and experience in working with kids and teens that have been traumatized by community violence, domestic violence, and substance-abusing parents. I have also worked with gang-involved youths.

Why Do I Write What I Write?

I’ve been writing since elementary school. I still have my first “published” work in a box in my parents’ attic from a 4th grade writing contest. I’ve actually written five manuscripts. The first three will never see the light of day. One is a 200,000 word monstrosity! Eek! I’ve learned so much from those first attempts.

Why YA? There’s just something fascinating and magical about the threshold between childhood and adulthood; an almost infinite number of paths lie ahead of you. You start making choices for yourself and those choices close off paths while opening others. There’s this beauty and innocence and intensity and emotionality that exists during this ephemeral period of life, lost as we morph into adults. Plus, I love working with kids and teens; it’s what I do. I hope my characters will inspire the kids I work with to persevere, make good choices, resist peer pressure, and think for themselves.

So why did some crazy American write a book set in Belfast? I traveled there in July of 2011 over the Twelfth, which is an especially contentious time of year. I won’t go into detail here; visit my Hooligans In Shining Armour page for links to my YouTube channel and my photo album of the trip . Let’s just say I was blown away and needed to understand. Out of my research came the inspiration for Hooligans. You can read a 9 page, double-spaced excerpt on that page as well. Let me know what you think!

Here’s one more picture I took…

ImageParamilitary mural on the Shankill, July 2011

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

I’ve learned so much about how to write over the past few years. The best teaching experiences have been letting writing friends and critique groups read my work and rip it apart. I’ve also used professional critique services. It was scary at first, but got easier with each go. Now I just hand my MS to fellow writers and tell them to tear into it—and I listen to what they say, all of it. Most times, they’re right.

Character, plot and setting ideas pop into my head at the most random times, running, shopping, riding the bus, doing dishes, etc. Our subconscious keeps working on things even when we’re not aware. I stop right there and type it in my notepad app.

I’ve found that, in order to write a tight, fast-paced story, I need to force myself to plot before I even start. I’ve been loosely basing my plot on the Hero’s Journey from The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. I fill out an excel spreadsheet with all major plot points. I also have a character development structure I use that really forces me to get into my characters’ heads.

After all that pre-work is done, I hammer out a first draft. My characters and plot morph as I go. Then I re-draft. I discuss my story and characters with my writer friends; their suggestions have completely changed my novel for the better. Then more re-writing and editing. After I feel my story’s in a good place both structurally and grammatically, I’ll have trusted readers read it and give feedback. More re-drafting. More readers. And the cycle continues until there’s an epiphany. I’m quite close to that right now. It’s more like sculpting that writing.

Tag People!  (Sorry, I don’t know how! Tried and failed to figure it out.)


37 thoughts on “My Writing Process Blog Hop

  1. Zoe Dune

    One of these days I’m going to follow your process but in the meantime, I just write to be an example of fighting writer’s block. I also think because of that, I’m a better candidate for the hack market of writers, or pitch meetings for screenplays. Also a fun process.


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Never hurts to give it a try. I wouldn’t say I enjoy plotting…. I really have to force myself to do it. It’s what I need to do to keep my story focused and plot-driven. Otherwise I end up getting too focused on character interactions and not enough on the forward momentum of the story (hence the 200,000 word monstrosity!) I”ve also apparently bridged the gap between dabbling in writing and being hardcore into writing, so there’s that too. Happy writing, however you do it 🙂 And thanks for reading my blog hop


      1. sjoycarlson Post author

        Haha that’s why i have to FORCE myself to do it. Believe me, I do not like it and would rather work on something fun 🙂 Again, you have to do what works for you and leads to the best novel. I think it all depends on how your brain works. Some people can just sit down and write a novel with a great story arc without plotting. I unfortunately cannot XD


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Yeah, really I find it essential, not only to get feedback, but it’s inspirational. Being around other writers helps keep me motivated to write. Also, I’ve found critiquing other writers helps me improve my own craft. I end up googling things like past perfect tense and subjunctive mood and stuff so I can make sure I’m giving them the right advice, and then BOOM now I’ve learned it for myself 🙂


    2. sjoycarlson Post author

      Just read yours! Flash fiction v novel. Such a different process haha. Idk if I could so flash fiction! But with a novel, I think it’s just practice makes perfect in some regards. After you get your first one done, you realize how much the process has told you.


  2. Erica Judd

    Thank you for the tagging! I’m currently on the library computer as my hard drive died in its sleep last night. I will do my utmost to get to answering in the next few days. 🙂


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Yeah, it was bad. That one is in a drawer never to see the light of day! Learned a lot since then. You’ll get there. I actually had another one that was probably more than 160,000. Yeah I can write. A lot. Anyway, I put that one away for a while and when I came back to it, I had new clarity and was able to way slash it back. Happy writing!


  3. 7verina

    I’m quite fascinated by the fact that you chose to write Young Adult. It’s nice to explore the innocence and mental turmoil that occurs at this age.
    I absolutely agree with the fact that the story has to be plot-driven , no matter how the character interactions derail one from what needs to be focused on.
    I’m sure the entire process has given you enough satisfaction and joy of its own! 🙂


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Gold star! I remember I came back and told a social studies teacher that I went to Belfast and she kept asking how Ireland was. Yeah it doesn’t often make the news over in the US. I got educated when I went there and then just kept learning about it. Thanks for the read and the thoughts!


  4. Erika W

    What an intriguing post on both a personal and informational level. I absolutely love your working title. It’s gripping. And I’m very impressed with your planned out process of writing, excel sheets and all! I’m SO glad I came over to check out your site!


  5. sebxiii

    I love reading about how writers do there thing. Never understand why no one ells is using dedicated software. I swear by it. Everything a writer needs in one place.


      1. sebxiii

        Lol. I use ywriter. Best thing ever. Being that I have a lot of sleeping errors and such it make me feel like I will have less to try and correct.
        Plus the time line functions are amazing. Easily being able to locate the scram where that magic sword appears. Or the stone of something or other was left. Could not go back to using a word processor now.


  6. Mariam Tsaturyan

    Wow what a great post! I would love to read your book when it’s ready. Good luck to you with your writing. Thank you for the follow on my beauty blog, btw.

    I think my other blog might interest you more, since it’s also on writing Currently I am working on a fiction romance book, more adult, but I am trying to clean it up so it will be suitable for YA as well.

    Thank you again, and looking forward to reading your book 🙂


      1. Mariam Tsaturyan

        Thank you!! I am going to check out your sample. Good luck and keep in touch 🙂 I love making friends on wordpress


    1. sjoycarlson Post author

      Thanks for the encouragement! As I said, when I went there I was just fascinated by the sectarianism that still exists and how tenuous things are still. And I’m sure now you appreciate what I was referring to in my response to your post on writing as an outsider. This is exactly what I was referring to!


  7. bkpyett

    Thank you for your follow, as it has meant I’ve found your site! I shall enjoy following your progress, a most impressive site you have. Best wishes from Barbara in Australia.


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