Shelley Widhalm

What’s up with Self-Improvement Month? (Think Writing/Editing!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Self-Improvement Month, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on September 13, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works on a writing project of writing a short story for Self-Improvement Month. She plans to enter the story in an anthology contest.

It seems there’s a month or day for most everything, so it’s fitting to have a month dedicated just to self-improvement.

With September being Self-Improvement Month, do you have something you’d like to improve in your own life? Is there a hobby you’d like to pick up or a behavior you’d like to engage in to be healthier? Hobbies expand your skill set and teach you something new, while living a healthy lifestyle helps you function better mentally and physically, and exercise is shown to reverse the effects of aging.

Take Steps toward Change

Self-improvement takes change, which can be difficult to do, but staying stagnant can be boring or frustrating. Change is best done in steps, instead of all at once. That way over time, the new activity, behavior or approach becomes routine without requiring a lot of self-convincing to get started or going.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, taking on too much may result in goal dropping by February—gyms are busy in January, but then numbers go down a month later. To start, cut out what’s not working then pick your goal.

If you decide you’re goal is writing or editing (that’s my subject of expertise), here are a few things you can do to turn the goal into a habit (something you do automatically without a lot of forethought).

To start, maybe you need to change your approach to the task and not look at it as something to fear or a chore to dread. I used to dislike editing my own work, but now I see it as a fun project because I get to cut, move things around and flesh out what’s flat or boring. To get to that point, I had to set up my editing routine with a list of goals, timelines, due dates and progress check-ins.

Establish a Routine

To get into a writing (or editing) routine, you can:

  • Create a writing plan to prioritize a set of goals that keep you dedicated and focused. You could write 30 to 60 minutes a day or two times a week, but plan for the same time and day, so that it becomes part of your schedule (and be sure to put it in your planner). Get started writing even if you don’t feel inspired simply by describing something in the room or counting syllables to write a haiku (it’s 5, 7, 5).
  • Break writing into smaller tasks, so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Set up mini-deadlines and items that you can cross off your to-do list. (I like to start my new lists with recent accomplishments that get a big checkmark, so I can remember what I just finished and feel like I’m in the middle of things, not just starting.)
  • Go backward, figuring out a final due date or deadline for a project and coming up with a list of tasks to get there. Write in an estimated completion time for each item on the list. Then schedule the items out, leaving a couple extra leeway days in case of interruptions.

Self-Congratulate

Once you finish your first writing or editing project, have a reward in place, doing something you normally wouldn’t do. Maybe go out for an extra nice dinner or buy a gift for yourself (I tend to pick boxes of fancy chocolate).

If you get through September with your new goals turned into routines or even habits, you can get ready for the long months of winter when you might be stuck inside. I find the cold weather is a good time to buckle down and get serious about my writing projects—during the warmer months, I tend to want to be outside and play. That’s why I’m glad Self-Improvement Month happens in the fall.

Outfitting the Writer’s Tool Kit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on August 30, 2020 at 11:00 am

My writer’s tool kit includes my bookshelf of writing reference books, which help spark the passion engine.

Every writer’s tool kit has different tools, but the most essential is the desire to write. It’s what keeps the passion engine going.

Learning about the elements of writing—storytelling, story structure and word usage—is similar to using an instruction manual to fix a car without the wrenches, pliers and other tools.

Diagnosing the problem, looking at a chart pointing out the parts of the car and reading about the necessary steps doesn’t mean the problem will be solved. The missing element could be the desire to do the work, or the confidence and skill to complete it so the car runs. Even if that passion is there.

The Work of Writing

Writing requires work, and to do that work, there needs to be motivation, discipline and, I believe, a love for some or several aspects of creating or the final creation. Do you love words, individually or how they sound in sentences? Do you love telling stories? Do you love solving story problems? Do you want to make readers feel? Do you want to feel?

Or maybe you like to see your name in print? Or to have finished something?

Writers need spark, just like cars need spark plugs to fire the ignition. For me that spark is a passion for words and getting lost in the story or poem I’m writing, so that what comes out feels like dancing and breathing and living, while I lose awareness of my physical self.

Setting Aside Writing Time

Like cars that need gas in the tank, writers need the space and time to be present for writing. If the tank drops toward the E, writers need to ride out their writer’s block or frustration with the knowledge that these emotions are not permanent.

I find that I get frustrated having so little time for writing.

The result is I save up words, emotions and ideas like money in the bank for when I do get to hang out with my laptop. I let go of my editor and inner critic, plus any negative emotions I have, because now it’s time for my date with QWERTY.

I schedule my writing time, not to specific days but to two to three times a week. I log in the hours I write, so I can see that, like an odometer marking the miles, I am making progress toward a goal. I get excited about every 5,000 words I finish in a novel’s rough draft.

The Writing Fuel

All of this is my fuel for not giving up when I am unpublished with a burning, driving, raging yawp to get my words out into the world. I want my words to be heard, read and even sung.

I don’t necessarily have a map with every step plotted out, but what I do have is a giant imagination, a spark of creativity without which I would fade and a passion for this art I cannot stop loving.

Editing in Rounds (to get the perfect polish!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Tips on July 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

Editing adds a final polish to your writing to make what you produce colorful and attractive, giving that flamingo effect!

Editing a novel or a manuscript can’t happen in one round—at least most of the time.

Like with writing, editing is done in layers and it takes time.

Editing can be done in different passes (think of rounds of beer) to identify the missing, the overdone and the boring.

The missing can be missing plot points, missing character identities or a lack of necessary scene description to anchor the character and action.

The overdone can occur through repetition and overwriting, such as creating similar scenes or putting in too much description or detail. For example, two beautiful sentences describing the same thing requires picking or combining but not keeping both.

The boring comes in with too much or too little—there’s too much description, too many main characters (it’s best to keep to one to five to allow for reader tracking and empathy) or too little happening in the action. The story falls flat without rising action, tension and a driving force that compels the character to chase her want (she ends up getting what she needs, not what she wants).

Editing in Rounds

I like to do my editing in four rounds. They are:

Round 1: Edit for Boring: Once I’ve completed my novel and set it aside for at least a month, I read the entire manuscript to see if there are parts that are boring or repeated. I call this my getting-rid-of-the-crap phase.

I dump the cuts in a cuts file and turn the overwritten pretty descriptions into poetry to fill my poem-a-day project that I started in 2015 (that’s another story).

Round 2: Edit for Arc: Once I’ve removed the rough bits, I get down to story. I like to use Nigel Watts’ eight-point narrative arc as a guideline to make sure I’ve included all the crucial elements in storytelling.

Watts outlines the eight points in any story as Stasis, Trigger, The Quest, Surprise, Critical Choice, Climax, Reversal, and Resolution. The main characters experience something that upsets the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads them to the story climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis, or the new normal.

Round 3: Edit for Pacing: I get down to the business of action and reaction, looking at where there is excitement—sentences are short and to the point to move the story along—and where there needs to be a pause in the narrative with description and character reflection.

I think about each action in the scene and determine if I’m slowing the pace with too much inner thought or character observation or leaving out information, such as stage direction and logistics. I also make sure characters doing one things don’t suddenly do another action without some transition, such as sitting and suddenly running without first getting up from the chair.

Round 4: Edit for Grammar: I polish the manuscript by looking at grammar, mechanics, punctuation, spelling and syntax (how words are put together). I get rid of annoying word habits—for me, my characters do a lot of looking, gazing, nodding and smiling (I’m glad they don’t frown though).

Final Editing

And lastly, I edit every time I get a rejection from a literary agent or feedback from my writers group. I keep editing until I get a “yes,” though it takes hours and hours of work.

Once I do my own editing, I hire an editor to give my work that final polish and to catch anything I missed. This step is particularly important for self-publishing to make sure the copy is clean and free of error, because too many errors in any of the rounds cause readers to doubt the quality of the work. I prefer the flamingo effect, beautiful, striking and eye-catching work!