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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Ten Things 2017 Taught Me About Writing

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

  1. Short stories have unlimited potential and are worth their weight in gold. Not only do they spark ideas for novels, but they’re also great for promoting your other work. They’re a way to keep giving readers new content more quickly, buying you extra time to complete larger projects. During the past two years, I took that approach to a whole new level, and I fell in love with writing short stories so much that I became a dedicated serial writer.
  2. Rejections can be the start of a new beginning. Over the past year, I’ve become even more grateful for those soft rejections I received before restarting my self-publishing journey in 2015. Those rejections allowed me to accept that, while my stories had been well received by those I’d submitted them to, I’d be hard-pressed to find a traditional publisher for them because they were so unusual in structure and overlapped genres—not to mention, they didn’t follow typical word counts. So after carefully weighing my options, I pursued publication of the shorts (otherwise known as The Porcelain Souls series) on my own, which turned out to be the perfect path for them. Not only could I connect more closely with my readers via self-publishing, but I could also keep the structure of the books as I had originally intended: as a nonchronological series revealing snapshots of an overall arc. While it has taken time to gain traction with the unconventional shorts, as I imagine it does with just about any book in the indie world, I’m quite happy with the results the last few years have brought.
  3. Being a writer isn’t about having the time to write; it’s about making time. Life is busy. I get it—boy, do I get it. I’m a mother of two kids with special needs, both of whom are under seven and have frequent health issues to boot. So to say our daily schedule is chaotic is a complete understatement. Not only do I spend most of my time carting kids around to therapy, school, doctors, or other activities, but I also work part-time as an editor. However, writing is my passion; it’s part of who I am. So I make time for it, even when it’s near impossible. The guilt of doing that is probably the most challenging thing I face, because as a mother, my instinct is always to put myself last. I’ve learned, though, that sometimes we need to put ourselves first. If you want writing to be your career and not just a hobby, you have to treat it as such. That might mean staying up late or getting up early, or maybe giving up Netflix for a few weeks while you hammer out that first draft. No one said being a writer was easy. But when you make that sort of commitment, carving out time for writing and dedicating a space for it in your life, you’ll see just how rewarding it can be.
  4. Critique partners can be lifesavers. If you’re stuck in a writing rut or just don’t know how to tease out the issues in your book, consider finding a critique partner. The best critique partners are ones who will share your frustrations with you and brainstorm ways to improve your writing, all while being honest and encouraging at the same time. I also highly recommend joining a writing group, whether it’s local or online. Though it’s easy to go the journey alone, especially considering many of us writers are introverts by nature, there’s something to be said for having the support of a community whose members the same struggles as you, ones who will encourage you no matter which stage in your writing career you’re at. There are several great groups out there, such as the 10 Minute Novelists and the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I can’t tell you how many awesome friends I’ve met through them, and I’ve learned far more in the past few years since joining than I ever could have done on my own.
  5. Writing at a consistent time each day can be just as therapeutic as it is productive. This year forced me to reevaluate my relationship with writing. Just a few months ago, I reached my breaking point and was in dire need of a change. My anxiety was worse than ever, and I was so stressed that I was turning into someone I never wanted to be. For me, writing was an outlet, something that helped me balance the stresses of daily life. By picking a consistent time each day to write, I was giving myself structure and something to look forward to, even if only for a half hour. That half hour allowed me to pour my emotions into something I loved, resulting in a tremendously positive impact on my life. My mood improved, my stress levels decreased, and my daily writing numbers went up—way up! That’s not to say I haven’t had bumps along the way or weeks where things didn’t go as planned, nor do I recommend writing as a substitute for medication, therapy, or whatever else you personally might need to manage your anxiety if you have it, but for me, that one minor change proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle. And to me, that makes every second of it worth it.
  6. Mind maps and vision boards are no joke. This is something else that was admittedly new to me this year. I knew other writers who had raved about mind maps and vision boards, but I had never given it a shot myself. So I rolled up my sleeves and dug in. After organizing my ideas and plotting them out on paper, none of my goals seemed daunting or overwhelming. In fact, I felt like I could tackle anything, which gave me a much-needed boost of self-confidence. As for the vision board, I’m still piecing it together, but I have no doubt that it, too, will be worth the time and energy.
  7. Even the most organized writers need a good planner. I’m a neat freak by nature. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an unorganized story and a messy filing system. I regularly squirrel away documents on my laptop, sorting those files into folders within folders, all clearly labeled. But then a funny thing happens. Scraps of paper appear on my desk anyway: Post-Its, torn pages from notebooks, and even random lists that have nothing to do with writing. In the end, it looks like my desk threw up every idea that ever waltzed into my brain. Not exactly useful. The truth is, though I crave organization, my brain rarely cooperates with that. So this past year, I invested in a planner—the Simple Elephant planner, to be exact. I also developed a schedule for my writing and worked that into my daily routine, trying to be as consistent as possible. The result was an influx of productivity, clarity, and beautiful organization, complete with a mind map, a focal point, and individual goals for the year, each month, and each week, all in one place. Now that I’ve found this new method, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.
  8. I still have a lot to learn about writing. Every year, I’m amazed by how brilliant and talented the writers are that I get to edit for. They come to me with vivid worlds, heartfelt characters, and a fabulous story line. Though I spend hours upon hours reading, listening to podcasts, attending online seminars on writing, and even taking online courses about the craft, it’s never enough when it comes to my own writing. Just the other day, I stumbled upon the post of another editor that left me stunned. Her advice was so simple and effective, offering a completely unique perspective on writing that I couldn’t believe I had missed. But what I think we all sometimes forget as writers is that we’re all still learning—I’ll be the first to say I’m no exception. That’s one of the hardest things to come to terms with as well as one of the most beautiful aspects of the craft. Our work is never done, and neither is our time learning. Personally, that’s something I hope never changes.
  9. Becoming a parent made me a morning writer. Maybe it’s not actually because I’m a parent and am required to wake up at sunrise each day—perhaps it’s simply because I just hit my early 30s. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been deluding myself all these years into thinking I do my best work at night. Heck, it could even be because our chaotic schedule allows me very little time to write at night. But one thing’s for sure: I’ve morphed into this creature that I never thought I’d become; I’m a morning writer. When my feet hit the floor, my mind is clear and the ideas are flowing. So after kids are off to school or we’re past whatever morning appointments stand in my way, I’m desperate to get typing and creating. That’s not altogether a bad thing though. Not only does it ensure that I get my words in for the day, but it also allows me a sense of accomplishment, making the rest of my day more productive.
  10. You can’t please everyone, so embrace it. Though that advice is common knowledge within the writing community, learning to accept that others might not always care for your work is much easier said than done. I know I’ve faced my share of disappointments where the self-doubt of a not-so-great review swallowed me up and held me captive for a few days. Heck, I’ve even let a two-star review get to me on the same day I received a glowing five-star review for the very same book. But when that happens, I remind myself that even the most loved authors have their share of negative reviews. In fact, books that spark mixed reactions often end up being the among the most popular. For instance, the book The Catcher in the Rye has been banned and challenged dozens of times since its publication in 1951. Its content has been a source of debate within schools and communities since the early 60s, even sparking protests. Now, nearly 70 years later, that book has sold more than 65 million copies and continues to be a classic assigned to the required reading list in many literature classes. Its controversy has reached more of the world’s population than most of us dream about. And it’s far from the first to do so—the list of previously banned books goes on and on. Each time, those same banned books turn out to be favorites among readers. So I don’t know about you, but I’d take that kind of success any day of the week.