Shelley Widhalm

Archive for June, 2014|Monthly archive page

A semi-disappointing “writer’s retreat”

In Novel editing, Shelley Widhalm, Vacations, Writing, Writing Discipline on June 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

When it comes to setting my writing goals, I treat them like food, always looking with bigger eyes than the size of my stomach.

In other words, I had all these great plans for my DIY writer’s retreat stay-cation during the week of Sunday, June 15, through Monday, June 23.

I wanted to treat nearly every day off as a shortened work day of three to six hours spent writing and editing. And I wanted to write at least two short stories, craft a few poems and do a complete revision of my 80,000-word novel, “The Money Finder.”

But as a friend likes to tell me, life is what happens in spite of your plans. The life that happened during my vacation included getting sick, spending time with friends and dealing with the after-effects of a move. I got a bronchial infection; I met up with a few friends at a concert or over food or coffee; and I had practical stuff to do after moving in early June, including putting extra stuff in storage, cleaning my old apartment and finishing organizing and setting up the new one.

The result was I didn’t begin editing until Wednesday, or four days into my nine-day vacation. To say the least, I was disappointed in myself, because I hadn’t been perfect in meeting my goals. I wanted to make up for lost time, but it didn’t happen because of that life-getting-in-the-way thing.

Even so, I was able to set aside time and put in two to four hours a day, totaling 15 hours by the end of the week. Despite getting through about 30,000 words, I increased the intensity of my guilt trip on Saturday, thinking that because I hadn’t reached my goal of 80,000 words my vacation was a total waste.

Two days later on the last day of my I-get-to-be-a-writer-all-day freedom, I readjusted my thinking to that of acceptance. I realized I’d done the best I could with the time I had. I extended my editing project to next Sunday, or the Sunday after, with plans to edit and write, knowing that though I did not achieve my goal 100 percent by the end of the week, I got that much closer.

That’s the point of a stay-cation: having fun, doing what you love and living a little. Guilt shouldn’t be part of it, because it is time off, from everything, including the punch clock.


Stay-cations as DIY retreats

In Shelley Widhalm, Vacations, Writing, Writing Discipline on June 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

Every time I have a vacation where I don’t have travel plans, I turn it into a DIY writer’s retreat stay-cation.

I lodge at my apartment. I write there and at the coffee shop. And I get my meals the usual way, home-cooked (thanks to my boyfriend) or out to eat. Instead of heading off to work and clocking in, I sleep in or laze around, go off to do some writing (usually two to three hours), take a long break and possibly do more writing (or editing).

I usually put in 20 to 25 hours during my stay-cation, as opposed to 0-15 when I’m working full-time. By the end of the week, I’ve accomplished something without spending a dime (except on coffee).

To participate in a stay-cation writer’s retreat, I’ve learned that there isn’t a need for mountain cabins, peaceful lakes or fancy hotels. All that is needed is a quiet place where work will not be interrupted, such as a coffee shop, mall, library, community park, hotel lobby or bookstore.

Here is some other advice for setting up a at-home retreat:

• Commit a certain amount of time to writing, such as three hours, but allow for 10-minute breaks every hour, or whatever meets your needs. Take a lunch break and return for another writing session.
• Set a goal for what you want to achieve by the end of the retreat, such as writing a certain number of chapters in your novel, writing a couple of short stories or working on some other writing project.
• Take a portable writing kit, so you have your tools on hand, such as a dictionary and thesaurus, books on the craft, notebooks, journals, pens and music.

And remember to clock in how many hours of work you accomplish, your word count and any other measures of achievement. Compare what you achieved with your regular writing session. This self-assessment will determine if your retreat was productive.

Revision Dread

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

Revision can be the writer’s least favorite part of the writing process, but it is what turns a sloppy first draft into something marketable.

Reading your work multiple times, asking friends and co-writers to give it an edit and bringing your work through a writer’s group are a few options to identify structural problems, address issues with any of the elements of your writing and find grammatical and style errors in the copy.

Currently, I’m editing my young adult novel, “The Money Finder.” I’ve taken the first 50 pages through my writer’s group, Mountain View Writers, and got comments on minor characters that were flat and clichéd, factual errors in the plot because I lacked the experience and hadn’t done enough research, and areas in the storytelling that needed to be cut, moved or added to keep readers engaged.

One of my friends, who has no desire to write but has read extensively, is reading through “One April Day,” which is literary Christian fiction. He said the beginning drags, reading too much like a journal entry of this happened and then this happened without an overarching reason for him to want to find out what will happen next.

From his experience, most books are awkward during the first 50 pages but get better after that. His theory is that the writers are trying to find their story without going back later to tighten the telling down to the most essential, basic elements.

To edit for the needs of an experienced reader who doesn’t write, give him an opening scene where something happens right away, without putting in too much setting, summary or backstory that causes that dragging effect.

When editing for this and other readers, I like to do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. I like to look for any scene issues, like partial scenes, or scenes that are drawn out or are lacking detail. I like to ask if the overall story make sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained?

Here are a few things to look for during additional edits, including:

• Looking for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
• Cutting unnecessary words, sentences and even scenes that do not move the story forward or clutter what you’re trying to say.
• Using the active voice whenever you can.
• Varying the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
• Getting rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
• Writing visually and making sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
• Tightening the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.
• Checking that the characters are well-developed and seem real, not two-dimensional?
And most importantly, make sure your showing and only telling when necessary.