Shelley Widhalm

Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Unlimited with Shrinkage? (plus thoughts on writing)

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

(My slightly off-topic rant from my regular exploration of writing, the writing process and being a writer)

The rant part: A couple months ago, I bought an Android smart phone with unlimited text and talk, but the salesperson “forgot” to mention my plan was unlimited with shrinkage.

Quite convenient for the corporation to be unethical and employ bait-and-switch practices, while also claiming that I had been informed via the sales call and a text message that my unlimited plan (i.e. infinite, boundless, unending and unrestricted, according to Webster’s) is not actually unlimited but carries with it the conditions of shrinkage, or that of growing smaller.

Granted, the word “shrinkage” was used in my welcome-to-your-lovely-new-plan message, but I hadn’t been smart enough to notice the word or the lie. I unwittingly took my place in the line of customer victims of corporate greed.

Shrinkage, in fact, is a product of the recession: food portions have shrunk, while prices have escalated (no free enterprise system is at play here, but that’s another topic of corporate greed and dishonesty); quality has decreased, particularly for fall-apart clothing from big-name retailers; and electronics and appliances have been designed to slow down or break, coupled with the constant need for upgrades.

What I’m talking about is products with poor quality, while the process is that of ___ (fill in the blank with “greed,” “money hunger,” “power hunger” …) to fill CEO and stockholder pockets.

Few strongholds remain against this voracious exploitation of humanity – everyone ends up being someone else’s customer.

The writing part: One stronghold against this shrinkage is the process and product of writing. Writers, or at least the ones who aren’t pumping books solely for profit, care about both product and process (see last week’s blog, “The Process vs. Product of Writing”), the result of which is an industry that isn’t out for power, profit and prevarication.

That is, we are unlimited in our desire to write when it is a passion, even during episodes of writer’s block, when there is no shrinkage (because we eventually will return to writing).

Writing is a process of a first draft, followed by several revisions, as well as of reading, living, experiencing and doing other writing to feed our main writing projects – for example, journaling and writing down inspirations and thoughts can inspire and lead to larger projects.

As for product, we aren’t trying to sell someone short but work hard to find an audience; after publication, we promote our product, do readings, continue building our platforms and write some more.

We do this, because we love both the process of writing and of reaching our readers, or customers of words and stories. We’re not trying to rip them off as the experience of both the process and product of writing becomes shared.

The experience is unlimited, without condition, because when good writing is being written and then read, a multitude of meanings and understandings unfold. This product is one that allows readers to read it once, come back to it again, ponder upon it, and not feel rejected, ripped off, used, manipulated or any of that, because it’s about being real, honest and true.

The Process vs. Product of Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on August 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

What is more real, the process of writing a novel or short story collection, or the book that results from having written, found an agent and gotten published?

For readers, that final product is the definable hard object, but for writers, especially for those not yet in print, I would guess that writing is both process and product.

Writing, and creativity for that matter, isn’t linear with the story coming out according to what happens next to fit perfectly into the traditional novel structure, as if all you had to do was fill in the blanks. Novels, excluding those that are experimental or on the extreme end of literary heavy in character’s interiors and light on plot, have an inciting incident that drives the main character(s) into loads of trouble from chasing after a want that can’t be had, at least not until the end.

Writing begins as thoughts, ideas and inspiration that, until spoken or written, consist of words, pictures, images and impressions. Writers can’t expect to fully form these musings before putting down some words and working through the various story elements of plot, character and dialogue.

Even during moments when the words flow at a rapid beat, pouring off the end of your fingers, the writing is in process without a clearly defined end. The writing happens almost as if you’re not consciously working through the unfolding of sentences and paragraphs.

In this way, one idea can generate other ideas, so that the writing builds toward something. You’re getting your thoughts down, while also thinking, pondering, questioning, discovering, planning, and considering and reconsidering. You’re trying things out, seeing what works and doesn’t work.

Thesaurus definitions of process include “to unfold,” “to bring forth,” “to bring out” and “to create by mental effort.” Product, alternatively, is “the thing that’s produced.”

But is the product final considering that agents, readers and the writer all will interpret and understand the writing, and hence the story, differently? Is the product when you know it’s ready and that nothing else can be changed, or is it when it has two covers and an imprint?

Book Clubs: For Readers/Writers

In 52: A Writer's Life, Book Clubs, Shelley Widhalm on August 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

Readers who love books and talking about books join book clubs, but writers who do so can double dip, literally.

They can improve their analytical skills in reading, while also discovering what makes for good writing that appeals to a cross-section of readers.

I discovered this fact after I joined a book club that meets monthly at the Barnes & Noble in Fort Collins.

We each make a recommendation about what we want to read, and as a result compile a laundry list of titles. Since I’ve joined, we’ve read “The Forgotten Garden,” “Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English,” “The Language of Flowers,” “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” and “Falling Together.”

Book clubs are a way to discover books and authors you wouldn’t find on your own and to sample new genres, particularly if you’re part of a general club that tries to appeal to all of the readers in the group.

In my group, the members ask questions and notice aspects about the book that I didn’t catch, because everyone, of course, has a different perspective and worldview. For instance, one of the members is from England and brought in her own experiences with English tea time when we discussed “The Forgotten Garden,” by Kate Morton.

I’ve seen what life elements, including personal, social and political, readers will bring to a discussion, adding to the background of what I know about the book’s setting and circumstances.

All of this together enriches my reading experience, causing me to look deeper at what I read, as well as pay closer attention to plot and character development, so that I know what the other readers are referring to in the discussion.

In addition to improving reading skills, being part of a book club can help a writer:

• Learn what readers of different interests like that’s the same or different.
• Identify the types of characters they like and what, to them, makes for a good character description.
• Pinpoint where they get bored in the plot.
• Find out if they like how the dialogue is carried out and if it’s realistic to them.
• Figure out what they like about each writer’s style and voice.
• Discover what they first notice about the book.
• Find out why they dislike certain books and love others.

At the end of each hour-long discussion, the members rate the book on a sale of 1-10. A good book gets mostly 9s and 10s, while a mediocre book gets 4s to 7s. A book also can get mixed reviews.

After the discussion, I like to ponder the ratings to figure out why the book got that rating. This helps me get a peek into the reader’s mind, though, as a writer, I won’t write to that reader unless I’m starting with something already within myself that needs expression.

The Advantages of Writing Groups

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 4, 2013 at 11:00 am

Joining both a book club and a writer’s group cross pollinates the writing process.

This I have found from my membership in two writer’s groups – Rocky Mountain Christian Fiction Writers and Our Weekly Writers’ Workshops meets … Under the Cuckoo Clock – and a book club that holds monthly meetings at Barnes & Noble in Fort Collins.

The Weekly Writers’ Workshop, which I joined in 2008 to get back into writing, starts each meeting with a writing prompt, followed by a group edit of the work we bring in.

From being a part of this group, I learned new concepts, such as the definition for character arc and what is a word echo (the repetition of a word or phrase within the same paragraph or on the same page).

I improved my editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.

And I kept to a writing schedule, wanting something to submit each week for our accountability reports.

At the RMCFW group, which meets monthly, we read a chapter or two from a writing book and then the next month bring in a response to a writing assignment related to the book or a few pages from our current project.

Because of the assignments, I’ve written stories that I would not have thought of without the prompt. I’ve seen how other writers interpret the chapters, expanding what I notice and recall from each chapter. And I’ve remembered the material, because learning new facts and ideas is easier through repetition.

By being part of these two groups, I’ve also realized:

• Words and phrases said out loud read differently than they appear on the page, helping identify where things are stated awkwardly or fail to read smoothly.
• Hearing writing read aloud helps catch grammar mistakes and missing words or grammatical marks.
• Other writers can help point out any weak areas in plot and character development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing. For example, my writers’ groups have helped me tighten dialogue by deleting unnecessary pieces of conversation that don’t move the plot forward.

By joining a writers’ group, you can get help with brainstorming plot or other elements and hear a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written. Each writer notices different things, doubling or tripling your editing effort.

A writers’ group serves as a writing community, providing you with people who care about your successes and commiserate with you when you run into obstacles with the writing and getting-published processes.

Next week, I’ll look at how book clubs can improve reading but also writing.