Shelley Widhalm

Archive for October, 2015|Monthly archive page

When enough is enough (editing wise), and thinking NaNoWriMo

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 25, 2015 at 5:00 am

I am taking notes with the help of my dog, Zoey.

I am taking notes with the help of my dog, Zoey.

Part of the writing process is editing and revising, but how does a writer know when to stop perfecting the work?

For me, I would say it has to do with boredom.

After spending two years on my 2013 NaNoWriMo book, “The Money Finder,” now renamed, “In the Grace of Beautiful Stars,” I am done.

I wrote the draft in six weeks, barely making it to 51,000 words in November 2013 and tacking on another two weeks to write another 20,000 words and finish the story. I set aside the manuscript for two months, and then I made a revision, loving reading my story for the first time to see what I’d created. I’d written blind, not going back over my manuscript as I wrote, unless it was to fact check.

In the following months, I picked it up and set it aside, losing track of how many times I edited and revised my young adult novel about a 15-year-old girl who tries to use her money finding abilities to solve her family crisis.

If I had to guess, I would say it’s been at least a dozen. Timing myself, I know I spent an average of an hour per 10 pages (at a space and a half), clocking in an hour-and-a-half for that number of pages in the early part of the book and getting through 15 toward the end. It’s that way with everything I write. Could it be that once I get rolling and into the storytelling, I know what I’m doing? Or maybe it’s a matter of my becoming impatient and wanting to be finished with yet another revision.

Instead of cutting during the past couple of revisions, like editing is supposed to do, I ended up lengthening my manuscript each time. In the latest revision, I made a few cuts, but then I found gaps in scene, description and dialog markers (such as who’s saying what and the speakers’ gestures and expressions) and started filling them in.

My last three edits went from 79,100 words to 86,100 words to the most current of 91,500 words. I have 40 pages left on that edit and am anxious to get it done and not look at it again for a few months (except to start that long process of looking for a literary agent).

I found I’m doing more reading than work.

There were a few factual errors and gaps in scene. My characters magically got transported from one place to the next, or they didn’t do something necessary to carry forth the rest of the scene.

There were areas needing transitions and a few gaps, or those little spaces of writing I’d still hadn’t filled in as I hastily wrote and then revised for the writing elements of plot development, storytelling, arc, setting and character. I’d already looked and evaluated and analyzed all that stuff.

This time, it was down to the details.

And at that level, after all the larger picture work, it’s time to let go and realize the work is your best.

Of course, in a few months, maybe I’ll change my mind.

Or not.

There is “The End” after all, both for the story and the telling of that story.

Enough is enough.


Top 10 writing tips

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing Tips on October 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

Nature can be an inspiration for writing, such as this baby rabbit at the library.

Nature can be an inspiration for writing, such as this baby rabbit at the library.

Every writer I meet has their top tips for writing and the rules they live by to make sure they write, both in the sense of discipline and inspiration.

Writing takes both, because there has to be a little bit of the spark, as well as the willingness to show up and do the work. Granted, I’ve felt a flutter of an idea only to tamp it down, because I was busy, tired or overwhelmed. I didn’t want to write.

And then there have been times when I made myself write and produced terrible work, forcing out each word, deleting, starting over or focusing on anything that provides distraction instead of getting out the words.

But these are the exceptions.

So, too, are those occasions when I start and stop just as suddenly. I tried and then didn’t try, giving up too easily.

For example, earlier this week, I wrote for 15 minutes because I felt inspired and then stopped at 200 words, because I did enough, right? I didn’t feel like writing. I made up an excuse, because I wanted to work on editing my novel—for me, editing is work and effort, so what I want to do when it’s time to revise is be finished.

I don’t want to do the work. I want to have the work done.

But to write requires work and lots of it, so:

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. Write for two hours or 1,000 words, reasonable goals I’ve heard from other writers.
  • Get rid of distractions and the inner critic, which can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or invite in writer’s block.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because the more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Have more awareness, using all the senses when making observations and creating scenes.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that, with fiction and poetry, you’re not in total control of it. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, the story unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the story down, then fine tune it with details, nuances and deepening of the plot, character and setting. Revise and revise again.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard.
  • Focus on the process instead of the results. Enjoy that process.
  • And, last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

Work-life balance (or write-write balance)

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 4, 2015 at 11:00 am


I don’t like sitting, and I don’t like being in front of a computer—at least for long periods of time.

But I used to not even think about my tools of writing. They were just there for me to use—and replace every so often when they got old and nonfunctional.

I write for a living, and I write for fun with the goal to make the writing I want to do—writing novels—full time. It’s a lot of writing, as a result, but I try to balance it with daily exercise—running and lifting weights—and doing social things.

Balance, how do you achieve it when you work life and dream life both involve computers?

  • First of all, make sure you read.
  • Set aside certain times for writing, but don’t guilt yourself if you don’t write.
  • Vary where you write, such as at home, a park, a restaurant or a coffee shop and find something stimulating in that environment to think about or absorb—such as the grinding of the coffee beans or the way the air feels as time shifts from high noon into the afternoon.
  • Take breaks every few minutes to stretch, or take a mini-walk for a mind refresher.
  • Make sure you have free time to do whatever you want that gives you a break from the routine, particularly if it doesn’t involve writing.
  • Try writing in a notebook if computers are your normal tool, or vice versa. The switch may cause you to see and write differently—handwriting slows you down, while typing causes you to lose the pen-hand connection and get lost in the writer’s world.
  • Find a new interest or hobby, or even forge a new friendship, to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write when you don’t feel like it.

So, for me, congratulations are in order—I turned my feeling like not writing into a blog, and now I’m motivated to return to my other projects—a novel to edit and another novel that I’m a third way in.

It’s the writer’s life, a constant need for discipline, motivation and encouragement (even if it’s from the self to the self).

(See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s take on this subject at