Shelley Widhalm

Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

Blogging Honor

In 52: A Writer's Life, Blogging, Writing on October 27, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Here’s the blog I wrote that ran as a guest blog Oct. 24 on mystery writer Patricia Stoltey’s blog,

Each Thursday, Stoltey, who lives in Northern Colorado, features a guest author who writes about writing and the writing life. The rest of the week, she blogs about the same topics, as well as getting published or whatever is on her mind.

Her books include “The Desert Hedge Murders” and “The Prairie Grass Murders.”

My blog is “On Finding my Words.” Please check it out.


Achieving Focus in Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on October 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

Being a writer can be lonely and frustrating, requiring solitude for the physical act of writing, and motivation, inspiration and discipline for the mental aspects.

When writing is the main part of a job that pays the bills, there’s no room for not being in the mood to write, because there’s the looming deadline.

As a reporter, I write in a noisy newsroom, though the writing act remains solitary. What differs is the adrenaline that pushes the writing and forces discipline and focus. I may spend an extra five minutes to come up with the lead, but after that, I mentally organize the article and write according to the inverted pyramid of placing the most important information on top with a quote high up.

It helps that I’ve done this hundreds of times and so, even though the subject and quotes may vary, I speed through my highlighted notes to assemble a story, followed by editing to make sure it flows, has a good structure and says what I intended.

I try to apply this same “stress” to my personal writing, even if I’m not accountable to anyone except myself. I often face a blank screen for my blogs or a short story I want to write, so without thinking too hard, I grab words or a visual image. Just go, I think. The clock is ticking.

My start might be rough, just like the squealing of tires as I rush off from the green light, but then I become absorbed in what I’m doing.

This absorption is a matter of focus, which, according to the thesaurus, is to draw toward a center, attract, converge and convene. The process of writing is a way to draw you into your mind, where your subconscious can be at play and you can experiment with ideas not fully formed by trying out various ways to express them on paper (or the screen).

Through the process, you are focusing to make an image clear, bring it out or give details.

By being focused, you enter into the writing, bringing your mind and body wholly there.

Writing focuses thoughts and ideas, while setting a schedule focuses you into the process. It’s a good idea to create a schedule with small chunks of time set aside dedicated solely to writing.

And then give deadlines for the projects you want to finish of one session, a week or however long you think you need.

And then acknowledge those accomplishments; just like seeing an article in print, this will give validity to your own writing.

Motivation to Revise

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Writing on October 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

Normally I’m not a procrastinator until it comes to editing my own work.

But once I start editing, I want to get to the end of it, so that I can say I’m finished. To complete my self-assigned task, I put in the time just so I can be done.

My problem is that editing a novel isn’t a one-time affair. It requires several revisions from the overall structure down to the grammar.

That means nine months later I’m still editing my nearly 90,000-word novel, “The Fire Painter,” about a 30-something artist named Kate who loses everything in an apartment fire and tries to get back her lost things.

In my fourth edit, which I finished in early July, I revised directly on the computer screen, reading the manuscript from start to finish. I noticed where I got bored and asked way.

I tightened up description to speed up the pace. I slimmed down the dialogue, noticing where it got repetitive or boring or included conversational fillers. And I looked at the beginnings of each paragraph to look for variety, cutting any repetitions of “the,” “I” or other words.

I read through Kate’s sections first to keep her story whole, seeing that there was a plot gap when I assumed a mention in the secondary character’s section was enough. I also noticed that I started two scenes one after another with Kate looking in her wardrobe deciding what to wear.

Nice catch there, I have to admit, because a wardrobe malfunction isn’t good, on stage or in a book.

I then took two months off before my edit on hard copy, where I tried to be a picky reader. I looked for missing elements and things I liked and didn’t like. I looked for inconsistencies. And I evaluated the depth of my main characters, adding to their voices.

Editing on screen allowed me to immediately make changes as I edited, while the paper version doubled the workload – I had to type in all the changes after making them in pen.

But editing on paper makes mistakes more glaring – black against white instead of on a computer screen with the programming tags on the borders. For me, editing this way feels more natural, growing up in the paper-and-pen world of the 1980s.

Procrastinating in Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on October 6, 2013 at 11:00 am

I used to consider myself a non-procrastinator, but maybe my self-view is a bit inaccurate.

In December 2012, I finished my literary novel “The Fire Painter” and set it aside for a month before my first revision. I figured I could finish the revisions by late spring, but now it is fall 2013, and I still have a couple more revisions to go.

To say that, for me, it takes a year to write and a year to revise isn’t entirely accurate either. Rather, I spent a year on my rough draft and another year – or close to it – avoiding the revision process.

I love my novel (I may be the only one who does so), but I really don’t want to read it again. I’ve read (and revised) it four times, more than any of my favorite novels, such as any of Jane Austen’s, Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” or “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” by Jamie Ford.

My not wanting to encounter the same story a third, fourth and fifth time could be yet another excuse.

Revising is painful, tedious and not-writing (unless you’re rewriting a scene or the whole book). It’s a matter of editing, copy-editing, fact checking, checking for accuracies and consistencies, and evaluating all the elements of story, including plot, character and setting.

It’s making sure the voice is compelling, the story is amazing and the plot falls together perfectly.

And it’s trying to craft that next breakout novel that makes the bestseller list with an original story, a new twist on a trend or a character not yet seen in literature.

At this stage of the writing process, revising and editing is work that takes a lot of time, motivation and effort.

And the motivation is where I find a personal lack. I can think of other things to do (even organizing something that doesn’t need organizing), as well as reasons why now isn’t the time to edit.

My excuses include:

• I should wait some more time because, as they say, you need to set your book aside.
• I already know the story too well, so I won’t find anything to change.
• I wish someone else would tell me how to fix whatever is wrong.

Despite these excuses, I eventually will go through yet another revision, set my book aside for a long period and make more excuses before returning to it again.


Because I’m a writer, and part of writing is revising, whether I like it or not.

(See next week’s blog on how I faced this next revision.)