Writing Wednesday: The Writer Fantasy

I read an article recently that looked closely at what we think of when we picture the lifestyle of a writer. Believe it or not, we feed into this trope by seeing images of the starving artists, the intellectual friend, the drinking of coffee and liquor, being surrounded by books and living with an obscure schedule and routine while words are scribbled on some old typewriter or on paper with a quill pen and ink.

Maybe some writers live this life – this fantasy of an untouchable creature who puts words on the page and creates works of writing that can only be produced by living in pain and anguish while tucked away in some office that smells of stale smoke and dusty books. But the reality for most of us is quite different.

Writers are just normal people. Yes, we might qualify as a little weird or aloof and our rituals sometimes make us quirky, but our lifestyle isn’t the fantasy that is shown to the world. Take my writing lifestyle, for example.

I don’t have an office filled with inspirational posters and perfectly decorated environments meant to put me in the right head space. I write on a 13-year-old couch with slip covers that are in constant need of being washed because of the dogs. Most of the time I have kids making noise in the background, Fortnite blaring from the Xbox, and somebody asking for something. Just about the time I get into my writing and feel the words flowing, I have to stop and make dinner. Or drive the kids’ activities. Or help with algebra.

Most of my writing notes are in old Moleskine journals or spiral notebooks leftover from a previous school year. I’m making outlines and character sheets with pens likely stolen from the orthodontist on our last visit. Yes, I’m surrounded by books when I write – mainly because my decorating style is ‘early American paperback’ and our house reflects that we love to read. I write my stories on a new Macbook only because I spilled coffee on my old one and it was cheaper to replace it than fix it.

When I’m lucky enough to get a full day to work on my writing I end up spending it in my pajamas in the bedroom. Then I get the joy of having a door to shut. I’d like to say that those work days are spent cranking out word after word after word, but there is so much more to it. There is social media to update and understand so that the algorithms work in my favor. Decisions need to be made – keep a Facebook page or start a group? There are critiques to finish for other authors I work with, graphics to make, sales to set up and advertise, websites to maintain, and other projects to outline and flesh out. The kids usually open the door and then whisper ‘Oh, you’re writing. Never mind.’ The dryer is beeping, the phone is ringing, and random text messages are coming in from family wanting softball schedules or updates on what sizes the kids are wearing these days. Usually the coffee on the nightstand is already cold and the dogs are just begging to lay in the bed with me.

The chaos continues around me. And it never stops. But, to be a writer I must adjust and accept the circumstances. I must work around them, find the inspiration, and get the words on the page. As much as I would love a utopian cabin in the woods overlooking a lake where I can create all the hours of the day – that is just a fantasy. The reality is a 10:30 bedtime, a 5:00 AM alarm clock, and a few words squeezed in between a reheated meatloaf and Tuesday karate class.

Does this fit your view of a writer? If not, what did you picture? If you’re a writer, what does your writing life look like?

Writing Wednesday: Diary of a Submission

Previously on By Her Shelf…

…“How Pleasure and Pain Became Friends.” I started it as a teenager… Over the years, their backgrounds and relationship has changed but the idea has always been there. I even entered a version of it in So You Think You Can Write. My CPs have read a large chunk of it, and one in particular always asks me when I’m going to finish it, but I haven’t… If I can get out of my own head, I might be able to have a finished story worth submitting. -Erica D. Hearns

I wrote this last month about my white whale story, an inspirational romance at the same time Harlequin was running the Romance Includes You submission blitz to find diverse stories from underrepresented groups. Sunday night at 11:59PM EST. The first chapter and synopsis of the above story was submitted at 9:53PM. This is the story. *insert Law and Order chimes*

Two weeks ago, I told my critique partner and fellow By Her Shelf blogger Christina I was thinking of submitting Pleasure’s Paine to this blitz. She urged me to do it, even offering to beta read and critique my entry that weekend. I didn’t get to it. She told me she was ready to do it anytime I needed her to. Flash forward to Sunday morning. After staying in bed the day before with a headache, I woke up pain free and energized. I decided to take the plunge and submit. I printed off the first chapter to edit on paper, saved my document, and treated myself to a decaf caramel latté. I knew many of the things I wanted to address, and editing flew by. When I returned to my computer, I realized I’d somehow erased the first chapter from the document. *cue panic attack*

But after the panic came…freedom. All of a sudden, I was back in the driver’s seat. I didn’t have to try and rework what was on the page because nothing was on the page. I didn’t even have to stick with the changes I’d made earlier that morning. Staring at the a blank page that shouldn’t have been blank broke the chains that tied me to what I’d already written.

In less than 12 hours, I rewrote the first chapter and created the entire synopsis from scratch. I sent pages to Christina in between writing sessions, received her feedback, and made adjustments. Then I uploaded my document, crafted a cover letter on the spot, and hit submit for the first time in three years.

I believe I was able to turn this submission around so quickly because I’ve lived with these characters for well over a decade, know their voices/POVs, and wasn’t afraid to kill any darlings that didn’t fit the story I was crafting. The reality of the deadline kept me plowing forward and forced me to figure out fixes on the fly. All of that is true. But the one thing I would point to above all those factors is the fact I was tired of letting golden opportunities pass me by without making any effort to grab them.

This year, I’ve committed myself to the concept of sowing. My only goal has been to say yes, take the opportunity, make the attempt, and see what happened. This blog is one of the seeds I sowed. I enjoy seeing that people are reading, liking, and commenting, but my commitment is to showing up and sharing my views on books and all things pertaining to the reading life.

Even though  I’ve made significant progress on my goal, I’ve allowed myself to watch potentially life-changing opportunities pass me by. These opportunities would have cost me nothing but the time, effort and courage to try. Sowing those seeds could have led to a new career, meeting new people, and getting to see more of the world I live in. I didn’t want this to be another thing I wished I had the courage to reach for.

All I’m guaranteed is feedback by October 1st. Whether the feedback is good or bad, whether they request more of the manuscript or not, the feeling of accomplishment that came over me when I took the time to acknowledge I’d done the thing I set out to do is reward enough for me to keep working on this story. I hope this seed will grow into something, but I’ve done my part for now. I’ll continue doing it.

Good luck to everyone with a story on submission?

What leaps have you made to move closer to your dreams/goals? Which leap are you preparing to make? Any book recommendations on taking leaps?

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Writing Wednesday: Critique Partners

Happy Wednesday, fellow readers! Erica here. I don’t know about you, but this week has been super busy for me. Yesterday I focused on finding some job opportunities that might get me started in my dream career, something that brings me closer to full time writing and publishing work. For this Writing Wednesday, I wanted to focus on the unsung heroes of the publication journey: critique partners. 

Critique partners are often the unsung heroes of the publication journey. It’s difficult for me to give you any advice on how to find these everyday superheroes because I found my critique buddies in a unique way. My two critique partners and I all entered a writing contest sponsored by a publisher and subsequently joined a Facebook group for writers seeking publication with this particular publisher. Within the group, everyone who wanted to find critique partners added their name and writing genre to a list to be matched. Dana, Christina and I were matched because we all wrote inspirational romance, although at the time I wrote contemporary, Christina wrote historical, and Dana wrote suspense.

Starting in December of 2013, we exchanged chapters on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until we shared our full manuscript. There are several benefits to having a good critique partner:

  •  Accountability. I knew I had to work on my writing every week to prepare for  chapter swaps. To this day, I know I can count on them to hold me to my deadlines and goals.
  • Work Ethic. Knowing I had to send my chapter each week pushed me to polish my work carefully. I went over my work several times for consistency, continuity, and voice in addition to copyediting and proofreading. I learned how to revise and self-edit effectively through my relationship with my critique partners.
  • Feedback. My critique partners provided me with invaluable feedback. Not even a beta reader could have done a better job. Because we were targeting the same publisher, we could read each other’s work with their guidelines and wish list in mind. As fellow writers and readers, we could read for enjoyment and the story as well as read as writers.
  • Support. It has been a great support to me to have people in my life who understand the joys and struggles of the writing life. They are there to celebrate contest wins or manuscript requests and commiserate when rejections come in. They make themselves available for writing sprints. They listen to me talking through my current struggles with a story. Having someone in your life who “gets it” and is interested in the ins and outs of your story makes the load a little bit easier.

Many people know the benefits of having a critique partner, but how do you find one? How can you find a trustworthy person to share your work with? We’ll discuss this next week.

Do you have a critique partner? If so, how did you find them? If not, would you like to find one?

Writing Wednesday: Writers’ White Whales

Happy Hump Day! Today’s Writing Wednesday we’re talking about the illusive book of the heart–the book that a writer has in her heart for years that she just hasn’t written yet. I asked my writer’s think tank (aka my writer friends on Facebook) “what story is the book of your heart? How long has it been on your heart to write? Why haven’t you written or published it yet? Here are there answers. Have a book you know you’re meant to write but still haven’t written or published it yet? Tell us about it below! *My book of my heart is in the list as well. 😉

There’s one book. No title, I just call it Ryan’s book. It’s been maybe 10 years 🤦🏻‍♀️ and has gone through many, many rewrites and still isn’t finished. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to analyze why and the best I’ve got is this irrational need to protect it. It feels like my baby and I’m a helicopter mom 😂 I’m afraid to finish because then I have no reason to not put it out there. -Tanya W.

I always wanted to write a historical romance novel but very shy to write it. I would be more comfortable if I had a partner writing it with me. It’s a wonderful plot bunny about a young French Aristocrat becoming a dance master while falling in love with one of his rich students. – Theresa K.

It’s a fantasy novel based on Celtic mythology that I wrote TEN years ago. I love the characters so much, and the ideas behind it too, all the magic and romance. It stands at 60K, and funny you should ask, I got tired of having it weighing on my heart and mind, so I am rewriting it now– started four weeks ago. One of the reasons I’ve avoided it so long is that it needs a new opening. I just could not find the right place– my first chapter turned out to actually be chapter 2. That was a huge revelation when I finally found what needed to happen in chapter 1. And I, against my nature, broke down and asked for other eyes on it. Best thing I ever did, ask for help, something I don’t know much about doing. Glad I finally worked up the nerve to reach out. Gave me the perspective I knew I needed, being, as you said, too dang close to it. Having another writer helping you “see” what the story needs to have tweaked is so beyond helpful. – Shanda M.

I’ve always wanted to write a Scottish historical. For Camp NaNo this year I started it. Not sure if it will be a novella or category length but MacGregor’s Magic has begun. – Tambra K.

I have this idea…it’s not fully formed but it’s been in my head for a couple of years. It would be a more serious women’s fiction story with two generations of women in Ireland and Australia. I just don’t think I’m up to the task of writing it yet. And I havw a couple of other books to finish! – Cassandra O.

I have one I call Gabriel’s book about a musician with Asperger’s. I’ve wanted to write it for at least five or six years! -Laurel B.

The original title for my book was “How Pleasure and Pain Became Friends.” I started it as a teenager. The story has always been about a woman named Pleasure and a man whose last name is Payne (or Paine). Over the years, their backgrounds and relationship has changed but the idea has always been there. I even entered a version of it in So You Think You Can Write. My CPs have read a large chunk of it, and one in particular always asks me when I’m going to finish it, but I haven’t. I think I haven’t finished it because I’m so invested in the story. I love these characters and I want to tell their story perfectly. If I can get out of my own head, I might be able to have a finished story worth submitting. -Erica D. Hearns

Writing Wednesday: The Art of the Solo Retreat for Writers/Readers

July 8-11, I took a solo writing retreat to the beautiful city of St. Augustine, FL.


I decided to go on a solo writing retreat partly because my schedule couldn’t accommodate the retreat with a small group I wanted to go on. Although it wasn’t my first choice, I ended up falling in love with the idea, planning and executing a fabulous trip that was restful and productive. If you would like to take a solo trip to dig in to your book(s), here are a few tips and tricks I tried or learned during my solo retreat:

  1. Pick a place you love and have been to before. I say this for several reasons: a) you won’t waste as much time being lost if you know how to navigate the city/area well with a little GPS help. b) If you’ve been there before, you won’t get caught up playing tourist instead of working as easily. c) I chose a place I loved, a place I felt like I could breathe in. It’s an unquantifiable feeling that good things were waiting for me there. I’d only been to St. Augustine a couple times, but every time it felt like a place I knew intimately.
  2. Pick your project(s) and set your goals ahead of time. Make sure your goals are realistic to the time period you have and the way you work. I chose one manuscript I wanted to edit and revise. I am a morning writer, so I chose to outline and write new scenes in the mornings and edit the existing parts of the manuscript in the evening. I gave myself the goal to work through edits to six chapters and outline or write three new scenes. I had Sunday night and Monday through Wednesday to accomplish this, which wasn’t crazy.
  3. Build in relaxation/rest. The point of retreating is to focus on your work, yes, but for me, I also needed to pull away and rest. Working full-time and working freelance for other writers while seeing to my personal responsibilities and trying to write wore me down. I needed rest. So I built in time after my morning writing and before my evening editing to explore the city. So I wouldn’t spend too much time away from my project or get overwhelmed with activities, I chose one activity or place to explore per day along with dinner out to balance productivity with fun.
  4. Be flexible. I thought I would work in my hotel room, explore for a bit, return to my hotel room and work, eat dinner, then watch a movie or read a book. I found that I was much more productive editing in restaurants at a table for one than in my room. I wish I’d found a few good coffeeshops to work in or a public library to have in my pocket in case the work wasn’t flowing in my designated working space.
  5. Try something new. If you usually set a word count goal, try writing for a specific amount of time instead, and vice versa. If you’re stuck on a particular scene or chapter, try another section to see if the words are hiding out there. If you usually work inside, try outside. If you always work on the computer, try to work on paper. If you were at a retreat with other people, they might have timed writing, give you exercises to work on, have you critique someone else’s work, or do something else that’s new to  you. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from doing things a different way.
  6. My rule of one. I planned this trip based around the rule of 1. I wanted to start reading one new book, go to one new place, eat at one new restaurant, and learn one new thing. I went on one activity or excursion a day, had one morning session and one evening session a day, and gave myself one set amount I could spend each day. I’m a creature of habit, and by deciding ahead of time what 1 new thing I would read, see, do, or eat at any given time, I got to have a ton of new experiences while keeping to a predictable schedule.
  7. View it all as a bonus. This one can be difficult if you’re retreating to push out the final chapters of a first draft, to finish and send in revisions to an agent or publisher, or go through your book for the last time before it goes to the printer, but see this retreat for the gift it is. Every word I wrote, every passage I made better, every meander down an interesting street were all privileges others don’t get to enjoy, words I might not have otherwise gotten down, and sunshine I never would have had soaking into my skin. Every new thing seen or heard was something to be filed away for future reference in this work or another.

Before my trip, I pictured this excursion as me sitting in a serviceable hotel room banging out a better version of the story I was putting on paper. In the end, this trip was me breathing deep, heart and eyes open to what was around me, being grounded and present in a moment that mattered, and remembering why I love writing. It’s a memory I cling to on the days it’s harder to remember I choose to do this work.

Would you go on a solo writing retreat? Have you gone? What was your experience? Have any questions about creating your own retreat?