by Timothy Pike
Ever since first grade, when she was learning how to write the letters of the alphabet, author and native Texan Shirley Holder Platt hasn’t been able to keep a page blank. The words just seem to come. I caught up with Shirley to ask her about her seeming immunity to writer’s block, how she left the rat race to pursue writing full time, and how she moved past a pretty big obstacle that life threw in her way.
“I was always writing,” she tells me. But it’s not like an entire book just flowed out from under her pen right away—like most writers, she needed plenty of practice. “Before I began writing novels, I wrote about a million short stories and some really lousy poems,” she says. “Sometimes I’d share with my family, but they were always for myself.”
One day, not long before she took early retirement, Shirley recalls sitting down to write a story just to see how far she could get. “I remember telling my husband, ‘I’m up to 20,000 words!’ He encouraged me to write a whole lot more, so I did.”
And even though she never looked back from there, she knew that it was not usually enough just to write tens of thousands of words and call it a novel. So Shirley did everything she could to polish and fine-tune her work. “My first editor helped me understand it from a writer’s point of view,” she explains. “She worked with me on that first story until it was something I could publish, and I’ve just kept going since then.”
Shirley is now the author of four published books, including Emma Emerging, about a young woman who finds her inner strength and becomes the person she longs to be, and Romance on Sandy Shores, a novel Shirley describes as “sweet romance with depth.” And don’t worry—if there’s one thing you can count on when reading Shirley’s books, it’s a big smile on your face as you close the book and put it back on the shelf. “A happy ending,” Shirley says, “is just what many people need after dealing with the real-world struggles out there.”
“A happy ending is just what people need after dealing with the real-world struggles out there.”
And there’s more good news for Shirley’s many fans: a fifth book is on the way. The Cowgirl Experiment is about a city girl who moves to the country for the summer to be a cowgirl, and ends up falling in love with her landlord. “Of course, there’s a lot more to the story,” Shirley points out, “but it’s a contemporary romance novel with the happy ending that I love.”
After graduating from high school, it didn’t take Shirley long to set out on a career path of working with data (“words, not numbers, because words were my thing”), a field she so enjoyed that she stayed there until retirement. “I like to see order out of chaos, so when I discovered database technology, my career headed there. In 2017, after spending her entire working life in a series of “8 to 5” corporate jobs, Shirley found herself able to take early retirement—a move she made expressly, she says, to focus on her writing.
Not that she’s working any less these days. “I retired early to write books,” Shirley says. “I now spend more time at my writing career than I ever did at a conventional job.”
I assumed Shirley was the kind of person who would sit down and carefully outline each story before writing. Not a chance, as I soon found out.
For someone who loves to see order in chaos, I naturally assumed Shirley was the kind of person who would sit down and carefully outline each story before she started writing. Not a chance, as I soon found out. “I am a total write by the seat of my pants person,” she says. “I usually start with an interesting character, put them into an interesting situation, and off I go.” She still admits, however, that there’s a method to her madness: “I write from the beginning to the end in order. I like order, but I can’t outline.”
And from beginning to end, there were many milestones along the way to becoming a published author that Shirley will never forget. “I’m an indie, which means I publish my own work,” she says. In some ways, this approach can certainly be more difficult, but it also means the taste of each small victory is all the sweeter. “Getting my first editor, holding my first paperback in my hands, selling my first book. All felt awesome,” she says. But topping the list of her greatest accomplishments is something all authors will remember: “Selling my first book to someone who didn’t know me.”
Then, just as Shirley’s career as a novelist was picking up steam, she hit a roadblock. “My aversion to selling created a problem for me,” Shirley admits. “I put my books out and no one knew it. When the books were just sitting there gathering dust, I got pretty discouraged.”
“I changed my mindset. Now I think of it this way: if my stories entertain someone, that’s giving value to the world.”
Indeed, for independent authors, it’s not enough just to publish a book—there is a fair amount of promotional work to do in order to get the word out. And for Shirley, that part didn’t come naturally at first.
Fortunately for Shirley—and for those of us who now get to enjoy the fruits of her labor—she knew what she had to do.
“I’ve had to change my mindset completely,” she explains. Once Shirley made the decision to take her writing seriously as a second career, she was able to move past the resistance she felt. “Now I think of it this way: if my stories can entertain someone, then that’s giving value to the world. So now, I pay for a small amount of advertising, and people are beginning to find my books.”
As Shirley continues to enjoy retirement, relentlessly improve her craft, and terrorize blank pages everywhere, she knows exactly what her ideal life will look like in three years. “I hope to write many more books, while reading awesome reviews from the people who love them. If that happens, I will most certainly have achieved my goals.”
How’s that for a happy ending?
For now, you can catch Shirley on ChapterBuzz, and even give her some feedback on her works-in-progress. Check out some of Shirley’s new material on her ChapterBuzz profile page, and become her next Fan! You’ll receive updates whenever she posts something new.
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