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Oooooh, I’m so excited to finally be able to post this one!
No really. Don’t just hate-like other people’s trips on Instagram. Go on your own [once you are fully vaccinated]! I know what you’re thinking: “Helen, not everyone can afford a vacation!” I know! And that’s why I said “Go on an adventure.” I’m not telling you to go take some bazillion dollar vacation for 1,000 days and 1,000 nights, live in a cabana, and shirk your responsibilities so you can write. I’m telling you, leave the house once in a while and go explore [once you are fully vaccinated]. Then you’ll have some extra writing juice.
Here’s me at Guernsey Lake in February of 2020, before the freaking pandemic.
It was winter. It was the off season of the park. I was unemployed, and so was my buddy. Guernsey is practically in our back yard, it was a nice day so we just went. That, my dear, is what I mean by “adventure”. And honestly, it was a cheap adventure. I needed to top off my tank for $20, and since it was the off season it costed $6 to get in to the park. Really, you can’t go wrong with a cheap day trip. Just go [if at all possible because everyone’s life is different]. Take pictures and use all the #Travelgram hashtags like a cool kid!
“But Helen, whyyyy must I leave my cave?” Because you are a plant with feelings. I will not be citing my sources. But sitting indoors looking at the same walls cannot be good for you, as most of us found out during the pandemic. Go get some sun, look at a different town, go to a different McDonalds, the one on the other side of town, go off your particular beaten path. We all know the epic tale of Stephen King and his giant desk. King told us that tale out of caution. Doing nothing but making yourself hate the craft by pushing yourself too hard will not help you in the long run. One day you will quit and everyone will ask why. You’ll have to pause and say “I guess I got burnt out.” Ask me about music. I dare ya.
“But how do day trips make me write gooder?” (Hehe, you know you love me.) I’m sure you don’t write books that read like Saw movies. (The first saw film was made by some college film students on a tight budget. They wanted to see if they could make a movie with one room. They could.) Your characters are probably traveling across the land, searching far and wide, watching the sun set, riding horses, standing next to the ocean, meeting new people etc, etc. Sometimes you just need to go outside and listen to how snow crunches under your boots, or remember what a pool smells like, maybe go actually ride a horse. From the journal I was using back in spring, I have a bunch of scraps I call “studies”. One is me sitting on the trunk of my car, parked next to a lake in Utah, another me staring up at the stars on my lawn, and then there’s when I went to the Oregon Coast. The ocean and I have a long standing love affair. Chances are you’re not writing something where your main character is trapped, chained to a desk, stuck in a routine. Break free! Once you are fully vaccinated.
Kids, there’s more to life than writing. There’s more to writing than actually writing. Get living! As soon as it is safe for you to travel, do so. Don’t just hate-like other people’s adventures. Go get vaccinated and have your own! It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking.
I had written this article shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic began and had to pull it before I told people to endanger their lives and others. (Bet you didn’t know I scheduled these months in advance, huh?) Now I’m asking “How many near death experiences do you need before you start tryna live?” We were all kind of trapped and in survival mode for over a year. Help yourself to healing and a dose of vaccine. Go get vaccinated and go party!
Please note, I will not be arguing with anti-vaccination comments. You know your own situation, and you know it’s your civic duty to protect your friends and neighbors by getting vaccinated if you are healthy enough to do so. Thank you for your continued support of my work.
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Hey, that three star review has nothing to do with you.
I know. Wild. They’re really not trying to insult you or your artistry.
Not to braaaaaaaag or anything but I read over 100 books in quarantine. By the time you read this I’ll probably be up to 150. And you know what? I didn’t particularly care for every book I read. Here’s my personal rating system:
★★★★★ “Omigob, this book is amazing, everyone in the world should read it.”
★★★★☆ “This book is pretty good.”, “This book is really good, but this author is incredible and I feel like they could’ve done better”, “This is actually a five star book but I haven’t taken my dinner out of the microwave yet so I’m a little hangry.”
★★★☆☆ “All my friends thought it was cool but I can’t understand it with my pea brain”, “Meh.”, “This fantasy novel broke physics too many times.”
★★☆☆☆ “I hated it but I have scruples and won’t give one star.”, “I took off a star every time a female character was harmed to further the plot, but the story line was still good.”, “I managed to slog through this.”
★☆☆☆☆ “This book was ridiculously problematic. Seriously, they were more sympathetic to social issues in the 1960’s. I can’t believe this is published this year. The only reason I haven’t lit my copy on fire is because I believe in freedom of the press.”, “My friend Ann Miner told me ‘life is too short for bad books’. She was right. Thus, in her memory I will not be finishing this book.”, “Andrew Ne!derman, stop pretending to be VC Andrews.”
You see that? The only place where it was about the author was when I didn’t feel like they had done their personal best… Or they were pretending to be an absolute queen who deserves to rest in peace without her name dragged through the mud. A rating on your book has very little to do with you.
In example, I try to read blind. I read Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy A. Bastion. I adored it! It was incredible! The art was breath taking! The storyline had me enraptured. But then I read the second one. It was also breath taking, enrapturing, and incredible… But maybe a little discombobulated. The illustrations were to die for! But then that cliff hanger… So I gave the first one five stars, and the second four. I gave The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern three stars. If you haven’t heard of that one I promise you’re about to. It’s extremely popular! It was good, but I’m not cool enough to get it. None of that was meant to be an attack on the author.
I know a low rating can feel like a personal attack. In fact, one of my one star reviews is a personal attack. I told one of my former friends he was wrong to revenge porn his ex-girlfriend and told him I didn’t want to be around him. That was the result. But that’s neither here nor there! Sometimes, your book shaped baby just doesn’t speak to others the way it spoke to you. If you must read your ratings see what the common theme is. Maybe Grammerly isn’t the best line editor. Maybe you need to stop using sexual assault as a plot device. Maybe you’re marketing to the wrong audience! If you’re going to torment yourself, at least learn from it.
As someone who used to message innocents who gave anything less than five stars (SORRY!) and got blocked multiple times for doing that (my sincerest apologies!) because I was hoping for more in depth feedback (really, it won’t happen again!) it’s best to let it go. Amy Tan doesn’t read her reviews. You and I aren’t Amy Tan, buckaroo, but just like people aren’t obligated to give us more in depth feedback. We’re not obligated to read reviews if they’re just going to do a number on our mental health.
The best I can tell you is to gain a team of freelancers who are incredible at what they do, and pay them well to do it. That way, when someone does run up and slap that one star on your book, you can know you did your dang-est to make the finest book you could possibly make.
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.
This blog post is going to be kind of heavy but I’m going to do my best to be honest. We’re going to do some “real talk” here. I write these posts month in advance. Right now I’m in quarantine due to the covid-19 pandemic. I am safe but I am trying to keep everyone else safe too by taking myself out of the equation.
During quarantine many of us have had to look our inner demons in the eyes. Self isolation is a bad habit we try to avoid. Humans are pack animals. We rely on each other. Right now we are all bored, we are all scared, and we are all looking for ways to comfort ourselves. I can’t see the future. I don’t know what’s going on in August. I do know that plenty of people are drinking and smoking more because we can. I know I built a wind chime on my lawn at 11am with a beer because I could. I wouldn’t be surprised if come August many of us were struggling with addition.
I want to tell you something creatives don’t tell each other enough: Your addiction doesn’t make your more creative. Smoking cigarettes doesn’t make you an artist. Drinking whiskey doesn’t make you a writer. Anything that makes you feel altered isn’t where your creativity comes from. It’s in you. I’m sticking to legal substances. You know where you sit. I certainly am not saying that people who struggle with substance abuse are bad people. We are all just people. Even food can be a weapon. I’m telling you: This does not define you.
And for those who haven’t danced with the devil: No. No, “pulling a Hemingway” (getting slobbering drunk and then writing until you wake up and it’s morning) will not help your create quality material. Sometimes not even a quantity of material. It’s not worth it. It’s just fun.
To summarize: What you should take away is that you don’t need it to be creative. Whatever it is. The creativity is inside of you. It always was. The addiction of your choice won’t make you a better writer. Continuing to create will. All things in moderation.
Join me next month for Find What Motivates You
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.
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
Hello, and welcome. I guess you could say this is my new year’s resolution. To start a blog about writing. Why should you be taking advice from a village girl in Wyoming? Because I have insight that you can’t find in text books.
As well as the author of The Gishlan Series, I was a librarian. For the past two years I had been writing and running a blog about writing for my former employer. My former employer no longer requires that piece of my services so I am free to blog under my own volition. My former employer wishes to stay out of my work life, and likewise, I prefer to keep my former employer out of my “author life”. Because fiction is so much more fun than reality… I worked for the library at a top secret spy agency. I am where James Bond goes to get his James Pattersons. I know my way around the book world!
For at least the next 11 months I want to encourage you to keep writing, put yourself out there, open your mind to new ways of thinking, and well… Since we have established I worked for a top secret spy library that wishes to remain anonymous we can have a little bit more fun! Sex, drugs, and rock and roll!
As always, if you have questions, comments, requests, etc. Smash that “contact” button off on the left side of your screen and drop me an email. Now that I’ve introduced myself tune in next month for “Don’t Let the Lovers Drive You Crazy”.