On Writing Every Day

           Hey, go easy on yourself. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out! Some days you find yourself trapped behind the wheel of a large automobile for about ten hours. You simply don’t have time or energy to sit down and write a thousand words on those days! That’s okay!

            However, I’m not here to coddle you and tell you you’ll become a better writer by “saving your strength”. There’s not a craft, a talent, or muscle in your body that improves from not being used daily!

            What’s been working for me for about six months now is promising myself “I will write one sentence every day.” And I usually do! Somedays I write my one sentence and fall into bed. Other days I wind up writing three pages or better!

            I’m old fashioned and I like to use a paper journal and a pen. Every day I like to use a different colored pen to track my progress with my Work In Progress (WIP). It keeps me motivated knowing how much I can do even when I don’t have time to do it all. Sometimes it’s just my one sentence and bed. (Sometimes it’s no sentence and bed! Because I’m a bad kid.) But I love to write so I often write over my lunch break and knock out an entire scene while being a stereotype in a café.

            The essential thing is that you try to write every day and work hard to improve your craft. Even God-given talent can be built upon! Setting small goals helps you achieve bigger ones later. Keeping those writing “muscles” in motion keeps them functioning. It doesn’t have to be a thousand words daily (although you’ll finish your book faster) it just has to be something!

Read more...

Making the Most of Research

            Writing a book often goes hand-in-hand with researching the subjects you’re writing about. If the character is a mechanic, the author needs to know a decent amount about cars and what a mechanic does to fix them. No writing, except for maybe an autobiography, is without its simultaneous research. (Even stories that seem simple.)

 

                Research can seem daunting and terrifying, mostly because there’s so much that someone needs to know.  If a character needs to know everything about a subject, it seems like the author needs to know the same amount. But if your story is about a grouchy mechanic putting together an old ’67 Chevy from his childhood, you as the author probably don’t need to know anything about BMWs.

 

                There are lots of different types of resources, especially on something that involves life experience. There are often nonfiction books explaining the mechanics of what you’re researching (for an example, how an autoimmune disease affects the body), as well as memoirs describing people’s personal experience. If you can’t find a memoir, try reaching out online for people who have similar life experiences to the one you’re planning on writing about.

 

                With so many resources and so much knowledge available in today’s modern, technological age, it can be hard to decide what your characters need to know. If they are an expert hacker, do they need to know everything about computers, or just the software? If you know too much about a subject, the story can be hard to get through as a reader, but knowing not enough can make it inaccurate and feel unrealistic. Therefore, it becomes a challenge to find just the right balance of research. You can’t have too wide of a field.

 

                “Everything” is too much to learn, but “just this one part” is too specific and will you’re your character seem too much like a fictional creation. Narrowing down your research can be hard, so here’s some tips:

 

                Decide what your character needs to know. If your character has cancer, they need to have a patient’s understanding of their cancer, not a doctor’s knowledge of every kind of cancer in existence. If your character is a Shakespeare nut, they probably don’t need to know everything about every playwright of Shakespeare’s time. Let your research only involve what the character needs to know – anything else will be overwhelming.

 

                Learn about what you’re writing about. Maybe your character is a dancer, but you don’t know anything about the dance world or even how a dance class works. Talk to someone who does, find books about dancing, and ask dance students. Real-life research can sometimes be better than reading books about something. Even if your character doesn’t have explicit information about the world they exist in, the world still needs to feel accurate and real.

 

                Know just a little bit extra. Even if your main character doesn’t need to know everything about their situation or world, it’s never bad to know a little bit extra. There may be a character, such as a doctor, with a higher level of information, or you may find in editing that you want to add a little extra detail. It’s never bad to know extra, but researching large amounts makes it harder for you to remember what you know.

 

                As long as you know what you need to know to write your next best-seller, you can research it. Online databases, libraries, and people with life experiences are all great resources for you to learn about the thing that will make your story just a touch more realistic. If you follow the simple steps above and find good resources to match them, you might just find that researching your stories can be fun!

 

Read more...

The Root of Your Writer’s Block May Be Insecurity

            In this blog post we’re going to talk about feelings. Run while you still can.

             In recent years around this time I get a serious case of the Christmas blues. I have lost a lot of close friends throughout the years, and not so much as sending them a Christmas card reminds me of their absence. Because those close relationships had to end I begin examining myself, asking myself what part of my behavior led to the breakdown of our friendship. Because I try to place the blame on myself I become insecure. When I feel like something within me doesn’t meet the measure I suddenly find myself unable to write.

            Sometimes you need to stop looking for what your characters are doing next and look inside yourself to see what’s holding you back. It’s not what you want to hear but sometimes it’s best to shove through, write some short stories (because giving up isn’t an option), ride out life’s storm’s, and write. Write even if your main character just happens to be intensely studying the wood grain of a table! You can always edit it out later!

            Sometimes it’s not the pen and page you need to look it. It’s the hand that’s holding it.

Read more...

A Little Humility Goes a Long Way

            Picture this. You just spent three years building an imaginary world, your imaginary friends are doing well, and someone finally cares. You’re a published author! Finally. Now you’ve got people treating you like you’re smart, like you’re worth something. It’s hard not to let it go to your head. You have a place where the sun rises and sets at your command. However, getting high off your own greatness is an addiction in itself.

            One of the most brilliant things one of my friends said to me was “You can’t learn with a full cup.” And she was right! If you know everything there’s not going to be room for you to learn anything. And whether you’ve published 12 books or just 1 you’ve still got room to grow. My mentor, who used to grill me about my short stories so hard I’d break a sweat, after I published my first book I started showing her all the online resources she could use to promote her books! (And don’t worry about the grilling! It was for my good. That’s why by the time you read this blog post it’ll be only the second or third draft!) Never approach a situation like you know everything.

            Honest to goodness, Gene Gagliano, CJ Box, John Nesbitt, Zack Pullen, and Craig Johnson have been some of my favorite authors to work with in my career as a librarian. These fellows have all “made it”, but that is not what made them my favorites. Their kindness, their gentleness, their humility are what struck me. None of them swaggered into the library¾ or into my email’s inbox¾ acting like, well, the bestselling authors that they are! Even the ones who couldn’t make it to Goshen County Library were still polite enough to make a good impression with me.

            Publishing a book can make you feel like you’re sitting on top of the world. At least it did for me! But whether you’ve published, one, none, or 76 you’ve still got room to learn and to grow. This is coming from someone who’s writing blog posts on how to run your writing career. I still have a lot to learn. Being humble and polite will get you a lot farther than stuffy and full of yourself, and people will actually enjoy working with you.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Do you have a burning question for Helen? Feel free to email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more...

NaNoWriMo is Weird

            Let me start by saying I am a self-proclaimed NaNoRebel. This isn’t a dis post. I really love what the organization does on a grand scale! National Novel Writing Month is a good thing! I will friend you on the site and support the snot out of you! (I’m nelehjr) This will be my third year organizing the Come Write In Space at our library. NaNoWriMo is amazing!

            But NaNoWriMo is also weird.

            Write an entire novel? In a month?! Are you nuts?! I’m pretty sure I’d sprain something, if not then I’d definitely let it take a toll on my mental health. Don’t these people know I work for a living?! I don’t just flick my wrist and a book falls out! (I write by hand. There’s a lot of wrist flicking.)

            I used to get a little sick to my stomach every November 1st. Everyone who knew me would say “Oh Helen, you write! Are you going to do that NaNoWriMo thing?” So. Much. Pressure. Writing is the only thing I’ve been dead set on doing with my life and passionate about. Sometimes I get a little too intense. But how could I be a real writer if I couldn’t and wouldn’t even attempt with all manner of Hell-bent determination, try?

            NaNoWriMo made me face down my biggest personality fault (my intensity) and leap over my biggest hurtle (finding balance). I knew that if I tried to meet the full goal like all the other writers were doing I’d hurt myself. I’d sacrifice things like sleep, personal hygiene, coming to work on time, eating, spending time with loved ones. I’d write. That’d be all. One year I decided to set a personal goal to write one sentence per day, at the very least. Honestly, that helped! A lot! I got to feel included, I got held accountable, it set some good habits, but best of all I got to tell people what I was working on! I used to be super private about my work and wouldn’t let anyone know about it until I had it finished and polished. But now it’s kind of fun because people get really invested before you even finish your story!

            So, dear friends, I say we begin the revolution. I am a self-proclaimed NaNoRebel because I like to be included but I know full well I’m not going to complete the full challenge. It’s okay if you know your limits and NaNoWriMo’s goals are far above them. NaNoWriMo is weird. Don’t sacrifice your health to participate, but NaNoWriMo is for everyone and you can still participate! There’s even a “NaNoRebel” badge on their website! Try it out, test out having a community of writer friends, and writing goals. NaNoWriMo is an awesome opportunity to challenge yourself just don’t hurt yourself doing it.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Do you have a burning question for Helen? Feel free to email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more...

Find Your Joy in Writing

            Write ‘til you bleed! Quit your day job! Write 2,000 words a day at least! You’re a failure if you don’t work for six hours straight! So the writing world seems to scream at us. At least with all the memes. Look doll face, you’re not James Patterson. You don’t have to produce a novel every month. Cool it.

            Right now I’m between novels. Writing them, I mean! I finished the first draft of book 4, sent book 2 off to an editor, and I am editing the first draft of book 3. I got wild and started in on book 5. Unfortunately, I completely forgot the format of the Gishlan books and messed it up so bad I had to throw the whole thing out and start over. Only I didn’t start over…

            I swear I’ve been meaning to! I’m really excited about it! It just needs a little more time to gestate in my head, I guess. In the main time I’ve been writing these short stories. I don’t care if they turn out terrible, and when I write them I’m sure no one will read them. So because I don’t care they’ve been turning out great! (If I do say so myself!) I sent one to my friend when she was having a bad day and it made her laugh. I broke all the rules! I used swear words as adjectives, I made my characters talk about sex, I made a pond demon appear with no setup for magic on the timeline. It was fun! And then I polished it up and sent it to a magazine.

            I honestly feel like my teenage self again (but without all the angst). When I was ages 14-19 my absolute favorite thing to do was to sit up all night writing, usually short stories, that were just pure fun! Even though writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. Once I published War and Chess I got a little too serious and it’s only now I’m falling back in love with the craft.

            What I’m driving at is this: Write for the joy of it! Even when you’re taking yourself seriously, (finally!) don’t let yourself suck the fun out of your writing because this is what you want from life. To write. Enjoy it. If writing 2,000 isn’t working for you don’t write 2,000 words in a day. If you don’t have six hours to write, don’t write for six hours. Quitting your day job is dumb. And honestly… How does one write ‘till they bleed? Chill and find the joy in it.

Read more...