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I have been in the midst of a weird dry spell, and I don’t know how long it’s been, but it’s not quite letting up. I call it “writer’s block”, but instead of not knowing where to take whatever story I’m working on next, I just don’t have the motivation to write. And that’s scary. I can’t remember feeling this way, ever.
It’s complete apathy! I’ve been writing since I was four. I don’t not write. I remember hearing about girls who the Taliban would kidnap and torment because they were literate, as a kid. I wrote for them too, because they couldn’t. I started collecting old books–each over 100 years old, as a teenager, and I remember how angry I felt when I realize how few were A) Written by women, and B) Written by women under a masculine pen name. I wrote for them too because they couldn’t get published. I chose to be “Helen M. Pugsley” because I was going to use a feminine name, by thunder! Now I’ve lost my Your Quote streak, I’ve got a pile of sticky notes holding ideas for future blog posts under the calculator on my desk, I’ve got submission calls rotting away in my inbox, and a notebook full of loosey goosey poetry, because I don’t feel like doing anything but
It sickens me.
And you know what else? I tried writing the next book of the Gishlan series one day in The Night Heron but I completely forgot I write in first person POV, and wrote the first pages in third person, omnipotent! I was so ticked off! However, even when you feel like me, you gotta keep going.
I read a decent bit of advice on Instagram, about writing. “If you don’t use a facet for a while it’s going to spit out a bit of muck when you first turn it on.” I’ve stayed in so many out-of-the-way places I now have this quirky habit of letting a facet run for a minutes before I use it in a new place! As far as I can tell, the person who said that is completely right.
Bruh, make yourself write. Write absolute crap! Write some silly fan fic about your OC and Captain Jack Sparrow smooching on the back of a whale! Throw it up on Wattpad so people can laugh with you!
Write because you can’t make yourself care about writing anymore! Write Tik Tok scripts because you’re camera shy! Add adjectives to your grocery list because you can! Write the first pages of your friend’s thesis and then email it to them to make them mad! (Hehehe, I don’t recommend that, actually.) Write from the weird prompt book someone gave you for Christmas 20 years ago! Just write! Shake the dust off!
And I think I can promise you, once you do you’ll feel a lot better than apathetic. You’ll have that bliss that comes with making something, even if it is an ugly bastard. You literally don’t have to show it to anyone. Chill. Write, simply because you can! Make some weird crap because no one can stop you. And just think of how proud your ancestors who never learned to write, because they were farmers and they didn’t need to, would be of you! Write because the cat keeps yelling at you to take him for a walk, but fuzz butt doesn’t run your life! He can wait! (Seriously, he wants to go get the mail with me and I am in my pajamas.) Write because you are an unstoppable force of sheer chaos and nobody owns you! Just write, and make yourself feel better.
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“Enjoy the best, attend the movies” was painted on the side of Torrington’s historic Wyoming Theater. (Check out this article about our beloved theatre.) I saw it every day on my way to work for years. Pretty rad old tymie sign if you ask me. So Helen, why are we talking about movies? I thought we were book people! As a whole, we are entertainment people. We work in the entertainment industry. Books are entertaining. Which is why I can relate to “The Way I Am” by Eminem so hard.
During the first part of the ongoing apocalypse I found my solace in movies. I mean, I was unemployed and my friends were dead. Watching five movies or more a day was pretty common for someone in that situation before Covid. I promise, Covid didn’t help any. I didn’t just watch movies, I consumed them. I got online, made memes with the screencaps, which, when a bunch of people did it all at once it attracted the attention of the creators. I chatted up writers, directors, voice actors, animators, the intern at the studio, anyone who would talk to me about my favorite movies. We were all trapped inside. It was nice to comfort each other. Bruh, I know way too much about Swan Princess. (I like animation. Bite me.)
Watching all these movies from the Goodwill pile changed the way I saw the world. I learned to add Hollywood flair to my work. Like, I learned about how sometimes cinematic creators will use a particular color to portray a mood, or as a symbol. For instance, one of my friends pointed out that Carmen Sandiego (the new series remake. Haven’t seen it.) is about to win a fight when the background is red. But when the background is blue we need to worry for Carmen. She’s vulnerable. She’s outmatched. She’s in trouble! Red is a warm color, and blue is a cold color. When you feel on top of the world you feel like, well, “hot stuff”, when you feel sad you, you have “the blues”. It’s things like that I started seeing and noticing when you watch a crudton of movies and then go discuss them with your friends.
I feel like it gave me a subtle streak. If you’ve ever met me in person you know subtle is not my middle name. I’m a big girl, who wears boots everywhere, and because I came from a community populated by German and Russian immigrants I am extremely direct and generally speak my mind. Subtle doesn’t come naturally to me! I play trumpet! You ever hear a trumpet try to play subtly? Anyway, because I’ve had a visual on beautiful storytelling, I feel like I’m more equip to sneak in these odd little details.
Like foreshadowing! Foreshadowing is done best when it’s not clapping your audience in the face. Like, foreshadowing would be watching the king fall asleep on the throne and his crown slips off, a few chapters before the crown is taken from him by a foreign power. Even though he knew the threat was there, he chose not to do anything until it was too late. Not subtle would be me watching you and your girlfriend of one month have a white trash screaming match in a Walmart parking lot. Then when you walk by I would whisper “Foreshadowing“. The only thing it would be foreshadowing would be a miserable romantic relationship, and the loss of our friendship because sometimes I’m neither funny or helpful.
Dude, all I’m saying is don’t be afraid to study movies. They’re just visual story telling. We do stories here. Learning new techniques isn’t plagiarism. Sometimes it’s easier to consume because the director knows you haven’t showered in four days, are no longer capable of sentient thought, and are surviving on cheese puffs. They literally just spoon feed you a good yarn. It’s great. Go embrace the movie magic, fambilam.
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I have been in this industry for a decade. I have seen every type of scam, scheme, and actual honest help. There are scores of people out there ready to take your money so you can achieve your dreams. (Trust me. I have poetry about it written in glitter pens from a decade ago.) So let’s talk about what you think you need and what you actually need.
Scam: “Give me $1,000 and I’ll give you a book.” and sometimes they promise fame and fortune too. These people do a really crappy job doing exactly what you could accomplish all by yourself but often give you an inferior product. It used to be a guy with a printing press in their basement, now I’m sure it’s more of a guy who knows how Lulu dot com works. It’s basically vanity publishing, and often, because of that, your books won’t even be available on Amazon. Sometimes they just take your money and run. Don’t give them money.
(I’ll let you guys know of a few of the “publishing houses” that have approached me climb into my inbox. Tehe!)
Scheme: I have seen smallish companies that offer to do things like take over the production of your book from start to finish. Which, I mean, if you wanna throw $1,000 at someone to do that for you go for it! Just do your homework and make sure they’ll actually do the job right. They’re usually upfront with their practices. “We’ll do all the work it takes to get your book self-published on Amazon. Editing, cover art, listing it,” etc. They have different tears of help they can give. They’re not necessarily bad. They just do things you could easily do yourself.
Actual honest help: Okay. This is what I do. It’s still not ideal, but it’s what’s working for me. Over the years I have accumulated a team of freelancers to do everything I can’t do well myself. Poor Richard does my cover art, and sometimes gets memes about how crazy I drive him made about him, even though he assures me I’m not that bad; Caren Speckner is an awesome human who edits my stuff so I don’t look like an idiot in public while allowing me to keep my Goshen County accent. (Most people cry “That’s not grammatically correct!” but that’s how I talk…) Cierra does my logos in that traditional American tattoo art I’m so fond of and allows me to pay her in bones and bottles, because I’m a cowgirl who likes booze. In Tales from the Gishlan Wood she’ll be doing the flags.
If you choose this rout Pay. Your. People. That street runs both ways and I’ve seen authors walk off with 35+ hours of work without paying their freelancers. Not a “I’ll pay you $5 a month until it’s done.” just poof! Not cool.
The reason I say this is not ideal is because these people’s services are something a traditional publisher should be paying for. The reason they should be paying for them is because traditional publishers know more about making books than you or I. At least they’re supposed to. Poor Richard’s cover art might not fit current marketing trends! Accent or no, it’s still grammatically incorrect. And traditional American tattoo art? Not in my good Christian suburbs. The price you pay for a good traditional publisher is less creative control. But. I am confident that if I got a wild hair and started self-publishing my books, say, next week, it’d be the best quality product I could offer the public. Perhaps, one day, I will find a traditional publisher that shares my vision.
Like many things in life, you don’t need money but it sure as Heck makes things run smoother. Jeeze. My biggest expense when I published War and Chess was buying copies to resell. I’d buy them 50 at a time, so that costed about $300. I remember I would save my money $20 bill by $20 bill at a time in a ceramic pig I made in middle school that sat in the corner of my parent’s house. (Obviously, I have no money hidden there now.) It was a big investment but I made the money back by selling copies at book signings. Those were some treasured and adventurous times.
Not having money doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. It means you have to work twice as hard to accomplish the same thing. You can publish a book without spending a dime (especially if you self-publish on Amazon). If you’re sleeping on your own career because “YoU cAn’T aFfOrD iT.” I’m here to tell you it’s bullsh*t. You can do anything you set your mind to.
Having worked for James Bond’s library I have up close and personal experience with the subject. But every library is different so I turned to the Library Think Tank – #ALATT on Facebook. One of the biggest groups of librarians online. I asked them what’s their process for accepting donations from indie authors. (You’re not James Patterson. I promise.)
The short answer: Don’t.
If you’re afraid to have your feelings hurt you can stop reading right here. Otherwise, I’m going to hurt your feelings.
- Build a connection with your library.
The library you visited on vacation and casually decided to gift them a copy of your book is more likely to put it in the book sale rather than on the shelves. Your local library, where people know you, and actually like you are more likely to support you. People in your hometown want to read your book but some folks just don’t have the cash to get their own copy. Your local librarians understand this. If they think there’s patrons that want to read your book they will be twice as likely to actually put it in the connection.
DO NOT just buy a copy of your own book from Amazon and ship it to the library without a note. It’s a sure fire way to make a librarian go “What’s this? Hmm. Weird.” Then toss it in the cart that runs over to the book sale without a second thought. I’ve seen that happen more than once.
- Get reviews.
Yes. Even if you and the librarian have matching friendship bracelets you need to get reviews. Preferably from people who don’t like you. Or just don’t know you! Embracing the stranger danger is probably best in this case!
Why? Because librarians have a lot to do and don’t feel like reading your book in their personal time. (I told you I’d hurt your feelings.) Personal time is when you can read Chuck Tingle if you want to! Or fan fiction! They want to read the reviews at work and see if it’s a good fit for the library’s collection. Also, the librarian you’re friends with might not be the librarian in charge of acquisitions. The folks in cataloging get the final say. That’s their entire job. And if they can’t quickly discern if your book fits the collection they’re going to set it aside with every intention of cataloging it later. Later could very well mean never.
- You gave a gift. Don’t pester them.
You remember that time your aunt gave you that weird bowl with cats painted all over it, and she got mad you didn’t fill it with Orange Fluff and bring it to Christmas? But you still had it. It was just in your house holding out of season fruits you paid too much money for? And then because she made a big deal out of it you started resenting it and now it sits in your cupboard holding other bowls? Yeah. That’s what happens if you call them up twice a week and ask if your book is on the shelf yet. That’s the trickiest part of gifts. When you give someone a gift they’re under no obligation to use it. Hopefully they like it. Don’t be your mean aunt.
- Build a quality book.
First, turn to page 101 in War and Chess. Now click this link. This is why I don’t deserve a PS5. Out of all the book signings I’ve had, and all the places I’ve been to, there are five places in the world that have my book. All of them are in Wyoming.
Get yourself a good copy editor, an ISBN, and there are a lot of libraries that absolutely require your book be translated in English. America has no official language but English seems to be the most common tongue. If your book has type-os, ugly cover art that doesn’t match the story, disturbing imagery for the target audience─ There was one librarian who told me a story about reading a book about the tooth fairy to her story time kids. It was written by a local author. But what made it memorable was the tooth fairy ripping off her face in the end. That story time group is in middle school now but they still pop in and complain about their shared trauma.─ all of these little things will prevent your book from entering a public library’s collection.
Last of all, you need to understand that your book might not make it in. Every library is different. Some libraries have an acquisitions board! Some libraries are prepared for you and have instructions on their websites! But you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The real trick to getting your book in a library is putting in the time and work, and making a good book. There’s more to books than plot. If you do make it in understand you’re lucky and always say thank you.
Join me next year for a whole new bundle of blog posts! Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss a thing. Thank you for all your support. You reading this means you helped me achieve my goals of keeping a monthly blog for one year! Thank you! As always, if you’ve got questions, something I didn’t address yet, or you just want to say “Hi” go visit that Contact tab off to the left. I practically live on social media! Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, Happy Hanukkah, and New Years! (We survived!) Be blessed.
NaNoWriMo is weird. You’re just expected to write 50,000 words in 30 days!? Do you have a death wish? Don’t get me wrong, the whole non-profit organization is great. I love it! In my own way I participate every year! But the holiday, NaNoWriMo, concerns me.
Have I ever told you the story of my music career? I have? Well here’s the story again: Once upon a time there was an operatic soprano who played trumpet. If you’ve met sopranos, and you’ve met trumpet players individually, you would know that a trumpeting soprano is the human version of glitter. Really arrogant glitter.
This little trumpet playing soprano left home at 18 and played on street corners for tips. She traveled all around the continent (yes, Canadian and Mexico too) dooting for dimes, moved into an apartment, then only played a mute because it was too loud, then stopped playing all together after a while. She stopped singing in choirs in favor of getting a job *Snorts in global pandemic*
Why did she stop making music? She got burnt out.
I loved music. It was everything to me. But one day, after a while, I just stopped! My stereo is still more important to me than my TV, I have a display of instruments in my house (pretty, pretty please don’t rob me), and I sing to myself but other than that… I’d like to think that writing was more of everything to me but in all honesty, I got burnt out.
DON’T GET BURNT OUT.
I cannot stress it enough. Do. Not. Get. Burnt. Out.
You know what happens when I sit around making jewelry for my Etsy store until my fingers hurt? I don’t want to look at the pretty things I just made, I don’t want to think about jewelry, I don’t want to wear jewelry. I want it waaaaaaay the heck over there! Thankfully, I keep going back to it, but only when writing is too much.
Do not use NaNoWriMo to hurt yourself. I know we all want the good grade but it won’t help you in the long run if you write for thirty days, wind up hating it, and then never touch a keyboard, a typewriter, or pen again. If you’re having fun then by all means keep going! If you’re loving the extra accountability, then keep going! If you’re just having a good time himming and hawing, and actually having someone listen to you talk about your book, keep going! But if you’re going to use NaNoWriMo and all its weirdness to hurt yourself throttle back. When you get obsessed that’s how you know it’s time to take a break.
NaNoWriMo is weird and it is not kind to those of us who want to be the very best that no one ever was. We put too much pressure on ourselves and it’s not a good time. NaNoWriMo is weird, here’s your permission not to break your neck and make yourself hate writing.
If you want to see me epically fail at my NaNo goals you can find me on their website. I’m nelehjr. Next month’s blog post will be about gift giving! How to Donate Your Book to a Library! Of course, if you want me to cover something I haven’t yet, smash the contact button, or drop me a comment.
When I wrote the post “Go on an Adventure to Increase Your Creativity” I had no idea Corona Virus was about to hit. I was only two months in to the absolute gut punch that 2020 has been. I would not encourage any of you to be covidiots. Yes, traveling can increase your creativity. It is awesome. But now is not the time to take your spirit quest across the south of France. I will post the original blog post at a later date, after the apocalypse.
I want you to be safe. You’re going to do what you’re going to do. We’ve all been trapped in our houses for months, because the economy is tanking we’re starting to come out. Also, it’s warm outside. Camping. We’re all camping. (I’m writing this in June.)
If you must travel for the sake of your sanity please be mindful. Be kind, wear your mask to show respect for essential workers, support small businesses and tip, for the love of all that is holy wash your hands, and that fancy Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer you got for Christmas has a higher alcohol content than you think.
The original version of this blog post was about not needing to travel far, or spend a great deal of money to have an adventure. Which is fitting, you really should quarantine for two weeks if you leave your state. (You know what you need to do, and you know what you’re able to do. I’m not judging.) So, maybe start small. Wonder your local national forest, national park, or state park! Go back to the movies, or a different grocery store! Pick up that list of local black owned businesses from Instagram and check them out! It’s a brave new world and we’re all just trying to navigate it during a revolution. Black lives matter.
Get together with your friends again! It is no longer rude to interrogate them as to where they’ve been. It’s okay to refuse an invitation if they’ve visited a local covid-19 hot bed lately. Pretend it’s the zombie apocalypse you always wanted. But, maybe without the shooting. Hopefully. Would your real friends want to hang out with you if they had maybe been bitten by a zombie but they weren’t certain yet? Turning your friend into a zombie is ruder than your friend not coming to your party.
Look, I only know two things.
- We are all terrified.
- Nothing is normal. It’s okay to not be okay.
Please don’t beat yourself up for not writing. Please see Emergency Blog Post. If you choose to go out take loads of pictures, have a good time, love with your whole heart. Life is entirely too short and too miserable not to grab the good moments when you have them.
Join me next month for Substance Abuse Doesn’t Make You Creative
I’ve got one major pet peeve that will make me drop a good author like a hotcake. Not just the one book. My whole endorsement of their career. I’ll give you a hint… It has to do with the title… That’s right! The quality of their writing!
It affects writers in all stages of their careers. Indies, hobbyists, NY Times Best Sellers, anyone. When a writer sacrifices the quality of their work for putting the piece out there, their careers suffer. I’ve seen some of my favorite series come to awful ends because the writers got tired of writing them. I’ve seen some potentially great indie stories fall flat because no one took the time to polish them up before they put them out there. Let me teach you how to combat that.
If you’re worried that your fandom is going to be upset that you haven’t published anything new in a while: Babe. Please. I just figured out I can read a book a day. But the books you make will follow you for years. No pressure! What I’m saying is: Babe, babe! When your readers get your book they’re going to devour that sucker in a day. If you’re lucky they might read it twice! But what kind of book do you want to produce? A quick and dirty one that made them go “Wow. That wasn’t up to that author’s usual standard” or one that makes them go “Wow! That was so worth the wait!”
If you’re worried no one’s going to take you seriously because you only have one book on the shelves… or less: People are jerks and will work weekends and holidays to discredit you. (Ope. There it is.) Let them talk! But, make sure your books are the best that they can be before you put them on the shelves. Make sure your next publication sparkles like my freshly polished collection of trumpets! That’ll make their traps clap shut! And if you must publish your work to show you’re writing do it somewhere informal where you can still maintain control over where you work winds up. Try one of those story sharing apps. There’s a million of them. Even Goodreads has a section for original stories. I, personally, use Wattpad. And I can say, I have thrown some of my worst work on there just for a laugh!
What I’m trying to say is: Don’t choose creating a great quantity of writing for public consumption without making sure what you throw to the public is quality writing. By all means! Go make $h!t! Just don’t put $h!t on the shelf. You’ll win more readers making good books, than a ton of books. Go look at Harper Lee.
Join me in July for Go On Adventure to Increase Your Creativity
*Honks on party horn!* Happy Valentine’s Day! And happy birth-month to yours truly! Let’s talk about love, lust and paradise. By this point all the candy hearts and pink are probably about to drive you crazy.
If you’re in a relationship you’re probably like “Oh. This is the month where we pretend everything is fine, requires no effort, we’re just going to flaunt each other to our friends and HOLY POOP ON A STICK WHY IS AN IPHONE A VALENTINE’S DAY PRESENT NOW?!” And if you’re not… Well… I’ll just leave you where you are in fetal position wrapped around an empty box of chocolates. Yeah, I see you, boo.
So what does our respective relationship statuses have to do with our writing this month? It’s the pressure of having romance rubbed in your face at every turn! You’re thinking about romance and it’s seeping into your writing. Is your main character (MC) a strong independent person who don’t need no other half? Oh. Wait. Now they’ve found their perfect foil and receive g’luck kisses before they march off to the war. Oof.
Your inherit, perfectly valid, universal, need to be loved is seeping into your writing. Search your feelings. You know it to be true. [Excluding romance writers] don’t let your main character’s love life completely derail the plot.
Once upon a time I was reading this really kick buns young adult (YA) novel where the female MC was like “Oh gosh! We have to save both of my parents from the bad guy or else I’m going to be an orphan! I already grew up in that classic Disney situation where I was raised by my father!”
And her boyfriend said “What are we?”
“What are we?”
Then he huffed off to be angsty elsewhere while she tried to plot how to save her relationship rather than her parents. Meanwhile, I felt like I was standing there going “Um, my dude, aren’t your parents about to be sacrificed hideously before a pagan alter or something?”
Because he went to be angsty down a dark alley she had to save his buns too. You know. Just before her parents. Who were on a tight schedule. To die. Probably before her boyfriend. Because, teenage girls in fantasy novels don’t understand task management, apparently…
Anyhow, as a reader, I found it terribly unsatisfying. The author completely derailed the plot for romance. I felt like they could have had that fight just after they attempted to save the parents. You know. The main plot of the book? Or even while dangling above a pool of sharks! Because they had a wee set back on the way to victory.
What I’m trying to spit out is, don’t follow a sub-plot because you’re emotional about your relationship status. (Unless of course, you’re a romance writer and that is your plot. Then you follow that plot, son of Eros!) Romance is great. But it’s a lot like ranch dressing. It enhances the flavor. No one wants to drink ranch dressing [even though every Midwesterner has tried it at least once]. Don’t let it get away from you now or you’ll have to restructure in editing.
Tune in next month for “Submit Your Work Even If You Don’t Feel Lucky”