Shelley Widhalm

Archive for July, 2015|Monthly archive page

Daring to expose myself (in words)

In Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry, Writing Poetry on July 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

When I write, I take my clothes off.

Not literally, but I get rid of the embarrassment I might be saying something that exposes how I deal with life and perceive the world.

The easy part of writing that way is I sit alone in front of the computer and do the digging, letting the words rip. I don’t plan, as I write, to read the words in front of other people.

But, duh, that’s why we write, to give audience to our way of telling a story, reflecting on a moment or expressing an emotion.

Though I knew I’d be stripping down to my shame and guilt over a bad life experience, I read a poem at the LoCo Poetry Slam Saturday, July 19, in a coffee shop in downtown Loveland (one of four poems I read).

The poem is called “Ball-Wrecking” and is about dating a very awful man, and I felt like I was saying, hey, I let someone do bad things and I hung around—well, until I woke up, acknowledged the untruths I told myself and left. I was afraid to expose what I’d let happen, but it was a poetry reading, and poetry can be personal.

One of the other poets—four read their poetry that evening—said the more you read a poem about an awful experience or emotion, the less power what you wrote about has over you. It becomes more art and less about what had happened and your emotional and physical responses to it and, in some cases, the recovery process you had to take on to move on … and return to a sense of having a solid self.

All of the poets that night read poems about how they emotionally handle life and its experiences, many of the words going inward. It was obvious we all are dealing with pain and aloneness, doubts and fears, and a multitude of other emotions. We are not isolated in having to confront all the stuff going on in our heads.

Our styles are vastly different, from more slam- and rap-like with great word play to comparing our inner world to a crack in the windshield to evaluating why we have to move to another city.

The poetry slam, which is more of a poetry reading, is supposed to be laid-back, said Ben Means, who organized it in fall 2014. He said poetry can serve as therapy for the poet and the listener, and I found that to be true, realizing I wasn’t the only one exposing my internal life and what’s happened to me. I realized my emotional responses to life, love and feeling out of sorts are things other writers experience.


Getting interviewed as a writer (instead of doing the interviewing)

In Getting Interviewed, Interviewing, Writing on July 19, 2015 at 11:00 am

As a working journalist, I rarely get the opportunity to be interviewed, so when Carrie Coyne of Remain Teachable asked to interview me for a profile, I eagerly accepted.

The results of that interview are on her website for Remain Teachable, which encourages people to remain teachable, pursue new knowledge and live out their passions. She is profiling people who are pursuing passions and a love of learning at

During our interview in mid-June, Carrie and I met at a local coffee shop, and I wondered what kind of questions she would ask. We met in conference room with a large table in the middle and lots of art on the wall.

Carrie told me about her goals for the project and that I was her first interviewee. We knew each other from my work as a reporter, and met up again at the same coffee shop where she saw me working on my novel. She started asking questions about my writing and then invited me to do the interview, so she could ask more in-depth questions.

Most of Carrie’s questions focused on my love of writing, how I got started in writing, my current writing projects and my writing goals and what I do to reach those goals. I compared how we both ask questions, and our note taking, and how it was to be interviewed instead of doing the interviewing. I felt more relaxed, liking that I didn’t have to take notes, writing down every word in my own shorthand of the important ideas and the quotes I wanted to capture.

The interview went quick, and I realized how fun it was talking about myself and my passion for writing.

Carrie said she wanted to get photos of me, and we discussed some ideas, realizing the most representative photo would be of me working at the same coffee shop with my dog, Zoey, next to me. I like going there after work for the stimulation of conversations around me, the buzz of the espresso machine and the feel of motion and color and sound, all coming together to stimulate my imagination. I write at home, too, but not as much, feeling bored at the quiet.

Anyway, Carrie took photos of me, while I did some work, conscious of the fact I was being photographed, and of me holding Zoey. She had to keep trying to get Zoey to look at the camera, so it took a few tries. I like that photo the best of the two, maybe because I’m smiling and holding my favorite creature.

I loved the whole experience, and was glad I had the opportunity to be on the other side of the reporter’s notebook or the pen.

Here is the profile of me as a writer at

Journaling: Lost and Found

In Journaling, Losing A Journal, Losing Written Work on July 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

I lost my journal on May Day and finished what I’ve since called my journal recovery project six weeks later.

I thought losing four months of daily writing—wiped out from a computer glitch and failure to back up my work—was tragic, awful and a devastating thing for a writer to endure, because I had lost words that I’d written—about 70,000 of them.

I’d taken careful and detailed notes of my daily life and emotional responses as background material for a future writing project, wanting to turn an awful dating experience, coupled with stupid life decisions, into a novel—I still plan to, but as the very correct and accurate cliché goes, I need more time to process.

When the journal loss exploded my sense of writing security, I called my mom and cried, feeling 10-fold heartbroken. She said maybe I needed to go over everything again to get a new understanding, and, being a mother, she was right.

At the same time of my “loss,” I’d moved, alternating my focus on working on the project and packing, unpacking and organizing my things. To recover my journal, I arranged my communications in a similar fashion to house arranging, figuring out which things should go where to be useful, convenient to grab and still look aesthetically pleasing.

I typed up all of my texts over the four months that involved the important people to the telling of my story and copied and pasted long strings of Facebook messages between me and my best friend and a couple of other shorter communications among my circle of friends. I hadn’t realized it, but I treated my best friend like my diary recipient, giving him a blow-by-blow description of much of what had happened and seeking his wiser, been-there, done-that advice.

I’d been in a situation that was beyond my understanding of psychology and sociology and my own experiences to process and simply get what was happening. After what had happened, I needed to put my life back together, hence the move and a few other personal fix-it-up undertakings.

Seeing the various communications in one place made me realize I’d gotten caught up in someone else’s thinking, instead of relying on my own logic and commonsense. I bought into this person’s worldview, losing some of my own. I lost confidence. I defended my position. I didn’t say stop, and let communications become arguments that I couldn’t win. No matter what.

I couldn’t see these patterns in such a concise format when I was caught up in my daily writing without looking back. Journaling was a place to write down what had happened and how I felt about it and move onto the next day.

Retyping the strings of communications told a story, in that day-by-day sense, from beginning to end. It showed me how I communicate on a casual level, including patterns of expression, repeated phrases and descriptions of events and emotions.

As I recovered my journal, I recovered from my grief. I didn’t regret losing those other words, because I had new ones. I had me back, thanks to the work and talking with my mother and friends and having the will to get back to who I am: a writer in love with words, whether lost or found.

Writiing About Objects, Part II

In Writing, Writing About Objects, Writing Processes on July 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing about objects in short stories and novels can reflect an emotional experience for the characters, while also adding interest to the plot.

The objects can reveal the character’s personality, hint at storyline and peak readers’ interest at their importance and meaning as the story unfolds when the objects carry symbolic significance. A clock on an old building could symbolize how a character can’t escape the hour when she’s stuck in her same patterns, or a character’s love of butterflies can show how she wants to travel but doesn’t have the means to do so.

Objects can point out how characters respond to and learn about their physical world, pointing to a deeper level of emotion the character isn’t willing or ready to address until later on in the story.

And objects can reveal aspects of plot that aren’t directly stated, such as an empty suitcase that keeps appearing in the story that, only at the story’s end, gets filled with something meaningful to the character.

To build an object into your story, here are a few steps you can take.

  • Start with a compelling object that means something to the character or that will carry out the plot, such as an animal, plant or something manmade.
  • Think of possible metaphors or symbols for that object.
  • Think about how the character describes the object. What does she see in it? How does she observe and perceive it? What senses does she use to understand and absorb it?
  • Figure out how the character acquires or comes across the object. When and how does it come into her life? What does she do with it once she encounters it or it comes into her possession?
  • Ask what the object means to the character and why she notices it. Does the object have a family history? Or personal history? Is she open with the other characters about her interest in the object, or is it something she hides from others?
  • Does the object introduce danger into the character’s life? Or does it offer comfort or love or something she can’t get from the other characters?

Also, come up with a list of ways the character describes the object to avoid repetition but also to keep the object in the storyline to the end of the story, when the object’s full meaning comes forth.