Shelley Widhalm

Archive for March, 2014|Monthly archive page

Tips for Writing Conferences

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Conferences, Writing Processes on March 23, 2014 at 11:00 am

When you invest your money into a writer’s conference, you want to get a good ROI, or return on investment.

Conferences offer ideas for improving your writing, inspiration and motivation to do that writing, tips on the publishing world and opportunities to meet with agents, editors and writers.

To get that ROI, there are a few things you can do to prepare. I will be taking my own advice (by reviewing what I’ve learned from writing magazines and books) to the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference March 28-29.

The conference offers workshops on elements of writing, author panels, agent and critique roundtables, and social events that bring together published and aspiring writers, editors and agents. While there, I hope to learn something new about the writing process and gain new perspectives on what makes for good writing

Here is some of the advice I’ve gathered about making the most of attending a conference:

• Plan ahead on which sessions you want to attend; and don’t forget a notebook to take notes.
• Know which genre your work fits in; don’t just say fiction or nonfiction.
• Prep for the pitch session or agent roundtable: research to find the best fit for your work; check the agent or editor’s websites, social media and other material online to identify what kind of books and writers they represent.
• Prepare a three-sentence pitch of your project with the title, hook and basic premise. Have a one-page explanation of you and your project, along with the first few pages to hand over if interest is expressed. If it is, ask when and how you should submit your proposal or sample chapters.
• Approach editors and agents in the right way, such as in a social setting or following a workshop, not when they are engaged in another conversation, in the restroom or eating. Ask them if they want to be solicited and, if so, how best to contact them.
• If you learn that your work isn’t right for the agent or editor, don’t take it personally.
• Plan to network, which includes bringing business cards (preferably with your photo), and don’t stay tied to your friends, because you might miss out on meeting new connections. Follow up with emails, but no more than two if there is no response.
• Follow up when you receive any kind of positive feedback from agents, writers and others two weeks after the conference.
• Take photos and post them. Tweet, blog, Facebook and engage in other types of social media.

(See Zoey’s blog on Dog Conferences for Dogs Only at


The (Birds), the Bees and the Writers

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Processes on March 16, 2014 at 11:00 am

What goes on in a typical honeybee hive can give a glimpse into what we do as writers.
Honeybees communicate with each other by moving in patterns, doing something called the waggle dance.

One of their moves is the figure 8 to communicate if flowers are far away and in a circle if the flowers are close.

Writers need to waggle dance with words to get out of their comfortable patterns and discover new connections, analogies and descriptions. Poets, in particular, play with the dictionary and thesaurus and engage in word games to expand how they normally use language.

The typical honeybee hive has the very precise number of 4,764 bees and three types of bees, the workers, drones and one queen.

Worker bees, which are female, do most of the work, hence their name. They build, clean and guard the hive, take care of the queen, feed all of the bees in the hive, care for the young bees, collect pollen and nectar from flowers as food for the hive, and make honey for food.

They travel to about 50 to 100 flowers each time they make a trip out of the hive and, with the other bees in the hive, travel up to 55,000 miles to make one pound of honey.

Writers have to travel (even if it’s just in their hometown), experience and live to gather enough observations to be able to write a few sentences and stories. Mastery takes thousands of hours of practice and layers and different types of work, from reading, freewriting, writing, editing and learning from other writers.

Being good at something, even having a talent as a starter, doesn’t instantaneously result in producing great work.

Writers, like the worker bees caring for the young, need to care for their words, their writing and what they experience, feeding it all with time, energy and imagination.

Honeybees have glands on their stomachs that make beeswax. They work together to shape the wax into connected hexagons to make the comb. They transfer the honey into the hexagons, topping each one with a wax cap to seal every full cell. They fan their wings in the hive, which causes evaporation and reduces the water content in honey and raises the sugar intensity.

Bees work together to make the comb and to fill each hexagon with honey, just as writers have to fill up each element of their story with their best effort in plot and character development, setting, dialogue, voice and description. Otherwise, the storytelling is far from sweet but half-full of rotten honey.

Drones mate with the queen but are kicked out of the hive when the weather turns cold.
The queen’s job is to lays eggs, up to 1,500 in a day, and she eats a special food called royal jelly.

When writers finish a writing project, they don’t get kicked out but have to go back into the story, because now there’s all that editing. When they’re done, they’ll have their royal jelly from the creativity, time, imagination and experience filling the hexagons of their love of this art and craft.

Writing and Dating (or App Dating, cont.)

In Dating, Shelley Widhalm, Uncategorized, Writing on March 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

After years of writing in many different genres and my limited experience in dating, I’ve seen some interesting connections.

The question you might ask is how writing helps you date and dating helps you write. The obvious answer points to having stories to tell, character qualities to describe, bend and reshape, and snippets of dialogue to reconfigure from real life.

What’s not so obvious is that profile you have to put on the dating sites. You describe who you are and what you’re seeking in a relationship, from something as simple as height and hair color to work and personal interests.

Reading the one side of what men are seeking (I’ve yet to sign up), I tend to start with their looks, followed by height and weight (making me realize I’m a bit shallow, but also aware of the need for chemistry). I move through the rest of their qualities list and then their “Her” lists to see what they want in a date or girlfriend and whether or not I “match.”

This is like creating the structure of your novel that still lacks the creativity, imagination and time needed to add three dimensions to that outline (or dating profile).
Planners outline, while plungers write without structure, not knowing the ending or even the middle of the story.

In the case of dating, I planned a few of things I want in a date, and I’ve also plunged into dating the wrong ones just because they were handsome, or I thought we had chemistry but without anything solid underneath.

Expecting that perfect match – or the perfect story to unfold from that perfect first sentence – can result in dating block. I look at the matches and think, oh, he won’t like me, because I don’t fit his range of what he wants, even if I like what he presents.

In other words, I don’t try.

The same goes with writing. If I expect to write something great in my first draft, I don’t allow myself to explore and see what I can discover. It’s in the process that you can find out what you want to say, and then you can go back and fix what doesn’t fit.

Of course, I don’t want to fix the men out there, just my fear of dating them. To get over that, I will have to let my life be creative and just happen like a big what if, or a big whatever.

I can’t expect everything to be just how I want it, because I had planned it that way.

Apps Dating (+ some stuff about writing)

In Dating, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

Following a recent and very disappointing dating experience, I got an offer from to download the pretty blue App.

I thought the App would be free, but it was an advertisement to get me to sign up for the online dating Website for a monthly fee. I get a daily enticing email telling me, “You have 24 new matches.”

I would like just one match.

Surprising myself (an avid I-can’t-meet-men-through-the-Internet-because-it’s-artificial type), I scroll through my 24, even looking forward to seeing real-life handsome men.

After two weeks of this, I’ve learned that there are men in their late 30s and early 40s who have never married, who are divorced and who want a relationship. I thought these men, especially the never-have-married, didn’t exist – at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

In my job as a reporter, I encounter lots of men, most with rings and many of them not my type. Taking the easy, I’m-scared-to-date approach, I tell myself that I’m in a small city of the happily married, so I should be happy with my dog and imaginary 13 cats. I am. Or was, until I bravely asked a man out and got the big rejection.

I started wondering, do matches happen, just like and the other online dating Websites claim?


As I do my daily scroll (not paying, not signing up for the tempting “72 hours free”), I feel like I’m shopping for men. I look at clothing ads the same way, evaluating the colors, shapes and styles of shirts, skirts and pants. Would this or that garment look good on me? Would it cover up my extra flabby bit? Will it last, or fall apart after a few washings?

When I review the man ads, I’m not asking if MrHotty0201 would make me look good, but I do think, “Oh my, he’s cute.” I open up the information window where I learn his marital status, if he has or wants children, his religious beliefs and the age of women he’s seeking.

I’ve checked several of these windows, learning some of the men want younger women, are atheists or are plain cute and perfect, at least according to this initial list of very few questions. Even if I’m slightly interested, I go on with the day, waiting for my next batch to arrive with a ping.

Am I afraid to join? Do I think I’ll get a match that won’t fit because I was shopping based on external looks? Am I hiding away with my dog and imaginary cats afraid of something big and unnamed?

I wonder if this inadvertent window man-shopping is not how to approach dating. It’s about the chemistry, willingness of both to make the relationship work and, lastly, on the actual interior and exterior match.

We can match up, but bad things will happen in life showing our worst sides, and if he or she will stay through that, then we have something.

It’s called love.

That’s what I want. Eventually.

(See next week’s blog on Writing and Dating, or App Dating cont.)