Shelley Widhalm

Archive for August, 2014|Monthly archive page

Writing with a broken heart

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Processes on August 31, 2014 at 11:00 am

It’s hard to write with a broken heart.

A heart that is broken, is breaking or knows that it’s about to break, because of clues that circumstances soon will change, gets focused on itself, not on things outside the self, like words.

Words, even those written by the brokenhearted, take the view outward to another novel, short story or article when all there’s to do is live and relive the same story of the self and try to figure out , explain and understand the hurt and why the event leading to the hurt had to happen.

The processing is a normal part of dealing with things, but it becomes a problem for the task master, I’ve-got-to-be-writing writer.

There are a few problems trying to write with a heart gone to blue.

First, there’s being too close to the situation without the needed distance necessary to be reflective. All of the events, conversations and details surrounding what lead to the broken heart become mixed up in constant processing. It’s like the spin cycle of the washing machine, round and round the hurt goes.

The spinning thoughts make it hard to focus, causing the switch from working to feeling sorry for the self and going back to trying to work again. Thoughts keep veering back to the heart, like a boomerang that can’t let go.

The heart wants to process, process and re-process and, like a dog with a bone, digs in its teeth, shaking the source into a frenzy of multiple possible explanations. Nome of guessing at why ever finds the exact truth, because it’s all perspective and reflection without a word-by-word recording and analysis of exactly what had happened.

At least this is what I’m doing with my thoughts on spin, on and on they go. As a result, I’m not thinking of the reader’s heart, only of mine. Sure, I will get over this, because it’s just life, but yet I feel guilty because I have writer’s block and the cause is my own silly heart.

I’ve gotten caught up in the belief that because I’m a writer, I need to write with short breaks or no breaks. But, really, for now, I need to reflect and hope the words won’t leave me when my heart begins to heal.


Tips for revising novels

In Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on August 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

I have been into novel revision lately, not because I love to read my work for the millionth time, but because I want to get everything publication ready.

The revision process takes a whole-view perspective and a line-by-line look at the work created. The whole view is looking at structure, including plot, character development, setting and dialogue, while the myopic view considers all the details.

When I revise, I tend to see what’s happening on the page clearly but, in the process, become nearsighted about the structure. I tend to get caught up at the sentence- and paragraph level.

Over the past week, I did a hard copy edit of my fifth novel, “The Money Finder,” a young adult book about a 15-year-old who tries to take on the responsibility of her falling-apart family by finding money in odd places.

Since June, I have been rotating between this book and my third book, a Christian fiction look at a Bible study gone wrong in “One April Day.” I edited the Christian fiction by reading it through twice, one after the next, focusing on the sentences, sections of text needing transitions and gaps in scenes.

I found a lot of overwriting, where I gave too much detail about how things looked and what happened in a scene to move a character from one point to the next, both physically and emotionally. I used metaphors or descriptions that, when I looked at them again, didn’t work because I couldn’t picture the image or the word usage was awkward. And I cut pieces of dialogue, scene descriptions and character reflections that seemed to repeat, so that my character wasn’t thinking the same thing over and over again and the storyline didn’t move forward.

I ended up cutting 35 1 ½-spaced pages and 10,300 words.

In “The Money Finder,” I only cut three pages and about a 1,000 words. That’s because I’m a more experienced writer – I wrote the young adult during the 2013 NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, and the Christian fiction in 2011.

In the young adult novel, I mostly did a line-by-line hard edit after doing a half-dozen edits on the screen. I found some inconsistencies in facts, such as giving the main character’s sister two different ages of seven and eight and changing the days of some of her classes.

I cut awkward descriptions, thoughts of the main character’s that repeated too much and details from scenes that made the action drag. In essence, I tightened the piece with little tweaks here and there.

Why being a writer is impractical (but, maybe, worth it)

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on August 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

I have spent thousands of hours working on the writing craft, studying writing, attending writing workshops and reading books about writing.

My ROI is $100, or the equivalent of a nano-penny for every hour spent on the craft.

The non-financial returns are why I got into writing, plus this compulsion I have to write, breathe, eat and go running. The returns are the benefits that come from developing any skill, such as knowing how to do something outside of the day job and getting a sense of accomplishment from learning, doing, practicing and then knowing a skill, hobby or craft.

With the writing craft, I’ve become more detail-oriented by thinking about ways to describe my environment and have expanded my understanding of psychology, sociology and history by applying what I’ve learned, observed and gathered to develop character identities.

I key in on conversations in real life that I can use in dialog, making me more observant and a better listener.

I hear about or observe someone’s personality traits, so that I feel this character come alive and I mix what is real with my imagination.

And I hear story snippets that I just have to use (basically steal) when I come up with plot and scene outlines.

In other words, being a writer makes me more present to living, so that I am on high alert in case anything is worth putting into words. Being more cognizant about my environment is my ROI. I continually download, take in, live and observe life so that I have something to write about, because for me, writing is being, living and loving. It’s a passion.

Plain and simple.

Revising an old novel (for new fun)

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on August 10, 2014 at 11:00 am

I thought revising a novel I finished three years ago would be easy, because I had already made it “perfect” over multiple drafts.

My novel, “One April Day”, is about a 35-year-old woman named Maggie Cooper who is laid off from a metro newspaper in 2008. She gets caught up in a Bible study gone wrong and a false prophecy that leads her astray from making her own decisions until she faces risking everything, including her comforts of a salary, a home, a church and friends.

My first revision took three weeks when I cut nearly 30 1 ½-spaced pages, or about 9,000 words. A beta reader told me the beginning dragged and needed tightening, so I cut some of my descriptions and play-by-play scenes that weren’t necessary, the result of overwriting.

I also cut a few word echoes, or the same word used in the same paragraph or even on the same page if it is a more unusual word. I noticed that I liked to use the word “look” for gaze, glance and stare, and so I did a word search to substitute half of my usage of that word.

Most of my editing involved tightening, plus some logistical fixes, because I had my plotline set according to the arc, with the beginning, rising action, middle, falling action and end. The character identities were strong, too, because I based them on real people or compilations as the story comes from a real-life occurrence, though many of the details have been changed.

After editing the book, I set it aside for one evening and started another revision, this time spending eight days on it. I wanted to make sure my edits read smoothly and that I hadn’t missed anything, but a hundred pages in, I realized I should have spread out the revisions. I was lazy in my editing, and the story didn’t seem “fresh,” because I had just read it.

Even so, I kept going, because I can’t not finish something I started.

In this revision, I changed styles from Associated Press, which I use as a journalist, to Oxford, meaning I had to write out numbers and use the serial comma in front of the word “and.” I had to remind myself to be on the lookout for the word as I read, so for the first few chapters, I used the Find function to search it out (a big pain) in case I missed the comma insert.

Once I finished the edit on Sunday, Aug. 3, I had 68,100 words and 247 pages. I had started with 78,400 words and 282 pages, so I cut 10,300 words (worthy of a prize given my clinginess to what I write, though to solve this, I dumped my darlings into a Cut file).

I had a Monday, Aug. 4, deadline for this revision to send to a family friend who has connections in the southern Bible belt, though this is just a Big Wish.

Normally when it comes to revising my work, I am the Excuse Queen. I work on everything else first, and then get to the editing, revising and fixer-upper work of the writing process.

Though revision involves writing, it isn’t the same because, at least for me, the writing part is limited: it only involves a scene, a few sentences or the entire novel where I’m fixing a factual, grammatical or other type of error in little spots here and there.

In other words, I write because I love it, and I revise because I want someone else to like what I write without stumbling over multiple errors.