Shelley Widhalm

Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Top 12 Writing Tips

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on July 28, 2013 at 11:00 am

Over the years, I’ve collected notes about writing habits and the process of writing that I use for inspiration, especially when I feel discouraged.

Here are my top 12 writing tips:

• Write as much as you can, but not necessarily every day, especially if writing isn’t your full-time job. Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week, two hours each time (which is my new goal now that I’m almost finished with my latest novel writing project).

• Get rid of distractions in your life while you’re writing, and don’t invite in the critic. Both can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or to invite in writer’s block.

• Don’t wait for inspiration. It can come to you when you’re already working. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.

• Have more awareness, using all the senses when making observations and creating scenes.

• Write when you’re not writing by describing what you see, hear and feel as a running mental description. Write down whatever seems compelling.

• Figure out what is most essential, most loved for you to write about. Write about what interests you, what you want to learn about and, of course, what you know.

• Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.

• Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that, with fiction and poetry, you’re not in total control of it. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.

• Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, the story unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the story down, then fine tune it with details, nuances and deepening of the plot, character and setting. Revise and revise again.

• Accept that writing is supposed to be hard.

• Focus on the process instead of the results. Enjoy that process.

• And, last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.


Elements of Poetry

In 52: A Writer's Life, Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 21, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Unlike writing novels, writing poetry is a little freer in structure, especially if it’s outside of form.

A novel requires a beginning, middle and end, tension and conflict, a climax and the structural elements of setting, plot and characters.

Poetry is about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. The shape poems take ranges from free verse to a fixed form, such as a sonnet, sestina, villanelle or haiku, or prose poem.

Fixed forms have a specific meter, rhyming scheme and syllable count. Prose poems bridge poetry and prose with writing that is poetic, while looking like prose as a block of text filling part of a page.

Free verse poetry is the most open form of poetic writing that doesn’t use a specific meter or syllable count or employ a consistent rhythm and sound. The form is open while engaging any of a variety of poetic devices to add musicality to the words.

These devices can include alliteration, or the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds; and rhyme and slant rhyme, rhyming between two words that are identical or nearly identical.

Poems can achieve a variety of purposes. They can have a musicality that comes from the tempo of the words, or the feel they create as they are spoken or read, as well as how they are put side by side and down the page.

Poems can tell a story and have a plot with the novel’s beginning, middle and end but in a smaller space. Or they can capture a single moment, image, thought or emotion.

They communicate through sounds, which appeal to feeling the same way music does as the words become the music.

Writing poetry is an individual art, but to prompt the process, there are several ways to enter a poetic state of mind. Try to:

• Use the senses – those of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting – when making observations.
• Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
• Write in different places, such as a garden versus an alley.
• Choose a title for your poem, then write from that point. Or choose a topic, an experience or a feeling you want to write about and compare it with something concrete like a pigeon on a window ledge to express risk-taking.

Lastly, think about the intent of the poem and the feelings to be expressed and say it in a fresh way. Trust your subconscious, which makes connections your conscious mind might not readily make. And surrender to your writing.

The fun side of writing (plus a little structure)

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

Sometimes I wonder why I write when I could be out playing.

As a journalist by day, I conduct research, interview sources and write feature and news articles, spending at least half of the 40-hour work week writing.

After work, I want to write some more, or at least I think I do. I have the usual excuses of I’m tired, I don’t know what to write about, I’ve already been writing all day and I want to be doing something else. Anything.

Recently, I’ve learned two things about writing outside of the work life.

First, it’s important to schedule time for writing. One of my writer friends came up with a great plan that isn’t stressful, while freeing her of the guilt of not writing. She agreed to write for one hour two times a week and for two hours once during the weekend, or four hours a week.

“You can get a lot of writing done that way,” she said.

I am trying that plan, writing or editing three times a week. As for hours, I let it be open.

Second, writing should be entirely about having fun, at least before you’re published and have to consider the needs and requirements of your bosses that include your agent, editor, publishing house and readers. A published writing friend told me that though she still gets joy out of writing, she has deadlines and has to treat her writing like a job.

So, when writing is just about the process, here is what I consider makes writing fun, a joy and my passion:

• I get to use the thesaurus, think about word usage and play around with language.
• I come up with ways to describe things that I wouldn’t normally think about through simple observation. When I write down words for a description, they build on and contrast against each other, so that I discover something in the object, landscape or whatever else that I wouldn’t have noticed through only my senses.
• I learn things about human interaction and behavior I wouldn’t have otherwise through only living life without the written reflection. I get to pause and reflect on how people act and engage in dialogue with each other and spend time alone in order to develop my plot and character arcs and storylines. (For example, dialogue in writing requires conversation to be shortened to quicken the pace of the story by leaving out the uninteresting, non-telling bits that slow down the telling.)
• I learn new facts in a variety of subjects, from history to biology, as I research details for my stories.
• I experience life in ways that are different from three-dimensional living by going into two dimensions, writing out what could be lived if the characters I created were real.

Finally, the more I write on paper, the more I go about living writing in my head, so that my thoughts are richer, more interesting (at least to me) and help me grow into a more reflective, thoughtful, creative and imaginative person.

Character Arcs explained

In 52: A Writer's Life, Character Arc, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 7, 2013 at 11:00 am

After reading “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer, I couldn’t figure out why some of my writer friends called it popcorn, poorly written material.

At a party last month, I asked one of those friends to explain, particularly because I had gotten caught up in the young adult story and liked the characters, though now I can’t remember their names and had to look them up (Bella Swan and Edward Cullen). That should have been a clue right there. Memorable characters have memorable names, like Scarlet O’Hara, Scout, Jay Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennett and the couple Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley.

One writer friend said that the point-of-view character, Bella, who falls in love with Edward, a sexy vampire whose extreme beauty is almost un-human, doesn’t change.

In other words, there is no character arc for her where she undergoes some kind of transition and learns something in the process. She’s just a pretty girl who ends up with the vampire boyfriend.

A character arc demonstrates the point-of-view character’s growth process through the unfolding of the story through beginning, middle and end. Without a character arc, which is graphed as a curve alongside the plot, the story becomes a series of events lacking anything tying them together.

The character has to want something, or she already has what she wants and loses it. She has a certain viewpoint at the onset that changes by the end. She is impacted by the plot, and as a result changes and grows.

The character arc is the line of movement in the story as this character faces her flaws, fears, attitudes and limitations and overcomes them to get what she wants or needs but does not initially recognize or acknowledge. When she faces her flaws, she is forced to face the truth about herself and as she does so, is able to consciously choose to change or not to change.

The inner or outer journey she undergoes from beginning to end causes growth and transformation of who she is. A negative arc will take her from a good place to bad, while a positive one takes her from bad to good. An arc that isn’t so clear cut allows her to achieve some of what she wants or needs, but not everything.

Regardless, she is a different character at the end of the book and not the same old Bella, or beauty, she was at the beginning.