Shelley Widhalm

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Snow Cougar (the poem and the photo)

In 52: A Writer's Life, Poetry, Shelley Widhalm on May 26, 2013 at 11:30 am

Cougar sculpture outside Anthology Book Co., in Loveland, by Rosetta.

Cougar sculpture outside Anthology Book Co., in Loveland, by Rosetta.

Snow cougar:

Cougar in a snow robe
mask slipping on her nose,
raccoon white shrouded eyes,
brass hip exposed,
stationary through the seasons,
she rises above the cement bench
risky limbs sliding off one ledge
tail curled in anticipation
she’s willing to wait
for the next young man
to sit.


Writing Quality vs. Product Quality

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 19, 2013 at 11:00 am

As the quality of everything else declines, writing quality remains high for writing contests and publishing houses.

This is an interesting consequence of the Great Recession.

Fewer buyers in the market decreased demand, but companies and CEO’s wanted to retain profitability. Buyers, who are not ignorant though treated as such, were forced to purchase lower-grade items, do without or pay high-end prices for items that also have declined in durability and appearance, but not as much.

This quality has plummeted in two noticeable areas, that of clothing and food. Both have gone up in price, while becoming low-grade.

In the area of clothing, jeans now include 1 or 2 percent spandex, so that they do not have to be cut for each size but can use one pattern. Cotton looks nappy in the store, as if the threads are popping out. And material is thinner, sometimes almost see through, seams are poorly stitched, and zippers and other notions are flimsy.

As for food, portions are smaller, ingredients are cheaper lacking taste, and prices are higher.

We are wearing clothes that look used when just purchased, hang sloppily and don’t fit properly. We’re eating food that’s practically doubled in price. And we’re putting up with this.


Yet, we are the readers who demand high-quality literature from a shrinking publishing market. And we get this quality, because literary agents and publishing houses have more to select from with less room to publish.
Alternatively, retailers, restaurants and grocery stores aren’t catering to anybody but their own bottom line.

So I ask, why the difference?

Writing Dream

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 12, 2013 at 11:00 am

Since I was in the sixth grade, I knew I wanted to write professionally, but I also knew I had to work to get there.

I wrote a novella I called “Me, Lisa,” about a sixth-grader’s reactions to going through her parents’ divorce. It starts with quote marks, does not establish a clear setting in the first few pages, has flat characters and lacks true-sounding dialogue.

Of course I was a child, and definitely not a savant writer able to produce genius-level material without life experience, years spent writing and knowledge of the art and craft.

First, I needed to put in my 10,000 hours, at least if I take to heart the advice in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers: The Story of Success,” which asks what makes high achievers different.

After 16 years of working as a journalist, I probably clocked in about 32,000 hours (this, minus my two weeks of vacation each year), but all of that time wasn’t spent on writing. I had to conduct interviews, make phone calls, attend meetings and do research. As a result, I maybe spent one-third of my working time on writing, or about 10,600 hours.

My hours mean I’m proficient in news writing and have reached a professional level there.

It does not mean, as I’ve learned from my research and conversations with other writers, that I’m at that level in creative writing.

This would require another 10,000 hours.

Two years ago, I began tracking my novel, short story, blog and poetry writing hours. I averaged 5 to 10 hours a week, but sometimes wrote 0 or 15, depending on my schedule and motivation level.

If I take 10 x 52, I get 520, or slightly above 500 hours of creative writing time a year.
Given my on-again, off-again relationship with writing, I probably am halfway to the 10,000-word mark. This means, as I’m editing my fourth novel, “The Fire Painter,” I probably have to write a couple more books to reach the experienced professional level.

Writers get published before or after they put in the hours and life experience, plus studying of the craft. This occurs as a result of luck, persistence, networking and writing ability, plus final product. What it means is writers are treated as professionals when they are published, even without the experience to back it up. Whether or not this is fair is not the question.

It’s just the way it is in a competitive market.

And writing has to be about the love, plus putting in the hours. What comes of it is the gift.

A Quiet Writer who Likes Noise

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing group on May 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

The writing space is exterior to and, for me, opposite of the interior process of writing.
Mine has to be noisy, though I’m an introvert who likes quiet.

I need downtime from my day job as a reporter, avoiding scheduling too many social things after work, because without time to myself, I cannot put on my cheerful, confident persona the next day. I become exhausted, daydreaming about when I can next hang out alone.

So, why I need noise to write seems like a contradiction.

The noise I need is particular – that found in a coffee shop.

I’m not singular in this need, as I’ve read accounts of many other writers who treat coffee shops and cafes as their come-and-go-as-you-please office spaces.

Quiet, for me, is not stimulating, but peaceful for thinking, doing chores or reading. But too much of it is not ideal for creating. I can’t get lost in myself if it’s just me and the silence.
With noise, I might be distracted as I start to write, but after a few sentences, I lose the world and enter my created one.

The partially overheard conversations, the growl of the espresso machine, the hiss of the frothing milk and the barista’s “What can I get you?” floats in and out of the space around me, offering a stimulation that keeps the nosy part of my mind active.

It’s as if one part of my mind is processing the exterior world, while another activates the interior world. I have a setting outside of myself for the setting I’m trying to create within my story world.

In essence, I need the exterior noise and chatter to help me access my interior quiet as I straddle both worlds.

(Note: This blog was inspired after I read Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”)