Who Doesn't Love a Giveaway?

It's Valentine's Day, which means two things for me: a day-long sugar high (yessss!) and a chance to celebrate love in all its forms. I love love, whether it's the romantic hearts-and-flowers kind or appreciating good friends, good times, and good books! 

It's probably not surprising my most recent story is a romance, is it?

Even though the Time Wrecker Trilogy doesn't fit neatly into one genre, I've always felt that it was first and foremost a love story. Yes, there's time travel, and some political intrigue, and definitely some ethical questions--but above all, this is a story about Mara and Will Sterling. This is about how they fell in love, how they overcame their past, and how far they'll go to protect each other. 

So, in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm celebrating one of my favorite (fictional!) couples by giving away the first part of their story.

Time for a giveaway! || from the Ellen Smith Writes blog From February 14 - 28, enter to win a copy of Every Last Minute (Book 1 of the Time Wrecker Trilogy) on Kindle!

From now until the end of the month, you can enter to win one of five Kindle copies of Every Last Minute (Book 1 of the Time Wrecker Trilogy). See the details here:

Happy reading!

Want to share the love? Help me spread the word about the giveaway on Twitter!

2018 Goals {and a FREE printable!}

Last year, Sagan Morrow of Juxta Communications challenged her newsletter readers to choose a word to inspire our 2017. I love reading Sagan's newsletter, in no small part because her ideas and challenges help me really think about where I'm going as a writer. This challenge was no exception. I'd made new year's resolutions before, but choosing a word to focus on ended up being much more motivating! The word "confidence" was a great reminder to me last year as I was growing my freelance business and publishing the first book of my Time Wreckers trilogy.

So far, 2018 looks like it's going to be even busier, and I am thrilled! I'm continuing to take on new freelance clients while planning to publish books Two and Three of the trilogy before the end of the year! As my calendar fills up, I decided to choose a different word to inspire 2018: 

2018 Goals {and a FREE printable!} ||

This year, I want to renew my focus on why I write. In the early days of freelancing, I had tons of passion and very little experience. Now that I have five years of experience under my belt, I want to make sure I'm still tapping in to that excitement. I got into education writing because I'm so passionate about creating great materials for teachers to use in the classroom. I love learning--and I want everything I write for my clients to reflect that.

Editing the second and third books of the Time Wrecker Trilogy has given me a fresh perspective on my fiction writing, too. Drafting a book for the first time feels like one big creative rush; editing, on the other hand, is a slow process. While I'm taking my time to get these next two books polished up and ready for release, I don't want to lose my enthusiasm for the story itself. 

Just like last year, I'm going to keep my word for 2018 front and center in my writing life--literally. In 2017 I made a poster of one of my favorite quotes about confidence and hung it on the wall of my home office. Seeing this poster every day as I sat down to work definitely helped me stay on track. A new year calls for a new poster--and Eleanor Roosevelt just so happens to have a great quote about renewal:

Eleanor Roosevelt quote: "With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts." || from the blog "2018 Goals (and a FREE printable!)"

The bonus of making the poster myself is that I can offer it as a free download for you, too! The 16 x 20 and 8 x 10 versions are available below. 

16 x 20 poster

8 x 10 poster

Thanks for visiting my blog! Here's to a great year!

Do you choose a word (or make a resolution) for the new year? Post it in the comments--I'd love to hear how 2018 is starting out for you!

5 Ways to Celebrate When You (Finally) Finish That Novel

It's been a quiet month for me on the blog, but a very, very busy month in my writing life. Most notably: I finished self-editing EVERY LAST MINUTE, the first novel in my Time Wreckers Trilogy.

The finished book is 90,000 words. 90,000 words, y'all. Turns out I had a lot to say.

Anyway, once I finally hit the last page and realized that I had done everything I could to tell this story, I felt an odd sense of loss. This story idea has been churning around in my head for six years. I wrote and edited this book once, put it in a drawer, wrote and published another book, and then came back to this one. I re-mapped it. Made a new outline. Wrote another draft and re-wrote it again. I spent the last few months grueling over some pretty tedious self-editing. 

Mara and Will Sterling have lived in my head for a long time. I am so ready to send them out into the world and tell you their story--but letting them go is bittersweet. 

However, there are a lot of exciting things ahead! Right now, EVERY LAST MINUTE is out with beta readers (thanks, guys!). Then I'll take their suggestions and make some more modifications before sending it off to a professional editor. I also get to work with the cover designer, send out some copies for early reviews...and maybe even plan a launch party. 

Speaking of parties, I strongly believe that those of us in a creative profession deserve to celebrate every step in the process. When I finished prewriting, I posted about my progress in an online writers community. When I finished drafting, for example, I bought myself a pretty scarf I'd been eyeing. Now that I'm done self-editing this behemoth of a manuscript, I picked five (yes, five) little ways to celebrate this moment in my writing life. Here they are:

5 Ways to Celebrate When You (Finally) Finish Your Novel ||

1. Have a celebratory drink (or two)

It doesn't have to be alcohol (although this is definitely a champagne-worthy moment.) I finished my self-editing at two in the afternoon on a brutally hot summer day, so I fixed myself an ice cream float. Yum.

2. Take a walk

Seriously. Writing and editing involves a lot of time hunched over the keyboard. Get outside for a minute and re-acquaint yourself with the great outdoors. Breathe some fresh air. Remind yourself that your fictional world is pretty cool...but reality isn't so bad, either.

3. Call a friend

You can totally start the conversation with "Guess what? I finally finished editing that book!" But maybe try to follow that up with "Let's get together and hang out." Self-editing is a really intense time--once you come up for air, it's good to make time for your loved ones!

4. Read a book

Before you were a writer, you were a reader. Always make time to reconnect with your first love--books!  

5. Start another story

Because you already know that there's nothing like building a new world entirely out of words.

5 Ways To Celebrate When You (Finally) Finish That Novel ||

How do you celebrate your creative accomplishments? Let us know in the comments!

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) ||

Can't Beat a Retreat!

One thing I love about the work-from-home life is how writing has become such a natural part of my daily routine. Although I schedule blocks of time for my freelance work, I can also squeeze in plenty of time for my fiction writing throughout the day. For example, it's easy to sit down to work on a draft while I'm waiting for the laundry to finish up or jot down notes on my story while I'm fixing dinner. I spend plenty of time working on my story at night, when the rest of the household has gone off to bed.

What would it be like to spend a day (or two!) devoted only to fiction writing? Over the weekend, I got to experience just that on my first writer's retreat.

photo credit:  Sandra R. Campbell

photo credit: Sandra R. Campbell

A group of three other writers and I rented out the third floor of the fabulous Frederick Inn Bed and Breakfast in Buckeystown, Maryland. Buckeystown is just 40 miles outside of Washington, D.C., but it feels like an entirely different world. The small town setting and peaceful green spaces made the perfect escape for four writers who needed to quiet their minds and get down to work.

And work we did. The inn's third floor had four bedrooms surrounding a common area with a kitchenette, living room, and table. We set up our laptops around the table and started writing within minutes of our arrival.

Our writerly escape! Don't you love those stained glass windows? (photo credit:  Sandra R. Campbell )

Our writerly escape! Don't you love those stained glass windows? (photo credit: Sandra R. Campbell)

When we needed a break, a quick walk through Buckeystown was a great way to get moving again!

Then it was back to the real business of the day: writing. All of us brought snacks and meals from home so we wouldn't have to go out to eat--although I was pretty tempted to spring for dinner at Alexanders!

Each of us accomplished and exceeded our writing goals for the retreat. I edited six chapters and wrote almost 5,000 words! It was two in the morning before I finally stopped working and crawled into my nice, soft bed. (I don't have pictures of how beautiful the bedrooms were because I barely slept! There are pictures of all the rooms on their website, though!)

In the morning, the innkeepers, Pat and Kirk, cooked a fantastic breakfast for us. The zucchini quiche was my favorite! Pat and Kirk were so much fun to talk to--they really went above and beyond to make our stay extra special!

Pat and Kirk, the wonderful innkeepers at The Frederick Inn! (photo credit:  Sandra R. Campbell )

Pat and Kirk, the wonderful innkeepers at The Frederick Inn! (photo credit: Sandra R. Campbell)

Now that I've experienced how inspiring a writer's retreat can be, I definitely want to do it again! Huge thanks to Pat and Kirk and the Frederick Inn Bed and Breakfast for this fantastic experience!

If you’d like to read more about our writer’s retreat, check out my fellow retreaters blog posts: 

Writing a Slow-Burn Romance

If you're looking for a little instant gratification, fiction is a good place to find it. I watch police procedurals where murders are solved in forty-five minutes and read books that chronicle life-changing epiphanies in only two hundred and fifty pages. It's so satisfying to see fictional problems resolve quickly--plus, it's a lot more entertaining when we can cut out the weeks of waiting for test results and months of planning and rescheduling before a court date.

There's one place in fiction where it's more fun to slow down rather than speed up: romance. A lot of our favorite fictional couples start things off at a snail's pace. After ten chapters (or ten seasons) of tantalizing will-they-or-won't-they romantic tension, the moment when we see a couple finally get together is that much more satisfying.

Like Harry and Sally from When Harry Met Sally.

Temperance Brennan and Seeley from Bones.

Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls.

Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary (and Anna and Mr. Bates...and Tom Branson and Lady Sybil...and Carson and Mrs. Hughes...okay, pretty much all the romances) from Downton Abbey.

See what I mean? These are the couples we agonize over. I spent all ten seasons of FRIENDS crossing my fingers, hoping that Ross and Rachel would find a way to make things work. I wanted Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley to end up with each other from the beginning--even though it took several books before they got together for good. A long-running romance requires a lot of commitment and a lot of emotional investment from the audience. Takes a fair amount of tears and vicarious heartache, too.

When it comes to writing romance, it's hard to fight the urge to speed things up. I love my characters and I want them to live happily ever after, but I can't let them have it right away. In my current work-in-progress, it's a constant battle to keep the characters' love for each other at a slow burn, without letting things flare up or fizzle out.

Writing a Slow-Burn Romance ||

Although many love stories focus on the couple finding each other and falling in love, romance doesn't end after the vows are said and rings are exchanged. Happily-ever-after is a journey, not a destination (click to tweet!). There are ups and downs along the way. We hope that our favorite couples will have smooth sailing over the waves, but there are waves nonetheless.

In my work-in-progress, the story begins after the main characters are already married. Mara and Will have already survived so many struggles together--a tragic shooting, permanent injuries, chronic pain, and PTSD, just to name a few. Still, they have more challenges ahead of them: when they're offered the chance to go back in time and un-do the shooting that changed their lives, it shakes up their marriage in a big way. Giving the shooter the chance to go back in time and make things right feels like justice at its finest, and why wouldn't they jump at the chance to re-live their lives without the tragedy? When Will and Mara start to pick apart all the ways this shooting shaped their lives--and guess who they might have been in another timeline--it reveals the good and bad of who they are and how they came to fall in love.

I can't promise that Mara and Will are going to get it right or that they'll make the same decisions I would make in their place. Some things in their story move fast--faster than Mara or Will (or I!) were ready to handle. But when it comes to romance, their love for each other burns long and slow.

Stay tuned :)

How Much Science Should Be In Science Fiction?

I'm about a quarter of the way through editing my current work-in-progress, and believe me, it's slow-going. I'm checking every detail for consistency, ironing out the tone, and rewriting the scenes that I raced through during my marathon drafting sessions. At the same time, I'm trying to balance big-picture considerations. Who am I writing this story for? What readers will enjoy reading it? Just what genre is this story, anyway?

My current work-in-progress is a time travel romance that blurs the lines between science fiction and...well, romance. In the beginning of the novel, I introduce Will and Mara Sterling, a twenty-something couple starting off their new marriage with old scars:

Will and Mara first met six years ago. They were freshmen in college: young, ambitious, and full of plans for the years ahead. Within seconds, the actions of one gunman changed both of their lives. Although Will and Mara survived the campus shooting, the attack left them with permanent injuries, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The last six years have been challenging to say the least, but Will and Mara count themselves lucky. After all, they have each other.

So far, this story has the romance covered: while Will and Mara have struggled through horrifying circumstances, they're deeply and genuinely in love with each other and the life they share. Enter the science fiction elements, neatly disguised as their call to adventure:

A new initiative from the Justice Department offers Will and Mara the chance of a lifetime. The shooter has been rehabilitated and his crime qualifies for an event modification. With the consent of his victims, they can all travel back to the original scene of the crime, giving the gunman a chance to undo his deeds and put things right.

Event modification is my idea of how time travel would be used today if it existed. It's not fancy, flashy, or even a lot of fun. It's a heavily-moderated, overly bureaucratic system intended to give both offenders and victims a second chance. Since the criminal is rehabilitated, why not give him the opportunity to go back and undo his crime?

I know what facing this decision will mean for Will and Mara, and I know how the possibility of event modification will affect the culture around them, the justice system, and the gunman himself. Here's what I don't know: how much of an explanation do I give on how event modification works? How much of the mechanics of time travel would readers really want to know?

In other words: how much science should be in science fiction?

How much science should be in science fiction? |

The answer to the science-to-fiction ratio lies with the readers. Who would be interested in Mara and Will's story? Why would they pick up this book, and what would they expect to find?

"People who like science fiction," is an easy answer, but it's not the whole answer. Some sci-fi readers are into hard science fiction. They'd like a detailed description of how time travel works, along with the timeline for how it was developed and the blueprints to the machine. If I gloss over the mechanics of event modification, these hard sci-fi readers might stop reading for a minute and think, "Okay, Will and Mara went back in time, did it work? What was it like? What makes that possible?"

On the other hand, some readers prefer soft science fiction. These are the people who read about a new technology and think, "Ooh, and what will happen next?" rather than "Whoa! How did that happen?" They don't want to spend time in the engineering room of the Event Modification Division of the Justice Department, learning how it all works. They want to be up in the observation room, finding out just how people react when they're offered an unexpected second chance.

At its core, my work-in-progress is a combination of romance and soft science fiction. Time travel is a big part of the story, but it's not the center of the story. The focus needs to stay on Will and Mara, two characters that struggle to understand who they are and how the events of their lives have changed them, for better or for worse. much science should be in science fiction? I know my answer:

Just enough to cause a reaction.

How much science should be in science fiction? Just enough to cause a reaction. |


Revamped Home Office (and FREE printable!)

On the last Saturday of 2016, I opened my weekly e-newsletter from Sagan Morrow. Sagan is a great resource and inspiration for freelancers, so I always look forward to her newsletters! This newsletter was particularly inspiring for me because Sagan asked what word would inspire our careers in 2017.

That question made me pause for a bit. I really like where I'm at currently in my writing life. I've been freelance writing for three years and I've already published a novel and a short story collection. However, I have big goals for this coming year: I'm planning to grow my freelance business and release a trilogy of novels as well.

Finally, I wrote back to Sagan and said "confidence." I've already laid the groundwork for my freelance career and my fiction writing. I just need to keep moving forward with the confidence to take on bigger projects and aim for higher goals. 

The first step in my move-forward-with-confidence plan was to create a space dedicated to my writing career. I'm lucky enough to have a home office already, but, if I'm honest, over time it started to become a catch-all place for household bills, magazines, and craft projects. I decided to kick-start 2017 by reclaiming and redecorating my home office.

Revamped Home Office (and FREE printable!) | Blue, gold, and silver home office set up for a freelancer and fiction author with a standing desk, inspiration boards, plenty of bookcases, and a FREE downloadable poster

The first step was choosing a paint color, which is always difficult for me. I love looking at paint chips, almost as much as I love reading all the different color names. I wanted a bluish-green, but I couldn't decide on which shade. Did I want an office painted in Tahoe Blue or Ocean Boulevard? Clear Pond or Clear Vista? (If anyone's looking for a freelance writer to name paint colors, by the way, I'm game. What a fun job that would be!) After staring at my top four choices for a few days, I decided that none of them would work. I headed to the paint store to look for more ideas.

That's where the word "confidence" popped up again. Three separate times, I reached for the same paint chip, thinking, "Yes! This is the color I was thinking of!" only to realize that it was Ocean Boulevard. Which I had already decided wouldn't work. It was too bright. Too blue. More "tidal" than "robin's egg."

Then I thought, "Wait. Why am I trying to talk myself out of doing something I love?"

That did it. I bought one gallon of Ocean Boulevard, a new set of paint rollers, and headed home.

And you know what? I do love it.

The newly-painted left corner of my office. Isn't this a happy color? The blue-green tint changes with the light, which is neat to watch throughout the day.

The newly-painted left corner of my office. Isn't this a happy color? The blue-green tint changes with the light, which is neat to watch throughout the day.

I already owned and loved my office furniture, with one exception: my standing desk. I sit at the rolltop desk for smaller tasks, but if I'm working for long periods of time, I work best at a standing desk. For the last few years, I've made my own by balancing a large piece of wood over two filing cabinets, which was almost (but not quite) the right height. My husband surprised me with this beautiful desk for Christmas:

The standing desk on the right side of my office, pulled up to its full height. I don't get a lot of natural light in the office, so I'm afraid this is the best I could do to avoid shadows and glare in the picture.

The standing desk on the right side of my office, pulled up to its full height. I don't get a lot of natural light in the office, so I'm afraid this is the best I could do to avoid shadows and glare in the picture.

The top lifts up to the perfect standing height, and lowers back down if I need to sit. I love it!

With the new wall color and the furniture in place, I just made a few decorative touches. Some things I kept, like my clipboard for inspiration pictures.

My inspiration board currently holds photos from my research trip to Washington, D.C. They definitely help me get into the setting of my story!

My inspiration board currently holds photos from my research trip to Washington, D.C. They definitely help me get into the setting of my story!

Some things needed a little change. For example: like everyone else that had a Pinterest account in 2015, I jumped on the chalkboard bandwagon. My office used to feature a very large chalkboard where I wrote my to-do list. It worked just fine, but I didn't like the mess all that chalk dust created. I decided to change things up and use a dry erase board instead. Actually, make that three dry erase boards:

Did you know you can use a regular glass picture frame as a dry erase board? I happened to have these three frames already from another project, so I just popped some pretty paper into them and hung them up.

Did you know you can use a regular glass picture frame as a dry erase board? I happened to have these three frames already from another project, so I just popped some pretty paper into them and hung them up.

When all that was finished, I had one blank wall left. I wanted a piece of artwork that would make me smile (and inspire me to get to work!) whenever I came into the room. I scoured the Internet for a while before I remembered: hey, I make graphics for my blog and Instagram all the time. Why not make my own poster?

So I did. I chose one of my all-time favorite quotes, and it's perfect for my 2017 theme of "confidence." Bonus: since I made the poster myself, I can offer it as a free download for you, too!

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." - Henry David Thoreau | FREE printable motivational quote poster on


You can download the pdf for the 16 x 20 version or the 8 x 10 version below. You're welcome to print it out and use it however you like in your home or office. Just please don't chop off my watermark and sell it as your own. Thanks! :)

16x20 poster

8x10 poster

There you have it: a little tour of my revamped home office, ready to start off a new year and plenty of new projects--with confidence. Thanks for stopping by!

So It Begins...{again}

I've mentioned before that my current work-in-progress centers (loosely) on the concept of time travel. The main characters are given the chance of a lifetime: to go back in time and undo the crime that changed their lives.

I think I know how my characters feel. The process of writing this story makes me feel like I'm doing a bit of time-travelling myself!

So It Begins...{again} When writing a novel about time travel feels like...well...time travel! | from the Ellen Smith Writes blog

When I first started writing this story (back in 2011...) it was one book. When I went back and tried my hand at writing it again, I realized that it should really be three books: a trilogy that explored three distinct time periods in my characters' lives. Despite my better judgment, I blasted through drafting all three books this year. I needed to really go through a rough draft of each book in order to get a sense of how the characters thought and felt about each twist and turn.

So that's what I did in 2016. I just wrote. No stopping to re-read, edit, or tinker with character development. Now that I've reached the end of Book 3, there's only one thing to do: go back and start re-reading Book 1.

Let me tell you, it’s rough. There are abandoned characters dangling over plot holes, loose threads flapping in the breeze, and a veritable highway of run-on sentences. It’s a mess out there. I'm plowing through it slowly but steadily, correcting and rewriting as I go.

This is the messy part of writing, but it's a hopeful kind of mess. With the end in sight, I have a pretty good idea of how the characters talk and act at each point in the story. I’m hoping (but not holding my breath) that I’ll reach my goal of publishing the trilogy in 2017.

I just have to keep working through many times as it takes.


NaNoWriMo Recap

This November, I committed to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge: writing 50,000 words during the month of November. I knew it was going to be intense. I knew (or hoped) it would help me kick off the last book in the trilogy I'm working on. What I didn't realize was how helpful the process would be! Here's a recap of the whole crazy experience:

NaNoWriMo 2016 Recap |

Before NaNoWriMo

I prepped for the challenge by completing the steps of Shaunta Grimes' Plotting Workshop. This is also the process I used when I was plotting Book 2. I can't recommend this workshop enough! Usually, I don't like to plot out a story before I start writing. I feel like it ruins the fun of discovering where the story will end up. The Plotting Workshop showed me a way to plan out my story that didn't ruin the fun at all! By the time November 1 rolled around, I had a plot board, character sketches, and setting research all ready to go.

During NaNoWriMo

I write well under pressure. Just in case writing 50,000 words in 30 days doesn't seem like enough pressure, check out this graph of my daily word count. The closer the deadline loomed, the more words I wrote per day!

National Novel Writing Month Wordcount Graph | NaNoWriMo 2016 wordcount

See the last week there? At least 10,000 of those words were powered by caramel macchiatos. I regret nothing.

One major benefit of writing during NaNoWriMo was the online support. For example, when I saw I had 10,000 words to go in the last week of the challenge, I also knew I wasn't the only one. Several other writers on Instagram and Twitter were in the same boat. We encouraged each other and we all made our goals!

After NaNoWriMo

Aside from attempting to step down my caffeine intake, I haven't done much of anything since November 30. I haven't done any editing--in fact, I haven't opened up the Word document again. I know that a draft I wrote that quickly wouldn't be my best work, and that's okay. I feel great that I have a first draft done. When I'm ready, it'll be there, ready to expand and edit.

Would I attempt NaNoWriMo again?

I can't believe I'm even typing this, but--yes. I absolutely would do this again. NaNoWriMo is a great way to hammer out a first draft. I was able to let go of the idea that I had to write well--I just had to write.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? How was your experience?