Go On An Adventure to Increase Your Creativity [Once You are Fully Vaccinated]

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. 

Photo by Grace Nadeau

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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Let Your Hair Down Once In A While

            This year, I got awarded a scholarship to attend the WyoPoets conference. (Thank you, thank you, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!) I showed up wearing my trademark Gibson roll, but by the end of the conference I literally let my hair down.

            Day two, I was having lunch with a nice lady who admitted it was her first outing since Christmas time. Covid changed a lot of things for all of us. I told her “Everyone is so kind and open here! I love it!” and I confessed “I showed up with my hair in a roll because I’ve trained myself not to swear when I can’t feel hair on the back of my neck… But someone dropped the F-bomb the first evening here in a poem!”

            She looks at me and says “So you literally let your hair down?”

            I had to laugh! Yes! In a literal and figurative sense, yes.

            You’d never know it, but my grandma raised me to have good manners. That, and I was super into princess books. *Coughs in Gishlan books* My thought process when I walk across the room is “Heel, toe, heel toe, you just made eye contact with someone so smile sweetly. Time to sit in a chair. Only use the edge. Never let your back touch the back of the chair. That is just there for decoration.” God help me if we’re eating. That’s probably why I need a six hour nap after “peopling”. Sometimes being prim and proper can be rather restrictive.

            Thankfully, the people at WyoPoets, while all polite and lovely, weren’t stuffy. It was just a bunch of people trying to write poetry, and often times that means talking about your childhood, or your family, or that nightmare you had last week. One poem that really struck me was about how the author had learned to play organ from her grandmother under a photograph of a stillborn baby. Another, the author prefaced with “I still have trouble talking about this”, and another made me laugh because it was “Kid, don’t climb into my tree house. It’s not safe.” The one with the F-Bomb was a rip on Robert Frost. Also hilarious!

            There was a load of poetry read there that weekend. But the ones that were my favorite were the ones that were the most honest. And, uh, yeah, I had to give back into that and share some deeply personal things in verse too. I feel like I connected with my new friends on a really deep level. Less chit chat about the weather and more “Where do we go now that there’s a vaccine? How do we carry on without our loved ones?”

            That’s my advice. Once in a while, keep it real. Do something that makes you uncomfortable because it’s honest. I usually buy myself a bracelet on trips like those, but this time it was a pair of hair clips.

How To Donate Your Book to a Library

            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.

Substance Abuse Doesn’t Make You Creative

            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

Quality Matters

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

Treat Your Writing Like a Job

Yes. Even if it isn’t making you money at present. Treat it like a job. Honestly, this blog makes revenue from ads. So far I’ve made $0.08. From my novels, I probably spend the money I make investing in them (art, travel expenses, hiring editors, etc), and I write poetry just for fun. Still! I treat it like it’s a job.

Part of learning to treat your writing like a job is figuring out how you work. Yes you. What makes you tick, human? Do you need a set schedule, or do you prefer flexibility with accompanied accountability?

When I was working full time (at James Bond’s library) I had a routine for my writing. If I didn’t meet a friend for lunch I’d sit in my car, or at the local bakery (Shout out to Sweet Lou’s!) and write, edit, get done what I needed to do. When I did meet a friend for lunch writing would be the last thing I did before I went to sleep at night. Just like I did when I was in school. I’d write well into the night. Whatever happened, I’d make sure to write every day. Even if it was just a sentence.

Now that I’m an unemployed louse I prefer flexibility with accompanied accountability. Hey, I tried to make myself a schedule. I tried to trick my mind into thinking I had a 9-5, but so far it hasn’t worked well. Life has too many unforeseen peculiarities right now for a structured schedule. And to be honest, I’m enjoying the wildness of it. Since I am free to eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry, and sleep when I’m tired, I also write when I feel like it. However, I make sure to write every day.

That’s the most important thing: I make sure to write every day.

Let me include this motivational poster so you can hang it above your desk to feel like I’m yelling at you all day.

Full image credit to Your Quote.

But where does my accountability come from? Chiefly, my friends. Everyone knows I write, everyone knows I have a lot more time on my hands than I had planned on having.  So every time we see each other they ask “Whatcha writing, Helen?” I am even lucky enough to have one friend who, every time she sees me, she will tell me with mock aggression “You best be writin’!” Haha! She checks in with me daily.

Secondly, it comes from my fandom online. (That’s you!) If I didn’t post a pretty picture of my work space once in a while, or a nice quote, I’d get a few concerned messages. Which is really, really nice and really appreciated.

Though structure is a thing of the past I have no shortage of accountability.

You can do it your way! You just gotta get ‘er done! (Hopefully that phrase is not copyrighted…) Yes, even if writing is just your hobby and you follow this blog because you think I’m cool. You still have to eke out time for what you love. And just like a job, you are totally allowed to give yourself vacations and holidays. It’s okay if life explodes and you need to take a couple of days to focus on the cleanup. Just remember, you’re treating this like a job now. Consciously call in sick with yourself. Consciously decide you’ve got Christmas off! Consciously decide you need a weekend getaway from your writing. But just like a job, if you just up and decide not to show up for a few days, it’s not going to end well.

Really, have enough respect for yourself and your career to take yourself seriously. Treat it like work. Work that you love doing. You’re in control. You set your hours. You make your choices. But don’t leave yourself hanging. And no matter what, it helps to have good friends holding you accountable.

Thank you for your support! I appreciate each and every one of my readers no matter how much revenue I get. Join me here next month for: Quality Matters

Don’t Let the Lovers Get You Down

*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?”

“Excuse me?”

“What are we?”

“Philosophically?”

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”