Shelley Widhalm

Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

Work and Poetry (a reading)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry, Writing Poetry on September 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm

GeeseSummer8 2016

The ducks at the local lagoon, no matter the season, is one of my favorite topics to write about when I engage in poetry.

Poems about autumn and work go together with the autumnal equinox and Labor Day falling in the same month.

The Community Poets will host a poetry reading, “Good Work!—A Post-Labor Day Celebration,” on Sept. 23 at the Loveland Museum in Loveland, Colo., and I’ve been invited to be one of the 10 readers. The Community Poets, a group of local poets and organizations that organizes poetry readings and workshops in Loveland, gives seasonal readings, but this one will have a twist by bringing in that thing we all have to do.

Work.

“Work has so many meanings,” said Lorrie Wolfe, a member of the Community Poets president of the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado. “It’s how we build our lives, spend our days and fulfill our dreams. We will reflect on the shortening days, the autumnal equinox and heading back to school.”

The Poetry Reading

To prepare for the reading, I scoured through my poems over the last year—I started the Poem-A-Day Challenge on Sept, 1, 2017, that encourages the writing of a poem a day—and found dozens of poems about work, making it hard to select two or three.

My topics include working at a grocery store, doing dishes, taking out the trash and getting pink slips, but nothing about writing articles for newspapers—my main career, maybe because I’d be writing about writing. I also found several poems about fall, which is helpful for the reading’s secondary theme of autumn. Among my fall poems were a few about ducks at a nearby lagoon but observed all year round, probably because I run by there every day as part of my daily run.

The benefit of daily poetry is generating enough poems about topics for a variety of readings and to have enough for a book or two. In my own work, I saw half a dozen common themes for chapbooks, just within a year.

For those who want to try a poem, there are no hard rules except for the forms, because free verse allows for a looser structure. Poems, at the most basic level, have rhythm and pacing without excess words, such as “and,” “the,” adverbs and filler descriptions. They are shaped by lines, spaces and word breaks.

Writing Poetry

To begin writing poetry, and this may sound repetitive, just write. To wait for inspiration to cull a poem is unreliable.

Do not expect all poems to be good—I have plenty of bad and OK poems in my daily collection, but each one has a line or two or even a rhythm that makes me think, “Oh, I have something here.”

To write a poem, here a few tricks I use.

  • 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, give it a title that fits but also is intriguing and draws in the reader. And then read it out loud, possibly before an audience.

That’s the aim of the Community Poets, to give poets voice. The group includes the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado; the Friends of the Loveland Public Library; The Writing Lab; the DazBogian Poets; and several community sponsors.

The poetry readings are held every season, and the workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

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Prepping for Poetry’s Arrival

In Poetry, Poetry Workshops, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on August 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm

ButterflyMuseum 04-2014

Waiting for the poem to arrive is like waiting for a butterfly to land and stay still.

Writing poetry is all about form and discipline, or is there more to it, such as invitation, invocation and imagination?

After attending Loveland poet Bhanu Kapil’s workshop earlier this month on “Writing the Poem Before It Arrives” at the Loveland Public Library, I realized I’d been leaving out an important aspect of my poetry practice.

I write a poem a day. I write poems when I feel inspired. And I write poems to practice form from short haikus to odes and the occasional sonnet.

But I never thought about prewriting poetry, engaging in exercises of the imagination to set the stage for a poem’s arrival.

“You’re receiving whatever comes. This is your writing. This is for the poem,” said Kapil, who decided to become a poet in 2003 and now works as a part-time instructor at the Naropa University and Goodard College’s low-residency MFA program. She is the author of several full-length poetry/prose collections, including “The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers,” “Schizophrene” and “Ban en Banlieue.”

Poetry Meditation

Kapil began the 2 ½-hour workshop with a meditation and exercise. She asked that the lights be turned out in the library’s community room and the 30 or so poets close their eyes and imagine that it’s nighttime in the middle of the daytime.

“We’re in a space with other poets who have a desire to write, a feeling to write before (the poem) arrives,” Kapil said. “Make contact with your imagination. Shift time with your body. Make contact with the notebook life.”

Kapil asked the poets to imagine changing their time and location to that of a sea cave, while still keeping their eyes closed. To get there, she had them visualize being somewhere in the plains and grabbing the desire to write and tucking it somewhere, while also noticing the sounds, feel and shape of things and the birds, vegetation and flowers in the environment. She mentally took the poets into a sea cave, and then had them open their eyes, draw a circle with what they thought about placed inside the circle, and then write a poem. The result is what has arrived, she said.

“It’s a connection with a near image and something you’ve been carrying with your writing,” Kapil said.

I drew a lopsided circle that ended up looking like a clock with a swing flying from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and my flip-flops flying off with ocean waves at the bottom lifting off at 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. At 8:30 a.m. is my sun with my notebook at 10 a.m. and a bird in flight that also looks like a cross at 11:30 a.m.

I wrote a poem that starts off: “Jump onto swings/ lose flip-flops/ ready to go to the sea’s edge/ no time clocks or check in …”

After writing, we traded poems with a writing partner. Mine said that all off my images are off the hour, the way childhood play is. The last lines of my poem are about letting go of the sea cave to fly on my swing, “my feet reaching to that sun.”

Poetry Pilgrimage

Kapil had the poets engage in a second exercise, but I had to go to work, doing the opposite of my fun, childhood play. She called it the “Completely Imaginary Experience in the Library,” the idea of bringing together fragments or pieces of notes and ideas into poetic form.

One way to do so is by taking a pilgrimage in your own environment—Kapil has 12 questions she travels the world with and keeps asking and answering. She asked the poets to find a book in the library and use lines from the book to respond to one of the 12 questions.

“Ask a question and let your hand drift to a book,” Kapil said. “The poem you write is a response to one of the questions. Include one word or fragment from your notes. And also attend to that message from the book you open. You really have to commit, and then integrate it that way. Write toward that line.”

The poem that comes cannot be entirely controlled but comes out of the process, Kapil said.

“It’s something that wants to be written,” she said.

The workshop and a reading the evening before were sponsored by a number of poetry groups known as the Community Poets, including the Columbine Poets of Colorado, Northern Colorado Chapter; the Friends of the Loveland Public Library; The Writing Lab; the DazBogian Poets; and several community sponsors. The workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

“For her, there’s a whole ritual doorway into the place from which we write from,” said Veronica Patterson, Loveland poet and a member of the Community Poets. “She was describing it from the sea cave, where she writes, which I loved. It’s not writing from the surface, but how to get to a deeper place in ourselves.”

How to Train Your Writing (and Your Puppy)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm

ZoeyBegs2 09-2014

Zoey the Dachshund demonstrates Up as one of her obedience tricks.

Improving writing skills and training a puppy have some similarities.

I got Zoey, a long-haired miniature dachshund, nine years ago when she was nine weeks old. I started writing when I was eight or nine—short stories and cute poems—becoming serious about it in college.

With both, I had to train my puppy and I had to train my writing. Neither came naturally to me, so I had to become a student to learn the essentials and then become more proficient with practice.

Training Writing, Training a Puppy

I found that to do either well requires research, experience and knowledge—and, of course, patience. I read about a dozen books about dog training, dog behavior and the dachshund breed, and with writing, I read close to 50 books about the writing process and various elements of writing, along with two monthly magazines.

I took Zoey to puppy kindergarten and through intermediate training to provide her with skills in basic obedience. She received a certificate and had her photo taken with a mini-dog graduation cap.

To make sure there isn’t slide, we practice those skills on a daily basis—commands like sit, down, stay, shake and come and walking on a leash. We, however, haven’t got past the treat effect—Zoey expects and requires a treat for each skill she demonstrates. For her shakes, she rapidly waves her paw as she tries to be patient. I touch it and give her what she wants.

We go on walks, and I learned that I shouldn’t pull her on her leash but patiently wait for her to understand what I want through treats and praises. I praise her when she walks and wait her out when she sniffs. I praise her when we return to walking. She gets a treat when we get home.

She especially likes it when people want to stop and give her attention—dogs are social animals and need to have comfort and routine.

How to Improve Writing, Dog Behavior

Here are a few things I learned about maintaining good behavior in a dog (and how it relates to writing):

  • Provide at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to keep the dog healthy and to release energy that when unused can result in poor behaviors (write at least once a week to keep up the routine and practice of writing; more if there is time).
  • Do obedience training to improve the dog’s mental stamina and prowess (do writing prompts, even for five minutes, to stimulate the mind and promote larger pieces of writing).
  • Do obedience training on a consistent basis to turn a dog’s good behaviors into a habit (write on a consistent basis, such as once a week, to turn that practice into a habit).
  • Offer regular playtimes, so the dog can build a relationship with you and also have fun (think of writing as a hobby and something that is for after work or playtime).
  • Pet the dog through belly rubs, head patting and massages to create an emotional bond (think of your writing as a relationship between you and your words).
  • Set the same time every night for bedtime, so that dogs have an expectation of when to settle down (write at the same time and in the same place to create an expectation that now is the time to write, even if the writing may not seem good or out of flow, or at least at first).

These are just a few ways to provide a pattern to let the dog (and your writing self) know what to expect, thereby establishing a good routine to follow. The result is a well-trained dog and a well-trained writer, eager to get to the work and fun of both.

How Writing Groups Improve Writing (and make it fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Groups, Writing Motivation on July 22, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Birthday(WithSarah)2 04-2016

Shelley Widhalm’s write-in group gets together once a week to write, but also celebrates birthdays to add fun to the writing venture.

A big part of writing discipline is showing up. You already may have picked a favorite spot and best time of day for optimal energy.

Accountability can add to that discipline, while also making it fun, both from setting up a date and time to meet but also wanting to have some work to show at that meeting.

Writers gather in four typical ways: writing groups to critique each other’s work, write-ins to work on individual projects at a set time, writing planning or accountability groups to check on each member’s progress on writing plans and projects, and writing partners to share the experience of writing.

I’ve belonged to all four types and find that each has its benefits.

Right now, I’m part of a planning group that meets monthly, and we talk about our accomplishments, what we’re working on, what we plan to work on over the next month and any obstacles we face.

The few times I didn’t make much progress on my novel revision, I realized I wanted to return to the next meeting with something to report. I also saw that at each meeting, which began in late 2017, I had the same excuse: not enough time or energy for writing and too many time wasters keeping me from it.

Takeaways for writing accountability groups:

  • Have writing goals to give you something to move toward, but don’t make them unreasonable. Remember you can try again tomorrow.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments, even if they seem small to you. (I kept up with my daily poem challenge, worked on my novel revision and wrote a short story.)
  • Look at what you’re achieving versus what you’re not achieving, while having compassion for yourself.

I also am a member of a weekly write-in that I joined two years ago. Currently, we have three members, and we meet at a local coffee shop and work on our personal writing projects. We talk for a little bit about our work and writing lives and do a couple of social things, such as going out for each other’s birthdays, and then focus on writing.

I’ve also met one-on-one with other writers and like the experience of sharing a writing table and find the experience to be similar but in a smaller format.

Takeaways for write-in groups (or one-on-one meetings):

  • Work on your personal writing projects, not work, because then you did not set the boundary with work and gift yourself with that time.
  • Realize that showing up for writing for two hours a week (or whatever you choose) adds to an accumulation of words and material over several months. You make progress toward your goal.

I’ve also belonged to several writing critique groups, which have varied in format. We either exchange a section of our work ahead of time and bring our revision suggestions to the meeting or revise on the spot. We then discuss our suggestions, going around the table for each critique.

Takeaways for writing critique groups:

  • You can get a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written, since each writer will notice different things.
  • You get a better understanding of what works and doesn’t work, both at the sentence level and at the level of the overall story structure or in the storytelling.
  • With the help of other writers, you can identify weak areas in plot and character development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing, setting, logistics or dialog.
  • If you choose to read the work aloud, you can notice grammar mistakes and missing words that you might not notice with silent reading.
  • You improve editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.
  • You can brainstorm plot or other elements within your story to help improve your writing.
  • You can deepen your knowledge of writing and writing techniques, because each writer has a different understanding of and experiences with the same writing concepts.

With all of these groups, I’ve worked hard to keep to a writing schedule, wanting a project to work on and to demonstrate I’m making progress on that project. I want to be a writer after all, not wishing I were a writer. That means I have to show up and be accountable, both to myself and to my fellow writers—and, of course, to my projects!

How a Daily Challenge Improves Writing (and makes it fun)

In Poem a Day Challenge, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Poetry, Writing Tips on July 15, 2018 at 5:00 pm

GeeseSummer5 2016

The ducklings at a neighborhood lagoon provide poetic inspiration.

Writing on a daily basis is like committing to running or some other form of exercise.You start to need it and don’t feel as energetic without that routine. Plus, practice improves skill, and experience builds knowledge.

In September 2017, I committed to the Poem a Day Challenge, an idea I learned about from Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer . The result is I’ve written 318 poems since then, but I also learned some valuable lessons about writing.

The Results of Daily Writing

First, writing comes easier and the skills learned in one format are transferable to other types of writing from fiction to nonfiction.

The crisp simplicity of poetry—leaving out unnecessary words like “the” and choosing nouns over adjectives—can be employed in blogs, articles and other writing. Poems typically aren’t wordy and don’t wander from subject to subject but need to tell a story or display an image in a few words. The same goes with blogs and articles that need to have a clear focus, be concise and have transitions, so that the writing is smooth and appears simple but can be complex.

Also:

  • Daily writing doesn’t actually have to be daily—days can be skipped and the blanks filled in. For me, poems seem to pile up and wait for the writing—I make sure to have time for them, even if I skip two weeks. I don’t want to get too far behind and have to play catch up, so that it feels like a chore. I make sure to do the poems, because I don’t want to break the commitment.
  • Writing can become more present in your life. Now, I am looking for poems, and when I see something that I could turn into a poem, I describe it in my head and remember it for later. I write the poem based on that memory and call up visual impressions to add even more detail. Or, I take a few notes and use them later to prompt the writing.
  • Poetry can make you think of how to use language in other places, such as in details and paragraph breaks. A poem changes in meaning or rhythm by altering where the lines end.

The World as Poem

With daily writing, the world becomes a poem—I am constantly describing nature, sunsets and other things as I observe them, not simply in the seeing but in hearing how the words feel in my head.

I essentially look both outward and inward to the world and within myself. The poems cause me to turn my emotional responses and thoughts into language that normally would be kept inside. By writing daily, or nearly so, the inner world becomes more outward in a more automatic way.

Writing daily poetry also is a way to practice poetry. It doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be real to the moment. I let my mind go and start writing, letting the poems come as they want to.

Sometimes, I produce good work, and sometimes, I have sketches—the starts of poems with a good line that can become more if I play with it later. Within the not-so-great poems, there will be those good ones.

Plus, I’m writing more than I would have without the challenge. I’m feeling like I need it, just like I need my one hour of daily exercise of running alternated with weight lifting to get my day going. Poetry does that for me, too.

An Example

Here’s an example of one of my daily poems about one of my favorite topics and observation points, the ducks at a neighborhood lagoon.

        Duckling Safety
              By Shelley Widhalm
Ducklings at the sculpture
sailboat sings off the middle
jump toward Mom
bedtime home in the stone
two already made it
four swim
stretching necks toward
safety.

 

Add Snap to Your Writing (with a few simple tricks)

In Grammar, Grammar Advice, Grammar Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on July 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Zoey'sFootprints 02-2015

Don’t let your writing get disorganized like these puppy paw prints in the snow.

Shorter writing needs to have some snap—what you say is important but how you say it is even more important.

That “how” is style—or your voice and the way you structure sentences and lay out the overall content. Writing that is wordy, wanders off topic or lacks transitions can lose readers, as can a first sentence that uses clichés, doesn’t set the scene or fails to make a point.

Writing, whether it’s a short story, a blog or an article, can become simple, clean and crisp by following a few steps.

First off, use straightforward language and simpler words. Simpler words have broader connotations, while longer, complicated words tend to have more specific meanings.

One way to do this is to use fewer adverbs—an adverb, which often ends in “-ly,” is used to modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb, often to show degree, manner, place or time. For instance, saying, “it’s very hot” is unnecessary when “hot” will do. Adverbs end up filling space without adding to the sentence’s meaning. Instead, choose a stronger verb, such as replacing “the dog barked loudly, lifting its snout” with “the dog howled.”

Ways to Simplify Writing

There are a few additional grammar tricks to simplify writing that are easy to employ, resulting in something that is easier and more appealing to read.

  • Cut the long sentences and use varied sentence lengths and structures; plus, mix in short and long paragraphs to keep the reader’s eye moving. Avoid writing every sentence as subject and predicate—the subject is who or what the sentence is about and the predicate tells about the subject. For example, in the sentence, “The dog ate my sandwich,” the dog is the subject, and the act of eating is the verb and the sandwich is the object.
  • Avoid redundancies and using the same word twice in nearby sentences and paragraphs, though meanings can be different. For instance, don’t say, “She backed up into her parking space, noticing how her back hurt from twisting in her seat.”
  • Use the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The dog ran after the cat,” instead of “The cat was chased by the dog.”
  • Use parallel forms in sentences, lining up verb tenses and other parts of the sentence in a consistent way. For example, say, “I went to the store, bought some chocolate and ate it before I got home,” not, “I went to the store, chocolate caught my attention and buying it, I couldn’t help eating it right away.”
  • Eliminate prepositions and filler words and phrases. Prepositions show direction, location or time or introduce an object and include words like “at,” “by,” “for,” “in,” “of,” “on,” “to” and “with.”
  • Use specific and concrete language, not general terms, favoring “long-haired miniature dachshund” over “dog,” to give a clearer image of meaning.

Ways to Improve Content

As for the content, be clear on the concepts you want to address, bringing order to the thoughts or story. Be clear on what you want to write about, thinking about the different angles the topic might take and sorting out the main ideas from asides and trivial details. Explain at the right level without over-explaining, saying the same thing more than once, or under-explaining by leaving out crucial details. Avoid redundancies, needlessly repeating a word or phrase, and going off topic with more details than are necessary.

Too much or too little can lose readers, and the idea is to get readers engaged and to make it fun for you, as the writer.

Writing with a Bang (even during holidays/vacations)

In Vacations, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on July 1, 2018 at 5:00 pm

BuschGardensShorebirds1 06-2018

This is called bun chasing. Check out the shorebird at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Fla., with the bun on the run.

Getting back to writing or blogging can be a bit difficult if it’s sunny out and you’ve just been on vacation—add in that Independence Day is quickly approaching, giving you another reason to let your brain keep on being on holiday.

Yep, I’ve got the holiday/vacation motivation and discipline problem.

First off, I returned to a pile of work, a tad tired from riding the rollercoasters at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens during my early June visit to Clearwater, Fla. I had so much fun, six days into my trip, when I went to Howard Beach and collected a few seashells, I came home to a big long afternoon nap.

Writing Reality

Two days later, I had to re-shift to reality, though I had a load of memories to use for my writing. I have a couple of favorites, including seeing a shorebird grab a hamburger bun at Busch Gardens and run about, but not able to take a bite for all the other birds ensuing in a hungry chase. I also loved riding the Manta at SeaWorld and feeling like I was flying, twirling in loops and going upside down. (I must have a thing for birds.)

As I got back to my work routine, I thought about how I lost track of what I love—writing though it oftentimes feels like work.

Writing requires time, energy, thought, discipline, motivation and desire. Writing isn’t always easy even for a writer, while being on vacation or holiday is easy. Just relax, have fun, and go places. One of my friends kindly reminded me that the other place you visit becomes mundane once it is your every day. I’d put some magic around Florida, thinking I’d been in heaven with all the fun. Writing seemed not so heaven-like, requiring sitting in a chair and not running about. But from my vacation, I collected new images and new ways of seeing, and thus, describing things. I had something to compare the old with the new.

Writing Return

I figured if I want to write, I have to sit in a chair and treat it seriously. Here’s a few ways to get back to writing (without it being too much like work):

  • Identify your goal or what you want to accomplish.
  • Develop a writing routine, setting aside time each day or week to help you reach the goal.
  • Find a special place to do your writing, so that it gives you inspiration and comfort.
  • Keep track of the time you dedicate to writing, demonstrating your work toward your goal.
  • Take credit for each accomplishment toward the goal.
  • Don’t allow for excuses, at least most of the time, while also realizing that setbacks will happen.
  • Forgive yourself if you get sidetracked or frustrated.

And as you engage in writing, remember to keep the commitment and to keep going, no matter what. For those who like writing, writing is fun (and, if treated right, it can feel like vacation!).

SeaWorld1 06-2018

Shelley Widhalm poses by the Manta ride at SeaWorld, which feels like flying.

Writing While on Holiday

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on June 10, 2018 at 5:00 pm

BuschGardens2 06-2018

Shelley Widhalm stands by a stone lion at Busch Gardens during her trip to Florida in early June.

Writing during vacation definitely takes discipline—and a loose plan with room for improvisation.

I traveled to Clearwater, Fla., in early June planning to write one to two hours a day during my eight-day trip. I did what I could with fun getting in the way—but, as my brother reminded me, it’s important to either work hard and play hard or work steadily with fun included. My visit to Florida with my brother and his wife included that fun of Busch Gardens, Sea World Orlando, Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and, of course, the ocean (we went to Fred Howards Beach), along with lots of eating out.

The Amusement Parks

During our first venture at Busch Gardens when we tried to fit as much food and upside-down rollercoasters in one day as possible, I realized I’ve been sitting at my desk too much without enough outside, 3D time. Every experience was new and vibrant—the shorebirds hopping by begging for crumbs and the chameleons crawling sideways on fences and drains were fascinating, and I kept stopping to stare. I loved the rides and seeing all of the greenery with palm trees and feathery leafy bushes, while walking through wet air.

When I rode Falcon’s Fury, a 335-foot rollercoaster that at the top tips 90 degrees and drops 60 miles per hour, I kind of panicked, thinking about my seatbelt busting within the harness, but it was a matter of an overactive imagination. I got used to speed and seatbelts by the time of our final ride, the Kumba, which became my favorite with 100-foot plummets along a smooth track.

At SeaWorld the last full day of my trip, I encountered more fascinating things, such as the penguins on the Antarctica: Journey of the Penguin ride. I liked how the penguins held their flippers straight out as they wobbled. I particularly liked the Rockhoppers with yellow feathers that look like hair ribbons and the Adelies with large eyes, like the trendy stuffed animals with bugged-out eyes.

Since we went on a Sunday, the lines were an hour long, so we could only fit in a couple of rollercoasters, a raft ride and experiential rides to see the sea animals, including whales, sea lions, seals, stingrays, dolphins, sea horses, sea dragons and fish of all colors. I loved the Mantra, a rollercoaster that makes you feel like you’re flying. We ended the day with a show, Light Up the Night, featuring four orcas, or killer whales, doing performances for fish, jumping through the air and splashing the audience with their tails. A long-legged white bird, probably a crane, hung about, waiting for free food.

Writing Accomplishments

As for my writing, here’s what I achieved during my vacation week:

  • I caught up on my daily poem challenge—I was about two weeks behind.
  • I wrote in my journal, adding in extra detail.
  • I wrote a short story, something I haven’t done in months.
  • I wrote this blog.
  • I read part of a book, “One Plus One,” by Jojo Moyes.
  • I sat beside the pool or at Starbucks doing my reading and writing exercises, thinking about how hard it will be to go back to routine.

As I learned, writing and being disciplined during vacations is a bit hard, especially when I’ve been putting off the fun. This time, I embraced the exciting side of life, realizing I’m a big child who loves to play.

How to Write during Vacation (and still make it fun)

In Staying Motivated, Vacations, Writing, Writing Advice on June 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm

GeeseSummer5 2016

Ducklings swim at a Northern Colorado lagoon, which is a drop in size compared with the ocean. The ocean makes a great travel spot and a place to fit in some writing, while keeping vacation fun.

Going on a summer vacation is all about fun and taking a timeout from routine.

But for writers, bloggers and those who need to post a weekly or monthly blog or article, can the serious work of writing be included in a travel itinerary to make the break still exciting?

Yes, in small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work.

To accomplish this, plan a time for writing, but do just a little bit at each sitting, and then congratulate yourself for accomplishing something practical without it being too painful.

If travel plans are overbooked, write ahead and schedule the blog online, or turn in the article early before deadline. And then don’t open the laptop or notebook unless there is free time, or inspiration or motivation gives a reason to write—and let it become all about the moment and not an obligation.

Writing Opportunities

For those who like creative writing, think of your vacation as an opportunity to delve into travel writing. Collect notes and quick descriptions of the places you’re visiting to use for future projects—the details can serve as a referral source for settings, plot details and character profiles. Or try writing a poem in free verse without counting syllables or lines. Write a few sense impressions and cut out filler words, like “a,” “an” and “the,” to create the shape and feel of a poem.

Make the work, whether notes, a poem or a full story, a small endeavor to still allow for downtime, created in snippets between the fun moments. Vacations are about relaxing and not working, as my mother told me. She said I always have some personal project, or work—and back in college, schoolwork—that I have to do. She reminded me to have fun during my weeklong trip to Florida with my brother and his wife—we’re heading to SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens and some other amusement parks (but not the big one), plus the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and, of course, the ocean.

I told my mother I wanted to do some writing—I plan to write a couple of short stories, keep up my daily poem challenge and edit my novel (just a tiny bit). She said to not work too hard, and I promised to not spend more than one to two hours every other day on writing.

I figured I can do both—achieve concentrated and quick writing, like flash mobs that appear suddenly and are gone, and still enjoy the vacation cheer. I’ll think of it as mini moments of work with a reward.

Ways to Write Effectively

Here are a few tips for quick, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting at the airport or for transit to get into the mindset that you will do some writing over the next few days.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or just before going to bed) and treat yourself to the rest of the fun vacation schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list. (I’ll put it in the timesheet that I keep for work.)
  • Break it up into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work.

On a Personal Note

I plan to write about the ocean and the different animals and sea creatures I don’t encounter in Colorado. I love watching the ducks and geese at the lagoon a half-mile from my house, especially the ducklings, but the venue is quite a bit smaller—I run around it four times for a mile, and, of course, I can see the other side.

Basically, I plan to write as if it’s a hobby and also a tiny part-time (and fun) assignment, while sitting on a beach blanket, exploring new things to put in my notebook.

The Long Climb (to Publishing Success)

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writing, Writing Advice on May 27, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Writing and trying to get published can be like climbing a sheer ice cliff.

That’s the takeaway I got from Fort Collins, Colo., author Jim Davidson’s closing speech May 5 during the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing” at the Fort Collins Marriott.

Davidson told the back story of his memoir, “The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival,” published in 2011, which he co-authored with investigative journalist Kevin Vaughan. He wanted to encourage the more than 100 writers who attended the two-day conference to persevere in order to reach their goals of writing and publication.

“By challenging yourself, you’ll find a better version of you,” Davidson said.

At the Ledge

“The Ledge” tells Davidson’s story of surviving being trapped 80 feet inside a glacial crevasse. In 1992, Davidson and his best friend, Mike Price, stood atop Washington’s Mount Rainier at the end of their climb when a cave-in dropped them onto a narrow frozen shelf of crumbling ice and snow in a pitch-black ice wall.

Price died in the tragedy, and Davidson had to fight to escape, coming up with an immediate tactical plan and using his few tools to slowly climb out to sunlight.

Davidson didn’t give up climbing despite the setback. He is a high-altitude climber and expedition leader for more than 35 years who scaled mountains worldwide, including Mount Everest and peaks on five continents. He survived earthquakes and avalanches on Mount Everest in 2015 and helped conduct multiple rescues of climbers. Previously, he worked as an environmental geologist and science writer with 40 publication credits.

“When things go wrong, how will you respond?” Davidson asked the other writers at the conference.

Finding Resilience

Davidson defined resilience as bouncing back from challenges and learning from mishaps. Normal reactions can include fear, doubt, dread, inaction, insecurity, anxiety and exhaustion when change occurs but may not be what is wanted or desired, he said.

“Plain old-fashioned perseverance … is a slow grinding process,” Davidson said. “It’s tiring, and you may have doubts.”

Davidson said personal resilience occurs through accepting that change occurs and doing something about it. It’s embracing the challenges, persevering through uncertainties, redefining the self and coming up with new techniques.

Davidson’s book from the accident in 1992 to publication took 19 years. He met Vaughn, a writer for the former “Rocky Mountain News,” at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in 2007, and Vaughn wanted to do a news series about him, which later became a book project.

Davidson provided an outline of his writing experiences: from 1992 to 1995, he’d journaled and did some early writing. From 1996 to 2002, he made no progress. From 2003 to 2007, he spoke about his experiences. And from 2008 to 2011, he worked with Vaughan on the book.

Becoming Stronger

Davidson learned how to take a horrible life event and turn it around. He became stronger and instead of PTSD, he experience PTG, or post-traumatic growth.

“It doesn’t make the trauma go away,” Davidson said, adding that he still struggles with the “mess and the meaning.”

Davidson forged a new reality out of what had happened to him and distilled it down into a few lessons.

“Try to help somebody else learn from your experience,” Davidson said.

I definitely did learn from Davidson’s experience, walking away from his speech motivated to climb to my publication goal, no matter what it takes. I’d hate to give up now. I, too, have had my almost 19 years.

I wrote my first novel in 2000 and have since written a few. I’ve written a hundred short stories. I’ve had a few publications but not the big climb of traditional publishing. I’m still working on that goal keeping resilience and perseverance in mind.