Shelley Widhalm

Writing as puzzle solving

In Freewriting, Writing, Writing Novels, Writing Processes on December 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing is like solving a puzzle, at least when approaching the story or novel without planning or forethought.

I’m a pantser writer, but I’ve decided for my next novel, I’ll engage in the planning approach. I’ll come up with an overriding idea, a beginning and an ending, and a few of the character sketches, instead of writing and seeing what happens.

Why am I going to the other side?

Writing’s become a bit painful and an emotional experience for me, where I have to face myself and how I write and process the story. I get lost in where to go next and don’t know where I’ve been. I just keep writing like I’m in a speed writing contest, when what I really want to do is write with purpose and direction. I want a plan.

By freewriting my stories and letting what happens happen, I’ve noticed how I’m trying to solve a mystery, though I’m not writing a mystery. I write myself in a corner, or multiple corners. A short story becomes a novella. A piece of flash fiction becomes a short story. A novel goes on too long past the 100,000-word mark when I want to write 80,000 words.

This get-myself-in-a-corner writing is the result of my main character needing to solve something, but I don’t let her solve it because all these other characters prop up and she has to interact with them and get through her own plot, because if I say, “Magic. Problem solved,” the reader won’t buy it.

I have to get her to the end of the story.

I have to solve how she and the characters interact to carry the plot forward through the middle all the way to the end.

But instead, I’m mired in the story, so I have to look back at what I wrote and figure out where the story is headed, picking up clues in what I’ve already written. I have to figure out the plot strands and bring them together, knowing my one basic question, while also wondering, but how do I get there?

I’m stuck in the middle and have to move backward, do some planning and thinking, and then I can get back to writing. What I do is stop, plan, and write. So am I really pantsing my novel, when I really had to middle-plan? The arc has to come full circle, not move in a straight line of writing whatever pops into my head.

That’s where the pain comes in. I’m in the middle of writing, and I have to throw my nature aside and start planning.

What is it like for you? Are you a pantser or a planner?

Thank you, Writing

In Loving Writing, Writing on November 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

thanks-11-16

Giving thanks is a given for Thanksgiving, and the way my family and I said thank you added fun and creativity to the holiday.

This year, my brother and I visited our mother at her assisted living place for the noon meal.

Most of the residents sat at a long table in the center of the dining room, but a few of the families joined together at their own tables. Before the staff served the traditional fare of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberries, the new volunteer director of activities told the 50 or so people in the room to find their tags next to the silverware and write what they were thankful for.

My first one was easy—and sorry this is sideways, but I couldn’t get the photo to rotate—because it was about my dog, Zoey. I wrote “My dog, Zoey,” and my mom said, “I knew you’d write that one.”

Next, I put my apartment, because I love it and where I live, feeling like it’s the first place that’s a perfect fit and so me.

I also love books, and I love writing and the fact that I love to write.

I got four tags, when there were supposed to be three per person, which was a good thing, because four wasn’t enough.

I’m also thankful for:

  • Nice people and getting smiles.
  • Running and lifting weights.
  • Being in shape.
  • The seasons and seeing spring leaves and the colors of fall.

And my list could go on and on.

The important thing is taking a moment to reflect—not just on Thanksgiving but every day. I try to find one thing to be thankful for, though Zoey always is a given, so really it is at least two things.

A NaNoWriMo break

In Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Writing, Writing Inspiration on November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

This month is National Novel Writing Month, when writers aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I love NaNoWriMo, but this year I’m taking a bit of a break from routine writing.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice, in 2013 and 2015, and I’m editing my 2013 NaNoWriMo book and some of my short stories and having fun with the process of adding little details and cutting out large chunks (which I save, because I have a hard time letting go).

Basically each week, I’m doing lots of editing and a tiny bit of writing.

In the process, I’m finding that taking a break from serious, constant writing is necessary to get inspiration, to get motivation and basically to hit a mental Refresh. I’m writing in little flashes, instead of my regular routine.

Right now, I’m working on writing prompts and a short story that became a sort of novella but isn’t a novel. It’s just a big fuzzy mess I can play around with, because I’m not working on it with a specific goal in mind. It’s there to work on when I step up to the plate to write—meaning, I’m meeting with my writer friends for a write-in or doing some mentoring with writing students.

Basically, it’s keeping me in the game until I’m ready to go off break and “clock in” rested, relaxed and refreshed.

Writing requires a lot of mental work, processing sensory details from the world, developing character identities and creating plotlines, and this work can be tiring without the balance of a three-dimensional life. Writing takes a great deal of brainstorming, thinking, evaluating, creating and, of course, revising.

Doing NaNoWriMo is a way to speed write through a draft of a novel or part of a draft, so that the characters and storyline are almost happening like real life, because every day, writers show up to do the inventing and creating. It’s quite the opposite of taking a break, but going all out for a project. That’s why I admire anyone who takes it on, both for the commitment and for the magic that seems to happen with fast, furious writing.

I did Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, when writers pick their word-count goals for the month. The first one, I did 15,000 words and the second, 20,000, which spurred me into writing a bunch of short stories, including the one that’s become a novella or something else that I haven’t figured out yet.

It’s all part of the process, going from rest and refreshing to serious, fully-engaged, fast, furious and also fun writing.