Shelley Widhalm

What are the Top 3 Lessons You Can Learn from Other Authors?

In Critique Groups, Critique Partners, Writing Advice, Writing Groups, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on May 31, 2021 at 11:00 am

Writers often work in solitude, but there are those times when community is great, just like for duckling families. Critique partners and group offer invaluable benefits for the mostly lone writer.

Writers work in solitude even if they do write-ins, because once they enter the story, the world falls away.

But they also likely need community—that can come from those write-ins where you meet for coffee or the like, chat a bit and start writing, as well as writing groups to critique each other’s work and writing conferences to learn about the craft.

I’ve been involved in all three and learned three important lessons from being around other writers.

First is Vision

I cannot work in a bubble.

I need others to point out where my writing gets muddy, my characters fall flat, my plot goes sideways or my pacing is s-l-o-w. I can revise and revise again, but there are things I miss because I’m too close to my work.

For that reason, I like working with a critique partner, where we trade work, or a writing group to get feedback on what’s not working in my manuscript. A partner or group can offer suggestions on how to fix the issues and ideas for making the story or characters even better—things I didn’t consider as I drafted my story.

I then like hiring an editor, either at the developmental or copy editing level, to get that professional line-by-line view of my work—editors are paid to pay attention to every nuance of a manuscript to help get it polished and ready for publication.

Second is Mission

I cannot work without motivation.

Writing is hard work, and it takes discipline. If I didn’t have a writing community to encourage me to keep going, I may take longer timeouts from disappointments. If I have to self-talk to pick myself back up, my thoughts might go circular, whereas a friend will tell me, “Don’t give up. I know you don’t want to. You’re a writer.”

For instance, wanting to be traditionally published means I face rejections from literary agents who immediately say no, or they ask for a partial or the full manuscript, then say no.

Being able to share that rejection conundrum and find that I’m not alone helps me keep going.

Third is Story

I cannot work without inspiration.

I find the successes of other writers who self-publish or get traditionally published a push for me to keep working toward my own successes: if they can do it, so can I.

With time, persistence and patience, writers can achieve their goals. If they don’t right away, they keep trying—failing is giving up, but stopping something and moving to something else is not failing.

Many times I’ve wanted to give up, but then, as a friend asked, how would you feel without writing? I can’t answer that question, because I’d feel empty.

Writing is what inspires me. It’s my mission statement. It’s my vision for being CEO of Writing, while Zoey, my miniature dachshund, is the CEO of Cuteness.

After Writing, What’s Next? Yep, Editing!

In Critique Groups, Critique Partners, Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 2, 2021 at 11:00 am


After putting your heart into your manuscript, it’s time to edit to catch those errors that, as a writer, are easy to miss! (Chalkboard drawing by Shelley Widhalm)

Writing a book takes hundreds of hours of investment, but does that mean it’s ready to send off to an agent or load up on a self-publishing platform?

For most writers, there’s one more step that makes books more appealing before handing it over to two types of readers: the agent who will say yes, or the audience who will want to purchase your book.

That step is editing the revised manuscript, which writers typically do solo, then with others. Editing offers professional expertise on the big picture of story development and the small level of grammar, mechanics and punctuation.

Developmental vs. Copy Editing

Developmental editors help with the structure of your novel. That includes many facets, such as plot and character arcs, main and secondary characters, setting, dialog, theme, pacing, conflict and tension, logistics and consistency in things like character and setting.

The second type of editor is a copy or line editor who gives a close look at every line of your text to check for grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and other mechanics of style. Proofreading is another step of editing and is a final edit of proofs before they are sent to the printer.

Before hiring either type of editor, go through a few drafts to get your manuscript in the best shape you can (this will save you on costs). Write the first draft fast and furious to get it out, forgetting about the internal editor that will slow you down and waste your time, unless, of course, you find a big problem in your story and need to go back to plotting or the other elements of writing.

Next, revise the manuscript on your own for at least one round, then work with partners, such as a critique partner or group, to identify issues with plot and character arc, conflict and tension that paces the story, and scene development

If you need help along the way at developing the story, hire a developmental editor to help shape it. Or if you’re ready to send it off to agents, hire a line editor to give it that final polish.

Why Hire an Editor?

The advantages of hiring an editor are many, including:

  • An editor will spend more time on it than a critique partner, since they are evaluating every line of text, checking for any errors in grammar, as well as things like logistics and action beats (a character does an action instead of “said” to carry along the scene).
  • An editor is trained in and regularly studies grammar and knows about the different style guides, such as Chicago Manual and Associated Press.
  • An editor is proficient in the nuances of comma usage, which is widely misunderstood, while also realizing there is individual style in punctuation that is part of voice, style and tone.
  • An editor cross examines your text for consistency in character traits, clothing and eye color, plus makes sure the setting and logistics are consistent from the start to the finish of a scene.

Lastly, editing varies from editor to editor. Writers are individualized in their styles and approaches to writing and revising. Editors, too, will bring different approaches, backgrounds and experiences to your project.

For instance, I’m good at noticing things like commas, word echoes and logistical problems. I also am a writer, so I understand what it’s like to be in both worlds, that of the writer and that of the editor.

Note: I provide editing, writing and ghostwriting services and can help you perfect your project from an article or blog series to a short story or novel. I also offer consultations on writing and editing through #ShellsInk at shellsinkservices.com.

Writing Conferences: Prepare, Pitch and Post

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2021 at 11:00 am

Northern Colorado Writers member Shelley Widhalm holds up her conference book from the NCW Conference in 2017, “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing.”

Going to a writer’s conference is like getting a micro-MFA but cheaper and faster.

And it’s a way to rise up through the ranks, if just a little.

Conferences, as well as webinars that have gained popularity since the pandemic, give attendees an opportunity to meet with literary agents one-on-one and edge out of the slush pile.

Meeting agents often happens in pitch sessions. Attendees can make quick verbal or written pitches to agents, trying to essentially sell their work in five or 10 minutes or in a few paragraphs. If there is a request, they typically are asked to submit a query letter and/or synopsis and a certain number of pages or chapters.

The personal connection, even if it’s online, gives extra attention to the pitch above that of sending it anonymously. It’s the next best thing to a personal request from an agent or a recommendation from another writer.

Conferences also offer an educational component for writers to grow their craft. Presenters at a conference, whether in-person or virtual, offer trade secrets about writing, editing and publishing. They provide ideas for improving your writing, inspiration and motivation to do that writing, and tips on the ins and outs of self-, small and medium-size presses and of traditional publishing.

I’m particularly excited for the 2021 Northern Colorado Writers Conference that is a mix of a day of in-person workshops on April 24 and a virtual conference April 27 to May 4. There will be sessions catering to a variety of genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry and screenwriting; networking events; and, my favorite, pitching opportunities to a lineup of six agents.

My attitude about conferences has changed since I attended my first NCW conference in 2014, long before the restrictions of the pandemic and when everything was in person. I sat in on a pitch session and was certain my YA was destined to be a best-seller, but when I didn’t get a little piece of paper inviting me to a second round of pitching, I headed to the bathroom. I went into a stall and cried, because I thought my dreams were over.

They weren’t, of course. I went to NCW’s conferences nearly every year since and continued to pitch, getting requests for partials and fulls. I did three rewrites and resubmits to one agent but eventually got a no. My takeaway is that I love writing and can’t give it up, even if I am not yet traditionally published—I want to be a debut author at a Big House and in the meantime self-published a small reference book in July 2020, “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication.”

Through my conference dedication, I picked up a few tips on being a conference attendee expert. My hot tips for being cool at the conference include:

  • Plan ahead on which sessions you want to attend; and don’t forget a notebook or laptop to take notes (both for virtual and in-person sessions).
  • Know which genre your work fits in; don’t just say fiction or nonfiction.
  • Prep for pitch sessions: research to find the best fit for your work and check the agent or editor’s websites, social media and other material online to identify what kind of books and writers they represent.
  • Prepare your pitch with a logline and synopsis. If you get a request, ask when and how you should submit your proposal or sample chapters and how best to contact the agent or editor.
  • If you learn that your work isn’t right for the agent or editor, don’t take it personally.
  • Follow up when you receive any kind of positive feedback from agents, writers and others.
  • If you’re attending the in-person session, take photos and post them. Tweet, blog, Facebook and engage in other types of social media to promote your writing and the conference.

Lastly, remember when you invest your money into a writer’s conference, you want to get a good ROI. You’ll get reenergized about the writing and editing processes and hopefully learn something new about you, the writer, and what keeps you going despite the temporary not-yets that you might hear.

Note 1: This blog appears in NCW’s March newsletter, “The Write Stuff.”

Note 2: I provide editing, writing and ghostwriting services and can help you perfect your project from an article or blog series to a short story or novel. I also offer consultations on writing and editing through #ShellsInk at shellsinkservices.com.