Writing

Books That Inspire Me

It’s a question I get asked a lot: “Shanna, what inspires you and your writing?”

The truth is, I pull inspiration from multiple places. I sometimes have dreams that I turn into novels, movies, music, books, conversations I hear at a coffee shop, or even random thoughts that pop into my mind. However, I thought today’s blog post I would focus on sharing books that have had the biggest impact on me as a writer.

If I had to pick a single book that has been the biggest inspiration to my writing, I wouldn’t hesitate to answer “Loch” by Paul Zindel. I first discovered this book in grade school at my school’s library. I can still remember exactly where it sat (near the back door on the lowest shelf, three from the right). I found it by accident, actually. My class was taken to the library and told we needed to pick a book to start our spring book reading. I wandered around a bit, not finding any right away, until a blue spine book caught my eye.

I think the reason this book inspires me so is because of how drawn into the story I get (no matter how many times I read it). It was the first book that really sparked my imagination. I spent days after reading thinking about the plot and wondering what I would’ve done in that instance– (Spoiler) how I could have done more to save the people and keep the creatures from getting hurt (end spoiler). I remember wondering if I could ever write a story that impacted and excited someone as much as this book excited me.

I read this book every year, over the summer. I even have a signed, first edition on my shelf (thanks to my AMAZING husband who gives the best gifts ever). Each time I read it, I find myself inspired for new plots and new stories to tell.


The next book that really impacted me was “The Two Princesses of Bamarre” by Gail Carson Levine. I can’t say what about this book speaks to me, but I find it a great book to read when I get writer’s block. It has an unwitting heroine, an amazing love interest, all about women power and sisterhood. There is also magic and love and old-time heroes and prophecies. It just has everything!

This book is always a comfort read for me. But even more, it really gets me thinking about fairy tales and happily ever after’s — and how sometimes the most unexpected ending is the best one. I think this book sparked my interest in “twist endings”. I won’t go into too much detail in case you haven’t read it (no spoilers here), but I think this was one of the first books that really surprised me with the ending and I try to do that with many of my own stories as well.


There are so many books to choose from, but I don’t want this post to be overly long, so I will give just one more story that has inspired me (a more recent one). Last year, I dove into the world of “A Court of Thorn and Roses” by Sarah J Maas. I was drawn into this book as it has a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe to it’s story (and I LOVE a Beauty and the Beast story). However, her series had such twists and turns. How her books moved from one to the next, seamlessly, and how some happy endings weren’t forever, really inspired me.

In fact, the big reveal in book 2/3 (I won’t put it here, no spoilers) and how it reshapes how you see book 1 really made me think about my own writing and how you can bend and break the rules of “happily ever after” to give a story more depth and realism. In fact, this has inspired an entire fantasy series that I am working on!


As I said, there are so many books that have inspired me. So many movies, music, and more (perhaps posts for another day). However, I feel these three stories are the ones that are inspiring me the most (especially right now).

If you haven’t checked out these books yet, I would encourage you to! And if you have any stories that inspire you that you would like to share, be sure to comment below.

Happy Reading,

Shanna Pikora

General News and Updates, Writing

My Writing Process

A banner for Camp NaNoWriMo 2021. It has pictures of a forest with camp tents.

Last week I hosted an event for my NaNoWriMo Region, in honor or Camp Nano, where I discussed different types of readers (Alpha, Beta, & Sensitivity Readers). In that event, I talked about my own personal writing process and how I tackle a novel idea. It was a lot of fun, but a few people at the event said they wished there was more information out there about how they can organize their writing and strategize for publication. Although I’m by no means an expert, I thought I would share my own process for anyone who is interested!

I do want to make a note though, that this is MY process and that every writer is different. You are welcome to take a shot at my schedule and planning, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine! With time, you will find your own perfect process. With that being said, let’s go down the rabbit hole!


I’m a very organized person. I have three-ringed binders, calendars, spreadsheets, and more to keep me on top of my writing schedule. I know it sounds a bit excessive, but I learned early on in my writing journey that deadlines make my world go around! If I don’t have a hard deadline I tend to drag my feet. Thus, “the system” was started.

As I mentioned, I utilize a three-ringed binder system. Each story gets its own binder that then contains everything about the world, plot, characters, and other research within it. I know there are many platforms that help you organize your materials, but I prefer having physical copies — it makes the process easier down the road. It’s also nice when I’m traveling because I can just toss the binder into my suitcase and it is all right there!

Picture of the bottom shelf of a black bookshelf with multiple three-ringed binders on each edge of the bookshelf. In the center of the bookshelf, there is a cat laying on top of a couple binders he knocked over.
Here’s a peek at my binder system. As you can see, my cat Loki also enjoys the binder system as well!

To utilize NaNoWriMo terminology — I’m a planster (a mix between a planner and a panster). I like to have a bit of planning and prep done on a story before I begin drafting, but not so much that I feel locked in during the drafting process. I like to just write and see where the story goes. It usually makes a very rough first draft, but it gets the story started. Some advice I read a while back in “How to Write Fiction for Dummies” (Ingermanson & Economy) said to let yourself write a really crappy first draft, because you can always fix it later. I took that to heart and wrote myself a little contract years ago to help me remember.

A lined notecard with the following written on it: 5/6/2018. I have full permission to write a really bad first draft, because I know that most first drafts by most authors are mostly lame. I'll get it right on the revision. Shanna Pikora.
This notecard is an exercise given in “How to Write Fiction for Dummies”. I would really recommend checking out the book!

I really enjoy drafting during NaNoWriMo in November. It allows me to be able to enjoy the writing process with my local community and have extra support. I make sure to have a complete first draft by the end of NaNoWriMo — even if it’s the worst first draft in the history of first drafts. Then…I wait.

I like to take some time between drafting and editing to let the story “marinate”. Sometimes I think of ideas or a plot points to include and change. To be honest, the 6+ months of setting my story aside is where I have my best lightbulb moments. I mentioned before that I have schedules and spreadsheets, so I do have a specific plan. I draft in November and then don’t edit the story again until July the following year (during Camp NaNo!). This editing process takes on two steps:

  1. Re-reading and Plotting
  2. Editing & Revising

I always spend the week or two before I begin editing to re-read my story. It lets me brush up on specific details and make notes on what I want to change. I go through so many steno pads during this process, you have no idea, but it’s nice to have my notes broken down by chapter so I know what to target with changes.

What can I say, Loki REALLY likes to get involved in my writing process. I don’t know why, but he seems to really like attacking my pens while I’m writing…even though he has an abundance of toys.

Once I have my notes, I go back through and begin editing. I mainly focus on plot, but if I notice spelling or sentence errors I tackle those as well. Grammar and sentence structure is my weakest skill when it comes to writing (as you have probably noticed) so I utilize a professional editor to help me with that.

After I have edited the entire manuscript, I lock it away again for more “marinating”. I pull it back out in April (the other month for Camp NaNo). Now, if you have been following the timeline, you’ll notice that this means I am now in year three with the novel. Yes, it takes a lot of time, but the good news is that each year I have new novels in the works — so I’m never bored. I’ve tried shortening my timeline but when I do I feel my story isn’t as well developed.

This next round of edits I again do my re-read and then make the appropriate changes. Then off it goes to my amazing Alpha Readers. Alpha readers are special readers (and in my case are friends and family) that read the novel before major editing (which in my case means before I send the story to an editor). These readers help me with characters, settings, and plot development. It’s nice to see what parts of the story readers enjoy, which characters they love to hate, and what spots felt lacking so I can fix them in the next round of edits.

A picture of an office desk, dark brown. There is a computer open, showing a page of a manuscript draft. To the left of the computer is a binder and piles of papers and steno pads with notes.
This is my older set-up for editing. I have a few new pieces of office furniture that lets me spread out!

After I make changes inspired by my Alpha Readers, I do one more edit (August) and then send my manuscript off to the editor (if I feel it’s ready). This is where I make a judgement call, because I want a polished piece before sending to the editor. I would like to give a quick shout out to the editor I used for “A Second Chance” and I would like to continue using in the future: RoseLark Publishing.

RoseLark is a fantastic editing and pre-publishing service. They offer so many amazing services for the indie author — at reasonable prices too! If you’re looking for a wonderful team of editors or sensitivity readers, check out RoseLark!

RoseLark Publishing logo. The words with a rose to the left of the words.

I will of course do another round of edits after I get notes from my editor. However, this time I plan for at least two months. There are always so many notes to go through, great considerations and changes to think about, so I like to give myself extra time. It also lets me think about how small changes impact future scenes in the story as well.

A computer being attacked by a cat, who is laying on a blue blanket.
There is no part of the writing process Loki won’t photobomb…or stick in his mouth, apparently — first a pencil and now my computer!

Once I am done with making changes from my editor notes, my manuscript will go out to my Beta Readers. Beta Readers are like Alpha readers, only they are giving notes on a finalized manuscript, a final look at your novel before it is published. What I really love here is to see reactions as well as notes from my Beta Readers, as it helps me identify what parts of my books could be favorites to future readers!

I will do one final edit after going through my Beta Reader notes before going forward towards publishing — whether that means querying agents or independently publishing. I would really like to be a hybrid author, an author who does both indie and traditional publishing – based on the project.

I would note, that at some point during this chaotic process, I like to do a paper edit (most of my edits are done directly on computer). It takes time, but it really does help me focus on the story and the changes I’m making.

A page of a manuscript marked in red with edits.
This is from the novel I’m working on currently “After the Storm”!

I learned the hard way that I have to save my paper copy edit until the end of this process…otherwise what you see above happens and I end up rewriting most of the page — so many hand cramps! However, I really do recommend this at least once for a story, because it forces you to slow down and really read and analyze the words.


There you have it, my writing process. I realize it seems a bit chaotic, so let me break it down a bit easier for you…

Type of EditDates of Editing
First DraftNovember (Year 1) – NaNoWriMo
First EditJuly (Year 2)
Second EditApril (Year 3)
Alpha ReadersMay – July (Year 3)
Third EditAugust (Year 3)
EditorsSeptember-November (Year 3)
Fourth EditDecember – January (Year 3-4)
Beta ReadersFebruary – April (Year 4)
Final (Fifth) EditMay (Year 4)
FormattingJune (Year 4)
Release/QueryingJuly (Year 4)
My writing schedule for ONE novel!

I will add more edits and steps, depending on the novel, but this is my general outline! Some of you may look at that and begin to panic, but it really does help me to know what I’m doing when, especially when I have multiple novels going at once — and many more novels in my “Ideas Notebook”.

Picture of two notebooks laying on top of a blue blanket. One is in an ancient Greek style and says: Decomposition book - Shanna's Story Ideas. The other book says "Anything is Possible".
My Idea Notebooks!

There you have it, the method to my madness, the organized chaos. This is what keeps me on track and excited to start new novels each year! Currently, I’m working on the following novels:

“A Second Chance” (Contemporary Romance)

“Rhys of Novia” (Fantasy Romance)

“After the Storm” (Contemporary Romance)

“Justice” (Fantasy)

My four year system in action! Be sure to keep an eye out on future updates for each of these stories, and if you would like, follow along with my schedule so you know when you can expect the next novel to be released or when the start of querying begins!

Happy Reading & Happy Writing!

Shanna Pikora

A pink binder with the words "Stories by Shanna P" in red, with Shanna Pikora's signature.
Main binder that holds ALL my schedules: Writing, Social Media, Alpha/Beta Readers, Etc.

P.S. I felt guilty that my cat Loki got all the attention above, so here is my other cat, Frey (they are brothers). He makes sure I take regular breaks! XD

A grey tabby laid out on Shanna Pikora's lap. She is wearing penguin patterned sweat pants.
My cat Frey as we “marinate” over a plot point!