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  • Elizabeth Mowers

How I started writing

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

From short stories to romance...




I think writing involves a decision to write.


When I was a child, I was shy. Painfully shy. Writing quickly became a way to express myself. I know A LOT of writers can relate.


Piecing together coherent sentences as a kid wasn't easy, but learning how to write was a game changer. Stories, drawings, little musings. I loved recording my dreams. I always thought the next great American novel would come to me in me dreams - and I was twelve.



Short Stories


They're like tasty delightful appetizers, aren't they? Tell me a story, and make it GOOD. Grad school was two years of writing short stories, and learning how to critique them (and accept critiques with an open mind) was just as important. What short stories do you love? Which ones stay with you, perhaps haunting you years later?



The romance novel that started it all



THE BRIDE WASN'T LOOKING FOR A HUSBAND. THE GROOM DIDN'T WANT A WIFE. BUT LOVE BLOSSOMED UNDER A NORTHERN SKY."


It was December 2008, and I was home visiting my parents for the weekend. It was late, and I was on the prowl for a good book to read. Unfortunately, I had already "borrowed" a lot of my mom's good books to stock my own home library. The pickings were sparse. Finally, I came across a romance by Renee Roszel. I hadn't really read any romance novels, aside from a few pages here or there when I worked at a library during my late teens. But the title of Renee's book hooked me. (Ransom, I quickly discover, was the name of the hero. Clever, Renee.)


I ended up reading most of the book that night, stopping before the last two chapters only because I didn't want it to be finished. I wanted to leave myself a couple tasty morsels more to consume the next day.


The next evening, I explained the entire plot to my mother. We sat in her living room, discussing the main plot points and what was good about the book: Great characters, interesting location, romantic kissing scenes...I mean, come on...you gotta get those right. I loved that it was clean (personal preference) and that the main characters helped each other grow into better people by the end of the book. Needless to say, I was hooked.



What treasures would I find in the stacks?

I started to hit every bargain book store, stockpiling armfuls of romance novels. Romantic historical? Romantic suspense? Clean or erotic? I didn't know what books I'd like. I just knew that I loved Renee's book and wanted to find more.


Over time, I began to wonder what many readers have thought after reading a truly great romance novel. Could I write one?


Armed with lots of ideas, I set out to write my first romance novel. It took place in a church (sticky topic right out of the gate as I wasn't planning on marketing it as a Christian novel). I didn't have a plan or an outline. I would learn later this technique is called "pantsing" as in "flying by the seat of your pants". I would also learn later that this is a terrible way for me to write a book. (Please note that I wrote 'for me'. If it works well for you...I scowl at you in envy.)




The story was...hmm...how to put this...not good. It clocked in at about forty eight thousand words and was one low dramatic scene strung together with the next. I made the terrible decision (fueled by the sheer excitement at actually finishing a book!) to have my mother and best friend read it. God bless the both of them - they did. They also didn't have too much to say (less is more when someone's writing is truly terrible).


But, after a couple years of toiling away on the book which must never be named (though I titled it Trace Over Her Heart as Trace was the name of the hero. I told you I loved Renee's idea), I decided I had learned a lot about what NOT to do. So I gave it another go.


For my second attempt, I wrote about one of my favorite places: the theater. A jack-of-all-trades stage manager falls in love with an unlikely leading lady while the kooky cast of supporting characters nudges them to a happily-ever-after.




It was...um...better. This time I outlined every scene ahead of time. Not just every chapter, every scene. I was a woman with a plan. But by then, I was also a woman with a newborn baby who wouldn't sleep without being held. I loved the daily snuggles, but it also didn't leave me a solitary minute to write.


What to do?


One night I watched an interview with E.L.James, the author of the Fifty Shades of Grey series. Diane Sawyer asked her how she wrote her first book. She said she typed it on her smartphone while on her train commute to work every day. At night, she downloaded what she'd written to her computer at home.


Say, what?


I thought the woman was out of her mind, but I was also impressed. It reminded me of my middle school teacher, Mr. Peters, who taught Study Skills. He impressed upon us to study in the short moments between activities instead of cramming for tests the night before. "Keep study note cards in your pocket at all times. While waiting in lines, standing outside during fire drills, riding home from school - study!"


Ah, Mr. Peters, you had so much wisdom to bestow. You also taught me about compound interest and the benefit of early investing (Which I unfortunately didn't heed. *sigh*)


Perhaps writing on my smartphone was a strategy for me too. If I waited until I had two, uninterrupted hours to write, I would surely have to wait a very...long...time.



Wasn't the first iPhone a little beauty?

I began writing my second book on my iPhone. I opened an old email to myself which outlined the plot of my book, checked to see which scene was next, then opened a new email to myself and began writing (or typing, sometimes very slowly). I did all this with a baby sleeping in my arms. After several emails to myself, I'd copy and paste them to a word document on my computer when my toddler was busy eating a stick of butter behind the recliner (true story).



Not my baby but what a cutie!


It took me three years to complete book two.


As my first book took nearly five years, I figured I was improving. I'd written the first book during a phase of life when I had had a LOT of free time.


Parenthood had made me appreciate every free minute I could get to be productive. I couldn't afford to waste a second!


Showering with a little person banging on the shower door? No worries.


Using the bathroom alone? Overrated.


Emailing yourself a paragraph of dialogue while your kid watches Dora the Explorer? Now that's priceless.


I sent my second book off to Harlequin with the excitement of a kid on her birthday. I waited for months, checking the mail every day with baited breath (Newsflash: Even though this was 2015, I still had the idea in my head that book acceptance letters came in the mail. Moving on.)





But it was not to be.


The rejection on that book was hard. A lot of time (and perhaps the development of carpal tunnel?) had gone into my writing by that point, and I was back to square one.


But I would not be deterred!


It was shortly before Christmas when I got the sad (but kind) rejection letter. I decided to take the concise, yet accurate feedback in the rejection letter and expand it to as many learning experiences as I could. This would be my New Year's resolution. I'd improve my writing skills based on what my rejection letter said. I knew I was a good writer, but I wasn't there yet.


I binge watched three hours of writing webinars every night and took meticulous notes. My husband bought me an unlimited viewing subscription to a writer's website and I wasn't going to let any of it go to waste. The wisdom was hidden and waiting for me if I was only willing to dig it out. I was.


In late January of 2016 I started writing my third book. After everything I'd learned, I wanted to lovingly tuck away those first two books and start fresh.


I think one of the most important lessons when it comes to writing is deciding to write. It's deciding to begin...and then begin again...and again...


Finally, in July of 2017 I received the phone call. It was that one I had been dreaming of for...well, nine years. Harlequin wanted to publish my book. I had plugged the editor's phone number into my cell phone a year earlier so I'd recognize it immediately on my caller I.D. A drab errand to renew my driver's license was happily interrupted when I saw the Toronto phone number illuminate my cell phone screen. It was glorious!





That phone call, however, would only mark a new beginning. Revisions and editing and marketing, oh my! There would be much to learn about what it takes to get a book ready for publication, but after nine years of writing, I was ready to begin...again.


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