And it feels amazing (no, really!)

Here’s a cowardly truth about me: Ever since my first novel, Marilou Is Everywhere, came out in July 2019, I’ve been too scared to even open GoodReads.

Miss me w/ the bullshit. //Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I honestly don’t know what got into me just now, but I decided: Enough. I opened it, and I went right for the negative reviews.

And my hands are SHAKING.

Here are some excerpts [CW // suicide, ableism]

“What a sad and pathetic story. The summary of this story is inaccurate. Where was this overwhelming maternal love ? The prose is forced and schizophrenic not beautiful.”


On snakes, resistance, and finding joy on the other side

Photo: CSA Images/Getty Images

Last fall, I was the writer-in-residence at the Dobie Paisano ranch in Texas Hill Country. And one major features of the Dobie Paisano ranch is its snake-filled-ness. Chock full o snakes. In one of the old accounts of the ranchland contributed by one of its former residents, who grew up there, there were so many rattlesnakes around the place that when you opened the screen door, they lit out into the field “like lighting.”


And why you deserve to be awake

Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash

I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me: I was eating healthy, going to the gym every day, meditating, staying hydrated, and otherwise ticking every single checkbox for general well-being. I had a low-stress commute. I didn’t drink a ton of coffee. I didn’t have adrenal fatigue, massive anxiety, or an eyelid twitch. I felt great when I got to work in the morning, and when I got home in the evening, I had a spring in my step.

But in the middle, I was fighting to keep my eyes open. I never — to my knowledge —…


A Twin Peaks brain hack (part 1 in a series)

As I’ve written elsewhere, I have a tricky bipolar brain. I never quite know how to describe this, but it’s like: Sometimes, I suddenly find myself walking in dark waist-high water nobody else can see. Sometimes I walk into an invisible noose hanging down from the sky and don’t know how to get out. Sometimes I can’t remember a single good thing about myself, and I’m so angry and embarrassed about this fact that I spontaneously combust like a trash fire.

Whoever made this stock photo _gets it._ Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Mine is also an alcoholic brain (7 years in recovery, but the -ism is still in there, trust and…


A good writer is like a pickpocket

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

My first short story almost never happened.

I was, of course, writing it in the middle of the night. It was due in 10 hours. I was doing this not because I wanted to be some kind of daredevil, but because I was genuinely so afraid of putting one word after another that I had put it off and put it off and put it off.

“Maybe I can call my professor in the middle of the night and tell him I have to drop the class,” I thought. It didn’t occur to me that professors very much don’t need…


I won’t bury the lede: What nobody tells you about life after the writing MFA is that cozying up to the blank page and writing the first word doesn’t get easier.

This is not what writing is like after you graduate, FYI // Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

It doesn’t change at all, as a matter of fact, except it may become a little tiny bit harder.

You may have spent the last two or three years rigorously engaging with the work of brilliant peers, fighting about why Housekeeping is so good, delighting in the singular pleasure of discovering a writer nobody’s heard of and buying every novel of theirs at the used bookshop, and drinking box…


Why empty promises piss off your readers

How readers react when you introduce them to yet another secondary character with a long-ass backstory. // Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Sometimes, when you’re working on a novel, you lose your way and don’t quite know why.

(By “sometimes,” I mean consistently.)

This is true whether you’re trying to make sense of a messy first draft or trying to figure out the soggy middle of a book you’ve revised 20 times. If you’ve ever been through this, you know that the obviously wrong parts of a book are actually gifts: There’s no question that a too-long scene needs to be cut or a totally extraneous character must go. …


HUMANS 101

Five things you need to know in order to help yourself

Photo: Emma Simpson/Unsplash

Two weeks ago, I was kneeling to pull up ivy in the backyard with my sweetie, and when I stood up, I didn’t feel real anymore.

I don’t really know how else to describe it.

I wrapped my right hand around my left wrist, trying to feel real again, but it didn’t do much. I felt like I was disintegrating into particles of light but not in a fun, hot spiritual sense.

Jason could tell something was wrong with me immediately. “What year is it?” he asked. “Which way is north?” He did a silly monkey dance to get me…


Maybe you dimly remember seeing them in high school, always presided over by that crushed-velvet-and-clove-cigarettes girl. Maybe you’ve noticed the infiltration of tarot imagery into design and culture, and you don’t know why, but you think they’re interesting. That’s how I was with tarot cards for a long time: I found them fascinating, both mysterious and familiar. But I also felt somehow unqualified to explore my interest. …


Maybe you know how this is: You sit down to write, open a new document. You feel some rising tide of possibility and interest — maybe you would even dare to call it inspiration? The feeling of being ready to write a poem is sort of like feeling a sneeze come on. Anticipation, excitement, anxiety, swelling in a wave. You write down the first few words, the title or first line.

And then … hm.

It doesn’t … quite capture the feeling.

Something isn’t quite as good as you hoped. The energy begins to drain away as you realize: Oh…

Sarah Smith

Novelist. Tarotist, poet, lazy Virgo. Nothing is real; magic is real. Writing is a way to see in the dark. sarahelainesmith.com, @braindoggies

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