Shelley Widhalm

Archive for 2020|Yearly archive page

What’s up with Self-Improvement Month? (Think Writing/Editing!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Self-Improvement Month, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on September 13, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works on a writing project of writing a short story for Self-Improvement Month. She plans to enter the story in an anthology contest.

It seems there’s a month or day for most everything, so it’s fitting to have a month dedicated just to self-improvement.

With September being Self-Improvement Month, do you have something you’d like to improve in your own life? Is there a hobby you’d like to pick up or a behavior you’d like to engage in to be healthier? Hobbies expand your skill set and teach you something new, while living a healthy lifestyle helps you function better mentally and physically, and exercise is shown to reverse the effects of aging.

Take Steps toward Change

Self-improvement takes change, which can be difficult to do, but staying stagnant can be boring or frustrating. Change is best done in steps, instead of all at once. That way over time, the new activity, behavior or approach becomes routine without requiring a lot of self-convincing to get started or going.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, taking on too much may result in goal dropping by February—gyms are busy in January, but then numbers go down a month later. To start, cut out what’s not working then pick your goal.

If you decide you’re goal is writing or editing (that’s my subject of expertise), here are a few things you can do to turn the goal into a habit (something you do automatically without a lot of forethought).

To start, maybe you need to change your approach to the task and not look at it as something to fear or a chore to dread. I used to dislike editing my own work, but now I see it as a fun project because I get to cut, move things around and flesh out what’s flat or boring. To get to that point, I had to set up my editing routine with a list of goals, timelines, due dates and progress check-ins.

Establish a Routine

To get into a writing (or editing) routine, you can:

  • Create a writing plan to prioritize a set of goals that keep you dedicated and focused. You could write 30 to 60 minutes a day or two times a week, but plan for the same time and day, so that it becomes part of your schedule (and be sure to put it in your planner). Get started writing even if you don’t feel inspired simply by describing something in the room or counting syllables to write a haiku (it’s 5, 7, 5).
  • Break writing into smaller tasks, so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Set up mini-deadlines and items that you can cross off your to-do list. (I like to start my new lists with recent accomplishments that get a big checkmark, so I can remember what I just finished and feel like I’m in the middle of things, not just starting.)
  • Go backward, figuring out a final due date or deadline for a project and coming up with a list of tasks to get there. Write in an estimated completion time for each item on the list. Then schedule the items out, leaving a couple extra leeway days in case of interruptions.

Self-Congratulate

Once you finish your first writing or editing project, have a reward in place, doing something you normally wouldn’t do. Maybe go out for an extra nice dinner or buy a gift for yourself (I tend to pick boxes of fancy chocolate).

If you get through September with your new goals turned into routines or even habits, you can get ready for the long months of winter when you might be stuck inside. I find the cold weather is a good time to buckle down and get serious about my writing projects—during the warmer months, I tend to want to be outside and play. That’s why I’m glad Self-Improvement Month happens in the fall.

Outfitting the Writer’s Tool Kit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on August 30, 2020 at 11:00 am

My writer’s tool kit includes my bookshelf of writing reference books, which help spark the passion engine.

Every writer’s tool kit has different tools, but the most essential is the desire to write. It’s what keeps the passion engine going.

Learning about the elements of writing—storytelling, story structure and word usage—is similar to using an instruction manual to fix a car without the wrenches, pliers and other tools.

Diagnosing the problem, looking at a chart pointing out the parts of the car and reading about the necessary steps doesn’t mean the problem will be solved. The missing element could be the desire to do the work, or the confidence and skill to complete it so the car runs. Even if that passion is there.

The Work of Writing

Writing requires work, and to do that work, there needs to be motivation, discipline and, I believe, a love for some or several aspects of creating or the final creation. Do you love words, individually or how they sound in sentences? Do you love telling stories? Do you love solving story problems? Do you want to make readers feel? Do you want to feel?

Or maybe you like to see your name in print? Or to have finished something?

Writers need spark, just like cars need spark plugs to fire the ignition. For me that spark is a passion for words and getting lost in the story or poem I’m writing, so that what comes out feels like dancing and breathing and living, while I lose awareness of my physical self.

Setting Aside Writing Time

Like cars that need gas in the tank, writers need the space and time to be present for writing. If the tank drops toward the E, writers need to ride out their writer’s block or frustration with the knowledge that these emotions are not permanent.

I find that I get frustrated having so little time for writing.

The result is I save up words, emotions and ideas like money in the bank for when I do get to hang out with my laptop. I let go of my editor and inner critic, plus any negative emotions I have, because now it’s time for my date with QWERTY.

I schedule my writing time, not to specific days but to two to three times a week. I log in the hours I write, so I can see that, like an odometer marking the miles, I am making progress toward a goal. I get excited about every 5,000 words I finish in a novel’s rough draft.

The Writing Fuel

All of this is my fuel for not giving up when I am unpublished with a burning, driving, raging yawp to get my words out into the world. I want my words to be heard, read and even sung.

I don’t necessarily have a map with every step plotted out, but what I do have is a giant imagination, a spark of creativity without which I would fade and a passion for this art I cannot stop loving.

Editing in Rounds (to get the perfect polish!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Tips on July 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

Editing adds a final polish to your writing to make what you produce colorful and attractive, giving that flamingo effect!

Editing a novel or a manuscript can’t happen in one round—at least most of the time.

Like with writing, editing is done in layers and it takes time.

Editing can be done in different passes (think of rounds of beer) to identify the missing, the overdone and the boring.

The missing can be missing plot points, missing character identities or a lack of necessary scene description to anchor the character and action.

The overdone can occur through repetition and overwriting, such as creating similar scenes or putting in too much description or detail. For example, two beautiful sentences describing the same thing requires picking or combining but not keeping both.

The boring comes in with too much or too little—there’s too much description, too many main characters (it’s best to keep to one to five to allow for reader tracking and empathy) or too little happening in the action. The story falls flat without rising action, tension and a driving force that compels the character to chase her want (she ends up getting what she needs, not what she wants).

Editing in Rounds

I like to do my editing in four rounds. They are:

Round 1: Edit for Boring: Once I’ve completed my novel and set it aside for at least a month, I read the entire manuscript to see if there are parts that are boring or repeated. I call this my getting-rid-of-the-crap phase.

I dump the cuts in a cuts file and turn the overwritten pretty descriptions into poetry to fill my poem-a-day project that I started in 2015 (that’s another story).

Round 2: Edit for Arc: Once I’ve removed the rough bits, I get down to story. I like to use Nigel Watts’ eight-point narrative arc as a guideline to make sure I’ve included all the crucial elements in storytelling.

Watts outlines the eight points in any story as Stasis, Trigger, The Quest, Surprise, Critical Choice, Climax, Reversal, and Resolution. The main characters experience something that upsets the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads them to the story climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis, or the new normal.

Round 3: Edit for Pacing: I get down to the business of action and reaction, looking at where there is excitement—sentences are short and to the point to move the story along—and where there needs to be a pause in the narrative with description and character reflection.

I think about each action in the scene and determine if I’m slowing the pace with too much inner thought or character observation or leaving out information, such as stage direction and logistics. I also make sure characters doing one things don’t suddenly do another action without some transition, such as sitting and suddenly running without first getting up from the chair.

Round 4: Edit for Grammar: I polish the manuscript by looking at grammar, mechanics, punctuation, spelling and syntax (how words are put together). I get rid of annoying word habits—for me, my characters do a lot of looking, gazing, nodding and smiling (I’m glad they don’t frown though).

Final Editing

And lastly, I edit every time I get a rejection from a literary agent or feedback from my writers group. I keep editing until I get a “yes,” though it takes hours and hours of work.

Once I do my own editing, I hire an editor to give my work that final polish and to catch anything I missed. This step is particularly important for self-publishing to make sure the copy is clean and free of error, because too many errors in any of the rounds cause readers to doubt the quality of the work. I prefer the flamingo effect, beautiful, striking and eye-catching work!


														

A Handy (and Fun!) Reference Book for Writing and Editing

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services poses with the proof of her book, “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.”

Becoming pro at writing takes time and experience, but for those gaps in knowledge, it’s great to have a bookshelf (virtual or real) of reference books.

I consolidated many of the writing tricks and tips I learned over the years in my new release, “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication.” The book comes out in Kindle and print on Lucky 7/7, or July 7, 2020.

From the Reviewers

I sought reviews for the book and got some great responses, including one from a reader who said the tips “are clear, compelling and practical.” “They truly provide a map to move steadily forward in the writing journey,” the reader said, adding that the journey also can be discouraging.

I can attest to that discouragement. I’m trying to get traditionally published and have had some interest but not a final yes, while self-publishing requires the same amount of time, dedication and patience. There is as large a learning curve as there is to learning how to write and edit in a clear, crisp and compelling style that gets reader buy-in and builds a fan base.

Another reviewer said, “In this concise and practical book, this successful writer uses her insight and skill to encourage, support and guide fellow writers through their creative process.”

And Now for the Tips

In nine quick-to-read chapters, I offer tips for getting started writing, what’s involved in the writing process, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and editing best practices, plus ways to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I wrap up with a dozen reasons for loving writing.

The final chapter, “Loving Writing (Because It’s Essential!),” is my favorite. An excerpt from the chapter sums up why writing is a great practice.

It’s a way to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, going places, and doing things you might not do otherwise.

And, most importantly, it’s interesting to find out what you created after spending a few minutes or hours on a novel scene, short story, or essay. It’s the ultimate process of discovery.

To learn about these and other tips and find out about the essentials to writing and editing, visit Amazon to get a print or Kindle version of 50 Tips for First-Time Authors.

Thanks for checking out my favorite tips from the hundreds I’ve learned and collected over the years!

Author Website Gets a ‘Wardrobe Makeover’

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2020 at 11:00 am

Every so often, websites need an update, or viewers will think they are a little sleepy and outdated!

Websites are like wardrobes—they need to be changed every so often to be fashionable and up-to-date.

That’s what I did with my author website that describes my writing projects and author story. I tossed out the old—especially the photos of younger albeit heavier me before I started my daily one-hour running and weight-lifting regimen—and brought in the new. I have fewer photos, fewer tabs and a whole new look.

Originally, I created my website in 2010 when I read a Writer’s Digest article stating that aspiring authors should have a platform that includes a blog and a website, so I started both.

Out with the Old, In with the New …

My first website had a banner with a cutout photo of me up top and the tabs on the side—an outdated look, though everything was in shades of blue, even my outfit, which was kind of nice. The tabs included About Me, which had three sub-tabs of Profile, Photos and Questions (an old version of FAQs), News and Writing, also with sub-tabs, and my Blog. Very unwieldy and a bit busy.

The new website is neater and cleaner with three of my top book projects featured on the home page and six tabs for the About Me, Publications, Readings, FAQs, Blog and Contact Me pages.

Blog Relaunch

The Blog tab sends visitors to the Shell’s Writing Ink blog I started in June 2010, that of https://shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com. I will continue in a similar vein with my new and improved blog, offering fast and fun writing and editing tips and glimpses into the life of a writer. But what will be different is the offering of samples of my novels, short stories and poetry. That way visitors can delve into my writing style and see what kind of characters, settings and storylines I like to create.

As I did in the past, I will aim to blog on a weekly basis, though I do skip here and there.

Honestly, blogging sometimes feels like a chore—maybe because writing isn’t always magical and easy. But I love sharing what I’ve learned from attending writing workshops, reading writers magazines, being part of writers groups and engaging in conversations about writing.

Newsletter Addition

I also will encourage visitors to join my newsletter list for even more writing and editing tips.

Why share? Because it’s good to do (and something we learned in kindergarten), and writing about writing is a way of self-teaching. It’s a way to see what fits, what works and what needs to go—be it recycled, reused or repurposed. Writing is a way to get in all the colors, be fashionable and try out the new trends.

In other words, writing is … yep, fun!

50 Tips for Writing and Editing (plus, a book for sale!)

In Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on June 22, 2020 at 11:00 am

The image appears on the cover of the soon-to-be-released “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.

Writing has a bit of mystique to it, since it’s something we all do, but it also has what I like to call the Gold Star Effect.

Writing is essential to work, life and business, but …

What Exactly is Good Writing?

Good writing tells a story, inspires change and is layered in purpose and in meaning, causing readers to ponder, think and act.

Good writing is structurally sound with clear, concise content and, if fiction, a fully fleshed-out story.

Good writing also looks impeccable on the page, free of errors in grammar, mechanics, syntax, punctuation and spelling.

But to get that place of good writing, or the Gold Star Effect, work is involved, along with discipline, motivation, practice and, of course, revision.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years, first as a journalist, then as a freelance writer and editor, but also as an aspiring author. I have plans to self-publish two novels and am trying to get agents for two other novels. I also have two I shelved, because they just didn’t work out.

50 Tips for First-Time Authors

Through all of this writing work and experience, I’ve gathered my top tips for writing, editing and doing the work of both.

I share my tips in “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication,” which will be published on Kindle and in print on Lucky 7/7, or July 7, 2020.

In my booklet, I cover tips for getting started writing, what’s involved in the writing process, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and editing best practices, plus ways to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I wrap up with a dozen reasons for loving writing.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

A writing list is a great way to get motivated and stay on task, turning a desire to write into the action of writing.

It provides a few rules to live by that make writing a routine and, over time, a habit without too much planning, thinking or agonizing about it.

It’s a way to show up for the writing, finding that once you get started, you have something to say, a short story to write in a sitting or two, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

To find even more tips, visit Amazon for a pre-order to have the book ready to go on Lucky 7/7.

Thanks for checking out years of tips made concise in nine chapters. These tips have the Gold Star Effect in that they rose to the top from the hundreds of tips I’ve learned and collected!

(Note: I must admit the idea of self-publishing seemed intimidating, so I attended webinars, workshops and seminars and read two books on the subject. Two particularly useful tools are Gundi Gabrielle’s “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: Publish a Bestseller in the Next 30 Days!!” and Richard N. Williams’ “Self Publish Your Novel Made Easy.”)

Editing as Torture (it can happen, even for editors!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Self-Editing, Writing, Writing Advice on June 14, 2020 at 11:00 am

Editing is like getting rid of weeds in a field. Even beautiful sentences like the puff of seeds pictured here need to be cut if they do not belong in the story.

Editing for editors on occasion can be torture—not when it’s someone else’s work but when it’s your own.

Why? The work seems ready when it’s written and edited a few times, but really it isn’t. What it may need is content and developmental editing in the case of fiction, or editing for major elements like pacing and tension, character and plot arcs, and setting, atmosphere, world building, dialog and repetition in scenic elements and description.

Or if it’s nonfiction or an article, the content may not be well organized, go off topic or lack transitions.

I’m editing a novel I wrote 15 years ago, “A Bar Girl’s Starry Nights,” about a cocktail waitress and an older gentleman who become friends and help each go through the Twelve Steps. I’d set it aside and wrote other books, thinking, “Oh, it’s cute. It’s my first one.”

I want to self-publish, but I’m close to having my two key projects getting agents (but not quite yet!), so I went back to it and saw I’d made many of the mistakes I’d learned to avoid or fix after the fact.

Being “Objective” in Self-Editing

It had taken experience and working as an editor to be able to be a somewhat objective editor of my own work. I read it like a reader and had forgotten what had happened and while editing, pretended it was written by someone else. I could do that, because I wrote it a long time ago, though I still will need an editor, because as many editors say, you cannot edit your own work and catch all the mistakes.

One fellow editor said some writers are pretty good at editing their own work. They can edit in steps, separating out the different elements, such as editing for pacing, marking the areas where they stop paying attention or want more detail. They can work with beta readers and writers groups to get even more feedback for revision.

While editing my novel, I saw that the first five chapters were back story with a tiny bit of plot, and I thought, this is horrible! I cut 6,800 words in the first 50 pages and first nine chapters. I wondered if I should stop, but then I thought about all the bad books I read because I have a problem with quitting. So I read.

Identifying Major Problems

I saw other problems, including a prelude that looked like I came from the Victorian era. I tried to emulate Ernest Hemingway and Charles Bukowski, just coming off of my English major high. I had two main characters, but then thought it would be clever to include 30 pages telling the story of a third character—so I removed his point-of-view chapters to turn into a short story companion piece. I over described a few things. I repeated scenic elements and plot points. I overwrote. I had too much dialog, even the silly things like “Yeah, okay.”

My first impression is this lacks tension, the characters are unlikeable, and the plot is incredibly boring. I even had a character get full description and not mean anything to the plot but only appear in one scene.

Looking Forward to Editing

But then I got to the middle and started looking forward to editing. And by the end, I’d gotten teary-eyed, feeling the big “oh no!” for one of the main characters. I realized, yes, I have something to work with. It will need a few more editing rounds, especially if I want to consider it a novel instead of a novella.

It started at 65,200 words (barely the length of a novel, starting at 50,000 or 60,000 words, depending on the source) and now is a novella at 49,200 words (a novella is about 20,000 to 50,000 words). We’ll see what happens.

Now I’m having fun with the project, because I’m acting as an editor, something all writers need. But then I’ll turn it over to an editor for that final polish.

Achieving Work-Life Balance in Writing (especially during a crisis)

In Work-Life Balance, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Spaces, Writing Spots, Writing Tips on May 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

 

05-2020 WorkLifeBalance

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works at home on the couch using a portable lap desk to add variety to her stuck-at-home approach to work-life balance.

During the pandemic crisis, are you stuck indoors without a lot of variety to your office space? Did you use to enjoy mixing working at home with your other favorite writing places?

I don’t like sitting, and I don’t like being in front of a computer—at least for long periods of time. I also don’t like the same sitting spot for hours on end.

So I came up with a COVID desk survival plan. I had to since I write for a living, and I write for fun with the goal to make the writing I want to do—writing novels—full time. It’s a lot of writing, as a result, but I try to balance it with daily exercise—running and lifting weights—and doing social things (or, I used to, now that social time is on Zoom).

Work-Life Writing Balance

How do you achieve balance when you work life and your other life both involve computers?

  • First of all, find several writing spots in the house, such as the desk with the hopefully ergonomic chair, plus the couch with a portable lap desk. (I got mine at Barnes & Noble back in the day when you could physically go into stores.)
  • Set aside certain times for your writing routine, but don’t guilt yourself if you don’t write. I aim for three one-hour sessions a week—but during COVID, I’ve had time to write or edit about 10 hours a week. (I’ve gained extra time from not driving and social distancing).
  • Vary where you write, such as the office, living room and kitchen and find something stimulating in that environment to think about or absorb—such as the grinding of the coffee beans or the way the air feels as time shifts from high noon into the afternoon. (You have to use some imagination here, since we’re all stuck inside, but I do have the option of going out on my patio, and I pretend it’s the park!)
  • Take breaks every few minutes to stretch, or take a mini-walk for a mind refresher. Join a writers group, such as Northern Colorado Writers, and join in on the Zoom tea chats or coffee breaks to get that actual break.
  • Make sure you have free time to do whatever you want that gets you away from the routine, particularly if it doesn’t involve writing.
  • Try writing in a notebook if computers are your normal tool, or vice versa. The switch may cause you to see and write differently—handwriting slows you down, while typing causes you to lose the pen-hand connection and get lost in the writer’s world.
  • Find a new interest or hobby to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a job, even if you’re not working because of the shutdown.

Fair Play in Writing

And remember, it may not be so much of a balance but a matter of sharing the space of work with the space of the rest of life. I like to call it work-life fair play.

From Crappy to Great Writing (a sample of the difference editing makes)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 3, 2020 at 11:00 am

RedPens8

Do you ever read a book and wish you could take out your red pens and start marking up all the errors? I did just that with one page from a self-published book on self-publishing.

 

Sometimes writers just want to get their book out and start earning money, and readers love the content.

But readers who notice grammar, mechanics and the like will get caught up in the errors. And if there are too many of them, the writer loses authority. Especially if the writer is self-published.

Writers planning to self-publish or find an agent are advised to hire an editor to not only fix the errors, but to notice things that we, as writers, skip over knowing what we’ve written and believing it all makes sense.

Errors on the Page

I just read a great book about self-publishing, because I’m planning to put a couple of my books on the market. The content of “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: The Proven 4-Week Formula to go from Zero to Bestseller as a first-time Author!,” by Gundi Gabrielle, is great, and I got the tools I need, including how to launch a new book, get great reviews and please Amazon to get even more readers. I learned the steps of submitting a book on Kindle Direct Publishing and what to expect along the way.

In other words, I give this book a great review, because the content is well-organized without over explaining or skipping over anything. But I just got a little tripped up on the grammatical errors—the writer said to hire an editor as part of the self-publishing path, but maybe her editor focused on overall content and not the details.

A Before and After Sample

Here’s a sample of before and after of what good editing can bring to the page (also see above):

BEFORE: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all your social media, friends, family, colleagues, mailing list, forums, Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—Do it!—And spread the excitement!!

You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week can also be very powerful as are daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

AFTER: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish it again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, and links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all of your social media accounts; with friends, family, and colleagues; on your mailing list and forums; in your Facebook groups; in your Reddit threads; and on Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—do it!—and spread the excitement!

You can also add a press release and schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. (Or it can read as: You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, post blogs, upload podcasts, and make appearances on local TV stations.) Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week also can be very powerful as well as daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

Great Sentence Structure

The main issue with this page is that the verb tenses and nouns do not align and are inconsistent in the lists presented in the last two paragraphs. Also, one exclamation mark suffices. Otherwise, the writer looks like they are in high school, doing things like putting hearts in place of the dots over the letter “i.” However, the content here is well-informed and obviously well-researched. It just needs a tweak or two.

To-Do Lists During These Times (it takes a shift in approach)

In Adjust and Readjust, COVID-19, COVID-19 Response, To-Do Lists, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on April 26, 2020 at 11:00 am

LarimerCountyFair4 08-2019

Don’t let staying at home make you feel caged in–instead readjust and pivot with a great To-Do list to accomplish your tasks.

I figured that with the slowdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, I would become super efficient at my To-Do list.

I figured more time meant more tasks done.

What’s actually happening is that I’m sleeping in and taking more breaks during the day. I’m stressed and anxious about the news, what’s next and what all this means at a personal and global level.

In other words, I’m not accomplishing all of my goals. I want to traditionally publish one book. I want to self-publish two others. I want to regain my freelancing work. I want to be safe and happy.

Readjusting and Pivoting

What I’m actually doing during my stay-at-home time is readjusting and pivoting.

Once coronavirus first struck, I went through the stages of grief from shock to acceptance. I was shocked at the frantic, overstocking behaviors in the grocery store (I work part-time in one as part of the whole gig economy thing). I watched mask wearing go from 10 percent to 75 percent. And I saw the store’s max of 206 people result in lines out the door with everyone six feet apart.

This now is the new normal, and in the middle of all of this, I looked at my To-Do list, thinking, how do I start?

This is where the pivoting comes in. I have to find new work in new ways. I have to redo my marketing materials to fit this time, innovating in how I appeal to the customer. I have to rethink my writing, moving from taking the work as it comes to going out and finding it. And I have to think of my creative writing as a business with a mission or purpose and business and marketing plans.

In other words, I’m readjusting my goals yet not accomplishing any of them, because I’m caught in the middle. And that’s what this coronavirus pandemic feels like. Every day the world changes. What’s closed? What’s open? Put on a mask? Take off the mask? Stay at home or be safer at home? Flux and fluctuation. Change and difference. I can’t keep up.

What are your responses to the pandemic? What’s on your To-Do list that you want to accomplish but because of the flux you can’t start?

Working Through a To-Do List

Here are some ways to work through a To-Do list, whether for writing, editing or other tasks:

  • Write it out in a mess.
  • Organize the mess.
  • Break up the mess into steps.
  • Do the steps one at a time.
  • Give yourself credit for each step.
  • Celebrate the credit with some pretend.

For instance, since we can’t go out to a restaurant, sit in a coffee shop or go on a shopping trip, take the experience home. Use your imagination to create the noise and busyness around you, and set up your table by the window, looking out at whatever seems beautiful. Readjust and pivot, going inward to make what’s outward more bearable.

Taking my own advice, I’m going to create a master plan of each step involved in self-publishing, using my resources—books and in-person (before coronarvirus) and Zoom classes—to list the steps. I felt overwhelmed (and still do), but the To-Do list will make it something to carry out from one task to the next, step by step. It’s a way to get out of the middle and the confusion, the uncertainty and the mental mess. The result, I hope, will be a clear direction, plus some acceptance and, soon, a reason to celebrate.