Shelley Widhalm

Running and Writing (and getting inspired)

In Running, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on March 4, 2018 at 6:00 pm

Going for a run and sitting down for a writing session require the same grit.

The obvious reason is the discipline, showing up day after day to get fit and maybe lose weight or to sharpen skills.

Various writers approach that grit in different ways: by writing 1,000 words a day or for a certain length of time, going for writing sprints, setting writing goals and incrementally meeting them, and doing things like writing a short story a week or the rough draft of a novel in a month.

Writing the first few times may be crappy—for new writers, figuring out how to translate what’s learned about the elements of writing into structure or overwriting or underwriting a messy first draft. The first draft can be too much with too many details, repeated scenes, dialog that drags and too many characters not doing anything; or, it can be too little with scene jumps, jumps in logistics, a lack in transitions and underdeveloped plot, character, setting or dialog.

Running daily incrementally builds muscle, increases metabolism and improves lung capacity, while doing it here and there is nice, but won’t change the body in any noticeable way. I ran my way three sizes smaller and wrote my way into lots of copy, noticing how both become easier through time and practice.

The less obvious similarity between running and writing is that it can be a real pain to do both. I don’t always want to go for a run, particularly at the end of a long work day when I’m already tired. I feel like I don’t have any energy until I get into the third, fourth or fifth lap, and then muscle memory takes over. Oh yeah, this is how running works.

I don’t always want to write, particularly after coming off of a sprint, such as a National Novel Writing Month activity in April, July or November.

I have to force myself into the chair and say just write. It doesn’t matter the result, and then the looseness of freewriting without the annoying boundaries of the internal editor or the need to write something good fall away. Muscle memory takes over, and I count the laps and the words, getting somewhere just because I showed up.

It’s habit, discipline, practice and wanting to change shape—fit in body and fit in my writer’s hand—that gives me that running and writing grit.


Join in on National Fairy Tale Day (plus other national days)

In Fairy Tales, National Fairy Tale Day, Writing, Writing Advice on February 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm

There seems to be a national day for everything, so every day could be a holiday.

The National Day Calendar identified 1,500 national days, weeks and months, giving writers and bloggers plenty of topics for writing.

Pick a day, and automatically there is a subject.

Here are a few from the month of February that have to do with dogs and friendships, two subjects I favor.

National Days in February:

  • 7: National Send a Card to a Friend Day
  • 11: National Make a Friend Day
  • 20: National Love Your Pet Day
  • 23: National Dog Biscuit Day

Also on Feb. 26, it is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, a perfect topic for conversationalists, storytellers and writers. The unofficial holiday encourages reading, telling and listening to fairy tales.

Fairy tales are a genre of children’s literature featuring fantastical and magical characters, such as fairies, elves, trolls and witches, and usually are told in short story format. They follow what once were oral histories, myths and legends told around the fire or by traveling storytellers.

Before the 17th century, fairy tales were mainly written for adults. Over time, they became a way to get children to behave or to teach them a lesson, but many would be considered too violent and inappropriate for current standards.

Today, using the term fairy tale refers to happy events and happenings, such as a fairy tale ending or fairy tale romance or weddings.

To celebrate fairy tales:

  • Reread a favorite fairy tale or watch a movie based on one.
  • Write a fairy tale with a fantastical or magical character, a lesson and a happy ending.
  • When writing or telling a fairy tale, be sure to engage the audience and invite children to participate in some of the motions of the story.
  • Use repetition, which is key to children’s stories to get them engaged and help them remember the story. The repetition prepares them for the next round of repeated phrases.
  • Use different voices for each character to create drama for the character interactions and action of the story.
  • Ask questions to retain attention and to offer opportunities to review the story and expand on the lessons and information there.

One Last Note:

Share your favorite fairy tales with family and friends or post, blog or send them your creations. Use #TellAFairyTaleDay to post on social media.

Comparing Coffee and Writing

In Description, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on February 18, 2018 at 8:00 am


Coffee and writing are two loves that go well together.

I hate when I order a fancy coffee drink and the cup gets bathed in the overflow.

But I love that my drink has a flavor, an appearance and a texture inside the cup and that observing those details gets rid of the annoyance.

Observing, absorbing and noticing details are essential to writing, giving a caffeinated thrill to the development of plot, character and dialog. Describing the details is essential to storytelling instead of hurrying the story along through the action of the plot.

Why Description is Important

Description brings to life what happens along the storyline.

To provide that description, use the senses and choose words carefully, making sure every word has a purpose. That purpose can be establishing setting, developing character or moving the plot forward.

Verbs are a key component of description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. The river spit onto the rocks is more descriptive than the bubbling river.

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “blue-eyed, blonde-haired, tongue-tied girl.”

What to Avoid in Description

There are a few other things to avoid in descriptions, such as:

  • Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. For example, saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours.”
  • Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
  • Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Tree and bird are general nouns, as opposed to a birch oak or maple and a cardinal or robin.

A Final Thought on Description

Description is what fills the pages of a story. Without it, action would fall flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.