Shelley Widhalm

Archive for December, 2017|Monthly 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

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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!

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Merry Christmas with Cute Puppy Photos

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

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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!

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Zoey opens her own presents during a previous Christmas celebration.

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

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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

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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

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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.