Category Archives: Writing

How do I become a writer?

Calving writingI’m often asked this during school visits and by aspiring writers. The answer is surprisingly straightforward.

1. Read (a lot)

2. Write (a lot)

There is no magic. It boils down to hard work. No one can teach you how to write a book. You learn by doing.

Author Brian Doyle (The Plover) sums it up nicely. He says, “If you wish to be a writer, write. There are people who talk about writing and then there are people who sit down and type. Writing is fast typing. Also, you must read like you are starving for ink. Read widely. Read everything… ”

He adds, “A piece is not finished until it is off your desk and onto an editor’s desk. Write hard and then edit yourself hard. Look carefully at your verbs to see if they can be energized… You do not need a sabbatical or a grant to write a book. Write a little bit every day. You will be surprised how deep the muck gets at the end of the year, but at that point you can cut out the dull parts, elevate your verbs…find the right title, and send it off to be published.”

I might add one more thing to Doyle’s wisdom…

3. Get feedback.

A writing critique group (or partner) is critical to help you find those dull parts. This shouldn’t be your romantic partner or best friend, they will spare your feelings and tell you that your work is brilliant. It’s not. Every writer needs constructive feedback and editing.

Writing classes can’t teach you how to write your book, but they can get you warmed up through the use of writing exercises and assignments so sign up for one if you can’t get started.

No two writers approach their work in the same manner. There is no right or wrong way. Some outline in detail. Some revise as they’re going along. Some just sit and write madly  until the first draft is complete, and then go back and revise.

Whichever approach works for you, just do it. Turn off the TV. Unplug (or set to vibrate) the phone, and put your fingers on the keys.

Oh, one more thing. Please invite me to the launch party.


Cartoon credit: Calvin and Hobbes


Cover Art!

Dancing in the Rain CoverHere it is, the cover for my soon-to-be released novel.

It’s always a bit of a shock for an author to see the cover of their new book. We have our own idea of what it will look like after years spent writing and rewriting the story, but the publisher is the one who designs it.

This is not the cover I imagined at all, yet it’s perfect, depicting some of the key elements in the story. I also love the background colours.

I’d imagined a female figure actually ‘dancing in the rain’, but that would have been all wrong as the title is just a metaphor for what happens in the story. No one actually dances, but the characters do spend time riding trams and the forest trails and mountain vistas are central to the story. The mood of the cover art is achy,  the characters’ paths are about to cross but they are separated by the isolating bubble of their individual trams. They are on their own journeys.

Beautifully done, Orca Book Publishers. Thank you. Can’t wait to get my hands on the first copy.




Just The Word

Editing JustJust.

I just wanted a bit.

It just takes a moment.

If he would just hurry up.

It just means…

It would just be setting you up for failure.

My editor suggested that I delete the word ‘just’ as often as I could from my soon-to-be-published novel.  A quick search showed me how often I used the word, and how needlessly. Apparently it is a common writing error. I’m tempted to revisit my older titles to see if I’ve overused it in those stories too, but I won’t. It would ‘just’ depress me. (See? I’m still doing it.)

As I work on my novel-in-progress, I’m hyper aware of that niggling adverb.  I’m striking it from my writing vocabulary. Just wait and see if you can spot a single j word. (oops)

Photo credit:

Copy Editing Software for Authors


Thinking Like a Teenager

Gotcha! wpMy books are written for a teenage audience, so when teenagers review them I really pay attention to what they have to say. Did I get the ‘voice’ right? The following quote is from a recent teen review of my novel Gotcha! Phew! It seems I nailed it. I suspect that it was because I was living with three teens while I wrote the book that I was able to think like a teen, and not someone “decades older”, which, of course. I am. Now that my own teens are young adults, I may have to adopt a teen in order to stay current!

“I found the characters in the novel to be quite believable. In the past, I’ve read books aimed towards teenagers, where the characters personalities and actions were inconceivable. In those cases, it was obvious that the authors had not been teenagers for many, many decades. They are written such that it makes it seem as if the author is an outsider looking in. On the other hand, Shelley Hrdlitschka writes with such brilliant pose it’s as if she’s a teenager herself. She understands the highschool dynamic very well. She knows that friendships don’t last forever and that people whom you once had an alliance with, can turn their back on you in a heartbeat, both scenarios reflected in this novel.” Read the entire review here:!Gotcha-Thorough-Novel-Review/cmbz/556a56260cf298b2d3f31483

Getting Started

Charlie BrownI’m teetering on the periphery … wanting to write that first word, that first sentence, that first page and chapter of a new novel, but I just don’t know where to dive in. I know who the protagonist is, his back story (he was a minor character in a previous novel), and what his problem is. I know what his journey has to be in order for him to overcome his problem. I just don’t know how to set that ball rolling. Continue reading

On Reading ~

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Stephen King stack of books

My name is Shelley and I’ve read 50+ books this year. I am a bibliophile.

There, I’ve said it.

Seriously, I did squirm a little when I tallied up the books I’d read in 2014. A little voice in my head asked, “Is that, maybe, just a little excessive?” Am I truly trying to hone my craft (writing) as Stephen King suggests or am I simply using reading as an escape?

We all try to find balance in our lives, making time for work, family, friends, exercise, recreation. When I look at it that way, I realize that reading is my recreation. I don’t follow any TV shows, I don’t play games on the computer, I don’t have many other hobbies. I choose to read quality books, often books selected for one of the 3 book-clubs I belong to. And, as Stephen King argues, a writer has to read. I tell creative writing students that all the time. (Throw out the TV if you want to get published.) I wish there was a measurable correlation between the number and quality of books read with the quality of your own writing. I’ll just have to trust that there is one. As for 2015, I intend to keep on reading, feeding my addiction, escaping, learning and honing my craft.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the RainYahoo! I have just signed a book contract for my latest project, another Y/A novel titled Dancing in the Rain. The title may change, but it was inspired from this quote by Vivian Greene. (This is not the cover of the book… that is yet to come.)

For years I’ve been asked by young readers to write a sequel to my earlier title, Dancing Naked, but, although I appreciated their interest, I never gave it much thought. I’d moved on to other projects.

Then, a few years ago, a young woman wrote to me to say she’d read Dancing Naked many times as a teenager, and even though she is an adult now, she’s still waiting for the sequel. She wants to know what became of Brenna, the baby who was born at the end of Dancing Naked, and her mother, Kia.

That set me to wondering what became of Brenna too. She’d be a teenager herself now. How was her life turning out? And Kia? Is she doing okay?

I decided to write the book to  find out and I’m absolutely delighted that Orca Book Publishers has agreed to publish it.

This will be book #10, a nice round number. Thank you to all those wonderful readers who encouraged me to write this book. It wouldn’t have happened without you.



Never say never

writing QuicklyWell-meaning people often ask if I’d consider writing fiction for adults as opposed to writing for teens, as if writing for adults is somehow more respectable. Until now I’ve always said “probably not”. (Never say never.) I’ve always felt that my writing ‘voice’ is best suited to the teen genre, and my ideas for books have always featured teen protagonists. I also have great respect for Y/A literature and feel blessed that I’ve been able to contribute to this wonderful field.

Recently, something changed. Maybe it’s because my daughters are grown and I’m no longer immersed in teen culture but I was unexpectedly hit with a story idea that was clearly for adults, not teens. The idea is based on my own short but comical stint with on-line dating. (That experience had to come in useful for something.) I created a character, began to write and now the story is practically writing itself. No other novel has poured out of me the way this one is. Granted, it is a light story, hopefully funny, and the characters aren’t trying to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles as my teen characters always are. I may finish the book and decide that it is just silly trash, but in the meantime I am having lot of fun. Maybe this is the start of something new.

The End

The EndToday I typed The End.

I’ve been working on this novel for at least two years. Probably longer.
I should feel elated, but I feel strangely empty instead.
For one thing, I don’t really know if it is The End. I’ll have to reread the story (again!) to see if it has come full circle. Have I reached the place I was aiming for since page one? I don’t know. Is that because I’ve been with this story for so long that I’ve lost perspective? Perhaps.

Or perhaps I feel sad at the prospect of saying goodbye to these characters, who aren’t actually characters to me. They are real people. After all, I have been living with them for a couple of years now. It’s hard to leave old friends, people you’ve been with every day, wrestling with them, finding their flaws, discovering their strengths, observing their growth.

I recently heard a writer friend use the term Premature Submission. It refers to the temptation to send the manuscript to the publisher too soon, before it’s been put aside for a few weeks and then looked at with fresh eyes. This is an important step in the writing process. Problems with a story become much clearer when the writer has stepped away from it for a while. One can hope that the story will begin to age like fine wine, but more likely the writer will see the rough edges, the clutter, themes that are incomplete, connections that weren’t made.

This isn’t really The End at all. It is the beginning of a whole new stage in the writing process.