Shelley Widhalm

Archive for July, 2016|Monthly archive page

Camp NaNo motivation/discipline

In Camp NaNoWriMo, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on July 31, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writers are supposed to be self-disciplined and motivated to write, right?

Not always so, and certainly not always easy with writers’ block, a limit of time or place, and life getting in the way.

That’s why Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July is a good option to offer that discipline and motivation with a bit of competition. The writing challenge offers writers working on novels, short story collections and other writing projects a numbers goal and a deadline. Writers pick how many words they want to write for the month and have 30 or 31 days to finish the count, depending on the month.

Writers can choose to be put in camps with other writers who have similar projects or goals, and can measure their progress in a group setting. I set my goal at 20,000 words, and because I like to do what I set out to do and hate last-minute writing, I reached 17,400 words by July 20. And then I thought, “oh well, whatever,” and skated through the rest of the month, writing less frequently with fewer words during each writing session. I was a little tired, though not less excited about writing.

I worked on a collection of short stories with the same setting of a coffee shop, tentatively called “Coffee Shop Tales,” and I finished one story and wrote eight more during the month. In April, I worked on the same project but spent most of it writing a 15,000-word neither-here, neither-there project that I have to cut or lengthen to be an actual short story or a novella or novel.

Here’s a sampling of my writing days (as pulled from my journal):

  • July 6: I wrote 2,060 words in one-and-a-half hours, finishing a short story that was kind of strange.
  • July 11: I wrote 1,090 words in 40 minutes and am at 8,230 words for Camp NaNo, so far writing seven out of 11 days. I edited the story and added another 135 words.
  • July 13: I wrote 2,280 words in one-and-a-half hours.
  • July 20: I worked on finishing a short story and wrote 1,540 words in one hour, feeling good that I wrote and could solve the problem of the story’s direction. Later in the day, I wrote 1,540 words in an hour, finishing a short story in that time (and accomplished writing 3,140 words in one day, my record so far). It was kind of fun, and the voice was a little different.
  • July 28: I wrote a short story and wrote 2,830 words just to get the Camp finished. I reached 20,700 words exactly!

I love Camp NaNo, because you get to choose your goal and get some motivation and discipline as you work toward it, all within a month.

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Writing fast for Camp NaNo

In Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on July 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

Camp NaNoWriMo is a way to write fast, focus on word count and get a project started or continued without worrying about perfection.

Being a perfect writer slows the process, because what if there’s an error at the sentence level or in the overall structure?

To see the whole, it’s necessary to write through all the parts. And then each of the parts—plot, character, voice, dialog, setting and theme—have to be edited and revised to tie together the whole into a great story with all the elements pulling in the reader.

Earlier this month, I was reluctant to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo, because once I set a goal, I have to meet it, and I get a little anxious trying to get there. But my friend signed up, and I was like, “Oh, all right,” not to her, but to myself.

I signed up because I want to finish a project that seems to be treading water, a collection of short stories tentatively called “Coffee Shop Tales.” Though I have the same setting for the collection, the stories are lacking a narrative thrust toward some major event as I’d originally planned.

The advantage of Camp NaNoWriMo—offered in April and July where writers encourage each other on their personal writing projects—is the automatic discipline of announcing a goal and feeling obligated to meet it.

In April, I worked on the collection, going 100 words over my goal of 15,000 words. This time, I’m aiming for 20,000 words, upping the challenge with the hope I can write through to that major story event.

Fast writing is a way to retain plot, character and setting, because the project is constant, not something to go back to days or weeks later.

It’s a way to freewrite with an idea of the elements of the story in mind, so the writing remains structured.

And it’s a way to get into the zone, letting the imagination take over. It’s almost like reading because the characters and plot do the work—even though you’re there, the writing is so quick one thing plays off the next.

The writing becomes intuitive. It may be coming from the subconscious. It can bring up surprises. And then one thing happens and the next and the next …

Assembling a short story collection

In Writing, Writing Processes, Writing Short Stories on July 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

I’m trying a writing experiment, where I’m setting a dozen short stories in the same setting, hoping that the stories tie together toward some big climax and disaster.

Instead, I’ve gotten very observant about the coffee shop that serves as my setting and the characters in each individual story. The coffee shop is real but everything else is made up pantser style.

Each story has a nice little plot with the arc of beginning, middle and end.

Each story has a regular cast of characters with the dialog, dialog tags and interactions carrying the plot forward.

And each story has a narrator with a distinct voice, some in first or third person.

The problem is the stories aren’t coming together in a nice, pat plotline.

Instead, they are acting as separate stories not wanting to hang out with my other stories.

I’m a pantser writer, but I’d planned to have my stories move toward some great explosion at the end.  I’ve written 11 stories for the “collection” ranging from 700 to 15,000 words.

I set one of the stories around a barista who regularly shows up in several of the stories, but he became someone else, and I had to change his name from Aaron to Alex. Alex wasn’t such a nice guy. Aaron was, for the most part. Shana is another barista who regularly appears in the collection, retaining her B-word-iness throughout, so I’m happy about that. We’ve all got to have a B.

Here’s what I learned—and still need to do—about writing and assembling a collection of short stories:

  • Aim for at least 40,000 words.
  • Focus on a genre and stylistic approach, such as literary or commercial.
  • Keep the tone similar from story to story, or mix them up so something dark is next to something light.
  • Choose the best stories and don’t put in everything, because maybe the stories don’t fit or need more work.
  • Try to get one or two of those stories published.
  • Give the collection a title that shows how the stories tie together, such as using the title of the strongest story.
  • Start off and end with the strongest stories.
  • Mix the lengths from one story to the next, putting long next to short.

And write some more if there seems to be gaps in the unfolding of the stories, which need to have some element tying them together.

For me, that means getting back to writing and figuring out the great disaster.

Coming back to incomplete stories

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on July 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writers can get those thorns in the side, or what I call incomplete works that have potential coupled with a big black lack.

The lack, or “lack” because it’s temporary, is like a flaw that through some thought can be worked out.

Maybe the lack is from a dip in motivation to return to the starter idea, because it’s moved from a small rip to a hole.

Maybe it’s from not knowing where to go next, or from stitching that’s uneven from not seeing the thread to move it along.

Or, maybe it’s from having too many ideas that cannot be sorted out in immediate thought but needs some subconscious work, achieved by getting in front of the story and doing some pantsing, freewriting and exploring. It’s from too much thread covering up the hole, so that the material becomes tough, needing some of the stitches let loose.

It also can be, instead of from a lack of direction, the result of trying to be too perfect, trying to come up with the whole product without seeing the small steps, or stitches, needed to get to the seam.

That’s because it’s hard to hold the whole story in the head.

What I’ve found is that it’s okay to not know where the story is headed.

Earlier this week, I returned to a short story hanging out with the gap of a middle and the lack of an ending. My story only had a beginning. It had a protagonist who made me uncomfortable—he was male, not my usual point-of-view, and he had a rough, sardonic voice.

I’d wanted to fix and find the rest of what I’d started.  I decided, I’m just going to finish this thing.

To do so, I had to let go of my planning, controlling thoughts and go deeper into the mind where raw stories can emerge. I had to let the characters take over, setting aside plotting and planning, and also my ego, so I could immerse in the story.

I filtered out the rest of the noise, outside and inside, thus increasing my focus.

And I allowed my mind to go free, so the subconscious could solve the plot and characterization problems I’d launched into that left me temporarily directionless. I took the material that I had and found that as I let my mind go, I was solving problems and coming up with new material.

I found that my writing became about risk taking, surprises, making it up and letting go. I found, too, that I hadn’t wanted to leave the story for too long, abandoned, because it would become unfamiliar and not me.

I came back for my middle and The End.

Giving a poetry reading (comfortably)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems on July 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoetryMuseum 2015Reading poetry aloud creates a different experience than reading it on the page.

The poet should read the poem slowly to emphasize each word and to give it space and time, so the listeners can take in the sounds and meanings.

Reading a poem too quickly causes those nuances to be lost, as well as what the poem says. It just becomes a string of words.

That’s what I learned to prepare for my participation in a public poetry reading.
I read three of my poems about summer a few days after the solstice during Poetry at the Museum: Summer Solstice Poetry, A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Sunday, June 26, at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. The two-hour event featured poetry, music and storytelling, all around the theme of summer.

Three local poets organize seasonal readings around the change of the seasons for summer, fall, winter and spring. They invited half a dozen poets and artists to present their works about summer and Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.:

I scoured my poetry for seasonal poems, finding only two, and wrote a new one to get to my three. Though I love summer, I realized I had few poems about summer, but had many about spring and fall and even a few about the starkness of winter.

When I read the poems, I wasn’t shaking and nervous, but felt comfortable. I’d practiced at the mike and read my poems several times out loud, getting to the point of memorizing a few lines.

Here are a few more tips for reading poetry in front of audience:

  • Put the poems in an extra large font.
  • Move your finger along the page as you read.
  • Look up at individual members of the audience.
  • Don’t overdramatize or try to be cute.
  • Emphasize the last one to two lines.

And lastly, practice because that’s what provides that comfort factor. It’s doing what you did before, but with a few more people in the room.