Shelley Widhalm

Archive for November, 2016|Monthly archive page

Thank you, Writing

In Loving Writing, Writing on November 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

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Giving thanks is a given for Thanksgiving, and the way my family and I said thank you added fun and creativity to the holiday.

This year, my brother and I visited our mother at her assisted living place for the noon meal.

Most of the residents sat at a long table in the center of the dining room, but a few of the families joined together at their own tables. Before the staff served the traditional fare of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberries, the new volunteer director of activities told the 50 or so people in the room to find their tags next to the silverware and write what they were thankful for.

My first one was easy—and sorry this is sideways, but I couldn’t get the photo to rotate—because it was about my dog, Zoey. I wrote “My dog, Zoey,” and my mom said, “I knew you’d write that one.”

Next, I put my apartment, because I love it and where I live, feeling like it’s the first place that’s a perfect fit and so me.

I also love books, and I love writing and the fact that I love to write.

I got four tags, when there were supposed to be three per person, which was a good thing, because four wasn’t enough.

I’m also thankful for:

  • Nice people and getting smiles.
  • Running and lifting weights.
  • Being in shape.
  • The seasons and seeing spring leaves and the colors of fall.

And my list could go on and on.

The important thing is taking a moment to reflect—not just on Thanksgiving but every day. I try to find one thing to be thankful for, though Zoey always is a given, so really it is at least two things.

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A NaNoWriMo break

In Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Writing, Writing Inspiration on November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

This month is National Novel Writing Month, when writers aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I love NaNoWriMo, but this year I’m taking a bit of a break from routine writing.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice, in 2013 and 2015, and I’m editing my 2013 NaNoWriMo book and some of my short stories and having fun with the process of adding little details and cutting out large chunks (which I save, because I have a hard time letting go).

Basically each week, I’m doing lots of editing and a tiny bit of writing.

In the process, I’m finding that taking a break from serious, constant writing is necessary to get inspiration, to get motivation and basically to hit a mental Refresh. I’m writing in little flashes, instead of my regular routine.

Right now, I’m working on writing prompts and a short story that became a sort of novella but isn’t a novel. It’s just a big fuzzy mess I can play around with, because I’m not working on it with a specific goal in mind. It’s there to work on when I step up to the plate to write—meaning, I’m meeting with my writer friends for a write-in or doing some mentoring with writing students.

Basically, it’s keeping me in the game until I’m ready to go off break and “clock in” rested, relaxed and refreshed.

Writing requires a lot of mental work, processing sensory details from the world, developing character identities and creating plotlines, and this work can be tiring without the balance of a three-dimensional life. Writing takes a great deal of brainstorming, thinking, evaluating, creating and, of course, revising.

Doing NaNoWriMo is a way to speed write through a draft of a novel or part of a draft, so that the characters and storyline are almost happening like real life, because every day, writers show up to do the inventing and creating. It’s quite the opposite of taking a break, but going all out for a project. That’s why I admire anyone who takes it on, both for the commitment and for the magic that seems to happen with fast, furious writing.

I did Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, when writers pick their word-count goals for the month. The first one, I did 15,000 words and the second, 20,000, which spurred me into writing a bunch of short stories, including the one that’s become a novella or something else that I haven’t figured out yet.

It’s all part of the process, going from rest and refreshing to serious, fully-engaged, fast, furious and also fun writing.

Taking a writing (and running) break

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on November 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

As a writer and a runner, I learned, albeit slowly, that breaks are important.

Breaks offer relaxation, a time to heal and a way to spur new creativity.

I pulled a muscle in my hip three weeks ago, but, being stubborn, I thought I could still run … when I couldn’t. Over the past week, I ran slower and slower, taking my mile down to a minute a lap at the gym, where 14 laps equals one mile. That’s pretty darn slow for someone who’s been running for five years.

As I forced my running, I got to the point where my back started hurting, and then my knee, my ankle and my other hip. Basically, it was a bad idea to run. I had to get a massage on Thursday and, with my hip still hurting, accept the fact I now can’t run for a few days.

I did the same thing earlier this year with my writing. I forced it, thinking, “Well, I’m a writer; therefore, I should write.” The ideas dribbled away, and, as was the case with my running, I felt stuck and unable to do it.

Luckily, I had to do lots of editing work on a novel I’m revising and some short stories, and I promised myself I’d only write when I was with my writing friends or felt the inspiration. I made it a matter of casual writing fun, though I recognized that daily discipline is important in writing with breaks just as important.

Taking a break is a way to relax and let the mind go, allowing for the subconscious to make connections that the conscious mind can’t force.

It’s a way to get new ideas or find new approaches to a project.

It’s a way to gain objectivity, because it’s hard to see the whole story or novel when caught in the middle or in the midst of the details. Stepping back lets the details or parts of the project become one overall piece, instead of the next part of the writing puzzle. It refreshes your mind for better critiquing by having a new view of the work that’s already been done.

And it’s a way to vary routine, so that things feel new, fresh and different.

Forcing writing can cause boredom, making it feel like a chore, affecting the quality of the work. The quality is evident when it comes to revising, because the work requires more layers of editing from line to content.

Taking a break is a way to come back to the work with a clear mind and a new perspective and, hopefully, an understanding of why it wasn’t working before. As with running, it’s a way to heal the mind, so that the writing becomes faster and better, just like I’ll be when I get back on the track—or, at least I hope so. Otherwise, it’ll look like I’m on a walk!

The “cake” of reading poetry aloud

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems on November 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

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I’m being dramatic as I talk about my poetry in “Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology” during a reading, Wednesday, Nov. 2, in Fort Collins.

I felt the greatest honor when I had the opportunity to read three of my poems to an audience of about 50 people last week.

The poems, along with two to three poems from 25 other poets who are members of Northern Colorado Writers, were selected for Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology, edited by member Dean Miller. Miller helped organize a launch party Wednesday in Fort Collins, where poets could invite their families and friends to attend.

My brother and his fiancé and a couple of my friends came as my guests, and my friend, Sarah, took photos of me reading.

When I got up to the mike, I was a little too quiet, so a member of the audience told me to use my diaphragm, and I said I didn’t know where it was, throwing in some humor and getting a small laugh. I tried to take deep breaths and raise the volume of my voice, but I was nervous. I tried to read slowly, pronouncing each word and putting emphasis on the last line, but I think I read too quickly.

I read a twitter poem, a form I think I might have made up, but, as I told everyone there, wasn’t sure. It was 140 characters or less, or 22 words. Next, I read a haiku about Nebraska, where I came from, and asked everyone not to hold it against me. That poem was 13 words, following the 5, 7, 5 syllable format.

Finally, I read a free verse poem comparing writing on a notebook page to the wings of hummingbirds.

I might have been at the mike for three or four minutes, but it felt like 15 minutes. My heart beat too fast, and I forgot to make eye contact. I tried to look up at the audience here and there, but I went back to the words, focusing on pronouncing everything correctly. I think I got that part right.

After the reading, where about 13 poets read, there was cake (and appetizers). I ate the frosting off of two pieces of cake (I can’t eat gluten) and felt like I had my cake and the frosting, too, because reading your poetry to an audience is that special extra after having written something in a few sweet words. I got a sugar high and a poetry high, too.