Life Lately...Plus a Book Excerpt from Every Last Minute

Sometimes you find the exact words you're looking for hidden in the pages of a book.

And sometimes, in a bizarre turn of events, that book is one you wrote yourself. 

Today marks twelve weeks since my foot surgery. I have some mixed feelings about that milestone, especially since I still have a long way to go. I'm working hard in physical therapy and I am so grateful for the progress I've seen so far. However, I've had a few setbacks the past few months. Healing is a slow process. Just to give you an idea of how I've been handling that, I'll tell you: when I called my doctor's office a few days ago, instead of saying "I'm a patient of..." I accidentally said, "I'm impatient..." 

Freudian slip, anyone?

Throughout this long recovery, I've been holding out for a moment when I'll feel "normal" again--or even a time when I'll hit a new normal. I thought maybe it would be when I ditched the crutches, or when I was finally able to drive again, or when I had more energy and less pain. And then I remembered:

"This is forever--this one broken, beautiful life. We're only guaranteed one chance to do it right." Book quote from EVERY LAST MINUTE by Ellen Smith

Even though I don't feel "normal" yet, my broken, beautiful life is happening now. That includes my writing life. Projects for my freelance clients always come first, but I've still managed to squeak out some energy for editing the Time Wrecker Trilogy. It's so easy for me to get frustrated by the ways my current life compares to my old writing routine, but you know what? I'm going to refocus on how much I love this story, and how determined I am to get it right. Every step forward is worth celebrating because it brings me a little closer to my goal.

It was so funny to me that the words I needed to hear were tucked away in the first book of the Time Wrecker Trilogy, Every Last Minute. They're spoken by Renee Rasmussen, the "voice" behind one of the editorials included in the novel. The full text is below. I hope you enjoy this little excerpt!

Book Excerpt from EVERY LAST MINUTE by Ellen Smith: "You Get One Life."


You Get One Life

By Renee Rasmussen


One life.

One time.

One chance to get things right.

There are so many times that I’ve waited and wished and prayed for a second chance, only to be denied. Have you read all the articles out there about timeline rectification? I have. Have you looked up an inmate in the system to see if they’re nearing eligibility for parole . . . meaning they might have a shot at getting into the rectification program? I have. Have you written personal letters begging an inmate to consider a rectification? I’ve written over 200—averaging one a week for four years.

I had a perfectly ordinary life until I was thirty-two years old. Not perfect, mind you. Perfectly ordinary. I had a roommate who was friendly and a cat with terrible cat-food breath and a job I liked well enough but wasn’t a career.

And then, one day, in the middle of my very ordinary existence, I was knocked unconscious. I woke up in a hospital bed, attached to more monitors than I’d ever seen in my life. My apartment had been broken into by two teens who were high on drugs and looking for anything they could steal and sell on the black market. I didn’t know them, and neither did my roommate. Our door was locked. Our blinds were shut. We just had the bad luck to be in the first-floor apartment when these two men got the idea to break in.

They were arrested quickly, did us the favor of admitting their guilt, and are currently serving their sentences. This is where the story gets interesting: at the end of the trial, my lawyer turned to me and said, “Give it a few years. If they qualify for the rehabilitation program, you’ll probably get a time wreck. This isn’t forever.”

This isn’t forever. I clung to those words as I tried to rebuild my life. My roommate was too traumatized to consider another apartment in the city. She ended up moving back to her home state to be with family. She took the cat too. I hope they’re doing well, but to be honest, the whole experience was so hard that we can’t talk without it all bubbling back up.

I don’t have my old job anymore. When it reached the point that I’d been in the hospital longer than I’d ever worked there, they let me go—and legally, they had no obligation to keep me for as long as they did. Finding a new job and getting insurance with what are now “preexisting conditions” was a nightmare. I’d like to go back to counseling, but I can’t afford it. I think a vacation could be restful, but I have to save up all my days off in case I need another surgery.

For years, the only thing that kept me going was the chance that someday, I might get a timeline rectification. Believing that all my struggles were temporary helped me handle every challenge.

At last, the time came when the criminals could qualify for the rehabilitation program. They both signed up.

They both dropped out.

I felt like I was going crazy when I found out they’d left the rehabilitation program. What happened? Why did they change their minds? Could they try again? Finally (after I wrote many, many letters), one of them wrote back. He had been willing to put forth the effort to rehabilitate, but his partner in crime wasn’t. Prison was working for him. He was powerful there, respected. He didn’t want to change. The other criminal—the one who had written to me—was very sorry, but unless they were both willing to rehabilitate, a time wreck would be impossible. He was working toward his own parole, apologized again for his actions, and wished me well.

This is forever. It took me one letter to realize it, but much, much longer to believe it. For over a year, I devoted myself to the cause of convincing these two men to change their minds.

But after a while, I began to realize that I simply couldn’t change people who weren’t willing to change. The only person I could rehabilitate was myself. And so—slowly, painfully—I began the long, hard process of accepting my reality.

This is the problem with time wrecking: it lets victims focus on changing the past instead of shaping the future. At some point, we all must decide whether we’re going to keep looking back or start moving forward. My journey has been full of stops and starts and many, many backward glances, but I am finally moving forward. At last, I’m starting to heal.

This is forever—this one broken, beautiful life. We’re only guaranteed one chance to do it right.

Let’s make it count.

Looking For The Forest (Must Be Somewhere Behind These Trees)

Despite the fact that everything from my website to my social media is tagged "Ellen Smith Writes," the truth is that I'm much more of an editor than a writer. ("Ellen Smith Edits" just didn't have the same ring to it ;) ) The first draft of anything I write, whether freelance or fiction, is generally pretty terrible. The first edit is a vast improvement simply because I go back and finish all my sentences! It takes several read-throughs--and often a few rewrites--before I'm ready to share anything I've written.

Editing is where I really see the difference in my work as a left-brained writer and a right-brained author. When I'm working on a freelance project, my editing process is very left-brained. I'll separate it into two phases: big-picture revisions and detail-oriented edits. First, I go through and make sure that the topic is clear, all the main points have been supported, and the paragraphs are in order. Then, I go back and delve into the nitty-gritty: grammar, spelling, and word choice.

Sounds nice and organized, doesn't it?

All that tidy left-brained thinking flies right out of my head when I start editing my fiction work. I'm too close to the story to see the big picture. I love these characters. I've replayed their struggles a hundred times in my imagination. I know this story inside and out. That makes it far too easy for me to obsess over the tiny details and miss the necessary big-picture revisions. As the saying goes, I can't see the forest for the trees. 

In my current work-in-progress, these are some of the "trees" I've been focusing on:

  • Are these sentences streamlined to pack a punch, or are they just short and choppy?
  • What gesture would this character make? Is she nervous or is she also a little annoyed?
  • Am I overusing all my favorite words? (it, heavy, glanced, sighed, and said)?

Meanwhile, here's the "forest":

  • Who are these characters--and what made them who they are?
  • What are the themes and messages in the story? Do they carry through?
  • Is this the best way I can possibly tell this story?

I'm at a point now in my work-in-progress where I've obsessed over every branch, twig, and leaf of each little tree. Still, I just don't feel quite right about this draft. I don't know if this story is fully told.

So there's one more thing I need to do before I send this out for beta readers and professional editing. I need to back up--wayyyyy up--and look at the big picture. I have to look for the whole forest, if you will.

It must be somewhere behind these trees. 

Looking for the forest (must be somewhere behind these trees) || ellensmithwrites.com

First Aid for Novel-Editing Emergencies

At the beginning of this month I started the long, arduous process of editing the trilogy I wrote last year. It's been fun to go back to the beginning and revisit these characters where their story starts--but I'd be lying if I claimed it's been all fun and games. I've actually run into all kinds of issues that plague authors in the middle of an editing project: lack of motivation, character inconsistencies, and wobbling plot lines, just to name a few. Sometimes I feel less like I'm editing and more like I'm putting out one fire after another!

So what have I learned from this process, one month in? I don't have a finished project yet, but I have come up with a first aid kit for novel-editing emergencies.

First Aid For Novel-Editing Emergencies || www.ellensmithwrites.com


Editing and rewriting isn't nearly as fun as drafting the story for the first time. The biggest challenge is just getting my head in the game.

I'd love to have a pithy answer for what it takes to get motivated, but honestly, I drink coffee. A lot of coffee. Judging by an informal survey of my author friends, they drink a lot of coffee too. Why re-invent the wheel? If I need motivation, coffee is always a good choice.

Research Binders

Back when I was planning out these novels, I assembled entire binders with character sketches, D.C. maps, job descriptions, and apartment layouts--just about everything else I could possibly need to know about living and working in D.C. Despite my organized approach, I abandoned my binders completely about halfway through the rough draft. I got so carried away by the story that I just kept typing. 

Throwing out your notes and pounding the keys is great if you're trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days. When you go back and start editing...well, let's just say there are some inconsistencies. For example, one of my main characters changed height five times. The apartment he lives in changed floors even more often than that. So frustrating--until I remembered that I already figured out how tall my characters are and where their apartment is. Back to the notebooks!

Whew. Fact-checking crisis averted.


The editing process is so slow and nit-picky that it can be hard to remember exactly what story I'm telling. Instead of "can't see the forest for the trees," it's more like "can't see the overarching theme for the plot holes." Some novelists have told me they stay on track by trying to relate every part of their story to one word, such as "redemption" or "justice." I go back to the song that inspired the story idea in the first place:

When I first heard this song, I wondered, "But...what if the road hadn't been broken? Would they have met anyway? Can you be both sad and grateful for a painful life story...or do you have to choose between bitterness and joy?" Voila! A story idea was born. Every time I listen to this song, it brings me back to those questions and reminds me how my characters are feeling.


Editing is a long process (so says the author who has now gone over the same chapter three times...) Along the way, it's important to celebrate the successes. Sometimes it's a big win (like getting the whole book ready to send out!) Sometimes it's a little victory (like finally nailing a tricky line.)

Some authors reward themselves with stickers or checking off their progress on a list. I prefer chocolate. Like coffee, chocolate is always a good choice.

Creative Distractions

If you see my Instagram feed, you know that I've been dabbling in making origami models. I got the idea from one of my main characters, Mara, whose love of precision makes her perfectly suited to this kind of hobby. I have a perfectionist side, too, but it's a real challenge for me to focus on getting every fold just right--one wonky corner early on can throw off the whole model!

I started doing origami in order to give myself a creative break that didn't take me too far away from the storyline of my novel. They don't take more than ten or fifteen minutes to make--I can do some in less than five--and it's a refreshing change from staring at the computer screen. Plus, taking up the hobby of one of my characters gives me a little insight into who she is and how she approaches problems. Win/win.

Remember the Dream

This is probably the biggest motivation of all to push through the editing process and finish the books. I don't want this story to live forever in my head, or on my computer, or on the bookshelf. I want this story to get in the hands of a reader who will love it as much as I do. (tweet this). So that's what's fueling my latest editing marathon. It's going to fuel the next one and the one after that, too.

Oh, and coffee. A lot of coffee.

First Aid for Novel-Editing Emergencies || www.ellensmithwrites.com

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