Skip to content

Helge Mahrt Posts

Elyse and Writers of the Future – Conclusion

On December 3, 2015, I received an email with the title “Your 4th Quarter WOTF Entry” and the following content:

Dear Entrant,
Your story has been judged and is an Honorable Mention for the 4th quarter. (entry between 1 July through 30 September 2015)


Best regards,
Joni Labaqui

I won an Honorable Mention!!

But wait… what exactly does that mean?

I researched a bit and it looks like the grades they hand out are as follows: (source)

  1. Winner
  2. Finalist
  3. Semi-Finalist
  4. Honorable Mention (Quarter Finalist)
  5. Nothing

To put this into perspective: (source)

Honorable Mentions are between 5 and 15 percent each quarter. It depends on how many good stories there were.

This is actually really great. Even though I have “only” gotten to the first step on the ladder, my story is part of a select few! David Farland, the head judge of Writers of the Future, recently blogged about Honorable Mentions: (You can read the post here)

But maybe it’s not a grand prize winner. Maybe it’s an Honorable Mention. Honorable Mentions are my way of saying, “You’re writing almost at a professional level, but this one didn’t quite do it for me.” Or better yet, “I’d really like to see more from you. Keep trying!”

I think that is rather encouraging! 🙂


There were some issues which I am still trying to sort out with Joni. One of them being that my name is missing from the list of Honorable Mentions of the 4th Quarter. She’s busy organizing the big awards ceremony right now, but she promised to look into it afterwards.

Since receiving the result of my entry, I’ve sent Elyse off to sell it to a big magazine. It’s still pending – and I think it will still be a long while before I get an answer – but I hope they like it. 🙂



Sky High Paperback available!

After waiting for what felt like ages for the proof copy of my book, I corrected some minor mistakes and now the moment has come: The paperback version of Sky High is available on Amazon!

If you’d like to purchase a copy, please use this link: (I get more royalties if you buy it from this link, instead of Amazon’s site 🙂 )

I have contacted several indie book review blogs and several agreed to write a review. However, their reading queue is quite long, so it’ll still be a couple of months before they get to review Sky High. In the meantime you can see what other’s think about my book on Goodreads.

Please let me know whether you liked the book and rate it on Goodreads. And please be honest in your opinion. 🙂

Sky High eBook out now!

I’m excited to announce that the eBook version of Sky High is out now!

My editor finished reviewing the book last week, and I worked hard on incorporating the changes. Today I finished the interior design of the book and Amazon was really quick in processing everything. They just shipped the proof copy of the paperback edition and it should arrive in two days. Once I have confirmed that it looks good, it should be available for ordering in no time.

In the meanwhile, you can already order the eBook here:

By the way: I enabled Sky High for Amazon MatchBook: If you already own a paperback copy, you may purchase the eBook for only $0.99.

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂 Let me know your thoughts, by email or in the comments below.

Sky High Book Cover Preview

I recently finished the cover design for my new book, Sky High. Here is a preview of what it will look like:

Sky High Book Cover
Sky High Book Cover

After careful consideration, I decided to have my book copy-edited professionally and I’m currently waiting on the editor. I can’t wait to see it finally published!

I hope you like the design! Let me know in the comments or by email.

It’s done!

Last Sunday I finished the second version of Sky High’s draft, and I already sent it to my alpha readers. Time for celebration! 🙂

Yes, you read correctly: That’s the second draft and I sent it out. So, how does this fit the revision process which I said I’d follow here?

Let me rewind a bit.

About two weeks ago, I bought the NaNoWriMo story bundle – a great wealth of resources on how to write, which I can only recommend. I started by reading Writing to the Point by Algis Budrys. He breaks down the essential elements, which make up a story, into a very easy structure. His down-to-earth pragmatic approach to writing, and making a living from your writing, appeals strongly to me.

Next, I chose Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith. The book is actually a polished version of a series of posts he has up on his blog. You can read them online here, as well as his second book, Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing.

Dean also has a very pragmatic approach to writing, which is very similar to Algis Budrys’ – and that’s probably not a coincidence, since Algis was Dean’s mentor. These two posts resonated most with me:

Speed: Writing Fast is Bad:

After finishing NaNoWriMo in 2014, I was wondering: If I can write almost 2000 words in about 2 hours per day, how come big writers publish only 1-2 books per year? The numbers just didn’t add up – especially looking at grand masters like George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss, who take years to finish a book. I wasn’t able to get a satisfying answer and concluded that these people probably spend a lot of time on book tours and other promotional events.

Therefore, reading this chapter was a revelation. 🙂


Brandon Sanderson once said – I believe it was on Writing Excuses – that it took him so long to become published because during his initial years he never edited his books. So, naturally, I assumed that this is what I had to do: edit and rewrite.

Dean has a valid point, though: When you’re creating new content, you’re working from the creative side of your brain, whereas when you’re editing you’re working from the critical side. And the critical side is just not as good at creative tasks as the other half. So when you edit, you’re basically submitting your work to all the rules and assumptions you’ve picked up during your life. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a bland mush, and nothing of your style – nothing remarkable, which makes your work stand out from others – will be left.

You still have to review your writing, for consistency and spelling mistakes etc., but Dean recommends you don’t rewrite unless you’re getting paid for it. His reasoning is simple: Instead of wasting all that time trying to make the perfect book, you could be creating new assets – new stories.

I love his pragmatic reasoning, and his approach to writing is very appealing to me. I have to admit that I was demotivated by the prospect of having to revise my story 8 times. And the idea of rewriting it doesn’t seem fun – especially after seeing that I really like what I have written. So I decided to work from a 3 draft system, like Dean:

  1. Write the story
  2. Review for consistency and spelling/grammar mistakes. Then send to alpha readers
  3. Correct mistakes found by alpha readers, then publish / submit


So here I am. I decided to go for Indie Publishing and will now work on the book cover, and setting up everything else required to make my book available to readers.

Have any thoughts or comments? Send me an email or post here! 🙂



Sky High Update and Writing Resources

It’s been a while since my last post, and it’s been a while since I had time to work on Sky High. There’s a lot going on at work right now, and family events have kept me busy on the weekends. Therefore, today’s post will be rather short, so I can use the time to edit my book instead.

There’s a great offer up at right now. For as little as $15 you get 13 (!) awesome books about writing. And for $10 more, you get all of last year’s NaNoWriMo storybundle-books as well. That’s 25 books for $25!

Go check it out! I did, and I have just read Writing To The Point by Algis Budrys. It somewhat changed my perspective on writing, and took away some of my worries about editing Sky High. 🙂

That’s it for today – I’ll get busy on Sky High now.

Sky High v1.0 done!

Can you believe it?? I never thought I would get here.

But somehow… it doesn’t feel as rewarding as I thought it would. I guess that’s because of all the work ahead…

Last week I wrote through the climax of Sky High and now I am done. Well, almost. I still need to write the dénouement. Since finishing the climax, I’ve been trying to find the motivation to continue, but all I could think of were the many, many things that I have to change. So I decided to call it quits here. I’ll write the dénouement when I’m done with the big structural changes.

So what now?

The things that come to my mind right now, when I think about the story, are all the issues and flaws. There are so many things that I want to revise. Most importantly: I clocked in at 64007 words. That’s 11000 words short of my (somewhat arbitrary) goal of 75000. It’s very short for a science-fiction novel, even if you consider it YA. And knowing myself… I fear that I rushed through the story and that I need to expand on some of the topics and scenes. If not all 🙂

Where do I start?

Brandon Sanderson has a video about revising a book on Write About Dragons, and I intend to follow his process. I find this scheme immensely helpful, because it breaks down the myriads of tasks into a very simple process to follow:

  • 1.0 Straight through beginning to end, taking notes as he goes on changes of direction that will need to be fixed in…
  • 2.0 Continuity edit, done immediately afterwards
  • [Brief gap]
  • 3.0 Polish for tighter language, cut about 15%
  • Send out to alpha readers (writing group, editor, agent, wife)
  • [6-month gap, during which time he takes notes on things to change]
  • 4.0 Incorporate alphas’ feedback and his own reflections
  • 5.0 Second polish
  • [Send to betas, fans etc. – not the same people as alphas – plus editor]
  • 6.0 Last fixes
  • 7.0, 8.0: copy edit and proofreads (polishes)

I have v1.0 right now, but I will probably add in a v1.5 (expanding the story) before doing v2.0. This is the first time I will be editing a full book. It’s a daunting task, but I really look forward to it!

Do you have any tips on editing? Let me hear about it in the comments or via email!

To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo…

I’m getting closer to finishing the first draft of my novel Sky High and I couldn’t help but notice that it’s almost time for NaNoWriMo again. For those of you who have not heard of NaNoWriMo before, here a brief definition, taken from their website:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.

You can find a more detailed description of how it works here:

Sky High was my NaNoWriMo 2014 project and made me reach the 50000 words goal for the first time. It was a huge rush, but it also took a toll on my private life. With a 40 hours day job, a pregnant wife and Japanese classes on Saturday mornings, there was little time left for writing. However, to get to 50000 words in 30 days you need to average 1667 words a day – that’s almost two hours of daily writing time for me.

One of the cool and motivating things about NaNoWriMo is the stats that they provide. Take a look at my 2014 progress:

Sky High NaNoWriMo Progress
Sky High, NaNoWriMo 2014 Progress

As you can see, I got off to a great start, but was struggling to keep up. Around the two-weeks mark I didn’t get to write for a couple of days, but still managed to be right on schedule. However, a week later, things got really out of control.

I still remember my worry about not hitting 50000 words. NaNoWriMo was a constant companion that month, always present in my head. My wife complained that I stressed myself out too much, but at the same time she was really supportive. Because of that stress, I have been saying that I would not participate in NaNoWriMo 2015 – and my wife happily approved of that decision.

But now the date is getting closer and ideas for new stories are popping up in my head. I feel the temptation: Yes, it was hard. Yes, I put myself under a lot of pressure. But man, I can’t begin to describe how incredible it felt to rush along the words, almost as fast as I could think of them, and discover my own novel.

I’ve said it before: When I read a good book, I eventually stop noticing the words and I just “see” the images they create in my mind. While writing Sky High, something similar happened a couple of times: I stopped noticing that I was typing and just observed how my story unfolded. The experience was quite like reading, but so much more intensive. I guess that, because it was my mind spinning up these images, my immersion was a lot stronger.

I want this rush, I want to ride this wave of creativity again…

But I also have to be realistic. I should not start a new project before at least finishing the first draft of Sky High. After winning NaNoWriMo in November last year, I needed a rest. And then there was Christmas. And then some other things happened in my life. In the end, I did not get back to working on Sky High until July-August this year.

It was hard to get into the project again. Really hard. It had become stale and I had to reread everything that I had written so far. I had already forgotten about important details and had lost the feeling for the story, which made it really hard to find the motivation to go on. (Although it made for an interesting and surprising read. “Oh, cool, I didn’t remember that,” or “What, really?” were just some of my reactions) But I remembered something that Brandon Sanderson said – I think it was in one of the Write About Dragons recordings: The main reason it took him so many years to get published was that he did not edit his books.  Back then he would finish writing a story and then start a new project. I didn’t want to commit the same error, so I pushed through and built up some momentum again – although it is weaker now than it was during NaNoWriMo.

That’s why I don’t want to lose that momentum again, so finishing the first draft of Sky High is a prerequisite for participating. But I also do not want to repeat my error from 2013: I got to know about NaNoWriMo very late – maybe 5 days into the competition – and started writing without any idea of what it was going to be. I managed a promising start, but about 5000 words later I hit a wall. I reached the end of the few ideas that I had and wasn’t sure how to continue. So I stalled and the number of words I had to catch up kept adding up. The amount became staggering and eventually I lost all motivation, so I abandoned the project.

In my opinion, for a successful NaNoWriMo, you should start worldbuilding your novel in October already. Think about the setting. Create some history. Invent some conflicts. Build the fabric of your world. All these will work as fertilizers when you start writing in November and grow your characters and story. Every minute spent thinking and plotting in October will pay off tenfold.

So, I should get back to writing. And maybe, maybe, I’ll be able to be part of this great wonderful experience that is NaNoWriMo again.

What about you? I would love to hear your NaNoWriMo stories. What has your experience been like? Is it the first time to participate? Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email.

Elyse and Writers of the Future

Elyse is a short story I wrote in September 2014. The idea stemmed from a friendly competition we had at work: The goal was to write a short story which contained a certain theme or item. For Elyse it was a hand fan. Initially we set a very ambitious deadline of two weeks, but we quickly realized that this was just impossible. It took me about four weeks to complete the first draft.

After running it through our online writing group at the Reading Excuses forum, and a lot of editing, I finally ended up with a story of about 11500 words. I was a bit concerned about the slow beginning, but I was very happy with how the story developed and with the reveals. I didn’t really know how to further improve the story, so I submitted it to Writers of the Future back at the end of June 2015.

It took them 51 days to respond. According to The Grinder, that’s way below the average acceptance response time, so I suspect that David Farland – the head judge who first reviews all stories before sending them to the other judges – discarded it pretty quickly. David has some very fine writing advice out there and he repeatedly preaches how you have to start a short story in the middle, jumping right into the action. I guess the slow beginning was the end of it.

I have to say that my experience with Writers of the Future and David has been very positive. Apparently the team behind the contest changed the way they notify writers of the results: Rather than waiting for all stories to be judged, results are now sent out as they become available. I asked Joni Labaqui – the friendly Contest Director who sends out the emails – whether there was any way to receive feedback regarding my rejection. I thought her very busy and didn’t really expect an answer, but she did reply. As I thought, they don’t have to time to provide critique for everything that is entered, but instead she provided two documents about how to “boost your prose” and how to improve openings of stories. Nice!

I had been following David on Twitter for a while already, and I’ve known him to be friendly and approachable, so I tried getting feedback from him directly as well. And sure enough, he replied after a couple of days. Unfortunately, he told me that he’d have to go through the stories again, to tell me the reason for the rejection, and was just too busy at that time. He seemed really sorry for not being able to help and pointed out that the competition was really strong this quarter. I really appreciated that he took the time to send me that message.

I’m not the type to give up easily, so I sat down and did what I should have done before: I cut about 2500 words from the story.

During the process I looked at what I had written and thought, “which scene would be a good opening”? There was one in particular which I had wanted to put at the start of the story last year already, but back then I could not do it, because it would have broken the continuity of events. So I just deleted everything that came before it, including the slow beginning.

The hardest part was deleting a scene that I liked a lot, and that I thought was important to the story. But now that it’s gone, I realize that it wasn’t really necessary. Guess I still have a lot to learn when it comes to “killing your darlings”. 🙂

I submitted the new version of Elyse just the other day. I’m confident that it’s a better story now. Fingers crossed!

Do you have any experience with Writers of the Future? What’s your experience been like? I’d love to hear from you by email or in the comments.

How did I learn how to write books?

I studied computer science. I’m not native English. Not the best setup when diving into writing. So where the heck did I learn how to write books?

I’m planning to dedicate more detailed posts to the following sources, but I thought you would appreciate an overview. So here I go:

Not on this list is NaNoWriMo, because it didn’t teach me anything about writing itself, but about myself. It showed me how productive I can be and what a rush writing can be. I recommend you give it a try. It’s a huge boost to motivation and helps you push through a very unique experience.

Are you missing anything on the list? Do you have a secret source of writing advice? I’d love to hear from you. Just post in the comments or drop me an email.