Shelley Widhalm

Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

Blogging: 2013 in Review, 2014 Plans

In 52: A Writer's Life, Blogging, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 29, 2013 at 11:00 am

I love and don’t love the end of a calendar year.

I love the fresh start, the new planner with blank pages and the resolutions that still hold promise.

What I don’t love is those resolutions that remain in my head as things I should do but that never get done.

This year, I had resolved to read more blogs and to promote my own blog, but what I ended up doing is a blog binge. That is, I filed away blogs to read and read them all at once every couple of months, never reading as many as I wanted or intended to.

Nor did I get into SEO, content optimization and building my reader numbers.

Instead, I wrote and threw my writing out into the blogosphere hoping that my blog would get attention all on its own.

I wrote about the writing process, the different elements of writing and the writer’s life, posting 50 blogs over 52 weeks in 2013. I had planned on 52, but had a couple of nice, pat excuses, like being sick or overwhelmingly busy.

As for 2014, I don’t know what my blogging goals are: maybe doing the same, or taking the advice of a writer friend, who suggested I come up with an area of expertise.

Hmm … I do want to rewrite my memoir about growing up with learning disabilities, but I’m not planning on doing that this year.

It will take a lot of internal digging (I blocked out a lot of things), typing up and then analyzing my diaries and journals (I’ve kept a daily journal since second grade), and interviewing family members and experts in the field.

This process will cultivate a lot of emotion, which I’ll have to process and sort through. I’ll have to translate what I feel, experience and remember into the story arc.

In my first attempt, I tiptoed around my emotions and told the wrong story (which bored my initial readers, including one who kept my manuscript for an entire year and read 20 pages).

At this point, my goal is to start that digging in baby steps, while also continue to write about writing.


Tips for Entering Writing Contests

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Contests on December 22, 2013 at 11:00 am

I gleaned a few tips for entering writing contests from articles I’ve clipped, conversations with writer friends and personal experience.

Most important when entering a writing contest is to only show your best work and work that has been polished.

Be selective on which contests you enter and enter those where winning guarantees publication in a reputable journal. Avoid contests that only consider winning entries for publication and contests that lack a website or mailing address.

Winning a writing contest or getting a story or poem published demonstrates to literary agents or publishers that someone other than family and friends sees merit in your work. It gives you an accolade to mention in any query letters you submit to literary agents for longer work. Plus, it gives you a shot of confidence to know that your hard work is acknowledged.

Before entering a writing contest, it’s important to:

• Get a sense of the taste and style of the magazine or journal.
• Follow the contest guidelines, themes and rules for entering.
• Research the final judge and read his or her work.
• Avoid entering simultaneous submissions; save them for non-contest entries.
• Keep track of your submissions on a spreadsheet, including contest name, entry date and deadline, title of the work and the entry fee, if required.
• Submit early and, if allowed, often.
• Avoid contests with large entry fees and low payouts to the winners.

Most of all, remember that contests are one of many paths to publication. Submitting to a journal or magazine during regular submission periods also can earn you those publication credits.

My (Writing) Contest Problem

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Contests on December 15, 2013 at 11:00 am

I think I have a contest problem.

My problem is not the kind where I enter so many contests to the point where I’m a contest-aholic, gambling away my money in entry fees.

It’s a matter of my attitude toward winning and losing.

I enter the occasional writing contest, hoping to get the big prize (money, an all-expense trip to a writer’s conference or a meeting with agents and editors). I enter to seek recognition for my writing through publication in a magazine or journal.

When I was a young writer, I expected to win every time I entered after receiving high praise from my secondary and college teachers for my academic writing – a least for the first two to three entries.

It didn’t take me long to realize contests are a matter of the publication’s style, the editors’ personal taste and competition among a multitude of talented writers, so that losing a few isn’t a reflection of writing quality and originality.

When I don’t win a contest and have the opportunity to read the winning submission, I don’t read the work fairly. I don’t allow myself to get lost in the story but immediately start evaluating style, use of language and voice. Oh no, I think, the writer used a cliché here, or wasn’t creative in expressing an idea or action there. Why did that writer get picked and not my wonderful short story or poem?

Earlier this year, I entered two nonfiction pieces in the Chicken Soup contests and thought, Oh, most certainly I have to win, because some of the entries are from non-writers who have amazing life experiences. But I’m a writer, and my life has had some interesting moments, so what I enter will have to wow the editors. The opposite happened. I didn’t get selected, so I asked, How come? How come!

I don’t intend to have a big ego – I actually don’t from getting lots of rejection slips – but I do try to protect my ego by putting down other writing. Of course, this is all in my head and never something expressed out loud. Does that make me a bitter writer? Or wishful? Or protective? I still want to think of myself as the nice girl. Hmm …

(See next week’s blog on tips for entering writing contests.)

Reflections on NaNoWriMo (and Writing in General)

In 52: A Writer's Life, Blogging, NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Every year, I come up with an excuse explaining why I don’t want to do NaNoWriMo, or participate in National Novel Writing Month in November.

The main hangar for me is I work and after work, I like to do a little writing, read and play. At the same time, I want to be with all the other writers meeting together to write like crazy or working alone, writing like crazy.

So this year, I told enough friends that I’m doing NaNoWriMo and put it on my Facebook account, so that I would be accountable. I didn’t want to tell people, “Oh, I quit after Day 2.”

First, I decided to write 50,000 words, cutting down my normal aim of 75,000 to 90,000 words for a full manuscript. However, I am back at the 70,000, maybe 80,000, words for my young adult novel, because I either write short – i.e. short stories – or long up to 100,000 words.

I usually don’t write with much of a draft either, but this time I planned ahead, mentally sketching out plot, character and setting. I wrote a 3,000-word short story for a 10-week Meetup class I took this fall that served as a starting point, so that I could fill in areas where I alluded to or glossed over possible action and character interaction.

I came up with a title, so that I already had a topic and an identity for my writing.

Add in that I didn’t have to find different subjects to blog about for a month, so I liked the idea of already having a template to use.

Now, I’ll return to blogging about writing and the writing life.

(Check out Zoey the Dachshund’s reponse to NaNoWriMo at

NaNoWriMo: Not the Finish Line

In 52: A Writer's Life, NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 1, 2013 at 11:00 am

I arrived at the NaNoWriMo finish line on Nov. 29, one day before the end of the 30-day challenge to write 50,000 words in one month.

As of Friday, I wrote 51,004 words in my young adult novel and am about two-thirds of the way through. I estimate that my novel will be 70,000 to 75,000 words and that I’ll finish it before Christmas Day. (I’m continuing NaNoWriMo into December until I reach the end of my very rough draft.)

I got so caught up in meeting my goal, I gave up a few things for the month, such as going out with friends (I went out once to see “Catching Fire” on opening weekend), spending lots of time with my dog, Zoey (she is mad at me), and blogging. I skipped two weeks of blogging despite my goal to blog weekly in 2013.

Anyway, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing daily:

• I actually wrote every day, except for five days of the 30, something I never do because I write for a living and come up with lots of excuses.
• I didn’t forget the beginning part of my novel, my character identities or the plot strings after setting aside my draft because I got busy with life and excuses.
• I got excited about writing after work and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen with my plot and characters.
• I focused on word count, instead of on the story elements, and got lost in the writing, so that it felt like I was just typing away without worries about what I was producing. I just didn’t care, because all I cared about was getting to at least 1,600 words each day. Oddly, by not caring, I had more fun and let the characters take over.
• I operated on adrenaline because I had to write my daily dose of 1,600 words, but I could take off a couple days because a few days I wrote 2,000 up to 3,500 words (well, that happened once).

My least productive day was 700 words.

As far as the disadvantages, I can only think of one: I didn’t have time for much else. I made sure I went to the gym every other day – I wanted to be in physical shape for all the time I spent sitting in front of my laptop.

NaNoWriMo is now a yearly mission.

Next time, though, I’m sending my dog to my father’s house, where she’ll have a big back yard for a month. That way I won’t have to feel guilty when I look at her pouty face.

See Zoey’s blog: