Shelley Widhalm

Archive for July, 2018|Monthly archive page

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.

 

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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.