Shelley Widhalm

Archive for February, 2015|Monthly archive page

The Benefits of Write-ins

In Write-ins, Writing, Writing Processes on February 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing alone in that comfy spot has its advantages—routine, familiarity and comfort—but writing with others can spark the mind and the writing hand.

I belong to a couple of writing groups, Mountain View Authors, a critique group that meets every other week to evaluate the members’ novel and short story writing projects, and Northern Colorado Writers, a membership organization that offers classes, conferences and coffee chats for writers.

A write-in is a way to socialize the physical process of writing by giving you space and time to write with one or more people beside you. And it’s a way to add regularity to your writing schedule.

I’ve belonged to a couple of write-ins over the past two years, but those times I wasn’t part of such a group, I felt like something was missing. I, of course, already had my critique group, learned about writing through classes and workshops, read writers’ magazines, and spent time alone writing.

But belonging to a write-in, even with one other person (which is the case for me on a weekly basis at a local coffee shop) gives you more of a reason to show up for your writing, making you accountable for being there and doing the work.

When you have someone to write with, side by side, you have someone to motivate and encourage you as you make progress in your novel, short story, poetry collection or other writing project.

Here are some other benefits of write-ins:

  • You can ask grammar, writing and storytelling questions about anything from sentence structure to plot, character, setting or dialog.
  • You can check to see if what you wrote makes sense or if the dialog sounds like how people talk (it helps to read aloud what you wrote to see how your writing sounds).
  • You can show a section of your work and get comments about what you’ve written so far or the direction you’re heading with your story.
  • You can do speed contests to see how many words you can write in a certain period of time, such as 10 or 15 minutes.
  • You can do writing exercises to practice and get feedback on your spontaneous writing.
  • You can take a break and talk about writing or life.

And lastly, a write-in helps you stay on task. You shouldn’t be doing other things, avoiding the writing, because the other writers are writing. So, basically, you’re compelled and inspired to write.

See how my BFF Zoey the cute dachshund approaches write-ins in her version of dog-ins at


Character Motivation and Inner Drive

In Character Development, Sociopaths, Writing About Characters on February 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

Motivation is a concept that I find difficult to fully understand in the writing world, or it was until I read Martha Stout’s “The Sociopath Next Door.”

Stout, a clinical psychologist, explains in her book, published in 2006, how 4 percent of the population, or one in 25 people, has the mental or personality disorder of being a sociopath.

Sociopaths possess no conscience, making them unable to feel shame, guilt or remorse for their actions or to care about anyone else in their indifference. One of their main characteristics is charm, evidenced by their sexiness, glow, intensity, complexity and spontaneity. They are unable to love another person or connect with other humans in any way individually or as a group. Their emotions are fake, but they will act or do whatever it takes to use, trick, manipulate and dominate. They flatter, they engage in the pity play and they get angry if they don’t get you to bend.

They are motivated by wanting to win, whatever it is they choose to get, obtain or possess, but they never get what they need because they are lacking that quality that makes what they do matter to themselves and to others. Their actions are empty but destructive.

The main or point-of-view characters in a short story or novel need to be motivated, but, unless they are sociopaths, it will be something that improves the self, develops important relationships or does good for others. The sociopath doesn’t care about any of that.

Characters in fiction need to have an inner drive to get what they want (but it may not be what they need, and after trials and tribulations, they will realize they need something other than what they desired). Every action they take will be toward getting this want fulfilled—to find, preserve, replace, create or do something to better things for themselves, their family and friends, or the world.

If the characters try to fill the want without knowing what they actually need, they will feel empty, failing to recognize what they have at stake if they go for the wrong thing. The self-aware characters will learn the difference between their need and what they think they want. They will find their purpose and will transform as a result as they get what they need, representing the full character arc.

After learning about sociopaths, I got the sense that they don’t have this purpose. They have a want, but what they want never gets them what they need because it’s always at the cost of others, and even themselves, because the hole can never be filled. If there is no connection to the self and the world, then everything is directed inward without meaning. And the destruction happens outward.

Writing and Love (and the Connection to Valentine’s Day)

In Blogging, Writing, Writing Processes on February 8, 2015 at 11:00 am


One or two aisles in the grocery store during Valentine’s Day are filled with pink and red.

Valentine’s cards, heart-shaped candy and teddy bears holding stuffed hearts crowd the shelves to mark the day of giving candy, flowers and a dinner out.

This gift giving and exchange of cards developed out of Saint Valentine(s). A number of Saints called Valentine are honored on Feb. 14, a day that became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages in England. Traditionally, lovers exchanged handwritten notes and later commercial cards when they became available in the mid-19th century.

But what does Valentine’s Day and love have to do with writing (what I write about in this blog)?

On the surface, greeting cards and the notes in valentines all involve the quick correspondence about friendship and romance. Communicating through writing has a universal appeal (think notes passed around at school before texting, texting, Facebook messages, emails, letters and cards). What’s written can be reread, saved and kept as a memento (even texts, if you copy them into a notebook or journal) and serves as physical proof that someone is thinking about you.

Writers do the same thing, compiling poems, short stories, manuscripts, ideas for writing and processes for doing the writing. They become collectors of the written word, saving their work toward the day they will be published. Or they simply write out of a passion and because it’s their hobby.

They do it because of love.

What do you love about writing?

With blogging, I love that I am learning and re-learning elements of the writing process. I pick a subject and make discoveries and connections as I write. I improve my understanding of words and how to be concise with them and how to get my message across effectively in an interesting way.

With all types of writing, I become a better writer each time I write, particularly when I work in different genres from short stories to blogs to news writing, cross pollinating the techniques of each. Not only do I love the result but I love the process, putting words down to see what I come up with: a new idea, a new approach to dialog interchange or a different way of describing a character or a plot point that hadn’t occurred to me until I was actually doing the writing.

As I write, I love that I am creating, turning taps on the keypad into detail, description and story.