Shelley Widhalm

Fires and Masks: I Can’t Breathe

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2020 at 11:00 am

Multiple fires across the state darken the skies in downtown Loveland, Colo., making for an eerie atmosphere.

As ash falls out of the sky, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop struggling to write my blog.

The sky is spooky, haunted and surreal as leaves shimmer gold against a smoke blanket. Ash coats sidewalks in small, blowing piles of destruction, and pieces of pinecones curl like oversized eyelashes.

It’s nine days before Halloween, and I feel anything but eidolic, only thinking about fun and candy.

Like everyone else, I’m trying to sort through the tragedies of 2020, how they all seem to focus on breath. First, the masks that cover our faces, then “I can’t breathe” leading to the BLM movement, followed by fires across the West that significantly lower our air quality.

Trifecta of Breathing

I can’t breathe as my heart breaks at how the sky literally feels like its falling, but in little white  and black pieces of life destroyed.

I can’t breathe as I run—I’ve moved inside and run in a gym, my mask in place.

I can’t breathe as I shame myself for my pivot from writing to editing. I’m not getting work fast enough. I might fail. And on it goes.

I started my writing and editing business nearly four years ago because I lost my reporting job at the local newspaper. When I got the pink slip at my journalism job, I gasped. Not me. I was told my position had been cut. I was laid off.

I couldn’t find a job. I started a business and gasped for breath as I tried to understand how to be a solopreneur. I read books. I met with consultants at the Loveland Business Development Center. And I called my brother, who owns a business, asking tons of questions.

After a couple of years, finally I felt grounded. My numbers were growing. It looked like I could quit my side gig job. And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. I lost two-thirds of my business, and over the months, built it up to half of a loss.

As we got shut inside, I increased my hours at my essential services gig job (just by 4 to 24 a week). I became more engaged in writing and editing my novels. I got obsessed with Zoom webinars on writing and editing.

Fires Recolor the Sky

And then the fires came. I didn’t want to write. I stopped blogging, thinking it felt like a chore. And then I missed it, just like I miss Colorado’s blue skies I took for granted until two months ago.

Each day, I wonder what color the sky will be. I wonder how it will feel to breathe again without thinking of facial coverings and falling ash.

I wonder if I’ll cough, if my chest will feel tight.

I don’t wonder about love and passion. I love writing, and I love editing, my breath givers.

What are yours? What do you love that is helping you through these hard times? What are three of your passions? What are three of your skills? What are three ways that you can reach out to others?

What makes you feel like you can breathe again?

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.