SPS-338: Writing Authentic Characters – with Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Writer and member of the Choctaw Nation, Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer talks to James about cultural sensitivity when writing about Native Americans, including issues around dialogue and stereotypes.
- Appropriate terms to use when writing about Native Americans
- Complexities of Native American lands, history, and culture to be aware of
- Why are casinos a theme when it comes to Native Americans in the US?
- Telling balanced, yet historically accurate stories with Native characters as the protagonists
- Common mistakes to avoid when writing about Native Americans
- Using the Morning Pages approach to get better at dictation
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
DOWNLOAD: Get Sarah’s Stereotypes to Avoid When Writing about Native Americans plus a coupon for her course
SARAH’S COURSE: Americanindians.fictioncourses.com
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-338: Writing Authentic Characters - with Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: When they're writing historical Westerns, there's a lot to consider about showing both sides of that history and not just equating Indians with danger and being the villains of the West.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson and first-time author, James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, possibly about to sneeze, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: You sneezed a couple of times this morning. I'm slightly worried, because we're recording this a few days before our live conference and you keep sneezing.
Mark Dawson: Yes, that's true. The reason is because I have a window open there and the farmer has just mowed the field. Honestly the pollen, this is completely tangential and pointless and people will accuse this of not being relevant, but I don't care.
James Blatch: It's our show.
Mark Dawson: It's our show and I'll talk about pollen if I want to. I watched the guy the other day and then he cut the field and oh my god, pollen makes a mess and it wouldn't come off. It was kind of stuck on the roof. So water wouldn't, it had to be kind of scrubbed off. So I'll know that for next time. But it's not surprising that I've really had a couple of days of absolutely awful hay fever. Not too bad now, but yeah, a couple of days is pretty miserable.
James Blatch: Okay. Getting a little violin out for you. I'm sorry about that. And I'm sorry about your Porsche having a layer of dust on it. But on the other hand, crops are quite important at the moment because we're losing half the world's crops. So, encouraging.
Mark Dawson: It's just grass. It's making hay while the sun shines.
James Blatch: Literally making hay. We're at a slight disadvantage recording this because the conference is about to happen next week, but this is going to go out afterwards, I think on the 20, I can't remember what of July, mid-July. You and I have just got off a call with Darren Hardy. He's the Head of KDP UK for Amazon here in the UK and our main sponsor. Just going through everything.
Everything looks like it's going to be fine. Obviously slightly nervous ahead of a big event. We've got about 715 people attending at the moment. That will go up a little bit more. The hall will basically be full and yeah, very excited. Anyway, there's no point in us talking about it anymore. Our next episode that we record will be you and I talking about the conference in more detail.
I should say that the video production package is absolutely going to be amazing. Professionally produced versions of every session. It's going to be some really good sessions. And I can tell you, because I'm doing some notes on some of the introductions, some jaw-dropping moments are going to happen on stage when you hear some of the things we're going to be talking about. And you can get that video production. You can get that access for the rest of your life to watch at your leisure if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/digital. Worth every penny.
Mark Dawson: Jaw-dropping announcement on stage. Have you got to tell everybody?
James Blatch: There'll be some moments on stage that people won't forget. I can tell you that already.
Okay. Right. Look, enough about the show that will have happened by the time this goes out. We are going to talk about something, an interesting subject this morning, which is Native Americans. Also, I guess this kind of strays into sensitivity reading, that sort of thing. But Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer is somebody who has Native American heritage. She writes historical fiction in America.
She's a fan of the show and a member of the SPF community and has also taken her role seriously here to help the rest of us understand, if you have a Native American character or someone with Native American heritage, First Americans and so on, what sort of language do you use, how not to fall into cliche and so on. And talking to Sarah it's lovely how involved she is with her history in Oklahoma. Really interesting conversation. And, Mark, you and I will be back for a little chat off the back of that.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer. Welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to have you. I can tell you straight away, we have a cracking Southern American accent on the show today. I can already hear it.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I can't get away from it. Whenever I was in Washington DC for my NMAI Programme, I had to have an interpreter.
James Blatch: Even though technically Washington DC is in the South, isn't it?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: It is. It is. They just couldn't quite pick up between Armadillo and Armadillo.
James Blatch: No, there you go. It's not really South, is it? So whereabouts? Are you in Texas, I think at the moment?
Where does your accent come from?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I am in East Texas. So I kind of have a blend though, because my grandfather was born and raised in Oklahoma. And so my mother has this kind of Texas, Oklahoma mixed accent. So people are always asking her, where are you from? And then my father was from Kansas. So I have a real chopped-up accent.
James Blatch: That sounds great. Rich and lush. So we're going to talk historical fiction, in particular Native American. You write specifically Native American stories. We'll talk a bit about including Native American cultural aspects and references and history in other stories as well, because it can be an area important to get right. But I think historical fiction is also an area we can talk about and just how much authenticity plays a part in it and all the rest of it.
Where does your interest in Native American culture come from?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I am a tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. And again, talking about my grandfather, my Papa, he was born around Mead, Oklahoma, which is where his father's original land allotment was. And when my mother was growing up, she would have prejudice from a lot of different races because no one knew what she was. She would come home and tell her dad about it from school. And he would tell her to be proud, be proud that you're Indian. She embraced that and then passed that on to her children as well. So we like to say, Chahta Sia Hoke. I am Choctaw.
James Blatch: There you go. Excellent. Let's talk about, first of all, the generic name for Native American peoples, because that has changed in my lifetime. Probably as a kid, I would've said Red Indians, which I know is a term we just don't use anymore, but it was pretty common, I think on TV and in film, but that's changed.
I also feel that Native American is such a general term, isn't it?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: It really is. And some people kind of push back on that and say, well, anyone born in the United States is Native American, they're native to America. And that term did really come out of academia. It's the politically correct term. It is embraced in Indian country, but largely by the younger generation, from my experience. A lot in tribes, just still use the term Indian. I will say, there is a fine line there. I spend an entire module, a five-part lesson in my course on fiction writing American Indians, talking about this because it is a complex subject.
But in short, my preferred term these days is First American. Again, you have to kind of take into context because we had First Americans over in World War I. I'm writing about that with the first division right now. And you have First Americans on the moon. So you do have that context still matters.
But, for me, First American really defines it. Otherwise, I'll use American Indian, that's still very popular and commonly embraced in Indian country. Just using the term Indian or like you said, Red Indian, that has been used as a derogatory term for centuries. So we had to be really careful when using that. It's more of an insider term.
And in talking about historical fiction, of course, that is how Indians, indigenous people were largely referred to as. So in historical fiction, I advocate be accurate, but the most correct way to do it is to use the tribal name. So I don't typically say, I'm Indian or I'm American Indian or Native American. I say, I'm Choctaw.
James Blatch: Okay. And there are quite a few different tribes. We've heard of some of the bigger ones, I guess, Cherokee and Apache, am I right?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yeah. Navajo.
James Blatch: Navajo. Yeah. And there's a multitude of perhaps names I've, being in Britain, never heard of.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yes. It said that there were over 500 nations here prior to European contact. So that's something to remember when we're using broad terms, and what I encourage writers when they're writing, especially historical fiction is to not just say, you're writing about Native Americans, but what tribe are you writing about?
James Blatch: Okay. And of course, when people are writing historic fiction, they might be putting words into the mouths of a bigot. So they might want to be aware of what is the language that's going to be most offensive. I'm wondering whether Indians, I mean, obviously it was a kind of very... From the white European arriving in America, they used the term because they'd been to the East as well and thought, well, these are the Indians here, like the West Indies. And it was a kind of fairly shallow way of describing people. So you can see why it was used as an insult years later.
I'm wondering if that word's been reclaimed within the Indian, Native American community.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: In a sense. I think, like I said, with the younger generation, really moving away from that, they do consider it a derogatory term. And talking about India and India, that's the common story is that Christopher Columbus landing in America thinking he landed in India. I've actually heard a different version of that from some native journalists who have a theory that there was actually a padre who whenever he encountered them, the indigenous people and just that innocence that they had, he called them Indios. I had that in my course, but it's a term that basically means children of God. So he dubbed them with that and supposedly it got shortened to Indian and Indios is actually still a term sometimes used in South America. So, that's another theory of where the term Indian came from.
James Blatch: Can you give me, somebody not living in America, an idea of the levels of integration that take place today? You have a Native American heritage and you live in Texas. I drive past signs saying "reservation" and I don't wholly know what's there.
Do some Native Americans still live in a Native American community and have a slightly different outlook on life there?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Absolutely. That's a really great question, James, because even people in America get confused about that. With the Choctaw Nation, we were never on a reservation. We had our sovereignty, we were basically forced to sign a treaty in September 27th, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which traded the last of our homelands in Mississippi for lands in the Indian territory, which became the State of Oklahoma. So you have the five tribes, which you mentioned Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Muscogee Creek weren't reservations. We had our sovereignty.
And then there are tribes like the Lakota who after the Indian wars were forced onto a reservation, which I more equated to prison camps. They couldn't leave. They were under the government's rule. Today, they are still like a reservation.
I've been to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I went there with a Lakota contingent. And it is a completely different world, really, in a lot of ways. They're really moving into a lot of arts. That's where a lot of income from the reservation comes from is from making their traditional arts and selling them to tourists. Tourists are open to come onto the reservation. There's some things to consider with the laws though, in that it is kind of governed by their own law enforcement. And it gets really sticky and depending on who commits a crime of who can actually arrest them if they're white or native.
There's a lot of complexities there, but it is a different culture. In a lot of places like that, I think about New Mexico and I mentioned Navajo or Diné is the more term that they prefer, and they have pueblos and this whole other, the Southwestern culture, what a lot of people think of with the turquoise jewellery and they have the Navajo Reservation or the Navajo Nation. And that's a completely different vibe or culture from, say, Pine Ridge with the Lakota.
So again, people stereotype or think that it's all similar or all the same, but it's really different. And it's a different experience going to Oklahoma, which I do quite a bit. That's where the Choctaw Nation is in Southeast Oklahoma.
James Blatch: Are there reservations in the States where a child being brought up in the middle of that reservation would have a very different life experience with somebody being brought up outside in another state?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yes, I believe they are, especially if they're very tightly tied to their community. They would have a different upbringing with their... Even the school experience is sometimes different, but I mean, it's still public schools, you have teachers, you have curriculum, it's a lot of similarities. And sometimes when it comes to that point of graduation, I've heard of stories of there's even conflict of should the graduate leave the reservation and go to college, or should they stay there on the reservation? And sometimes they're discouraged from leaving, even, to go out into the world because their elders or their parents are concerned about them integrating more into mainstream society.
So you do have that aspect, but I've interviewed tonnes of native artists who went to college or didn't go to college and they just pursued their art and are thriving in mainstream culture, so to speak. So it is a different perspective and they are coming in definitely with a different outlook when they're raised solely in their community. But the ones that are raised within their culture, they learn a lot of the life ways and history of their people, which is a positive thing that that's being preserved.
James Blatch: Let me ask about the casinos, because I suspect this is also used as a bit of a stereotype about Native American reservations, but I did notice it on an episode of The Simpsons the other night.
Why is that a theme?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I think because the Choctaw Nation, we do have very large casinos, we're moving away from that actually because of the stereotype, which I appreciate our current Chief Gary Batton is... I mean, they're continuing to build them, but they're making them more like resorts, which I appreciate. So we have the new Sky Tower near Durant. My mother's artwork is actually featured in one of the restaurants there.
James Blatch: Nice.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: She was really thrilled with that honour. But it is, I think, I know, especially with Texas, organised gambling like that is actually illegal. So a lot of people go to Oklahoma and Louisiana to gamble. So because the tribes are sovereign and often on their tribal lands, we even have that in Texas. There are some tribes that they can have gambling facilities, horse racing, that kind of thing because they are on their tribal-owned property. And so they fall under that sovereignty in that aspect.
That's something that funds the tribes for healthcare, education, a lot of things like that. But again, I do appreciate that we're kind of moving away from that stereotype because we don't want to be known as the Choctaw Indians and just the gambling and casinos, that there's a lot more to our history and our culture.
James Blatch: I figured it was a sort of byproduct of the sovereign aspect of the land.
Let's talk about your writing then. Where does your writing come from? You write fiction stories embedded in sort of tribal culture, do you?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I do. I was inspired with my Choctaw history and culture, again, going back to my grandfather and my mother. I wanted to write a Trail of Tears story whenever I was 12. That was really my first and I didn't do it. I'm very inconsistent as a writer, James. I started at a young age, started a lot of stories and didn't finish, but I had that at the heart of what I wanted to do.
Finally, a little over a decade ago, I wrote my first Choctaw story and I wrote it as contrast. I call it contrast because it was a split time between my ancestors and their experience crossing the trail and myself doing the annual Trail of Tears Commemorative Walk, which we still have and I've done most every year. And just thinking about how they walk the trail in their bare feet and bleeding in some of the worst winters in history and how I was just walking in the May sunshine in my new tennis shoes.
So it really impacted me as an adult. I was really coming into embracing my career, my calling and my gift as a writer. And so I wrote that and it was published in our tribal newspaper. And that was the beginning of writing and capturing Choctaw stories. I would go to a conference called the Native Conference and being with elders, I would think, who's preserving these stories, who's writing them down?
And it just really put a drive on me to capture those stories in fiction because we can do it in non-fiction and that's great, but really our society and people's perspectives today about Indians and about natives comes from fiction. It comes from the mainstream media. Like you said, it's even in an episode of The Simpsons. So people learn, they're learning about our people through fiction and through media. I want them to learn that accurately because we really remember when we hear something in a story. And so that's why I've chosen to do that. And I'm currently branching out to Omaha and that's what my latest series features, an Omaha Indian character.
James Blatch: Do you fit these stories into an existing genre or are they sort of literary fiction type tales?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I would say their genre is historical fiction. They're not literary. I don't really have the talent to do literary. I've read a lot of native authors are more literary and I appreciate their voice and their gifting, but mine definitely more leans toward the mainstream genre of historical fiction. And it gets categorised under Native American and then the time periods, but definitely want it to be accessible entertainment for everyone.
James Blatch: Well, I suppose I was thinking of, do you write them as thrillers or mysteries?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Oh, like that. Well, I can say I don't write romance. A lot of people's historical fiction romance would not be my category. I do lean more toward not thriller, but suspense. That's just kind of a natural inclination that I have with my stories. I have had people say that they don't like to read my book when they're home by themself. It's not that scary. It's really not, but it is more on the suspenseful side.
A Western would be a close genre as far as like historical Western because there's a lot of shootouts and outlaws and that kind of thing, especially in my Choctaw Tribune series because it's Indian territory. So you kind of think, True Grit time period and that conflict of Indian law enforcement and US Marshalls. So definitely more toward the Western leaning genre as far as like a subgenre and suspense.
James Blatch: Western romance is quite a big subgenre. This is an interview that probably those authors might well be interested in because that's... The Cowboys and Indians cliche, which was based on a genuine conflict and we saw in The Revenant was a very much more gritty portrayal of the reality of how the two sides existed at that time. That's, I think something, it was portrayed very differently 30 years ago from the way we will perhaps portray it today.
Are there particular considerations for that conflict?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Absolutely. Whenever I was specifically going to write in the Western genre with my Doc Beck Western series, I had a long conversation with myself of the simple question, what do I do with the Indians? And it sounds like a simple question, but it was really complex for me because all of my main characters up to that point had been Choctaw, were native. I didn't want to write a typical Western where it's non-native characters or the hero of the story and the native characters can still be good guys, but they're kind of side characters, sidekicks.
I wanted to make them main characters, but that's also tricky because of the actual historical time period that historical Westerns would take place in. So how do I actually authentically portray American Indian characters in that time period in a Western setting?
I grew up on all those Westerns, James. My dad was born in 1946. He listened to Gunsmoke, which I think is still the longest-running TV series in TV history. He listened to that on the radio before it even became a TV show. He was an avid watcher of Westerns. I grew up with all those stereotypes, not even realising what I was watching a lot of times and I go back and watch some of those and I cringe, but then I watch some others and I'm like, it's not a horrific portrayal of American Indian characters. There's still some authenticity. I could tell the writers were making an effort to tell a balanced story, to tell both sides of the story.
So that's definitely a consideration with historical Westerns and I say historical Westerns, because it still throws me off when people are writing contemporary Westerns, because to me, Western, it's the historical. But when they're writing historical Westerns, there's a lot to consider about showing both sides of that history and not just equating Indians with danger and being the villains of the West.
James Blatch: Who's your audience? Is it mainly other members of that community or do you sell to a much wider audience?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Oh, I sell to a much wider audience. I do have a lot of wonderful supporters, especially within my tribe, who read and give me feedback on my books, but my main audience is the mainstream public. I have a lot of non-natives who are reading it and they thank me all the time because they're like, "I didn't learn this in school. They should be teaching this in school and I can't believe I didn't learn about this whenever I was growing up."
I have a lot of older readers. I'm kind of an old soul. So I have a lot of readers of the little bit older generation who really appreciate the settings and the authenticity that I bring to these fiction works and the worlds that I build in these historical settings. But yes, it's definitely a mainstream, a mix of men and women, both are avid readers of my books.
James Blatch: Can you talk about the common mistakes? In fact you may have produced a PDF for this interview, if I'm right. Is that something that's going to give us a kind of easy top level idea of what mistakes not to make?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yes, absolutely. I think the title was 5 Stereotypes to Avoid When Writing about Native Americans and that, it's just, I think I cover a total of 12 in my course, but I just wanted to give that entry level for writers who, even if they've done a lot of research for their native characters, just a little bit different perspective and kind of clarifying the stereotypes because they're in the back of our minds, I think, especially in today's culture. We know about stereotypes, but they're still kind of fuzzy for a lot of people. This brings a little to clarity. It's a very short book, but it's not just a bunch of fluff. It really does give people that perspective.
I think my favourite one still is the historical-only view because what I have found, it took a while for me to figure this out of why this was a stereotype or what it was whenever I was reading other authors' books who were non-native. I was like, what is the difference between them and native authors? And, for me, what it really comes down to is having a historical-only view, I find a lot of non-native authors write about natives in the past, Indians in the past in historical fiction as if they have no future, as if they were a people group in the past and they're not looking toward a future. And we like to say, we're still here. Natives are still here. We still have a thriving history and culture. So I think that's kind of a stereotype in itself of Indians are only in the past and they're long gone now or the vanishing race. And we're not, we're still here.
James Blatch: Yeah. And it almost goes back to that old Cowboys and Indians cliche that the Cowboys won in the end, but of course, what happens is both sets of people continue to develop alongside each other as they do today.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, they say the victor writes the history.
James Blatch: Yes.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: And I won't say, it wasn't an ongoing battle. There was a lot of integration. And I know with Choctaw specifically, something that people don't realise is Choctaws fought alongside the Americans in every major combat from the Revolutionary War through to today. And one of my novels, the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I, there was 12,000 American Indians who served in World War I, and probably two thirds of them were not even US citizens yet, yet they were wanting to defend this country, defend their families, their homeland, and live out that warrior spirit. So there is, it's a shared history and tribes like the Choctaws were a part of founding this country. And that's something that I also like to bring out with my stories.
James Blatch: That's amazing. I often visit the battlefields in Northern France and Belgium. So I may well have seen some of those graves. I'm sure there will be some from that community. Okay. Well, let's do one more. So you talked about treating Native Americans historically as if they were there and there was no future.
What's another common one that people make?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: The two ends of the spectrum of romanticising American Indians, which goes back to, again, first contact through today of children of the forest and these very innocent utopia kind of environment that they lived in. So a lot of people will stereotype Indians in that way of just almost these angelic kind of figures all the way to the other extreme of every Indian was a blood thirsty savage. So I see those two extremes with stereotypes of people who don't want to portray anything bad about American Indians, because there has been so much abuse of our history and culture and theft and all of those things. So they want to err on that side of caution.
The other extreme of, not so much today, but occasionally I will see that today where writers will just stereotype all Indians as another word for danger and just out looking for scalps and that kind of thing. So I encourage writers to find that balance and bring out the full story of who native people are, not making them cardboard characters, which we shouldn't do with any of our characters as fiction writers, but I find often that it's one of the other of these cardboard characters in writer stories.
James Blatch: Yeah. Complexity, contradiction, nuance is the best character traits we can bring as writers. Yeah. Okay.
You mentioned your course. Tell us a bit about that, Sarah.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I have been teaching writers, native and non-native about writing, all these things, writing accurately and respectfully of American Indians since my first workshop with the NAMI. I think I mentioned that it's the National Museum of the American Indian and it's through the Smithsonian Institution. It's largely run by natives. So, that was a great programme that I was in with them. And that was my first workshop. Gathered up, I had 20 writers from five different states that came for that because everybody was just so hungry to learn. And there's not very many resources for writers to gain that information on how to write about American Indians.
I continue teaching workshops. I get emails all the time from writers. Have a lot who request me as like a sensitivity reader on their stories. I really don't do that because again, I'm Choctaw, that's my field of study. I couldn't really give much input on a lot of other tribes. I just know basic on a lot of those different ones. But I would get a lot of the same questions about stereotypes and about how to make connections with tribal people to actually get that information.
After all of that, I've wanted to create an online course. I've taken the SPF Ads for Authors course. I've taken lots of online courses. It's just really helped build me as a writer. And I've wanted to do my own course on American Indians so that I could just give this to authors, them to be able to go through my paid course, to learn these things without having to repeat over and over. I was able to go into a lot more in depth terminologies and give resources to help writers on their way, because they genuinely want to learn how to do this respectfully. And I welcome them in to learning that and to writing stories about our people.
James Blatch: Where can people find the course?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Americanindians.fictioncourses.com.
James Blatch: Okay, great. And whilst we're giving links out, I should say, we'll give out the PDF on cliches and stereotypes to avoid when writing about or including Native Americans. We'll give that to selfpublishingformula.com/nativeamerican, all one word. Is that okay?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Very good. And James, if you want to include a coupon as well, SPF for your community, I'd like to offer that.
James Blatch: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Well, if you go to /nativeamerican, you'll get the PDF and the coupon. We'll do that together.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Excellent.
James Blatch: Before we go, let's just talk about dictation. I know you're a dictator, always enjoy calling people dictators, a great dictator. When did you start dictating?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I started probably about two years ago. I'd wanted to, well, of course, most writers started whenever it first became a thing and it didn't take hold and I kept trying it, trying different ways. And I was like, this just isn't working for me.
What really turned me on is when I started doing morning pages, which is something I don't hear a lot of writers talk about, but it really helped break open my creativity in a lot of ways. It's where you sit down and do three pages of brain dump. I was doing that in a notebook and it was helping my creativity. And I thought, what if I do this with dictation?
I began doing that about seven, 15 minutes a day, whatever it was about to hit that. It's about 750 words, just brain dump. I started doing that by dictation. I didn't go back over and read it, none of those things, but I found that it helped me practise dictation and get me comfortable with speaking my words, speaking my thoughts.
I really started taking off with that and I love dictating now. I just use an app on my phone called Voice Recorder. I think it's just for iPhone, but you can probably find any kind of little app on your phone, record it, it transcribes it. It's a big mess when I finish. I would like to try Dragon Dictation and train my dragon to get my words better, especially with my accent as we mentioned earlier. But it does do really well and I find that I can in a pretty relaxed speed hit about 3000 words an hour. And sometimes it'll take me 30, 45 minutes to clean up those words before it's ready for editing, but it's just well worth it for me because I can just sit back and relax and think about the scene that I'm writing in and just get in a comfortable spot and speak my words. So I've really been enjoying that process.
James Blatch: You started with your morning pages, but do you now exclusively dictate for your novel writing?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I do. My current book that I'm editing right now, Book 5 in the Choctaw Tribune series and actually most of Book 4, and then all of my Doc Beck Western novellas, which there's eight books in that series now, I dictated all of those.
James Blatch: Wow. And do you sit at home and do that or do you go on walks?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: I do do some walking, but mostly I just find my comfortable chair in the living room, or sometimes here at my desk. I lean my chair back and put my feet up on my desk, which is terrible posture, but I find the more comfortable I am, the more I can just focus on the scenes that I'm writing.
James Blatch: And so you record into Voice Recorder on the iPhone, you export the file, I assume to a laptop. And then how do you transpose it?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yeah, actually my app will transcribe it for me, so I just hit transcribe and it'll just transcribe it right on my phone. And then I copy that text over, usually to my Notes app on my Mac. Then it'll just sync, or I'll copy it onto my Notes on my phone and it'll sync with my Mac. And then I copy that over to Scrivener, which is, I couldn't imagine writing without Scrivener.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: And editing and research.
James Blatch: You have to do a bit of disentangling of how it's come across, but you've got a really good start there.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yeah. I like having just that bulk of words, just spilling out a tonne of words. And then whenever I go back and clean up it lets me reread what I wrote and really connect with what I wrote. And sometimes I'll do a little bit of editing. I try not to do that. I just mostly do cleanup, but it does let me then review my outline. Did I get everything in there that I had planned to with my scene? That's what I really like being able to do as well.
James Blatch: And in terms of word count, has that gone up since you started dictating?
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Oh yes, definitely. I'm not a write every day writer because with all of the research that I do, culture and history, it'll take me up to four times the amount of editing time that actually writing does. But whenever I do hit my writing stride, I think before, whenever I was typing, my record was 6,000 words in a day. And that was really pushing it. It was during a NANO month with dictation, I topped out at over 11,000 words on one of my days. So it's definitely made writing, I don't want to say easier. Writing's not easy, but it has made it flow a lot more. And I love, after I get everything copied over to my Scrivener, seeing those high word counts that would've really been exhausting to type. It is less exhausting on me, I think physically and mentally, whenever I'm doing dictation versus typing.
James Blatch: Yeah. Great. Well, Sarah, it's been really interesting to talk to you and it's a fascinating field. I've not included a Native American character in any of my books, but I'm currently writing a book set in Iraq in 1956 and it includes specifically the Assyrian tribe who are still around today, very similar to Native American. They had their land taken away, well, they existed before the country's borders. But I think this story is the ambassador's wife drew the lines and created Iraq, Iran, and a few other countries, and they just were left stateless.
They were employed by the British. So I'm suddenly writing words in the mouth of an Assyrian character. And for the first time in my writing, starting to think about those sensitivity issues. He needs to have a bit of broken English. I know that, but I don't want it to come across he's cliche and stereotype, but at the same time, he can't speak fluently. So suddenly I'm juggling with this stuff.
I guess that's not dissimilar to the issues that you deal with.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Absolutely. I cover that in my course because writing dialogue is a huge, huge component whenever you're writing another ethnicity, especially when they're not native English speakers. That's something that was a very common question that I would get, so I covered that in my course. And that's the thing, it's a course about American Indians, but it can translate to a lot of different indigenous people because they face a lot of those things like what you're saying with your characters.
James Blatch: Sarah, thank you very much, indeed. Remind people again of that place to go, selfpublishingformula.com/nativeamerican, all one word. And you get not only a really useful PDF of things to avoid, which I think will probably help me in, as you say, not just Native America, but other indigenous people, but also a coupon for your course.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Absolutely. I appreciate it, James.
James Blatch: Thank you so much, indeed for coming on and thank you for that lovely Southern American accent.
Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer: Yokoke, James. Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
James Blatch: There you go, Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer. Really lovely to talk to her and you can find out more at sarahelisabethwrites.com. Elisabeth with an S.
Mark, we can't talk too much about the show, but we can say that our Ads for Authors course is going to launch in August. So in the next couple of episodes, we will mention a little bit more about that and some work going on in the background with our 101 course. So we've got some stuff bubbling away, but not very much we can announce at the moment. I guess, where we'll be by the time this episode goes out is probably, in all seriousness, planning The Self Publishing Show Live 2023.
Mark Dawson: Well, we'll see. Let's see if we're still on speaking terms next Wednesday. But yeah, assuming that we all are, then yeah, I'd be up for that. Well done. And maybe, even we did kind of training this a little tiny bit and it is very, very, very tenuous, but maybe in Australia would be quite a fun thing to do.
James Blatch: Yes. I did start doing some investigation on the logistics of all of that sort of looking at January, but I don't know if that was what was in your mind. We do this very typical thing where you and I don't talk enough and then we have actual conversations during the podcast where we sort stuff out. But yeah, it's quite an exciting prospect. I think I would definitely be up for it. Anyway, one for us to mark.
Mark Dawson: We'll see.
James Blatch: Okay. Right. That's it for this week. Thank you very much, indeed for the team in the background. This period in the summer it's quite hard to get all these episodes out and get everyone done because everyone does need a break, particularly after the show organisation. So we're very grateful for everyone and the work they do there. All that remains for me to say for now, it is a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And good bye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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