Monday, June 30, 2014

New Beginnings with Sherri Shackelford

Sherri Shackelford here today! I'm working on a new book this month, and it's such a delight. Some people dread the start of a new project, for me, the beginning is my favorite part. There's always something in a story that an author falls in love with initially.

The process of writing a book can be long and arduous. Losing track of that spark can easily happen when an author is immersed in the middle of the book.

The same is true while brainstorming. These days an author needs a backlist of books in order to build an audience. When writing two or three books a year, it's often good to brainstorm with other authors.

Here I am at a retreat with Cheryl St.John and author Ann Stephens. I'm always amazed at the incredible creative process that happens when authors get together!

This was the luggage THREE of us brought! I know, but a lot of those bags are filled with notebooks and writing books. Cheryl St.John put together a folder of popular writing worksheets for us as well. 

*lizzie Starr, Cheryl St.John, Ann Stephens

One of the things Cheryl taught me earlier on in my career was that an author should always cling to the idea that made them excited about writing the book in the first place. Which is why it's so important to find excellent brainstorming partners who respect the process.

Sometimes I think people assume that a story is all in an author's head, fully formed, and we simply sit down and write out the narrative. (I'm sure that's even true for some authors!) But for those of us with more enthusiasm than talent, plotting a book can be an exacting process.

I do a little of both. Books follow a three act structure with the second act separated into two parts. There are natural points of escalating conflict. I make notes on those points which gives me something to aim for while I'm writing each day.

It's a combination of writing by the seat of your pants, 'pantsing' and plotting. Sometimes I fill in the chapter cards ahead of time, sometimes after. That way I can see if my conflict is escalating, if I'm challenging my characters' emotional growth and maintaining the story structure. I can also check my POV scenes because they are summarized in different colors for the Heroine/Hero.

When I started out, this process was completely overwhelming - now I find the idea of structure comforting. Some authors have a better natural rhythm and abhor this kind of organization. Not me! Now that I've gained some knowledge as a writer, I'm much more comfortable and less overwhelmed by the process.

Check out the book I'm using: Cheryl St.John's, Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict. Working with the author who actually 'Wrote the Book on Writing', it doesn't get much better than that. Cheryl even used an excerpt from my book, The Marshal's Ready-Made Family, as an example.

I'm also excited to announce that The Cattleman Meets His Match is coming in August!


Cowboy John Elder needs a replacement crew of cattle hands to drive his longhorns to Kansas—he just never figured they'd be wearing petticoats. Traveling with Moira O'Mara and the orphan girls in her care is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Yet despite Moira's declaration of independence, the feisty beauty evokes John's every masculine instinct to protect, defend…marry? 

Moira is grateful for John's help when he rescues her—and she can't deny that his calm, in-control manner proves comforting. But she is determined not to let anything get in the way of her plans to search for her long-lost brother at journey's end. However, can John show her a new future—one perfect for them to share?

Susan Mobley of Romantic Times Magazine gives The Cattleman Meets His Match 4 1/2 stars, saying: The characters are delightful and play well off one another.

Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance. A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul. You can email her at, visit her website at, or if you're feeling nostalgic, send a letter to: PO Box 116, Elkhorn, NE 688022.

Sherri is currently working on three more books for her Prairie Courtship series. Her current books include Winning the Widow’s Heart and The Marshal’s Ready-Made Family. The Cattleman Meets His Match releases in August of 2014.


  1. Sherri, your retreat sounds fun and productive! Writers so often work alone that any chance to get together is huge - but that excitement can also derail productivity. It sounds like your group stayed on track.

    It took me a long time to settle on a writing process. I tried all sorts of methods, which at times seemed painful but ended up being a great learning adventure. Like you, mine is a hybrid between pantser and plotter.

  2. It's definitely a process, isn't it Christine? Everyone wants to know the 'trick' but the trick is figuring out your own individual method :)

  3. Small retreats are so much fun, and your books sound great.

  4. I've drifted a little from plotter to pantser, finding it fun to be surprised by who the villain turns out to be. That said...slogging through the middle of my current book, I'm starting to wish I'd stuck to the outline. :D

    Huge congrats on the awesome RT review!

  5. Leann - There's nothing like spending time with other authors, is there? No one else understands us!

    Sandra - I figure if I don't know how the book one else will :)

  6. How fun to plot your stories with such great writing partners, Sherri.

    When I first started writing, I was a pantser. After I was offered representation and had to perform a major rewrite that involved cutting 75,000 of 100,000 words and starting over, I realized the value of plotting. These days I plot much of my stories but leave room for the joys that come along when my characters surprise me. I now call m myself a plotster.

  7. Always interesting in hearing about an author's methods! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Ooh, I would love to have a closer look at your plotting board! Thanks for sharing your process with us.


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