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.

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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.

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No one is going to Support You if You Don’t Give Them the Chance

            When I was in high school I didn’t tell anyone I wrote. Maybe adults at whatever luncheon I got dragged to that week to impress them but not anyone I thought I’d have to see again within the next year. I never really told my peers. Why didn’t I? I was so afraid I wouldn’t be good enough and I’d get made fun of.

            I’m sure people saw me physically writing. I remember a bunch of art kids staring at me like I’d grown a third head while writing poetry on a bus to Art Symposium. My friend slapped me on the arm and said “Helen, quit writing and draw something! You’re freaking them out!”

            I glanced at a girl wearing two colors of eyeshadow, blue and pink; then to a boy with lime green spikes in his hair, and all their friends who looked just like them. They were in fact staring. “So what?” It took a lot of self-control to go back to writing and not snap at each and every one of them.

            Suddenly, in my 20th year of life I wouldn’t stop blasting my Facebook friends with ads for my first publication. “It took me five years to get here.” I told them in a post.

            “Omigosh, Helen! We hung out every day back in high school! I had no idea you wrote!” one friend said. I think she felt guilty for not knowing. And I felt guilty for not telling her. It felt too risky! I was blessed with a string of awesome English teachers (Mrs. McCafferty, Ms. Holroyd, and Mrs. Harshberger in that order!) but I remember darting through the hall with my War and Chess manuscript freshly edited by Ms. Holroyd. It was a glossy purple folder and I wouldn’t tell anyone what was inside. “It’s from a teacher.” I said ominously so the other kids would leave it be.

            When I published my first book everyone showed up, showed out, and bought a copy. I was grateful for all the support. Now people ask me all the time “When is the next one coming out?!” [and God knows I wish I had an answer!] So while I’m waiting to find a publishing house I’ve been posting updates on the series I never realized would become a series, via a social media, and a ton of poetry on Wattpad. A few short stories here and there too. It’s awesome to see that I have a fan base that is so involved and so supportive of my work! There’s even people I’ve never met in person cheering me on. And of course, plenty of people I do know too. What I’m driving at is that if you don’t put yourself out there no one is going to support your work. How can they if they don’t know you’re working?

            My advice? Put yourself out there! My handwriting is terrible so I’m able to post #Aesthetic pictures of my works in progress on Instagram. So somewhere out there there are people invested in the snippits I give them. A ton of people I’ve never met are invested in me “dragging a pregnant woman through the woods while she chants swear words under her breath and a bunch of people follow her around asking her ‘what do we do now?’” and my ‘sassy half-mermaid child who’s favorite weapon is that look”.

            I mainly use Instagram these days. It helps me get my messages out to three other social media sites to reach a broader audience. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Instagram has turned me into a bit of a photographer. It’s all visually oriented so there’s quite a bit of pressure to make things pretty. Filters can do wonders. Trust me. Sometimes you just have to make ordinary things seem extraordinary. Like, while on vacation I took a walk in a field and wrote next to the creek until sundown. I made a collage of all the pictures I took and simply said “Had a great writing sesh out in the bushes. Wild roses, hawthorn, and blackberries. I only came out with one scratch!” Don’t forget your hashtags. It’s how people with similar interests find you. I recommend starting with Facebook if you’re just learning.

            Aside from being active on social media it helps to write for different platforms. Find someone with a blog that needs guest writers! (There’s a ton of blogs. I promise there’s one that suits your interests.) For instance, I am a young adult fantasy author. But I also have written devotionals for several Christian newsletters, blogs, and other assorted projects. It doesn’t have to be in your genre. You just need to know what you’re talking about. It works best if you try for a more competitive market, like Wyoming Writers of WyoPoets.

            Earlier I mentioned Wattpad. So far it’s my favorite story sharing platform. I’ve tried Figment, Quizilla, its predecessor Quotev, Teenink was wonderful and gave me a springboard for my career but I aged out, Goodreads, Get Underlined, Deviant Art, and probably a few more I’ve forgotten. Wattpad is my favorite because it’s got such an active community there’s actually people there to interact with your work. It’s also got a really diverse selection of reading material. But as with any site, if you want the site to work for you you have to interact with it.

            Self-publishing has opened a lot of doors for a lot of people and it’s gotten a lot more sophisticated than when I jumped into the book bizz at 14 years of age. I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions. As I am not a self-published author and I do not know that sect of the industry well at all. Also, I don’t want to color anyone’s thinking with my opinions and speculation. However, self-publishing is fantastic way to deliver your final product into the hands of your readers. Read more about the different types of publishing in this previous blog post. It all depends on you. Is the end game getting as much as you can, as fast as you can to your readers?

            Sometimes, the best thing, if you’re really shy is handing your work over to strangers. There’s 1 million different social media sites and social apps. A lot of them mirror Snapchat with their “stories” feature. Take for instance Bottled. There’s a ton of apps just like this one. But this app could potentially throw your work to a few people around the globe who may or may not appreciate your short stories and poetry.

            What matters is that you try. That you tell people you’re creating. That you give yourself the chance to build a fan base. That you put yourself out there. Honestly, you just might be surprised to see who comes along to support your dreams.

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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.

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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.

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Some Advice for Facebook

            Well, I’m a little peeved because I have a long night of computer work ahead of me. This is a piece of advice you probably won’t hear from too many other people because it’s oddly specific… Make sure it’s easy to tag you in event photos on Facebook!

            So. My oddly specific problem: After Wyoming Author Day I, the library’s web manager, tried to go through and tag all of the authors via their professional Facebook pages. It came to my attention that I’m the only one who has a page under their book’s name, not their pen name. Thinking back, people had tagged me in author photos on my semi-private “Helen the Human” page. You know, the part of Facebook you keep posting vacation photos to? Selfies for your gramma? That sort of thing. The content only your friends can see. I don’t want people from the public part of my life in the private part of my life. But! The poor web manager from your recent public event won’t go looking to tag the name of your book(s), they’ll go looking for you.

            Do yourself a favor, especially if you’re not published yet, put your public page under your pen name. When I wrote War and Chess I didn’t expect to make it a series. So I made the “War and Chess” Facebook page. Now I’m working on making a series that takes place in Gishlan (I’m taking a break before I write book 5 and I’m in the middle of editing book 3), and I don’t only write about Gishlan, much less fantasy. *Looks around* Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore! This is blog isn’t Gishlan!

            It’s going to take me a max of three hours to go through the strenuous process of changing the page. It’s not just submitting a name change request, which Facebook will generally deign until you appeal it twice, it’s also rebranding, and tracking down all the graphics I use to decorate my Twitter and Instagram, both under my pen name. Then last but not least, I have to change my personal page enough that the two won’t be easily confused.

            In conclusion, right from the get-go, act like the bestselling author you’ve always wanted to be and celebrate your talent, not your individual pieces of work. Own your name.

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