Shelley Widhalm

Archive for March, 2016|Monthly archive page

Conquering the sucky first draft

In Revising, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Processes on March 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

I love writing, and I love having written.

But when it comes to revising my writing, I kind of, sort of don’t have as much fun with the whole being a writer thing.

Revision takes work, discipline and hours of time—for me, more hours than the first draft when you get to sit and spill. You get to think, I’m a writer. I’m writing. But when you’re revising, it’s not as fun to run to your manuscript and think, I’m looking at you, you big unwieldy thing.

The first go around with the very rough, very messy draft, however, can be interesting. Sometimes.

It’s when I get to wonder what it was I actually created at the meta-level. I remember the overall story, but sometimes the details slip my mind. I turn into a reader albeit with my figurative big red pen (since I edit my first draft on the computer to save time on a ton of cutting and pasting and adding and rearranging).

As I read, I sometimes think, oh, I wrote that? And then the whole cumbersome process of looking at my manuscript seems kind of fun, because I like surprises. I like seeing I’ve accomplished something. And I like making my writing better.

Revision takes work and multiple drafts to get to clean, tight copy.

To revise, a writer can look at the overall writing elements individually, such as voice, dialog, setting, character and plot. Then, there’s the level of transition and flow, so that scenes are complete without holes, followed by grammar, sentence structure and missed periods, misplaced and misused words and misspellings Spell check didn’t catch.

Here are some questions to ask during the revision process:

Is the point of view consistent? Or, if there are several point of views, do the characters get their own space? (Changing point of view in the same paragraph is jarring for the reader.)

Is the voice the same for the main character, or does it show change, such as insecure to confident or angry to acceptance? How are words used to show voice?

Is there an inciting incident that sets the story in motion?

Are there holes in the plot? Are there dropped elements? Is there too much space or time spent on the beginning, middle or end? Does the middle sag? Does the end disappoint? And do the plot strings tie together by the end?

Do the characters have physical features, introduced the first time they appear in the story?

Does the dialog move the plot?

I find that by the time I’m sick of my 12th or 15th draft, my novel’s ready to go. I’ve read it so many times I’m not editing anymore but changing unnecessarily. That’s when it’s time to say, it’s my best.

It’s time for a new project and to market the current one.

Basically, it’s time to move on.

 

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A (very fun) poetry reading

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry on March 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoetryMuseum 2015I read my poetry in an invited poetry reading, “Come Rain, Come Shine”—A spring equinox celebration in poetry and music, on Sunday, March 20, the first day of spring. It was a great preparation for National Poetry Month in April.

The reading, which was held at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado, started off with a half-hour open mic, followed by a scheduled reading from 10 local poets.

During my seven minutes, I read half a dozen poems focused on spring, specifically, “All About Things That Fly—Even Swings.” Most of my poems were short, so I read several, while the other poets read one to three poems.

Before the reading, we had a practice session, where I learned how to stand in front of a microphone and how to read a poem before an audience—slowly, annunciating each word and making sure to not let the last line drop into mumbling. Emphasize those last words, I was told.

I loved being onstage in front of about 50 people, including my brother and his girlfriend. I acted out the words and frequently looked up, smiling as much as I could. I had fun, and because I was having fun forgot to be nervous.

I read two poems about dandelion puffs (they fly when they catch the wind) and poems about butterflies, hummingbirds, geese and swing sets my father built.

Here is the one about hummingbirds:

I saw a hummingbird

Busy wings circling

Into a blur –

The mitochondria of its cells

Burning out candles.

It does not rest

With a long beak a steady sword

To drink in nectar

From flowers that let in

Those that can reach far,

Move fast

And try, try

Without ever tiring.

Spring and poetry (or springing into poetry)

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry, Writing on March 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoetryLibrary 2014

Writing poetry is a solitary act of inspiration or discipline or both, while reading poetry aloud is a matter of acting and stage presence.

Reading poetry is about the poet’s image and voice and is an expression of the self externally.

I will be reading my poetry in an invited poetry reading 1-3 p.m. Sunday, March 20, the first day of spring at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado. The reading is called, “Come Rain, Come Shine”—A spring equinox celebration in poetry and music.

I will be reading half a dozen poems focused on spring and will have five minutes, along with the other poets, who also will be focusing their expression on the season and the equinox. The reading is about spring but also a springboard into National Poetry Month in April.

I find it interesting how the process of writing is internal. It’s word play and memory and reflection. It’s a drawing inward.

Alternatively, staging poetry is going outward.

I wonder if you can have one without the other.

If poems are kept to the writer, are they a form of personal journaling? When does a poem become a poem? When it’s written or read? It has the shape of poem in written form, but it becomes a conversation and a message when it’s read aloud.

That’s why I like going to poetry readings with the freedom to give voice to what, up to that point, had been internal. Poets who share their poetry in a reading or slam are engaging in communication, expressing emotion and getting feedback for what they’ve written.

Poetry becomes a necessary language that communicates what cannot be said in other forms, compiling emotion and experience and observation into a few words. It uses form to give a message.

It is a way to add beauty to a moment, or to a large experience.

It expresses, tells, gives, takes and lives.

The words. Magic.

What writers need to survive writing

In Writing Goals, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on March 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing can be many things: a profession, a hobby, a necessity, a companion to reading.

But whatever form it takes in your life, it requires discipline.

Writing can feel like a friend, or not so much a friend, especially during the infamous, dreaded writer’s block.

So, here are a few tools to survive writing (and keep it fun):

  • Develop a writing routine, but not so strict that you can’t take breaks. (I like to write one to two times a week, or every day when I take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November to write 50,000 words in a month, a hard schedule to follow year round.)
  • Keep track of when and how long you write, such as in a spreadsheet, so that you know you’re committed and are making progress.
  • Vary your writing by trying something new, like writing a personal essay or taking on a setting or type of character that you normally wouldn’t choose.
  • Share your writing with friends who also write and will give you compliments, like “Great job!” while also giving you some constructive feedback. They can be your coach and cheerleader.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write.
  • Don’t berate yourself when you experience writer’s block. It’s natural and may mean you have something to work out with a character, plot string or personally. Or, it may be you need to gather up more experiences to have something to write about.
  • Get those experiences. Eavesdrop. Observe. Hang out in unfamiliar places to gather up dialog bits, new descriptions and different ways of observing.

Lastly, eat some chocolate. Or caffeine. Pair your writing routine with your favorite treat, so that when you write, you get your treat.