Shelley Widhalm

Archive for August, 2017|Monthly archive page

Writing and Mindset (or being purposeful in “now” writing)

In Loving Writing, Mindset, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing and Mindset on August 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

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To get into writing, try mindset and thinking about the “now” of the moment.

Mindset, or giving purpose to your direction, is a term I hear in the business world, but it’s just as applicable to writing—so are other business terms like lean startup, actuation and effectual thinking.

Mindset, as defined in decision theory and general systems theory, is a set of assumptions, methods or notations held by an individual or group of people. It’s also indicative of worldview and a philosophy of life.

Mindset: In the “Now”

A writing friend of mine simplified the concept, explaining it as being present in the moment and appreciating the “now.” Being present to writing takes letting go of past “failures,” erasing the idea of being stuck, which is going back to the past, and immersing immediately and in the now of writing.

Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., defined growth versus fixed mindsets in “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” published in 2006. A fixed mindset sees abilities as fixed, while a growth mindset allows for abilities to be developed and growth to occur.

Seeing your abilities as changeable is motivating, while seeing them as talent that cannot be adjusted is self-limiting. The idea that writing is something that can be learned and improved upon gives that motivation to try—it’s a way to bypass excuses and writer’s block, because even if it’s painful to write, doing it moves it forward. It’s growth no matter how and when you write.

Effectual vs. Causal Thinking

In business theory, a similar growth mindset occurs with effectual thinking, as opposed to more traditional causal thinking.

Cindy Skalicky, owner of On Point Communications, LLC, gave a presentation July 25 at the Loveland Business Development Center, “Mastering the Model: A Closer Look at Effectuation, Lean Startup & Business Model Canvas.”

“With small businesses, there is so much uncertainty from the beginning that causal thinking won’t result in the best outcome,” Skalicky said. “Causal thinking is effective if you already know about your business model, customers, products and what works and doesn’t. Effectual thinking is the opposite. With that, you need to take inventory of the self, what you’re good at and what you’re trained to do.”

With effectual writing, you begin with where you’re at in a project or within your abilities. Alternatively, with causal writing, you have a plan or outline for the writing without allowing for character interruptions and plot diversions; you stick strictly to the plan.

To write effectually, you may plan but you also adjust.

Skalicky compared aspects of causal and effectual thinking, which have one similarity and differ in everything else. They both involve predictions made at the beginning. But with causal thinking, there’s a specific goal in mind, an execution plan is implemented and data is gathered from the existing market and competition. Effectual thinking is having a basic idea or leaning, an idea of a plan and looking to the self and customers for the data.

“Effectuation is about me in relation to my idea,” Skalicky said.

Effectuation in Writing

In the writing world, effectuation is you as writer in relation to your story. You look to the story for the plotlines, letting the scenes unfold as you write, while having a rough plan in the back of your mind. This is a mix of writing by outline or being a plotter, combined with pantsing writing, or writing by the seat of your pants and writing as you go.

Another business term, actuate, refers to putting things into action or setting them in motion. To actuate your writing, you set things in motion by creating character identities and placing them in situations where they begin to act and speak according to who they are but also within the circumstances of the novel’s plot. They act and react as the story unfolds, but you haven’t planned out every little nuance of their activities and behaviors.

Actuate also works in relation to you as the writer. You can think about what actions you take in the now that will carry forward your writing goals. If you skip writing for a long period of time, motion will be halted and your writing will be less purposeful. You’ll be out of the mindset of the now of writing.

Lean Writing

A lean startup business model allows you to iterate and change your product for the better through feedback, learning from mistakes and failures and continuous small improvements, Skalicky said.

The same thing happens with writing—if you let it. You write and as you get into the writing, the characters and plot strands create their own feedback loop, and you, as the writer, can take note of what to change in the plot as you go along, or at the end when the revision process occurs. The writing won’t be perfect the first time, so you build and measure and learn, and pivot and persevere as needed. The writing then becomes in the now as it moves forward and backward in that loop until the strands are tight, and what you have is a MVP, not a Minimal Viable Product but maximum and viable.

It’s purposeful writing allowing for a mindset that accepts both the now and the possibility for change. You’re getting your MVP to market fast, or you’re writing quickly to get it out and then you go back to improve and improve some more.

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What is it Like to be a Writer? (or random musings on the writing life)

In The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration on August 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I like writing both on paper and on the laptop or whatever is available when I feel inspired.

I sometimes get asked how I write as if it is a mysterious thing—it is and isn’t depending on if I’m forcing it or feeling inspired.

I’m also asked, “Can you write for me or tell me how?” I hear about ideas or plot summaries of long writing projects but also about the desire to not do the actual writing. “Could you take the project on?” I get asked.

Maybe, as a ghostwriter.

But then the research, writing and editing comes from someone else. It’s me writing as Other. The writing is not so mysterious, because it’s work, like writing a news article or a blog.

Writing as Mystery

It’s not that magical immersion into the process of writing where I lose the world and feel like I’m watching a movie, not feeling the keyboard under my fingers. For me, it’s writing as the Self and not the Other, but also a letting go of the self in the process.

To do this Self and Self-less Writing, I engage in multiple approaches to get toward poetry, short stories and novels. I look for inspiration, such as in books, poems, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature, as I blogged about earlier this month in “Finding Writing Fascination (and Inspiration!).”

I rely on discipline, tracking when and how long I write and tallying my hours each week and month. I make myself write at least one to two times a week, though more often is more preferable for a regular routine. And I set up write-ins where I meet with other writers and chat and write, because that’s why we’re there providing even more discipline.

I calculate the number of words I write per hour, especially when I do speed writing, a form of freewriting where the aim is to write fast without worrying about grammar and content but keeping the focus on staying with and in the writing.

Getting Immersed in Writing

The Self and Self-less writing is an ultra-focused immersion in the process, keeping your hands on the laptop without thinking too hard or letting the editor take over. This kind of writing results in surprises as the characters seem to do their own thing and the plot unravels as if combining your unconscious mind with what needs to happen next. Connections occur from where you started to where you are at now in the storyline as the tension builds toward the final, satisfying ending.

For me, I get absorbed in the writing and love doing it, but then I hear a noise or I think a thought outside of my story, and I have to come back to the real world. In other words, I enter writing, and it’s fun; I come back to the real world, and it’s a struggle.

Upon my return, I blink a couple of times and look at the last few sentences I had written. It’s often difficult to go back into the story, as if I have to dive in. But if I do, I return to that mysterious, magical world of something beyond the writer where the creation happens.

Writing Nonfiction

When I write nonfiction, I don’t leave as such and get lost in another world, but I do get focused. I’ve done my research and have a rough outline in my head, or, in the case of an article, know how to structure it, so it’s writing out of routine. I weave together the pieces, making it tight with the overall structure and give it flow with the right transitions. I let one sentence lead to the next toward the final The End.

The magic, then, with fiction and nonfiction is to let go and let it happen with you as an ever present Self but also being and remaining Self-less, not letting the You get in the way of the Words that want to get created.

Really, A Poem a Day?

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on August 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

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The poem-a-day challenge is something to mentally schedule to get inspired to write.

Starting in September, I’m going to take on the challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days.

I’m not original in this idea—I attended a poetry workshop Saturday, Aug. 5, presented by Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, where I learned about her 30-day poem challenge that has since extended to more than 10 years.

That’s at least 3,650 poems—and I thought I was clever for being like Emily Dickinson and writing 1,000 poems since my childhood. I began my effort in elementary school with “poems” on pink paper covered in drawn hearts before I moved on to napkins, laptops and paper bits.

“All day long, I’m available to poems,” said Wahtola Trommer, Colorado’s Western Slope Poet Laureate and author of “Even Now: Poems & Drawings,” “Holding Three Things at Once” and “If You Listen.”

Wahtola Trommer spoke at a 2 ½-hour workshop, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat,” giving poetry advice and offering prompts at the Loveland Public Library in Loveland, Colorado.

“I found her presence—in person and in her poems—both open and passionate, and I was delighted with her calling her workshop a ‘playshop,’” said Veronica Patterson, a Loveland poet who helped organize the workshop through the Regional Poets based in Loveland. “Play is so essential to freeing our imaginations.”

 

The Daily Poet

To become a daily poet, Wahtola Trommer had to do two things: lower her standards and realize that writer’s block isn’t something she could afford. Thinking each poem had to be good got in her way, so she had to let some poems go.

“They’re not all precious to me,” Wahtola Trommer said. “I think poetry is practice.”

Wahtola Trommer took on the challenge with two friends, who agreed to read, send and receive each other’s poems but not make any comments, because then it became work, she said. She and her friends reached their one-month goal and extended it to three, but then her friends dropped out. She continued … and continued.

Why? Wahtola Trommer had “rigorous willingness,” or the radical availability to show up for poems. She has four rules for writing poetry:

  • She will write.
  • What she writes doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be true, both to the poem and to the writing.
  • She will not know the ending, because then there will be no surprises. If she does, she will get out before things get serious or the poem can offer up its lessons. The best approach she has found is to write past the known ending. “The poem knows more than you do,” she said.
  • She will share her poems.

Loveland poet Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Regional Poets, took Wahtola Trommer’s advice to heart.

“I found her saying that a poem does not have to have an answer and probably should not to be the best thing I came away with,” Kincanon said. “Also, I am writing a poem a day, and that is really challenging and keeps me active in writing.”

Poetry as Process

Poetry is a process and a way to engage with curiosity, discovery and meeting the world anew, Wahtola Trommer said. She recommends using the senses to access the world and paying attention to the small details. To do this, she suggests trying metaphor, which helps the poet make connections, since poetry is the language of connection and a bridge to the world.

Metaphor, a poetic device comparing one thing to another, can be used for any two things, because anything can relate to anything else.

“Start with a question and allow the metaphors to teach you, though the poem may not come up with an answer,” Wahtola Trommer said.

Poems also have opposition and tension. They are “in stress,” in the process of pressing on the poet the things of the world, and “in-scape,” presenting the aliveness of those things, such as through landscapes or escapes.

Writing Prompts

After Wahtola Trommer gave her presentation, she had the workshop attendees write poems from three prompts. In the first, she told everyone to take out a sheet of paper for a poem game: write a partial statement, followed by “is like,” fold over the paper and pass it around the table, continuing down the page. I said things like, “Baby ducklings in a lake in July are like …” “Going to a bar on Monday is like …” and “Eating a dandelion for breakfast is like …”

We got a different sheet back from the one we started with and chose one of the prompts. I chose “Driving a bicycle on I-25 is like …”

Our other two prompts were beginning a poem with the statement, “I thought I was a …” (I said “princess,” because I was back in my childhood on my red trike …), and writing a list poem. Again, I went with the princess theme and let the poem lead me to writing about a poet, an accountant and a singer, all who want things they don’t have.

I left the workshop with three poems and encouragement, plus a goal: 30 poems in 30 days. Maybe I’ll continue if I find my own rigorous willingness to show up, do the work and let go.

 

Finding Writing Fascination (and Inspiration!)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

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The mother duck takes her eight ducklings through the waters of the lagoon in Loveland, Colorado.

I don’t know why, but I’m absolutely fascinated with the ducks at the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colorado.

This fascination reminds me of my fascination with writing. I have to visit the ducks—twice a day if I can, once on my way to the gym nearby and a second time when I’m taking my dog on a walk—just as I have to journal, write poems and stories, and do the more serious writing of blogs and articles.

I like watching the ducks speed race across the water to grab bugs out of the air, just as writing takes grabbing the moment and getting yourself going in that creation. Writing begins with inspiration (or with discipline and routine), giving you the needed motivation to start the process.

Inspiration can give you an idea you are compelled to put into words and shape into a poem, story or other form of writing. It can offer up a feeling or a desire to express something from within. It is that mental stimulation you need to feel or do something creative.

To get started, inspiration can come from books, poems, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature. I purposely look for inspiration if I’m stuck in a writing project, or I let the writing happen as I rush to get to pen and paper or my bright blue laptop.

Here are Ways to Find Inspiration:

  • Read a beautiful description in a book or a poem, thinking about how the language is used to capture a moment or a story. What are the details of the description, and what does it make you think about? What words did the writer choose, and what words would you choose? Take the description and turn it into a basis for a story, a scene or a detailing of character.
  • Listen to a song to feel the mood it evokes and notice the words, beats and melodies it expresses. What does the music make you think about? What images or pictures come to mind? Try to translate the rhythm of the music into your own writing, turning the sounds into a mix of your words and the words of the song.
  • Visit nature, such as sitting next to a flower bed or by a body of water, and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky. Try a mini-writing field trip in the mountains, an arboretum or public garden, or the city streetscape where there are benches, potted plants, trees and sidewalk gardens. Let the unfamiliar experience give you new words or ways of getting at description. Is there something you hadn’t noticed before in this new place? Is there a detail you could delve into further to flesh out what you want to say?
  • Hang out where people like to congregate and do some eavesdropping. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches and pick up snippets of conversation. Does something you hear give you an idea for a story or a description? Is there a phrase or a way of speaking that strikes you that you can capture in a character’s voice or use to evoke mood in a poem or story?

Be Sure to Use All of the Senses:

While you stage your inspiration, amplify your awareness of what’s around you, using all of the senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell—to make your observations. Describe things as you experience them or as they are happening. Or make a list of descriptive words you can pick up from your environment, and then play around with the individual words to see what kinds of sentences and paragraphs can result.

Instead of agonizing over each word and waiting for the perfect moment, release your mind and let the writing be a sort of discovery process. You discover what you want to say as you write.

That’s why I like visiting the lagoon and discovering the changes in the ducks. I watch them as puffball ducklings eat all day long to become teen ducks and then adult ducks, and I love watching them snap, grab, squeak and squawk. They snap up their necks to grab bugs. They snap at babies that enter their territories, even if they have teens and the ducklings are tiny. And they snap at their own to keep them in line.

This snappiness is protective and a matter of survival, but it also is a way to grab what you want and need. It’s part of a writer’s own survival kit.