Stories & Updates

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!

General News and Updates, Novels

Camp NaNoWriMo Is Here!

I’m so excited for the start of Camp NaNoWriMo! Not only as a Co-ML for my region, but also as I have my own goals this month to finish editing my next contemporary romance novel!

For those who don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo is similar to NaNoWriMo as you set a writing goal to complete in 30 days. The difference is during camp you have more control over what your specific goal is (instead of the 50,000 words). This year, I am hoping to complete another round of edits on my next contemporary romance novel, “After the Storm” (previously titled “Scottish Savior”).

This novel has been in the works for a couple years now, I just never had any time to dedicate to it as I worked on other projects. But this month, it’s all for this novel! If you are interested in following my progress, you can friend me on the NaNoWriMo site (username: spikora). If you are also participating in Camp, let me know so we can cheer each other on!

I hope you all have a fantastic April planned. Until my next update, here is a sneak peek at “After the Storm”!

*Please note this is not a final version of the story and may change with future edits!*

Kira sat in her stiff seat and wrung her hands in her lap. The chatter of her fellow passengers was nothing but a background hum as she glued her eyes to the entrance of the plane. Each new person who walked on sent a spike of anxiety through her—just for a moment—until she realized it was just another stranger and not the person her mind feared it was. Just a stranger who didn’t know who she was…or who he was. Sat in seat 8B, arms wrapped tightly around her purse, her carry on secured in the bin above her head; she realized it was nearly time. Nearly time to take her first breaths of freedom.

A man shuffled forward and collapsed into the seat next to hers, shoving his carry on under the seat rather than dealing with the overhead bin. Kira could only watch as he cursed, trying to force the poor piece of luggage into a spot it wasn’t mean to be.

I feel ya, luggage, she thought to herself.  

Tears threatened to fall as she took a deep breath. The smell of the man’s thick and overpowering cologne consumed her. Surprisingly, it was a welcome distraction to her panicked mind. She focused on the spiced scent. Something woody and warm—a connection to the moment that kept the impending anxiety attack at bay. Deep breaths, she told herself as she shut her eyes and focused on expanding her diaphragm with each inhale. She held the breath for four counts then exhaled, pressing her belly button into her core, just as she did on Monday Pilates. The man next to her bumped her arm, forcing her to concentrate harder on her breath.

She could do this. Taking another deep breath, she felt her self-control settling and—

“Sorry ‘bout tha’.” The man next to her spoke in a thick accent after his elbow jabbed into her side and sent her nearly sprawling against the arm rest. Kira flinched as she shifted back, giving the man a stiff nod. As grateful as she was for the distraction, she wasn’t sure she was ready for idle chat. Kira’s eyes locked on the door of the plane again, watching the flight attendants talk as they moved about.

For some reason, she thought once she boarded, she would be more at ease—that he would be gone then. But she had this fear he would walk on and drag her back to that hell she was fleeing. Kira turned her attention out the window, ignoring her seat mate as he mumbled about his trip.

It was a beautiful day in Detroit. They week of hazy rain final let the clouds part and granted a cool spring day. She used it as her excuse to leave—she wanted to take a walk and enjoy the nice weather. Her husband bought it. She took a quick trip to the gym, where she stashed clothes and essentials and all her paperwork, then she was gone.

Kira looked past her hazy reflection and to the runway beyond, just as a plane rose up into the sky. Her heart raced, in excitement instead of fear. In a few more minutes, that would be her.

“Passengers, please give your attention to the flight attendant at the front of the cabin as we begin our safety procedure review before takeoff.” The flight attendant spoke precisely into the phone as the other attendant walked through the motions of how to fasten the seatbelt, how to adjust the mask, and other things. Kira’s attention drifted after a few moments; eyes fixed out the window as she waited for takeoff.

Her leg started to bounce, her nerves wanting free, as she heard the engines start up. The rumbling had her heart racing. She shifted up in her seat, pushing her purse onto the floor. This was it. She was really doing it.

“Do ya mind,” her neighbor spoke with an irritated snap. “You’ll make me sick with tha’.” Kira followed his point to her leg. She hadn’t even realized.

“I’m sorry.” She pressed herself tight against the side of the plane, trying to distance herself from him as she forced her leg to still. It gave her a chance to watch takeoff. The ground started to move past the plane. It was slow at first, but then it went faster, faster. The sound of the engines roared and the ground began to drift away. Take off.

“I’m free.” Kira whispered to herself, tears fighting to fall as she laid her head against the window. The world below her shrunk as her spirit grew and soared among the clouds. A weight lifted and she took an easy breath. The first she had taken in months.

Book Review

“From Blood and Ash” by Jennifer Armentrout (Book Review)

“From Blood and Ash” by Jennifer Armentrout is the Goodreads Choice Best Romance for 2020. When I saw this announcement, I was excited to dive in and start reading. I never could have imagined the book would capture my imagination (and my inner conspiracy theorist) so fantastically.

This novel was a magical trip into the fantasy world of Ascended, Atlanteans, Wolven, and of course the main character Poppy, the Maiden. It follows Poppy as she struggles with the weight that was put on her shoulder as being the chosen one, the Maiden. She fights against her wants and the needs of the people, her own attraction to her personal guard, and what it means to truly be herself.

Admittedly, I read this book for my romance book club and each meeting everyone enjoyed as I had so many theories about what was going on behind the scenes. Yes, I was very interested in Poppy and if she would finally wind up with Hawke, but the world building was what really had me in this novel. There was so much mystery and intrigue it was hard to put the book down.

My only negative take from the book was the ending. It left things on a huge cliff hanger that I wasn’t satisfied with. A lot was laid out at the end of book one that made if very hard to see the good that was to come or even feel like the story was at a good stopping point. It wasn’t the “HEA” (Happily Ever After) or “HFN” (Happy For Now) I have come to expect from romance novels. In fact, my book club and I had a discussion about whether book one should be considered a fantasy romance or just fantasy. However, the ending of book one did make diving into book two all that much easier.

Book two picks up right after book one ends and flows seamlessly from one to the next. Where book one deals with Poppy realizing who she is and what is really happening in the world around her, book two dives into her healing and discovering what power she holds. I must insert a warning here that there is abuse, torture, gore, and a great deal of betrayal in both novels. It can hit hard, so if you don’t like reading those themes, this book may not be for you.

I did enjoy these books and I’m excited for book three (which comes out next month!). I am hopeful that Poppy gets her happy ending and that all my theories about what is going on in the world is correct. This is a deep dive read, that has you thinking about each and every detail. If you’re looking for a fantasy romance that will pull you into the world, and you’re up for that deep dive, be sure to check out “From Blood and Ash” By Jennifer Armentrout.

General News and Updates

My 2021 Reading Challenges

Photo by cottonbro on

This year, I decided to take on a number of reading challenges to help me conquer my ever growing “To Be Read” pile. Not only do I have many books in my house to read, but I also have a massive amount on my wish list as well. To help me with this, as I always like to add a layer of fun to goal setting, I have decided to utilize a couple social media and personal challenges.

If you also have a large “To Be Read” pile, join me in some of these challenges!

Reading Challenge 1: Goodreads (100 Books in a Year)

At the beginning of the year, I kept getting notifications from Goodreads to set a goal for myself on how many books I wanted to read that year. I decided to “go big or go home” and set it at 100! I am proud to say that I’m currently a book ahead of schedule and hope that I can read 100 books in a year — as that would put a nice big chunk in my “To Be Read” pile!

If you’re on Goodreads, you can follow me by clicking below. You would be able to see what books I’m reading (which may give you a sneak peek at what books will pop up in reviews) as well as how I’m progressing through the challenge. Send me a friend request so we can cheer each other on as we work through our own “To Be Read” piles!

Reading Challenge 2: Heaving Bosoms 2021 Reading Embrace

You may recall one of my more recent posts have been about my favorite podcasts (if not you can check it out here). Number one on that list was Heaving Bosoms. I do adore the podcast and am excited to try their annual reading challenge, the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace.

The Reading Embrace is to help you read new and exciting romance novels by finding books that fit into VERY UNIQUE categories. These categories come from sayings and topics from the podcast, which make it even more fun to try to find books that fit. Categories Include: Darkness Button, Defcon Most Extreme. England Times America, Furrrrrr, Lady Love, Murder Smolder, Never Seen Snow Before, and so many more!

If you’re a romance reader, join me in the Heaving Bosoms 2021 Reading Embrace and let’s see what amazing stories we find!

Reading Challenge 3: Novel Knight “Beat the Backlist” Challenge

This is a challenge I found on Instagram but am so excited for! What I love most about it are the multiple options for how you can participate. There is the 24-book option or the 52-book option. Again, I’m going big or going home so I’m taking on the 52-book option.

On the site, there are multiple formats you can download to track your progress. Do you want a simple list to write out what you read? Want to turn it into a Bingo game to see who in your friend group can get a bingo first? They have all these options!

Be sure to check it out and join me in this challenge. I think it’s going to be a BLAST!

Reading Challenge 4: Most Pages Read in a Year

With all these books I’ll be reading and challenges I undertake, I will be reading plenty of books. As will my bestie who is also working on tackling her “To Be Read” pile. So…we made a bet!

Who could read the most pages in a year?

Last year, I was the GLORIOUS VICTOR! So naturally I feel extra pressure to beat her again this year. Any book we read, whether it’s an ebook or print book, counts. We count the number of pages read and track them throughout the year. Who ever reads the most pages is the winner!

Perks? The loser has to buy the winner a new book! This year I received “To the Sky Kingdom” by Tang Qi. It was a fantastic book! I am really hoping to win this year as well (I currently have a 2K lead).

Reading Challenge 5: Personal Incentive (4 Books a Month)

This is a personal challenge and prize system my husband and I came up with. I have so many novels I want to read, series to keep up with, and new releases that entice me — it’s hard to keep up! To help me keep up with series and to help keep the “To Be Read” pile from overtaking his office (where our library is situated) we came up with this bargain…

For every 4 books I finish in a month…I can purchase a new one (if I wish).

I know it seems silly, but it has been VERY beneficial for me as it helps me keep up to date on my favorite series, but spaces it out so I’m not buying a ton of books all at once just to sit on my shelf. It also helps push me to keep up with my other challenges too!

I’m loving doing all of these reading challenges! I hope you’ll join in on some of them too! If you’re interested in seeing how I progress in these challenges or what books I’ve been reading, subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Each month, at the end of the newsletter, I will let you know how I am fairing on my reading challenges and give thoughts on the books I read that month.

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Enjoy the challenges!

Shanna Pikora


“A Second Chance” (Sneak Peek)

I can’t wait until July to publish my debut romance novel, “A Second Chance”. This novel is a contemporary romance telling the story of Lucian Pereli, a recently released ex-con looking for a fresh start, and Raina Carstens, owner of the Black Cat Café and best friend to Lucian’s brother. When Raina hires Lucian to work at her café, she begins to realize her life is about to become much more complicated.

I’m hoping to do a number of teasers leading up to publication date, and this is the first! Below is a small excerpt from my novel! Enjoy!

“I can start today.”

It was an admirable offer, but Raina wasn’t so sure. Lucian looked exhausted, and he was dressed in too fine of clothes. Even as he said the words, she could see the slight look of regret on his face. She was happy to see he was eager, but…

“No dice,” Bailey spoke up. “I have to train you up front first, and I have this paper due tomorrow about the cultural renaissance of England. It would be really awesome if you could wait until tomorrow. That way I could use my downtime today to work on it. Would that be cool?”

Raina steeled her nerves, not letting her face betray her thoughts. She knew it was a lie, but Lucian seemed to buy it. Raina added, “We can get you a couple aprons and extra shirts. Come with me.” Lucian followed her behind the counter in silence. He was a towering presence. Even so, he wasn’t overwhelming like some. “You can wash these and have a few back-ups. We make a lot of messes around here, so if you start running low on non-stained ones, just let me know.”

“I will.” He paused, looking her in the eye, his face solemn. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I know I come with a bit of drama, but I’ll work hard. I won’t waste this chance.”

“Of course.” He seemed easy to talk with, even when he was being serious. “I wouldn’t have given you the job if I had any doubts of that. You did well! Just, don’t stress so much in the future.”

“Will do, Miss Carstens.”

“Raina, please. I hate being called ‘miss.’ Makes me feel like I’m in trouble.”

Lucian chuckled, taking the shirts. “Well, you just hired me, so maybe you are in trouble.”

Raina couldn’t help laughing. It sounded a little flirty, but she let it go. He was sweet—at least he seemed so.

“The paperwork will get done tonight,” Grayden said, casually leaning against the counter. Bailey must have let him in when they’d been in the back. “I can drop him off on my way in tomorrow, pick up my usual order.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll see you both tomorrow.” Her hands ran down her shirt, straightening it as Lucian exited the café with his brother. Raina gave a little wave as they left. She waited until they had crossed the street before speaking, not wanting to be overheard. “That paper was due last week, Bailey. You had me read it, twice. Why’d you lie?”

Bailey let out a sigh, leaning against the counter smugly. “He seems nice, and frankly he looked dead on his feet. Figured I’d throw him a bone. I don’t think he would have said no otherwise.”

“Yeah, and like hell was he going to work in those shoes. No traction. Two minutes in he’d have broken a leg.” Carter chimed in, pulling Bailey back into conversation and leaving Raina to her thoughts. She smiled at how easily everyone was taking to their new hire. It looked like Lucian was part of their little family now. Hopefully he was prepared for the chaos that came with it.

Follow my Amazon Author Page and Website for Updates Closer to Publication!