Shelley Widhalm

Archive for March, 2017|Monthly archive page

Gayle Forman relates LEAVE ME to escape fantasies, family life

In Children's Books, Gayle Forman, If I Stay, Leave Me, Mommy Porn, Novelists, Novels on March 26, 2017 at 11:00 am


Like the main character in Gayle Forman’s Leave Me, I fantasize about packing a bag and going off the grid.

Unlike Maribeth Klein, a middle-aged magazine editor, wife and mother of twins in New York City, I like to stick to patterns and routines, and I like the safety of my dog and my bed. Plus, I wouldn’t know what to pack.

Forman told an audience of about 100 of her fans Wednesday, March 22, about this fantasy she and other women share during “An Evening with Gayle Forman.”

Her talk, held at Hilton Fort Collins, is a part of the Author Series presented by Colorado State University’s Morgan Library in partnership with the Poudre River Public Library District.

“Vocalizing about running away from your family is so taboo,” Forman said. “I didn’t think I was writing such a shocking expose.”

Whispered Escape Fantasies
After her novel published in 2016, women came up to Forman and whispered about their own fantasies of escape plans, driving one exit or riding one train stop past theirs, acting as if their thoughts were shameful and a transgression.

Forman wrote the book as a revenge fantasy following what she thought were serious heart symptoms and a screaming fight with her husband, Nick. She normally writes young adult novels—her publications include I Was Here, Just One Day and If I Stay—but the genre wouldn’t fit a middle-aged character and a story about marriage and motherhood.

“I thought this was mom-porn because of the reaction I got,” Forman said, though she’s read plenty of books about men running away.

In her novel, Forman tells how Maribeth has the tendency to put herself last until she has a heart attack and thinks the symptoms are from the stress of her busy life. Her emergency bypass surgery seems to be an imposition on her family, and fearing her own response, she packs a bag and leaves them hoping her heart will heal.

“I wanted to have a novel about a woman who runs away for reasons she doesn’t understand,” Forman said. “A lot of readers hate Maribeth. They think what she does is unforgivable.”

Forman, mother of two, explained her inspiration for her novel after reading her “prequel” to the audience – her own version of The Runaway Mommy by Jane Kuo Paris, based on the children’s picture book, The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown. Instead of being about cute bunnies, Forman’s story, which matched the pictures, described a mother who couldn’t escape her clingy child.

Inspiration for the Novel
Forman detailed her personal back story to her inspiration. Six summers ago, she was on a family vacation, looking up heart attack symptoms to explain her chest pains and to try to ease her worry about her genetic risk factors. Back at home, she underwent testing and found out she was fine, but she had an idea for a novel that she then put away due to life’s busyness.

That busyness, in part, came from being the default parent undertaking most of the parental responsibility, while she and her husband both worked. She’d started out as a journalist and then went into freelance writing as a way to work at home before becoming a novelist.

“My career took off in a way I never expected,” she said, adding that her second book, If I Stay, was about to publish in 2009 when she had the chest pains.

Her every day “was tightly choreographed” with pick-ups and drop-offs, making dinner and doing chores, while also working. She had the screaming fight with her husband during a school field day for their children. At that point, being the parent who carried the household load and the emotional load “started to feel insurmountable,” she said.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she’d yelled at him.

Forman and her husband, who had “a summer of uncomfortable talks,” had thought they were “groovy and progressive,” living in hip Brooklyn, raising a multiracial family with the youngest child adopted from Ethiopia and both of them working.

“We internalized so many ideas of gender and money,” Forman said.

The Formans worked out a solution with Nick working at home as a freelancer and their co-parenting becoming more of a relay race, she said.

“It feels more what like modern parenting looks like,” Forman said.

Gayle Forman, author of LEAVE ME,, signs copies of her adult and young adult novels March 22, following her author talk at the Fort Collins Hilton. Photos by Shelley Widhalm/Shell’s Ink Services.

The Book Signing
After the book signing, I asked Forman how many drafts she did of her novel—she said about 20 revisions that included cutting the first three chapters. She had to make other cuts of family scenes, being overly indulgent with those, she said.

“I had so much fun writing about the kids, the husband and the mother, it overtook the book,” she said.

Forman said she tells her children when she’s on tour, “Mommy will come back.”

She doesn’t leave them. Not permanently. Just to escape into the world of the novel.

Shelley Widhalm is a freelance writer and editor and founder of Shell’s Ink Services, a writing and editing service based in Loveland, Colo. She has more than 15 years of experience in communications and holds a master of arts degree in English from Colorado State University. She blogs at shelleywidhalm.wordpress and

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Getting Yourself to Write

In Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on March 19, 2017 at 11:00 am


Getting past writer’s block is like a dog trying to walk on the snow.

Writing can be a struggle for writers of all levels, from beginning to professional.

The struggle has a dreaded name: writer’s block.

Writer’s block refers to not being able to write while facing the blank page or the middle of a project. It can be a matter of losing the inspiration or motivation to write, or not having the time and space.

Maybe the writer wants to write but does not know what to say or how to say it. Or the writer does not have anything new to think about or ways to describe things.

Or, could it be a matter of the writer not knowing where to go next?

Every time I face writer’s block, I engage in a little bit of B.S., my form of freewriting where I don’t care about anything but putting one word after another, placing speed above content.

I quickly think of a setting, situation or character and start writing, not caring about what I’m saying, aiming for quantity, not quality. The quality comes later when I get started and realize I have something to write about, can scrap the beginning bits and edit the rest.

Here are ways to get yourself to write:

  • Make up a writing prompt or use an existing prompt, which can be found online or by visiting my blog about ideas for writing prompts at Prompts can serve as a freewriting, block-freeing exercise.
  • Go to the dictionary and pick a word, using that as your starting point.
  • Try to write as many words as you can in 10 or 15 minutes, or even in an hour. Experienced writers can write 1,000 or more words in an hour—though what they write likely will need editing.
  • For fiction writers, start with a setting or a situation. Or develop a character identify and think about what that character would do in a certain odd, unwanted or awkward situation.
  • For nonfiction writers, think of a topic you want to learn more about and look up three ideas about it. Relate your personal experience or knowledge to that topic and aim to write 500 to 700 words, the typical length for a blog.

Why freewrite and use prompts?

The idea of freewriting and using prompts is to let go of the editor self and just start writing, not thinking too hard about the words and sentences and whether or not they are written correctly and make sense.

Freewriting allows for free association as you let the mind go, letting subconscious material arise to the surface. It’s a way to get ideas for a blog, article, short story or a novel you’re already working on. It’s a way to think of new ways to describe things and new approaches to what you’re already working on.

It’s process, then product.

What you write is rough, and then with the editing and revision process, you give it shape. You cut and paste and rework until you get what you want, seeing that you have something to write, say and do.

Finding Subject Matter for Weekly Blogging

In Blogging, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on March 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

SHELLEYWIDHALMpicI have the honor of being a guest blogger this week on the Loveland Business Development Center’s website. To see the blog, visit

Or check it out here:

Blogging about the same subject for years is reaching into a bottomless well.

That’s because content is continuously being generated with different approaches. But how do you, as a blogger and writer, create content that is interesting for you to write and compelling enough to get followers and clicks?

I began blogging on a weekly basis in 2012 at WordPress as Shell’s Ink about the writing and editing process and the writer’s life. When I first started, I methodically explained the elements of a fiction manuscript, such as plot, character, setting, dialog and storytelling. I blogged about finding ideas to write about, the inspiration and motivation to do the work and the habits of successful writers from setting aside time each week to write to making sure to revise the work—a rough draft is not a final, readable draft.

To generate ideas for the blogs:

  • I keep a running list of ideas by browsing through articles clipped from writing magazines and thumbing through my books on writing.
  • I ask other writers what they want to learn about writing and editing and respond with a blog.
  • I pay attention to the topics brought up in my writers group and book club, such as how to combine different point of views in the same scene.
  • I consider what I need to learn about writing and editing to improve my own work and write about it.
  • I look on bookseller websites to see what’s trending in literature and write about the topic—such as why young adult fiction is gaining ground in the publishing industry.
  • I review old blogs and recycle some of the content to come up with another blog from a different angle.
  • I guest blog on my friends’ and co-writers’ blogs and post those blogs on my site.

Here’s how else to find subject matter:

  • Read other blogs about the same topics you’re writing about and put your own spin on the material.
  • Carry a notebook with you and write down ideas as they come to you, because they will once you state that you want to write.
  • Read a snippet of a news article or a dictionary definition and apply it to your blog topic.
  • Eavesdrop and use the bits of conversation for a blog, first doing a little more research (this is very entertaining, but be sure to pretend you’re busy and into your own stuff, head down, fingers on the laptop).
  • Take another blogging topic and use that angle to write about your topic.

Also realize:

  • Blogging is best done once a week with content at 500 to 700 words about the same subject matter, but veering off topic every few blogs can bring in other readers, too.
  • Breaks from blogging are acceptable; feel confident your followers won’t give up on you.

For example, I blogged regularly over the past five years, but took a break during a surgery to my hand in early 2016 and again in early 2017. I didn’t lose any followers but seemed to get more clicks in February and March when I came back on line.

I took the break this year to launch my writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services, and also have a blog on that website. That blog is more business-oriented with advice on writing and editing for those who may not love writing but want to give it a try and to explain what I do as a professional.

I started with my top 10 tips for writing and then for editing. To continue generating the content, I’ll keep digging into that well of ideas to make sure I have content that is fresh, engaging and interesting.

Top 10 Editing Tips

In Editing, Revising, Writing on March 5, 2017 at 11:00 am


Editing helps you get your (geese) ducks in a row!

I’ve learned to not mention red when I talk about editing.

No, it doesn’t have to do with blood—it has to do with the dreaded red pen used by teachers of the past to mark up student papers with ink.

I’ve adjusted my color wheel and now use blue ink, keeping my red pens hidden in a secret spot—OK, not so secret, since they are in a pencil holder with my other pens in red, black, blue, green and yes—purple!—ink.

If you noticed the topic of my blog, “Top 10 Editing Tips,” you’d see I need some editing work. If I were to follow the title and write properly, I’d edit out everything I’ve just written because I’m OFF TOPIC.

Last week, I mentioned how every writer I meet has their top tips for writing to provide discipline and inspiration. Not many writers go around talking about their top editing tips, because that’s not as fun or sexy. Editing is the hard work of the writing process, because it takes time and precision.

Lucky for me, I’m an editing nerd. I like, no actually LOVE, to fix sentences and paragraphs, looking at grammar, punctuation and mechanics and the entire document for the structure and intended messaging.

Here are a few of my editing rules:


  • Editing once isn’t enough—editing takes several reads to catch errors, because not every error can be noticed the first time around.
  • Editing is best done by at least two people, bringing more perspectives to the project and additional ways to find or notice the mistakes.
  • Editing is best in layers. Do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

And here are seven things to look for while editing:


  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

Writing without editing is a rough draft, work that’s incomplete, a thought that has an … after it. It needs that editing step, or a few rounds of making marks, to make it crisp, clear and concise. Each time you edit, you get closer to the core and essential components of what you want to say.