Shelley Widhalm

Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

Peter Heller and His Stuffed Dog (at the NCW Conference)

In Northern Colorado Writers, Writing Advice, Writing Conferences on May 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Denver, Colo., author Peter Heller signs copies of his books May 4 during the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Fort Collins.

When best-selling author Peter Heller put his stuffed dog on the podium at a recent writing conference, I knew I was in for a good tale.

“I’m in my home territory,” Heller of Denver, Colo., said about the more than 120 writers in the audience.

Heller, author of “The Dog Stars,” published in 2012, was the keynote speaker during the banquet dinner May 4 at the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing.” The conference brought together writers with agents, editors and industry professionals for two days of writing and publishing advice May 4-5 at the Fort Collins Marriott.

“I did everything I could to be a great writer,” said Heller, longtime contributor to National Public Radio, a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure, and author of six books.

Heller’s Back Story

Heller recalled being 11 years old and having a crush on a New York City librarian, who’d asked him, “Peter, are you looking for something to read?” At her suggestion, he took home Ernest Hemingway’s “In Our Time.”

“My heart leapt off the page,” Heller said about the descriptions of fishing and other adventures in the collection of short stories. “I adored the prose. … It goes through the skin straight to the heart.”

Heller also read the dictionary and majored in English with a minor in biology. He wanted to be a poet and a writer but delivered pizza and taught kayaking.

“When you’re young, you don’t know what you can’t do,” Heller said.

Heller entered the journalism field, writing for adventure and other magazines. He saved up enough to take off nine months for writing in a coffee shop and wrote “The Dog Stars,” but then he faced the second novel syndrome. He was advised his job was to ensure his writing did not suck, and he wrote “The Painter,” something his agent made him rewrite three times before it was published in 2014. He then had a conference call with his agent and editor, who told him he was 80 percent there but needed a prologue and epilogue, plus another scene.

“I figured out the cathartic scene all by myself,” Heller said.

Heller’s Writing Advice

Heller found that, unlike with magazine writing, he likes not knowing what happens next with his fiction writing. He follows another author’s habit of writing 500 words a day and stopping at that exact count. He instead writes 1,000 words a day, spending one to three hours on it, and also stops mid-scene leaving it open for the next day.

“You might as well as come back and start the book every day,” Heller said. “What that does is I can’t wait to get up in the morning.”

Heller had one last piece of advice about channeling, something some writers claim they can do, getting a download of material from the universe that flows through them as the medium direct into text.

“Everyone is lying,” Heller said. “It’s not helpful to say it’s magic. It’s not magic.”

Instead, writing takes practice, work and discipline and making micro decisions along the way, Heller said.

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Conferences add Wow! to Writing

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writing Advice, Writing Conferences on May 6, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Loveland, Colo., writer Shelley Widhalm attended the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in May 2017 with Abii Franke, a student she mentors about writing.

Every industry has its conferences with fancy hotels, nice dinners and lots of networking, but for writers, there’s an added bonus.

The one, two or more days of immersion in writing offer up inspiration and motivation to get back to the craft. Often, I tell myself I’m too busy to write or can only do it after I get my work, chores and other tasks completed.

But if I pay for a conference and sign up to pitch to agents, I have a deadline for my current writing project, because writing novels involves multiple revisions (and, for me, a bit of procrastination).

Northern Colorado Writers Conference

I attended the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing,” on May 4-5 at the Fort Collins Marriott in Fort Collins, Colo.

Attendees could pitch their novel or nonfiction project in individual agent sessions—you only get five minutes!—and get feedback from agents and writing professionals at the critique round tables on the first page and book concept.

To prepare, I revised my novel “In the Grace of Beautiful Stars” after figuring out, with a few of my writing friends, the missing element to my then 92,000-word novel (now at 88,000 words). My beginning dragged and my protagonist’s core problem needed more tension, so I had to make lots of cuts (which I dumped in my cuts file because of my problems with letting go).

I also revised the first page and logline—a one- to two-sentence description of the project focused on the main characters and core conflict. I cleaned up the synopsis, a one- or multiple-page detailed summary of the project.

And I planned which of the eight sessions I wanted to attend on elements of writing, social media and platform building, publishing options and different genres from flash fiction to romance.

Conference Advice

Here is some of the advice I’ve gathered about making the most of attending a conference (next week, I will blog about what I got out of the conference):

  • Plan ahead on which sessions you want to attend; and don’t forget a notebook to take notes.
  • Know which genre your work fits in; don’t just say fiction or nonfiction.
  • Prep for the pitch session or agent roundtable: research to find the best fit for your work; check the agent or editor’s websites, social media and other material online to identify what kind of books and writers they represent.
  • Prepare your pitch with a logline and synopsis. If you get a request, ask when and how you should submit your proposal or sample chapters and how best to contact them.
  • If you learn that your work isn’t right for the agent or editor, don’t take it personally.
  • Plan to network, which includes bringing business cards (preferably with your photo), and don’t stay tied to your friends, because you might miss out on meeting new connections.

One Last Thing

Don’t forget to take photos and post them. Tweet, blog, Facebook and engage in other types of social media to promote your writing and the conference.

Birthday Break from Blogging

In Birthday wishes, Birthdays, Blogging, Cute Dogs on April 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Today is my birthday, and it is the last day of National Poetry Month.

Someone told me I’m lucky to have my birthday during this special month. I agree, though I can’t remember how old I am.

To celebrate, I thought I’d take a break from writing and editing and spend the day with my cute puppy, Zoey. She’s nine, so she’s actually not a puppy. I just think of her that way because when she walks, she bounces.

Here are some pictures of Zoey the cutest dachshund ever, including one of her as a birthday girl!

Zoey opens some of her presents for her second birthday.  She gets to open presents for birthdays and Christmas holidays and typically gets treats, rawhide and a couple of toys.

Zoey hangs out with some of her toys, including her favorite stuffed bunny!

Zoey loves teddy bears that are her size, but has a toy box full of them from mini to extra large.

Want to Have Fun Writing Poetry? Here’s How.

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2018 at 7:11 pm

I have the honor of being Kat Valdez’s guest blogger this week at Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.

Katherine Valdez

Featured photo taken in Harare, Zimbabwe by Trust “Tru” Katsande @iamtru/Unsplash

Odes, Elegies and Workshops
Guest Post by Shelley Widhalm

Poetry used to be so archaic and foreign to me until I started writing it.

Of course as an English major, I studied #Poetry but also found it to be intimidating, especially as I learned about sonnets, sestinas, villanelles and haikus, each with their specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. And then I found out about free verse, but that, too, has its rules: get rid of the extra words while providing artistic expression in the open form.

As I practiced free verse, the other forms became easier to incorporate in my daily poem habit—I’ve been writing a poem a day since September 2017. I now like writing haikus—they’re short and all you have to do is count out syllables of 5-7-5 in three lines of poetry.

Odes and…

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Odes, Elegies and Workshops (and making writing poetry fun!)

In National Poetry Month, Poetry Workshops, Writing Poetry on April 15, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Fort Collins poet Lisa Zimmerman hosts a poetry workshop, “Odes, Elegies and Raptures, Oh My!” on April 6 in Loveland, Colo., to help celebrate National Poetry Month.

Poetry used to be so archaic and foreign to me until I started writing it.

Of course as an English major, I studied #Poetry but also found it to be intimidating, especially as I learned about sonnets, sestinas, villanelles and haikus, each with their specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. And then I found out about free verse, but that, too, has its rules: get rid of the extra words while providing artistic expression in the open form.

As I practiced free verse, the other forms became easier to incorporate in my daily poem habit—I’ve been writing a poem a day since September 2017. I now like writing haikus—they’re short and all you have to do is count out syllables of 5-7-5 in three lines of poetry.

Odes and Elegies

I added two other forms to my likes list thanks to a local poetry workshop, “Odes, Elegies and Raptures, Oh My!” presented earlier this month at the Loveland Museum/Gallery by Fort Collins, Colo., poet Lisa Zimmerman. The workshop was part of a series of readings, workshops and writing events for Loveland, Colo.’s celebration of National Poetry Month that aims to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in April.

“I love we have a whole month to celebrate poetry,” said Zimmerman, associate professor at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo., and author of six poetry collections, including “The Light at the Edge of Everything.” “Poetry speaks to beauty. … I write poetry because it’s beautiful and terrible.”

Zimmerman said she can feel weighed down by the world and then will notice something that inspires a poem, keeping her in the present time.

“You can’t look in the eyes of horse and be bummed about things,” she said.

Poems about Anything

Zimmerman said she has one rule about poetry, and that is poems can be written about anything. When she teaches a workshop, she likes to give a quick description of the form and then offer poetry prompts to encourage immediate writing.

“When I go to poetry workshop, I want to get a poem out of it. If you’re anything like me, you want a poem,” Zimmerman said.

I got three poems out of the workshop—I only could attend the odes part and missed the “sad” elegies to head off to work.

Zimmerman explained that odes are a tribute to an object or event and can be to anything and everything. They can be a thank you, a poem of praise or an expression after the fact, “an oh, or yeah,” as she stated in a handout about odes with samples of poems.

We read the samples and got to work writing our own odes. I wrote three, an ode to books, to my laptop and to my dachshund (Zoey the princess).

I missed the elegies bit, but asked Zimmerman to send me a write-up about it. She wrote, “Elegies are not always about death—sometimes an elegiac poem is about sadness or longing.”

She said many of us carry around a sadness and have not been able to write about it, perhaps for years. During the workshop, she suggested “we can ‘write around it,’ or, as Emily Dickinson advises, ‘Tell the truth, but tell it slant.’”

I was sad I missed the rest of the session due to work. But then I was happy when I had my breaks to think about all that I had learned, Oh My!

 

Reading Poetry at ‘In Just Spring’

In Giving a Poetry Reading, In Just Spring, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems, Uncategorized on April 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm recites poetry at a seasonal reading in 2016 at the Loveland Museum/Gallery.  She will be part of a reading there April 15.

April is my favorite month for three reasons—it’s spring, it’s the month of my birthday and it’s National Poetry Month.

To celebrate the celebration of poetry, the Community Poets in Loveland, Colo., will present In Just Spring with a poetry reading, music and storytelling at the Loveland Museum/Gallery on April 15. National Poetry Month was organized in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry during the month of April.

The Community Poets chose the name for the reading to reflect E.E. Cummings’ poem [in Just-] about mud, puddles and the springtime. The reading is part of the seasonal equinox and solstice readings the group hosts four times a year. The group organizes the readings and other poetry-related activities, including visits from poets and poetry workshops, to get the local community interested and engaged in the poetic discipline.

The Poetry Reading

The reading, which will be 1-3 p.m., will feature 45 minutes of an open mike, where the public will be invited to read one poem, followed by the regular reading with 10 invited readers.

The Community Poets invited me to be one of the readers who will recite two springtime-themed, lighthearted poems. I’ll be reading a poem about sparrows and the second about The Squirrel Man who feeds the squirrels near the lagoon where I like to run and walk my dog. The two poems come from my Poem-a-Day Challenge.

Since September 2017, I’ve written a poem a day—not literally, because I have to do lots of fill-in-the-blanks and catch-ups, but it equals out to a daily dose of poetry. From this challenge, I have learned a few things about daily writing that makes it fun and not feel like a chore.

Writing Poems

To find a poem (especially daily), here are a few things you can do:

  • Pay attention to the one thing from the day that strikes you—an interesting happening or something you notice. Describe it to yourself and say you’ll write it later.
  • Write the poem even if you don’t feel like it, not worrying about quality.
  • Write haikus of 5, 7, 5 syllables. The more you do them, the easier they are to do, and you can do them quickly and still get in your poem for the day.
  • Write a crappy first poem and maybe a second and then let the good poems show up.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration or the right circumstances to right the poem, just write it.
  • Use the senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting) to describe an observation or experience. Thinking about them will allow you to access better descriptions.
  • Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
  • Be specific in your descriptions, avoiding clichés and general terms, instead favoring concrete terms, such as red-twig dogwood over tree. Here’s a line from one of my poems about dogwoods: “Red-twig dogwood/ crayon marks across/ gray winter light.”

One Last Thing

Lastly, have fun with the writing. Writing poetry makes you a better writer in other genres, such as fiction, blogs and articles, because it makes you think about description and language while also getting across what you want to say about the topic.

Blogging Blunders (and how to get motivated)

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice on April 1, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Blogging on a regular basis takes motivation (and discipline).

I fell off the blogging bandwagon last month, skipping my blog for three weeks and feeling guilty about it.

I wrote a blog about this experience but lost it through some stupid copy-and-paste move. I’d written about how I’d failed to blog and also was excited about spring, but got too busy to actually write my blog. I said I thought about my blog late at night but was too tired to pop out of bed to write.

Finding time to blog in the busyness of everything, especially with that lost hour with the transition out of winter, can be difficult. I wrote something about finding the motivation to blog and the steps to go about it.

I wrote how motivation’s opposite is frustration, the result of encountering obstacles to a goal or project—like losing your work. It can be a feeling of being stuck, of not getting anywhere no matter what you try to do. Motivation, on the other hand, is the desire to do something and the drive to carry out a goal. It is what causes you to act.

Finding Motivation

Here are some other thing to do to keep up the motivation to blog, write or do something you feel like you should (or want to) do.

  • Remember your original goal or what you want to accomplish.
  • Set aside time each day or week, even five minutes at a time, to help you reach the goal.
  • Keep track of the steps you take and time you put in toward the goal.
  • Realize that setbacks will happen (I wanted to cry when I accidentally deleted what I wrote, but instead I rewrote my blog, even if it might not be the greatest piece of writing).
  • Take credit for each accomplishment toward the goal.
  • Don’t allow for excuses, at least most of the time.
  • Forgive yourself if you get sidetracked or frustrated.
  • No matter what, retain the commitment.

What Exactly is Motivation?

I looked it up and found that motivation, which can be intrinsic or extrinsic, has three components, that of:

  • Activation, or the decision to initiate a behavior.
  • Persistence, the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist.
  • Intensity, or the degree of concentration.

The key is to remember the goals and the eventual rewards and that, even with setbacks, things can get crossed off of that to-do list. And maybe you’ll get a like or two or a comment, like the old days of putting things on the fridge.

Running and Writing (and getting inspired)

In Running, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on March 4, 2018 at 6:00 pm

Going for a run and sitting down for a writing session require the same grit.

The obvious reason is the discipline, showing up day after day to get fit and maybe lose weight or to sharpen skills.

Various writers approach that grit in different ways: by writing 1,000 words a day or for a certain length of time, going for writing sprints, setting writing goals and incrementally meeting them, and doing things like writing a short story a week or the rough draft of a novel in a month.

Writing the first few times may be crappy—for new writers, figuring out how to translate what’s learned about the elements of writing into structure or overwriting or underwriting a messy first draft. The first draft can be too much with too many details, repeated scenes, dialog that drags and too many characters not doing anything; or, it can be too little with scene jumps, jumps in logistics, a lack in transitions and underdeveloped plot, character, setting or dialog.

Running daily incrementally builds muscle, increases metabolism and improves lung capacity, while doing it here and there is nice, but won’t change the body in any noticeable way. I ran my way three sizes smaller and wrote my way into lots of copy, noticing how both become easier through time and practice.

The less obvious similarity between running and writing is that it can be a real pain to do both. I don’t always want to go for a run, particularly at the end of a long work day when I’m already tired. I feel like I don’t have any energy until I get into the third, fourth or fifth lap, and then muscle memory takes over. Oh yeah, this is how running works.

I don’t always want to write, particularly after coming off of a sprint, such as a National Novel Writing Month activity in April, July or November.

I have to force myself into the chair and say just write. It doesn’t matter the result, and then the looseness of freewriting without the annoying boundaries of the internal editor or the need to write something good fall away. Muscle memory takes over, and I count the laps and the words, getting somewhere just because I showed up.

It’s habit, discipline, practice and wanting to change shape—fit in body and fit in my writer’s hand—that gives me that running and writing grit.

Join in on National Fairy Tale Day (plus other national days)

In Fairy Tales, National Fairy Tale Day, Writing, Writing Advice on February 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm

There seems to be a national day for everything, so every day could be a holiday.

The National Day Calendar identified 1,500 national days, weeks and months, giving writers and bloggers plenty of topics for writing.

Pick a day, and automatically there is a subject.

Here are a few from the month of February that have to do with dogs and friendships, two subjects I favor.

National Days in February:

  • 7: National Send a Card to a Friend Day
  • 11: National Make a Friend Day
  • 20: National Love Your Pet Day
  • 23: National Dog Biscuit Day

Also on Feb. 26, it is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, a perfect topic for conversationalists, storytellers and writers. The unofficial holiday encourages reading, telling and listening to fairy tales.

Fairy tales are a genre of children’s literature featuring fantastical and magical characters, such as fairies, elves, trolls and witches, and usually are told in short story format. They follow what once were oral histories, myths and legends told around the fire or by traveling storytellers.

Before the 17th century, fairy tales were mainly written for adults. Over time, they became a way to get children to behave or to teach them a lesson, but many would be considered too violent and inappropriate for current standards.

Today, using the term fairy tale refers to happy events and happenings, such as a fairy tale ending or fairy tale romance or weddings.

To celebrate fairy tales:

  • Reread a favorite fairy tale or watch a movie based on one.
  • Write a fairy tale with a fantastical or magical character, a lesson and a happy ending.
  • When writing or telling a fairy tale, be sure to engage the audience and invite children to participate in some of the motions of the story.
  • Use repetition, which is key to children’s stories to get them engaged and help them remember the story. The repetition prepares them for the next round of repeated phrases.
  • Use different voices for each character to create drama for the character interactions and action of the story.
  • Ask questions to retain attention and to offer opportunities to review the story and expand on the lessons and information there.

One Last Note:

Share your favorite fairy tales with family and friends or post, blog or send them your creations. Use #TellAFairyTaleDay to post on social media.

Comparing Coffee and Writing

In Description, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on February 18, 2018 at 8:00 am

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Coffee and writing are two loves that go well together.

I hate when I order a fancy coffee drink and the cup gets bathed in the overflow.

But I love that my drink has a flavor, an appearance and a texture inside the cup and that observing those details gets rid of the annoyance.

Observing, absorbing and noticing details are essential to writing, giving a caffeinated thrill to the development of plot, character and dialog. Describing the details is essential to storytelling instead of hurrying the story along through the action of the plot.

Why Description is Important

Description brings to life what happens along the storyline.

To provide that description, use the senses and choose words carefully, making sure every word has a purpose. That purpose can be establishing setting, developing character or moving the plot forward.

Verbs are a key component of description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. The river spit onto the rocks is more descriptive than the bubbling river.

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “blue-eyed, blonde-haired, tongue-tied girl.”

What to Avoid in Description

There are a few other things to avoid in descriptions, such as:

  • Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. For example, saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours.”
  • Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
  • Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Tree and bird are general nouns, as opposed to a birch oak or maple and a cardinal or robin.

A Final Thought on Description

Description is what fills the pages of a story. Without it, action would fall flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.