Shelley Widhalm

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Happy Writing New Year (with a few reflections)

In Loving Writing, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Year in Review on December 31, 2017 at 6:00 pm


Zoey the Cute Dachshund unwraps her presents on Christmas Day, leaving bits of ribbon and paper. Her unwrapping antics are like reviewing a year of trails, tribulations and presents!

Wrapping up a year is a time for reflection, and starting a new one is a time for resolutions.

My reflections will be in two parts: practical and then personal. As for resolutions, I’ll wait for January’s first blog in 2018.

The Practical

This year, I made the commitment to blog every week, though at times it’s felt like a chore. With 52 spots to fill, how do writers keep coming up with ideas to write about writing and editing that are interesting, informative and insightful? I developed an editorial calendar and a topic for the month, using my writers’ magazines, conversations with writers and brainstorming sessions for idea generation.

I made the commitment to write a poem a day, starting in August—I mostly kept on track with that, slipping here and there and then poem cramming, writing five to eight at once to fill in the blanks.

I also made the commitment to write short stories, edit my novels and get published. My ROI was a few stories, partial editing that still is on my task list and stuff in the drawer—or in the laptop files.

I also (another also!) learned a lot by writing about writing and all of the components of the process.

The Personal

This is where I could go deep about my awful, wonderful, tiring, I-wonder-if-I-can-do-it 2017 year. I didn’t plan to get laid off from a newspaper writing position in November 2016—of course not!—nor did I plan to start a writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services. Freelancing and writing and editing for clients is something I did on occasion and wanted to do professionally but in one of those bucket list kind of ways. It was for later and to not take too seriously, because it seemed scary and a big unknown.

But then I found myself building a website, teaching myself along the way and crying out of frustration and not knowing what I was doing. I filed the paperwork for my business in mid-January, created marketing materials over the next couple of months and started freelancing for a couple of newspapers. I also looked for a job.

My friend, an entrepreneur who does tech support, said I should launch my website—I said, “It needs to be perfect and I’m not ready!”—but I did it (in February). He suggested I send a press release to the local newspaper—“I’m not ready, again!”—but I did it (in March).

I started going to the Loveland Business Development Center, getting advice on starting and building a business (in April). I went to Loveland Startup Week (also in April) geared toward entrepreneurs, feeling scared and out of place.

At the Bottom to the Top

That’s when I started the name calling. About and against me: Insecure Entrepreneur, Shy Entrepreneur, Scared Entrepreneur.

What am I doing?

I wanted a guidebook, a textbook and directions step-by-step of how to do this. I wanted 9-to-5. I wanted Linus’s security blanket. I wanted my puppy.

I got questions. I got lost. I felt alone. Scared. Unsure of what to do or what’s next. I’ve heard that entrepreneurs feel scared and alone, so I wasn’t “alone” technically. I called my mother—lots. I cried—lots. I wondered what I was doing.

And then I got sick of feeling like a “loser” when I was trying to win. I decided to be happy and tell myself that “Yes, I can,” and took my little writing and editing engine and pushed it up the hill. I Facebooked a friend five days before Christmas, who is Grinch-y at Christmastime and loves to post negative crap online: “I am happy even when things suck because I have me.”

I posted on my wall a few days earlier: “I feel gratitude that I got thrown to the wind and found my wings. I finally see this!”

Every time I get discouraged, I imagine big wings on my body and the image reminds me of that post. Thinking about myself with fluffs of feathers is a way to get rid of any negative thoughts, because it’s a funny image that takes the mind to the power of wings that lift.

At the end of 2017, I can say I’m more confident, less scared (but still so, because I don’t have my 9-to-5 to count on) and more in the moment. I can’t think about the big future and the crappy layoff and the other crap of life. I have to think about what brought me to this point in the first place: I love writing. I can’t live without writing. Writing is my joy.

Happy New Year and Joy to Writing, Reading and Editing!


Merry Christmas with Cute Puppy Photos

In Cute Dachshunds, Cute Dogs, Holiday Traditions, Holidays on December 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm


Zoey chews her new Nylabone after opening her presents during a previous Christmas celebration.

Merry Christmas Eve and Merry Christmas! Today and tomorrow are days to celebrate and not think about writing, blogging or editing—unless you’re a journaler or impulse poem writer.

This week, I thought I’d share some photos of my family holiday traditions that, of course, include cute puppy photos of Zoey the Very Cute Dachshund. She just turned 9 on Dec. 20, so she loves treats, toys and attention, all T-type words!

My family and I used to open up stocking gifts on Christmas Eve and presents under the tree on Christmas Day. Now, we mainly trade gift cards and an occasional present. We get together at my mom’s assisted living place, eat the noon meal, talk and then open presents. Zoey gets her own presents, too, usually rawhide, treats, a new toy and a re-wrapped teddy bear. She opens her presents all on her own!

Have a Merry Christmas and happy holidays and happy however you cherish your traditions. Happy New 2018!


Zoey opens her own presents during a previous Christmas celebration.


Zoey seeks more presents for Christmas, because more is better!


Zoey is tired from all of the Christmas fun!

Adding Fun to Holiday Blogging

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Holidays, Writing Advice on December 17, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Birthday(WithSarah)3 04-16How does blogging fit in with Christmas lights and letters, holiday get-togethers and the office lunches with all of the fancy foods?

Blogging weekly, every other week or monthly is a commitment, and the holidays should be a way to celebrate the desire to blog—even if champagne, ice cream or truffles sound more fun. Do both—write quickly and efficiently (or hire someone else to be your ghostwriter/ghost blogger) and still enjoy the holiday cheer.

Regular blogging gives you expertise, and your readers look to your blog and expect to see your content, even during busy times. Blogging is a way to spread your thoughts, ideas, opinions and knowledge and can be used to promote your project, event, company, service or topic of interest.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about blogging:

  • Blogs should follow a schedule. Weekly is best, but monthly is OK. Inconsistent blogging causes you to lose readers and get lower rankings from the search engines. Consistent blogging is a way to give updates and provide new material, while pleasing the engines that prefer fresh content and will give you a higher ranking.
  • Blogs can vary in length. Blogs are considered short at 300 to 500 words and optimal or medium length at 500 to 700 words. Blogs that are 1,000 words or more are considered long or article length.
  • Blogs should have short paragraphs—usually one to three sentences—with lots of bullet points and subheads within the content.
  • Blogs should have original content targeted to a specific audience with new, updated and engaging material. Make sure to follow a theme and focus on a topic or set of topics to sustain reader interest.

How do you make “the rules of blogging” fun? Think of it as work with a reward. Literally, do the writing and then get the truffle or ice cream. Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list. Make it part of your routine.

Break it up into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work. Write about something that interests you or find an angle that is interesting within the subject that may not be as compelling.

And, best of all, create a blogging editorial calendar with a weekly, bimonthly or monthly plan to identify what you covered and would like to cover. Do this for 2018, turning your holiday cheer into a New Year’s resolution.

Happy Blogging in 2018!

The Writing Puppy Challenge (or getting yourself to write during the holidays

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on December 10, 2017 at 6:00 pm


Zoey the Cute Dachshund opens her presents every Christmas and wants more!

Every year, I write a Christmas letter, and every year, I wrap Christmas presents or put them in gift bags with fancy ribbon.

For the first task, I go it alone, but for the second, I have a little helper.

My helper is my miniature dachshund Zoey, who will be nine years on Dec. 20—I got her when she was nine weeks. She grabs at the wrapping paper and shreds it with her teeth, so after a couple of years of this, I came up with a plan—distraction. I gave her vet-approved rawhide that she could chew, while I wrapped presents, including hers of more rawhide, treats, toys and re-gifted teddy bears (she has too many!)

Distraction, especially if it becomes a daily occurrence, doesn’t help with retaining a writing routine. During the holidays, there are the holiday parties and dinners, family get-togethers, shopping, writing Christmas letters and other time-filling activities. Without balance, discipline and a plan, these activities can become a distraction from the main goal—keeping the writing momentum going.

Writing Routines

Here are a few ways to be disciplined in writing no matter the time of year:

  • Buy a planner or use a phone app for 2018 and schedule specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished and add up the hours every week or month and compare them over time.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes in between other activities, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Write a writing action plan with goals for the year and check in every few weeks to mark your progress.
  • Take a writer’s retreat, even if it’s in your hometown, setting aside a weekend to focus on writing (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

The Writing Reward

Writing can be a reward once you get started as you mark progress toward your goals and reach those accomplishments, while also being able to engage in holiday fun. I like to see how many hours I spent on writing my novels, writing poetry and revising my work over the course of a year. I can tell when I’ve gotten distracted, and this year, I put in fewer hours, spending a great deal of time building my business.

But this holiday, I’m getting back on track and returning to my original goal of writing at least two times a week and fitting in writing whenever I can. That, to me, is a great present, just as is Zoey in her cute Christmas shirt with a bow in her ears!

Poetry Bandwagon + Poetry Reading = Poetry Fun!

In Poem a Day Challenge, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing Poetry on December 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Shelley-gift card1

Writing/finding a poem is just like getting a coffee shop gift card for Christmas. Oh, the joy!

I fell off the Poem-A-Day Challenge bandwagon and want to get back on, so I made a deal with myself—two daily poems until I catch up. To do so will take 14 days of double poem dipping.

The Poem-A-Day Challenge is something I undertook Sept. 1 to write a poem a day, and for the first month-and-a-half, I did a good job—I wrote poems every day, but then I made excuses—I’m too busy, I’m not inspired, I don’t want to turn my laptop back on, or I don’t want to take out paper and pen (because then I’ll have to do double work of writing the poem and then typing it up).

As I get back on the wagon with my poetry, I have to come up with some new poems about winter. Though I love Christmas, as you can see by my joy over gifts and coffee shop gift cards, I am not so fond of January and after the Happy New Year when it’s bitter cold with overachieving snow piles.

The poems will be for a poetry reading, “Seasonal Poetry: A Winter’s Night,” on Dec. 17 with the tagline “in celebration of the winter solstice, where poets will celebrate the darks and lights of winter.” The reading, which celebrates the winter solstice, will be 1-3 p.m. at the Loveland Museum/Gallery, 503 N. Lincoln Ave., presented by The Regional Poets.

I have a tiny collection of poems about winter, mainly about barren tree branches and leaves scuttling along all broken and stuff, but they won’t work. I need to write about the theme.

To wait for inspiration to write the poems is unreliable—and for me, poems arrive very infrequently if I sit around and think, “Come here, Poems!”

Alternatively, showing up for daily poem writing results in a few bad poems and even more good ones. As part of the daily poem challenge, I’ve written a lot of haikus, because they’re short. At first, I thought I was “cheating,” but now see that I’ve improved in a couple of ways. I can write them quickly and count the syllables as I do so—it’s harder than it seems the whole-5-7-5 formula.

Here are a few tricks I use to be show up for poetry:

  • Use the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture thoughts, ideas, feelings and observations.
  • Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
  • Avoid using clichés, generalities and vague concepts, like love or war.
  • Avoid overusing trite words, such as hearts and tears, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • Be specific in descriptions.

Once the poem is written, cut excess words, such as “and,” “the” and extra descriptors. Give the poem a title that fits with the message that also is intriguing and draws in the reader.

And write another poem. Keep the momentum going.

Thankfulness Pause

In Being Thankful, Gratitude, Reflections on Writing, Thanksgiving, Writing on November 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm

1123 Thanksgiving

Giving thanks is easy when it’s good things, like puppies and perfect grades, scores or assignments.

But it’s a little harder if the result is a skipping heart that over time might break. I was laid off a year ago, and I thought I wouldn’t be grateful about that—who wants to lose their job and face fear of losing more?

I was laid off Nov. 1, 2016, from a reporting position at a daily Colorado newspaper, and I felt a little bitter about Thanksgiving a year later. I thought about how during Thanksgiving 2016, I felt shaky, scared, alone and like little bombs would go off as even more could go wrong. I remember going on a run one November morning just before the holiday and wondering if the sidewalk would crack or a falling branch would hit me—this after the clutch blew on my car just after I got laid off and had a big dental bill.

Liking analogies (I’m a writer!), I thought I’d been kicked off the ship into the big ocean without a compass. Or, I was kicked out of the nest—a fledging without wings. Or, more recently, I was kicked out of the nice comfy house—a housecat that’s gone feral.

But I like being a little wild, I like to fly, and I like to be lost, because what’s happened is I found a long list of thankfulness. I went from a 9-5 pattern of expectations and routine to a constant state of learning, of trying harder than I thought I could, of reinventing, of creating, of finding new ways of writing, of digging into myself, yes, I can do this, I can. I really can! I had to learn how to ghostwrite, be a technical writer, write for different publications in different styles, and edit anything from short stories to sermons to novels from the line to the structural levels. I constantly became uncomfortable. I had to try, try, try.

My heart, it wanted to break. “Give up. It’s too hard,” it beat into my sighs.

But I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. I had to fly. I wanted my wings. I wanted to chase mice and words and have writing as my world.

And then ironically, I forgot about thinking about writing and my layoff on Thanksgiving 2017. I visited my mother for the Thanksgiving noon meal at her assisted living home, and my brother and his wife joined in. We had the traditional holiday fare, and like last year, the volunteer director of activities asked the 75 people in the dining area to find the leaf-shaped paper cutouts on our tables to write what we are thankful for.

My first one was easy, and the same as last year, “Zoey my dog.”

Next, I put, “My apartment in downtown,” something similar to what I wrote last year. The new things on my list included “Coffee!” “My family and friends,” and, here’s the key, “My BUSINESS,” with “business” in caps. That said it all, the layoff and the kick outs were worth the eventual ROI—except I didn’t save a cutout for “Writing.” Ironic, because I love to write and am thankful for it, and I had put it, along with reading, on last year’s list.

Even so, I ended the day realizing that what seems like a negative, something that’s heartbreaking and scary, can turn to the good. It’s how you cut it out and shape it—I have a new perspective that I couldn’t have in my 9-5 sameness—what happens outside doesn’t matter to how I treat my wings.

Because despite the things I cannot control, I can and will fly even if my wings aren’t ready yet. I’ll get there. It takes a paper cutout leaf with a new word, “HOPE.”

Being Thankful for Writing

In Being Thankful, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on November 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Thanks 11-16

Thanksgiving is a time for showing gratitude. What are you thankful for?

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

My brother and I had visited our mother at her assisted living place for the noon meal. Before the staff served the traditional fare of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberries, the 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 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, but my list could go on.

The important thing I saw from the activity is to take a moment to reflect—not just on Thanksgiving but every day. Here are a few reasons I’m thankful for writing.

Writing is a Way:

  • To be creative.
  • To play around with words and language.
  • To improve your understanding of words and how to be concise with language and how to effectively get the message across.
  • To have a hobby (or a job) that can result in a physical product.
  • To figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • To express yourself, using your intelligence and creative mind at the same time.
  • To make connections with text, memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • To tell stories and disappear into another world, where you don’t see the page and can’t tell that you’re writing.

What is the End Result?

It’s interesting to see what you create after spending a few minutes or hours on a story or essay. It’s a process of discovery that also can give you a sense of accomplishment after completing the project, meeting a word or time goal or reaching the final page of that first or 12th draft.

What are you thankful for? What parts of writing make you grateful that you love to write?

This blog is reprinted from my monthly Shell’s Ink Newsletter, where I provide, fun, useful and inspiring tips about writing and editing. Sign up here. or at

Keys to Writing Discipline

In The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation on November 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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.)
  • 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 coaches and cheerleaders.

And, lastly, congratulate yourself when you write.

But 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 strand or other element of the story. 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 drink some caffeine. Pair your writing routine with your favorite treat, so that when you write, you get your treat!


Finding Work-Life Balance with Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on November 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm


Balancing writing with the rest of life is important to avoid too much time in front of the computer and to gather experiences for even more writing.

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?

Finding the Work-Life Balance:

  • 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.

One Final Note:

Lastly, realize it’s the writer’s life, that constant need for discipline, motivation and encouragement. Make sure to get out to the 3D, real world to gather those experiences that are much needed for the writing life.


Why Exactly is Editing Important?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Once the writing is done, it’s time to take out the red pen!

Editing is part of the writing process, or most definitely should be, even for emails.

Too many errors, and expert status is lowered, and writers look careless, as if they do not know what they’re doing. It gives the message that it’s OK, because everyone else is doing it, so why not join in? There isn’t enough time, or it’s not necessary. It’s just a rough draft, but it needs to be sent off anyway.

If it’s fiction, it won’t get a read if there are too many glaring errors, despite the content. Or if it’s self-published, the writing looks amateurish, making it hard to trust the story and stay on the page—errors cause the eye to stop and notice them instead of the plot, characters and setting.

Editing and a review process are important for all writers, no matter the skill level, because no one can write anything great and perfect the first time. In the least, there could be a typo or a missed word.

Before editing, set aside the writing (unless it’s an email or communication that needs to be immediately sent off) for a day or hire a third party to review the work.

Here are a few reasons why editing is important:

  • To ensure what you wrote matches what you intended to say and that your message gets across.
  • To ensure what you wrote is what you meant to write, instead of what is actually there, such as saying “their,” instead of “there.” It’s harder to see your own mistakes.
  • To tighten up what you wrote, so that there are not repetitions of material or awkward transitions between ideas or paragraphs.
  • To add missing information or to correct factual errors.
  • To make sure the flow of thoughts and ideas is logical and that there is a good structure to how the material is presented.
  • To make sure everything is understandable with the right amount of detail, but not too much detail that attention is lost.

Hiring an editor to do that editing:

Writers can start off by doing a round of their own editing to fix anything they find before hiring an editor. Manuscripts with lots of errors or sloppy writing take longer to edit and, if the editor charges by the hour, cost more.

Or, hire the editor right away, but realize that editing is best done in at least two rounds, one for general editing and a second for proofreading to catch additional errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics.

Longer manuscripts generally go through multiple stages of editing, including structural or developmental editing that looks at the entire manuscript, line editing at each individual line of text and then final proofreading to check for any missed errors.

Editing from an outside perspective can be more objective—writers get stuck in their own writing and love it because it’s their work.

The readers, too, will appreciate the editing, showing them that what they’re reading is worth their time and energy. An error won’t make them start asking questions about the meaning, the content or the writer.