Shelley Widhalm

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

A Writer’s Santa Wish List

In Frustration, Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 25, 2011 at 10:30 am

I’m long past the time of believing in Santa Claus, but like a few adults, I wish I could believe in the Christmas wish list.


Faith carries the writer through the frustrations of sitting on piles of completed but unpublished manuscripts.

And faith is what is required for believing in the North Pole resident who delivers wishes in exchange for milk and cookies.

If I were to mail off my wish list for writers, it would contain some essentials, including:

* A room of one’s own, or a place to write that is comfortable but also fosters excitement and imagination.

* Time to write in that place.

* Some sort of financial backing that allows for that writing (juggling a full-time job with writing doesn’t open up the space for creativity but limits it to certain hours, likely when the writer is tired, at least for me).

Beyond the essentials of who, what and where, there is the how of being a writer.

A writer, I believe, needs to constantly observe and participate in life, both through being there and a part of things and reading about it.

This gives the writer something to write about, at least from external influences, added to the given internal dialogue, reflections and thoughts.

Studying through reading writers’ magazines, taking classes and attending conferences also adds to what a writer knows about the process.

But what is absolutely essential is that snap-and-pull attraction toward words without which there wouldn’t be anything to who you are. Words and how they sound and feel in the mouth and the ear are the foundation of the passion, at least for me.

The salt is the way I am lifted out of myself into the beauty of letting my fingers trill over a keyboard as I create out of the rhythm of my breath.

Dear Santa,

Please do not let my frustration break my heart.
I guess that is my only real wish.


The Plot-Sentence Question

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 18, 2011 at 7:00 am

Is it plot or the sentence that’s the problem?

Beginning writers can have pretty sentences that go nowhere, or they can have plot without the other elements of good writing.

That’s what young adult author Brenna Yovanoff, who visited the Loveland Public Library last week, has found to be the case from her multiple years of experience writing short stories and publishing two novels, including her New York Times bestseller “The Replacement.”

I have to agree.

My first attempts at writing had the adornment of store windows decorated for the holidays, sparkly, colorful and attention grabbing. But they lacked the building holding the windows in place.

What I wrote had a scantily clad plot, without setting and character development to color my created world with people, places and things.

Everything I did was an attempt without story. My characters acted but without the goal that drives them through each scene until they overcome some obstacle to get what they want or realize that they didn’t want, but learning something even better along the way.

I had to do a lot of research – I read books and magazine articles about the writing process – to understand the structure that holds stories together.

This structure encompasses the plotline from beginning to end with the arising conflicts, whether inner or outer, and tension between characters or forces serving as the scaffolding. Otherwise the plotline would be flat moving from Point A to B to C and on and on.

I didn’t understand what some would call formula, but what I now know is elemental to writing a novel.

Plot is what gets readers turning the page, escalating their desire to find out what happens until the last page. Sentences and how they are written, or an author’s style and voice, is what gives writing individuality, so that no other writer can tell a story just how you, the writer, has to. Pretty sentences and all.

The Motivation Struggle

In Frustration, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 11, 2011 at 7:00 am

Motivation is like an oil slick – pretty on the surface, but it can catch you off guard if not taken seriously.

As a writer, I constantly struggle with finding and sustaining my motivation unless I’m involved in a project. When I’m writing a novel or working on a short story, I follow a schedule and get my butt in the chair, and I write.

I don’t churn the excuses, at least when I have a direction and a goal that are integral to being motivated.

When I don’t have that direction, I get lost in my desire to write without control of where, when, how and what. I may have a general objective of wanting to write, but it’s not enough. I let life get in the way, like my 9-to-5 job, sleeping, eating, reading and seeing friends.

I am not smart enough to think 15 minutes is enough to create.

I want a block of time that is two hours or more, believing that like a runner setting her pace, I can’t sprint through words. Plus, I don’t want to be tired or hungry, and I believe that my house has to be clean. Excuses, I know.

To recharge my motivation batteries, so to speak, I try the following:

  • Set a schedule and, if I can’t carry out a writing session, readjust.
  • Mark down the hours I work to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished.
  • Notice what is around me that I find inspiring, such as how leaves sound on pavement or the touch of winter air on the skin.
  • Try to find spaces of time and place during the day that can be used for writing, even if it is a line or two.
  • Don’t be afraid to write, and don’t allow for excuses not to write.

Even though I know these things, I sometimes let a bad mood, being tired or working long hours become a roadblock.

I forget that I have to make writing a daily dose that without which I notice my energy slip away. I need that goal in front of my face as a constant reminder that there is a reason I write: I love to do it. I know this to be true when I am writing, not when I am thinking about it, avoiding it or wondering when I can do it.

The Frustration-Motivation Question

In Artists, Frustration, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 4, 2011 at 7:00 am

The opposite of motivation, I believe, is frustration.  

As a writer (I wrote a couple of novels and hundreds of poems), I find it frustrating that I keep writing and writing and am not published, but I can’t fathom the idea of stopping. I am motivated to write, but on the flip side of that, I’m frustrated that what I write gets sucked into a big vacuum of “whatever.”

I’m not trying to engage in self pity.

Instead, I want to explore the word’s meaning. Frustration is the result of encountering obstacles to a goal or a project. It can be a feeling of being stuck, of not getting anywhere no matter what you try to do – a feeling that left unresolved can crystallize into anger.

Motivation, on the other hand, is the desire to do something and the drive to carry out a goal. It is what causes you to act.

How can you turn frustration into motivation?

First, remember your original goal or what you want to accomplish.

Keep track of the steps you take toward that goal, taking credit for each accomplishment.

And realize that setbacks will happen.

I can write all of this off the top of my head, but I still let frustration come into my day.

For instance, I have to work a regular job and can’t spend the time I want to, when I want to and how I want on my art. I want to pick up my bags and travel all over, gathering experiences to craft into words.

But if I stop to think about it, my desires are unrealistic. It’s expecting life on a silver platter.

Artists have to earn their place; otherwise, how will they encounter the angst they need to produce the beauty that lifts off the wing of its opposite, that of pain? If artists are given it all, how can they be motivated to explore the depths of difficulty instead of riding through the easy?

Frustration, I think, keeps me propelled onward as I write out my soul in the hope that someone somewhere will listen. Motivation does the same thing, so that I have to fight to keep both emotions in balance.

I need the frustration, or the dark, to experience the lighter, happier side of motivation – it’s like dancing, singing, living and being free just because I have words to take me there.