Shelley Widhalm

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Proud Poem Owner

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing Poetry on September 26, 2015 at 11:00 pm

My father is hanging out with my cute dog, Zoey.

My father is hanging out with my cute dog, Zoey.

This past weekend, I visited my father and saw the poem I wrote for him and had framed was displayed on a bookshelf on the top shelf.

I’d won third place in the Poudre Library District’s Battle of the Bards poetry contest earlier this summer and for Father’s Day bought a frame to show off a pretty version of the poem with fancy fonts. I gave it to my father a week later when my brother and I visited him in Northeastern Colorado. On our second summer trip, the poem got a special place, and I felt honored.

While we did some stuff around town, I ran into a couple of my father’s friends, and they both said my father was proud I won and that I’d written a poem for him. That, for me, was the real honor, having my father being proud of me.

Here’s the poem:

          Dad’s swing sets

          Shelley Widhalm

Under an oak tree

is where Dad built the swing,

two ropes and a board.

Dad’s hands on our backs,

feet touching the sky,

or seeming to,

matched with giggles

“More, more,”

Dorothy’s red shoes

lighten my feet.

At our next house

when we’re too big for pushing,

he gave us two swings,

cross bars, a rope, a trapeze.

Hours we laugh,

sunshine to our growing.

Dad digs all of it out,

four yellow grassy spots a reminder

of his building, fixing

swings wherever we live

to take us up to the sky

and back again to his hands,

long fingers, calloused,

strong, beautiful

to me.

(See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s blog at


Inside look at a writer’s writing process

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Novels on September 20, 2015 at 5:00 am

Typically, I blog about writing processes and the elements of writing and storytelling, as well as what I think about the writing life and my reflections on writing.

I thought this week, I’d do something a little different and reveal snippets of my journal on my reflections of writing my current novel project, which is about an unhappy waitress who wants to be a musician but is stuck from underlying, ignored trauma.

In early June I journaled: I want to write another novel, but I’m a little stuck. I know I’ll work through this and will figure out the steps I need to take. I feel a little lost. I feel like I need to be writing, but specifically, what do I write?

June 29: I ended up writing 650 words in my novel, if that’s what it is, and reached 2,000 words (including a few notes). It was a struggle to write, but I made myself keep going, and I came up with a few words.

June 30: I wasn’t going to write, but I figured I should try. I wrote 300 words.

July 1: I finally got past my writer’s block. I didn’t even know if what come out was any good, but here it came, all at once, the sound and feel of the words carrying the fury of the soul. I wrote 1,050 words, and I loved it.

July 2: I worked on my novel (I wrote 425 words).

July 5: I sat out on the balcony with my dog, Zoey, to work on my novel and wrote 1,750 words, feeling like I was done and couldn’t write more without forcing it. It’s the most I’ve written in one sitting for this novel. I’m now at 6,000 words. It seems like it’s a slow process, and I’m not sure, exactly, where I’m going with this one, but I do feel more anchored when I write.

July 9: I met my friend, Sarah, at the Coffee Tree for a write-in, where I worked on my novel. I wrote 750 words.

July 15: I wrote 1,000 words. I felt better about myself and life, because I could do it and feel like I had a purpose and a direction, even if I’m still not exactly sure where my story’s heading.

July 23: I worked on my novel, but only had 45 minutes. I wrote 560 words.

July 24: I went to the LoCo Artisan and wrote 830 words and now am at 10,000 words. I figured out a couple of the scenes and felt better about where I was going with the novel.

July 25: I took Zoey with me to the Coffee Tree to work on my novel. I stayed for three hours, spending one-and-a-half hours on the novel and writing 1,900 words.

Aug. 4: I met Sarah at the Coffee Tree and worked on my novel. I wrote 1,650 words, and it felt like the words were flowing, and I had fun writing. I felt more centered and calmer after I wrote, and it felt like I was heading somewhere with my novel.

Aug. 5: I wrote 400 words, because I didn’t have much time, maybe about 45 minutes. It was nice to sit outside on a slightly cooler day and be next to Zoey, just doing writing. That’s the life I really want.

Aug. 9: I went Dazbog to work on my novel. I wrote 1,500 words in two hours.

Aug. 10: I went to the LoCo Artisan with Zoey along and worked on my novel. I wrote 1,100 words in one-and-a-half hours.

Aug. 12: I went to the Coffee Tree to meet Sarah and worked on my novel. I wrote 1,250 words in one-and-a-half hours, bringing me to 18,000 words.

Aug. 16: I worked on my novel. It was a struggle, but I kept pushing through. I wrote 445 words in 30 minutes and then figured I’d do better at it the next day (I just didn’t feel the magic but was able to leave off at a good starting place).

Aug. 17: I went to the LoCo Artisan, where I worked on my novel by identifying character and setting traits because at nearly 20,000 words, I’m forgetting little details. I then realized the work I struggled to do yesterday was lost. This is the third time I lost stuff with this computer. I wasn’t happy about it.

Aug. 19: After work, I took Zoey out and met Sarah at the Coffee Tree for our write-in. I wrote 440 words, basically the same number I lost, and I recalled most of the scene, so I felt better about things.

Aug. 20: I went to the LoCo Artisan to work on my novel. As I wrote, it felt like my novel was slowly unfolding where I just sat down and wrote, writing one thing after another. Things were getting set up, and then the spilling out of one thing after another guided me, and I imagined my setting, and it all started coming out. I wrote nearly 1,000 words in one-and-a-half hours.

Aug. 23: I took Zoey with me to Starbucks and worked on my novel for two-and-a-half hours, stopping for pet-Zoey breaks, because she’s an attention magnet. I wrote 2,150 words, feeling good about letting it pour out and unfold as the characters worked out the storyline. It’s like you write something and then you think of what to write next, and on it goes as words or images pop in your head to be written down.

Aug. 24: I went to the LoCo Artisan to sit outside to work on journaling and my novel. I wrote 1,500 words in one-and-a-half hours. It’s odd how fiction bubbles underneath with truth. It’s like I’m telling the truth of my story with lots of made up characters and plot happenings.

Working around writer’s block

In Freewriting, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on September 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

Let your imagination go as you kick past writer's block.

Let your imagination go as you kick past writer’s block.

Writer’s block: my big dread. It’s not just the blank page and the start of the project. It’s being in the middle of something.

Like right now. I set aside a couple of hours to work on my novel about an unhappy waitress who wants to be a musician, but instead I’m checking my email, writing about my blockage and thinking about how nice it is outside.

I know that once I start writing, I’ll get into the process. I’ll lose track of time. I’ll absorb into the story.

That’s because writing is a type of unfolding. It’s a creative process, just like painting with one brush stroke being added to the next and the next until line and form begin to emerge.

How does writing let one thing lead to another? If you lose your conscious, self-editing self and just write, not caring about the result, there will be some possible sloppiness that can be edited out later. The sloppy can be at the grammar level or in character or plot development.

But the idea is to get something down, which can lead to more writing and then to form, as one description opens into the next. It’s a matter of jumping in without caring or worrying over product.

For example, I’m writing my novel as a seat-of-the-pantser writer, instead of writing from an outline, though I know the end scene. I don’t know the arc or how my scenes will lead up to the end.

Each time I sit down to write, I face the blank page and not a specific part of a scene to move the story forward, making me a little insecure. I immediately ask where my book’s heading? Sure, there’s The End, but what about the middle?

Not knowing about the middle is like not knowing what is in the subconscious mind, but interestedly enough, once I start typing wanting to reach 500 or 1,000 words, things bubble out that I don’t expect. I’ve freed up my writing, but because I still have an idea of the ending, I have a framework, but one that is loose.

As a result, I’m writing from another part of myself, one with fewer boundaries and fears because it just wants to push the words out. The scenes are there, but with more of my memory and thoughts and passions embedded in the words.

Magazine Obsessed

In Reading, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on September 6, 2015 at 11:00 am

I am magazine obsessed, at least when it comes to magazines for writers.

I subscribe to “Writer’s Digest,” “The Writer” and “Poets & Writers,” but unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind. I have about a dozen issues to catch up, because I wasn’t reading magazines for a few months.

Life happened. Writing didn’t, or not so much. And the magazines remained in my closet.

To get myself back on track, so that I’m reading two months ahead of the publication date (I love how publications send you your subscription before it hits the stands, so you’re smarter and ahead of the trends), I stuck magazines in my book bag, my work folder and anywhere else I could stash and carry a copy. Basically, I wanted to go to the post office, get my magazine and start reading, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I have to add to my magazine pile!”

In fact, I used to be two dozen copies behind, and I entered a magazine reading frenzy at the beginning of the year. Appointments, breaks and spare moments became a time for reading about writing. What resulted is a kind of dialog, where I kept absorbing new angles, new ideas and new information about the elements of writing, the craft of storytelling and the life of writers and how they approach writing discipline, motivation and craft.

As a writer, I can’t stop learning about the craft, because even if writing stories and novels follows structure and form, ways of understanding and approaches differ. Reading magazine articles layers in details of understanding the craft, so that it’s a constant learning process.

I made my work breaks a focused way of working my way through the magazine pile. I write as a journalist and spend two or three evenings a week working on my novel, editing other novel projects and writing the occasional short story or poem. I write and write some more; i.e., it sometimes seems like too much.

But if I spend a half-hour flipping through the pages of a magazine, reading about writing, I relax, especially if I’m outside in the sun absorbing the rays and the words. I get inspired to go back to work, thinking about what I learned about writing and the writing life.

The reading causes me to be more absorbed in the process, because I’m not just writing after work but constantly refreshing and reading new material.

So, I don’t know what I’ll do when I get through my pile.

Maybe I’ll have to return to eagerly awaiting my next issue, ready to read every article, but slower to make it last.