Shelley Widhalm

Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

Getting ideas for writing

In Freewriting, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

After finishing my big three revision projects—I revised three novels alternating among them—I am at a loss.

I have ideas for short stories and a novel, but, to say the least, I am not feeling inspired. So what do I do?

Get it. Get going. Get writing.

Inspiration can come from books, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature. It is a feeling of motivation mixed with passion to do the thing you love.

One way to get to that place of inspiration and desire to write is to freewrite without parameters, the internal editor or specific goals.

Another is to amplify your awareness of what’s around you by invoking the senses—those of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell—focusing on each one to describe an object, time or place. Give description to the things around you as you see them or as they are happening.

Writing lets thoughts, feelings, experiences and responses unfold, so that what isn’t immediately apparent becomes real and evident when it’s put into words. It’s like mixing together ingredients from a recipe that assembled together become something consumable, instead of being stuck in their little boxes, bottles, jars and spice racks.

Writing mixes together words into meaning to give what’s inside definition, direction and solidity. The process of writing is a way to discover what you want, could or have to say.

To find inspiration to make that discovery, here are a few prompts:

• For dialog, do some eavesdropping and listen in on the conversations around you. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches. Use a snippet of conversation and the gestures and facial expressions you observe to start a dialog between your characters.
• Visit a public garden, go to the mountains or sit on a city bench and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky, using all of the senses.
• Randomly read a line from a book or look up a word in dictionary to use as a launching point to begin writing.
• Recall a childhood place or a memory from your more recent past and describe it.
• Read a poem and use the mood it creates to start writing. Maybe pick out an odd word or phrase, reword it and use it to invoke word play.
• Look in newspapers and magazines for story, word or idea prompts.
• Write about an old object. What does it make you think about and what emotions does it evoke?
• Write about something you lost and want back, and then imagine what you would do to get it back or how you’d react having it once again in your possession.
• Write about what you regret and the emotions associated with that regret.
• Write about what makes you the angriest or happiest.
• Write about a compelling person in your life, starting with physical description working your way to the characteristics, motivations and personality of that person.
• Go to a public place—a coffee shop, bar, restaurant or mall—and take notes on the physical surroundings, such as the furnishings, lighting levels (bright in stores and low in some bars) and atmosphere or mood. How does the setting make you feel? Comfortable or edgy? Overwhelmed or energetic?

Whatever prompt you select, realize that writing is about exploration and trying out new and old recipes to get to that place of passion.

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Change of season and writing

In Shelley Widhalm, Transitions, Writing, Writing Discipline on September 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

Shell+Zoey

Autumn in Fort Collins, Colorado, came sudden and quick without transition during the second week of September.

The sudden change is just as disturbing as reading a novel that jumps scenes without explanation or warning. Granted, Colorado’s weather often is fickle, switching from sunny to rainstorms and back within the same day. Or being hot and dry one summer and rainy the next.

Even so, I got a shock when I went from hot summer weather to temperatures in the 40s the next day and by the weekend returning to late summer warmth with temperatures in the 70s, or near perfect.

Instead, I like to ease into a change of season, just as I like to focus on smoothing out any transitions when I revise my short stories and novels.

Transitions are essential to keep the direction of the storyline clear, instead of skipping, without any explanation, from one time or place to another so that the reader doesn’t know exactly where they are in the story.

Transitions serve as a bridge that signals a shift in the story, such as a change in time, place, mood, tone or point of view.

They mark a scene break, or shift in scene, ideally at the moment of heightened suspense, causing the reader to want to know what happens next.

Marking that break can be done in several ways, including the most basic of using dingbats, asterisks or extra spaces.

The point-of-view character’s physical environment, or what’s happening around her, can transition into her internal thoughts, memories or reflections.

The character may see an object or hear something that triggers recollections of some event from her past. Or the tense can be changed—such as present to past or past to past perfect—to indicate her entry into or exiting out of the memory or flashback.

Dialog is another technique to return her to the scene at hand, though she might ask, “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”

Transitions serve as that road map, or weather guide, keeping the reader within the story world, so that moving between time and place seems natural without suddenly needing to change clothes or pull out the umbrella, wondering what to do next.

Avoiding new writing projects

In Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Every time I finish a big writing or revision project, I feel lost, unanchored and unsure.

I recently fixed up my heart (re: Writing with a Broken Heart), but this time my heart rip is about re-finding that purpose in my writing life.

I get so caught up in the world of my story, whether it’s fresh writing or editing and re-editing an older piece, I don’t know how to let it go to clear the slate for new writing.

In other words, I get scared. I have a list of ideas for short stories and a couple for novels, but I haven’t started on any of them yet, because it’s easier to move forward from the middle place.

Starting at the beginning requires finding the story structure, figuring out character identity and doing a great deal of groundwork, plus writing that first sentence and the next one and the next one after that. I prefer continuing working on the same project, because it’s comfortable and what I’m used to, but comfort can be taken to the extreme in over revising.

With my latest revision of “The Money Finder,” a young adult novel about a 15-year-old who uses her money finding abilities to try to solve her family crisis, I fixed up a few paragraphs and sections of dialog that sounded just as good as before I put in the work.

For instance, I read a piece aloud to a group of friends that was unrevised from my latest editing session and changed a few of the sentences back to the original because I liked how they sounded out loud.

My revision (the fourth in six months) wasn’t a waste, though. I found areas in the manuscript where I had inconsistencies in character, setting and plot facts, errors in the timeline and logistics, and lack of transition or movement in the scene due to choppy or incomplete descriptions.

I added in sensory details, such as making sure that when one of my characters with a drinking problem drank too much that her speech patterns matched. I added more emotional response from my main character to the tragedies happening in her life when I had scene description but not her reactions. And I made the behavior of a seven-year-old more appropriate to her age both in her actions and conversations.

My latest revision showed me that a manuscript is ready to be put aside when the editing involves mostly reading, making only minor fixes and fixing sections only to change them back. I learned that revising can become a problem if it serves as an avoidance technique for starting new writing.

So, yes, now I have to face that Blank Page.