Shelley Widhalm

Archive for April, 2014|Monthly archive page

Platforms (and Blogging)

In Blogging, Platforms, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

The only reason I started my blog nearly three years ago was because I read in one of my writer’s magazines that writers need platforms, whether or not they’re published.

Within a few blogging sessions (I blog weekly), I realized I blog because I love it. I learn as I write about different topics that have to do with the writing process, elements of writing and the life of a writer.

Blogging serves as a discipline for regular writing; it’s a different format of writing than anything else I’ve done: news and feature articles, short stories, novels and poems.

And it’s a way to meet other writers.

To draw traffic to my two blogs, I created a website with links to this one and the one that my dog, Zoey the Cute Dachshund, writes called Zoey’s Paw, I don’t know if this works, but it is something to put on my business cards.

From my research on platforms, I’ve found some conflicting information.

Writers, whether published or not in fiction or nonfiction, need to create a platform, preferably one that includes blogging.

Or, according to a recent article in one of my writer’s magazines, blogs help writers connect with readers but don’t necessarily sell books. They are not useful for romance and young adult writers, because readers of these books don’t connect with the authors in this way.

What does that mean for writers who have yet to be published? Should they blog or not? Should they build a platform with a multimedia presence that includes blogs, photos, videos and snippets of their work?

I wish I knew.

In the meantime, I’ll keep blogging.

Platforms and blogs, in particular, are intended to communicate your expertise on a subject. They should focus on a specific topic and provide information, thought and ideas in a distinct niche.

I’ve also read that blogs:

• Need to have passion, voice and be creative and distinct from other blogs. Blogs by writers blogging about writing seem to be overdone. (I’m included in this category, apparently.)
• Should be about the subject of your book to build an audience of readers. They can be about the time period of your story, themes in your writing, character traits you’ve developed or anything else you’re writing about.
• Need to be updated often, such as once a week or three times a week.


Freewriting to Prewrite

In Freewriting, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

Freewriting is a useful writer’s tool to get out of writer’s block, to tap into memory or to get started on a writing project, like those runners who first walk a lap or two as a warm-up exercise.

It is a concept invented by Peter Elbow, author of “Writing Without Teachers,” one of the books I was required to read as a master’s English student. He said, “Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you’re doing.”

The only rule of freewriting is to not stop writing.

Freewriting is a prewriting technique, a discovery process and a way to develop or find new ideas. It is writing without rules. You don’t need a topic and can jot down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if what you write is disconnected.

Freewriting can be for 5 or 10 minutes, or a length of time you choose. During that time, don’t stop writing. Don’t lift your fingers from the keyboard or stop moving your pen or pencil.

Here’s a freewriting exercise I did with the following 10-minute prompt: Write the story of some highlights (or lowlights) of your life.

Response: I never went there, the seemingly far-away dungeon we called the garage. Tricycles, bicycles, tools in the red fancy-name box with sliding-out drawers, work benches, gray cabinets form the disorganized, caked-on-dirt, boy’s world. My brother spent afternoons and weekends in Dad’s shop, while I was off playing Barbies, smacking my gum and dreaming about boys.

When the garage door was down, Dad’s workshop became my basketball court. Does he love me. He does if I make the free throw. I’d miss every time, at least when I’d make bets on boys. This was on summer nights when the crickets sang their sliding cello-like rhythms that floated above the heat.

The next day, a Saturday let’s say, Dad would be back in the shop, and Mom would be baking or reading, and I’d be in my bedroom drawing, or I’d have the music on and my cooling curling iron would become a microphone as I danced around, being a Material Girl or Like a Virgin.

Andy my brother would be in the shop, learning how to build things, how to cut wood, how to Sauder, how to do all these “boy things” I regret not learning when the lessons were free with the man I adore. I ignored my dad’s shop, because I was into girly stuff. I didn’t like to get dirty. And I had other things on my mind.

This now, in reflection, is a lowlight in my life, not exploring my other side when I was worried about keeping my hair perfect and my clothes pristine clean. When I think about my job, the one I love and hate, I wonder who I’d be if I hadn’t been so girly in my material world, crushing on boys, when all along my dad wanted me to come visit. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve come back, not to his shop, but into his life as his princess. He’s the one who makes, fixes, builds and creates things for me, just because.

Outlining (or Taking the Plunge or Going with a Plan)

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on April 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

I never used to outline stories or essays, preferring plunging into the writing process.

After having to sort through several messy, extensive edits, I realized I needed initial guidance as I let my work unfold to save time and energy later on for other writing.

When I began outlining, I came up with a premise for my story or novel and wrote a few rambling paragraphs, and then started writing. I changed my approach after I took a Meetup fiction class with Michael Soloway, a Fort Collins, Colo., writer, in fall 2014 and learned an outlining technique that starts with a 6-word story. The story is expanded to 150 words, then 500 and finally 3,000 before you begin writing your longer piece.

Soloway suggested writing the longer and longer versions of the story using Nigel Watt’s 8-point narrative arc, which Watt explains in his book, “Writing a Novel.”

The 8 points are Stasis-Trigger-The Quest-Surprise-Critical Choice-Climax-Reversal-Resolution. The main character experiences something that upsets her status quo, sending her on a search to return to normal, but she encounters obstacles along the way, has to make a critical choice that leads to the story’s climax and eventually her return to a fresh stasis.

In three plot points, it’s the inciting incident, rising arc and falling action.
I tried this approach with my latest work, and it worked, though my ending changed, because in this case, I needed to discover the ending from the middle and how my characters interacted with each other and the plotlines.

These are a few things I’ve learned about outlining:

• First, think about what your basic premise or idea is for the story. What will be your hook? How will you introduce your main character or characters? What will be the inciting incident?
• Identify a few of the big plot moments and what character actions or settings could complicate them. What does the character want and what plot complications stand in her way from getting that one thing?
• Think through characters and plotlines to see if you can sustain both to the end of the story.
• Consider the point of view, and think about the character’s back story.
• Find a setting that cannot be separated from the plot and eliminate any extraneous settings.

Finally, think of the outline as a suggestion that can be changed as you figure out what your story actually is about. Writing is a process and not a final product until the story is written and edited.

(This month, I’m blogging about the process of generating ideas and prepping for writing.)

NCW Conference (after the fact)

In Rejection, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Conferences on April 6, 2014 at 11:00 am

The Northern Colorado Writers Conference March 28-29 crammed years of other people’s experiences into two days that, for me, burst into a kaleidoscope of emotions.

Held at the Fort Collins Hilton, the venue was fancy with colorful carpets, lots of brass, a Starbucks and many other details I can’t remember (though as a writer, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do).

I didn’t know which sessions to pick from the three to four offered every couple of hours, particularly with the first set Friday morning: the discussion on character development presented by Victoria Hanley or the one on dialogue by Teresa Funke. But I knew I needed more help on creating beat sheets, or structuring story, from Sandi Ault. I tend to plunge into my writing even if I have an initial idea, requiring several revisions to get the arc to fit plot and character.

Very studiously, I took notes on everything I hadn’t learned about writing, such as the importance of cutting “that” and sentences beginning with “as” and what to expect when writing for literary versus commercial magazines. I got encouragement when writers talked about their own experiences with writing and their circuitous paths to getting published, such as Chuck Sambuchino, editor for Writer’s Digest Books, who got rejected for an article idea that, through several steps and chance meetings, ended in his publishing his humor book, “How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.”

But all of this was background to why I really was there. I was determined to get an agent, sell my book and catapult my writing career in about 30 seconds. I attended one of the agent roundtables, bringing my perfected first page from my YA novel, “The Money Finder.”

I ignored the inner voice that tells you stuff you don’t want to hear when it said, “Your book is not ready. You’ve edited it twice. Cool it.”

My perfect first page wasn’t: Too much back story, and Grace, my POV character, complained about her neglectful parents in a way that was telling, not showing.

What I had needed to do was start with scene. Not weather, or sunshine. Not a dream, or just waking up.

Despite my mistakes, I continued to believe I would be selected for a one-on-one agent session the next day, because my book was great. After dinner, conference director Kerrie Flanagan called the names of a dozen people, excluding mine.


A big, dramatic pity session ensued, and I thought about why I had to add another rejection to my pile of personal, professional, life and writing rejections.

This poutiness lasted a day, because I had a choice: give up writing or get back up and write. Yep, the conference made me realize that whether or not I get published, I have to write. It’s in me. It’s who I am.

It’s my dream, and my story.