Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Freewriting’ Category

The Ins and Outs and Benefits of Journaling

In Freewriting, Journaling, Writing, Writing Advice on July 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Journals3

Journals can be used for multiple purposes beyond recording daily life.

Journaling is like pre-writing, or it can be a form of record-keeping.

It can be private or public, as in the case of blogs, which technically are considered digital diaries.

And it can be practice toward fine-tuned quality writing.

A Dozen Journals

I have a dozen journals, each with its purpose and different sized cover and pattern. I’ve journaled since second grade, a process that’s essential to my day and to my growth as a writer. I record what happens, the things I do and my interactions with others.

I find comfort in the result: my days are tracked, and I have a reference to recall events, conversations and even when I last gave the dog a bath. I can look back and see what I’ve learned, laugh over the drama that, now, isn’t a big deal, and, hopefully, figure out where to fix things.

I have another journal that’s my play journal. The half-dozen colored sections are designated for freewriting, book starts, book and story ideas and notes about the writing process.

Another of my journals is solely for freewriting because it already has prompts I can use when I’m blocked.

I also have a journal for the books I’ve read and one for notes on the books I borrow.

And I use one for sketching out poems I later type up.

Journaling is a form of writing that isn’t as official as sitting in front of the blank page. It’s like an artist’s sketchpad used to practice drawing skills; it’s a place to play around with language, descriptions and ideas.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality, grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write, and by doing it regularly, the writing will be easier and the ideas will start showing up.

A Journal’s Uses

You can use journal for many things, such as:

  • Writing exercises you want to try.
  • Taking notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.
  • Capturing snippets of conversation and recording details you observe in your environment.
  • Drafting short stories and novels.
  • Playing around with language for a poem or beautiful description in a story.
  • Listing ideas for poems, short stories, novels, essays and blogs.
  • Compiling character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions.
  • Pasting photos or describing settings and the buildings and places in your story or poem.

I forgot to mention that I even have a mini-journal, it’s a miniature composition book, to take notes on anything and everything I encounter in a day, and then those notes go into the proper big journal.

I’ve journaled since second grade and probably have written a million words, most of them pretty boring about the routine, mundane aspects of life. But there’s gossip and intrigue, plus the whole figuring-out-life thing. And collecting those cool ideas for later …

 

Freewriting First, Revision Second

In Freewriting, Revising, Writing on June 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Notebook1

Don’t get out the red pens until after the writing occurs to keep away the pesky internal editor.

Fast writing lets the words flow without worry and the internal editor.

With fast or freewriting, the idea is to not think about or plan your writing and instead to sink into your imagination. Express whatever is there in you, and then figure it out later. Realize, though, once there is written content, the words and language are containers for thoughts but aren’t always exact.

In other words, you can go back and revise. And revise again.

Simplicity or Complexity

Before revision can happen, you either start with simplicity or complexity.

With simplicity, one approach is speedwriting, writing as fast as you can, knowing the goal is to write as many words as possible within a certain timeframe. You write what comes to mind, getting rid of the internal editor, saving the planning and organizing of the content and the plotting of the story for a later step.

Or, you might start with complexity. You turn difficult, hard-to-grasp thoughts into lucid form, and then fit them into language that makes sense. Yo can make the writing clear and concise and expressive of what you intended through the revision process.

When I’m revising, I like to do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. I also think of the overall structure of the content or story, usually in the second edit. I probably should reverse the process, but I can’t get past the little errors before getting to the big picture.

Here’s a sample revision checklist of things to look for, such as:

  • Check for sentences that don’t make sense.
  • Omit needless words to get to the essential meaning or intention.
  • Notice consistency in verb tense.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Vary the sentence structure.
  • Identify areas where transitions are needed.
  • Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.

For my fiction writing, I try to spot any scene issues, like partial scenes, or scenes that are drawn out or are lacking detail. I ask if the overall story makes sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained? Are the characters well-developed and seem like real people, or are they flat with predictable traits?

Here are a few things to look for during additional edits:    

  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
  • Write visually and make sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
  • Tighten the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.

And most importantly, make sure you’re showing and only telling when necessary.

Writing as puzzle solving

In Freewriting, Writing, Writing Novels, Writing Processes on December 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing is like solving a puzzle, at least when approaching the story or novel without planning or forethought.

I’m a pantser writer, but I’ve decided for my next novel, I’ll engage in the planning approach. I’ll come up with an overriding idea, a beginning and an ending, and a few of the character sketches, instead of writing and seeing what happens.

Why am I going to the other side?

Writing’s become a bit painful and an emotional experience for me, where I have to face myself and how I write and process the story. I get lost in where to go next and don’t know where I’ve been. I just keep writing like I’m in a speed writing contest, when what I really want to do is write with purpose and direction. I want a plan.

By freewriting my stories and letting what happens happen, I’ve noticed how I’m trying to solve a mystery, though I’m not writing a mystery. I write myself in a corner, or multiple corners. A short story becomes a novella. A piece of flash fiction becomes a short story. A novel goes on too long past the 100,000-word mark when I want to write 80,000 words.

This get-myself-in-a-corner writing is the result of my main character needing to solve something, but I don’t let her solve it because all these other characters prop up and she has to interact with them and get through her own plot, because if I say, “Magic. Problem solved,” the reader won’t buy it.

I have to get her to the end of the story.

I have to solve how she and the characters interact to carry the plot forward through the middle all the way to the end.

But instead, I’m mired in the story, so I have to look back at what I wrote and figure out where the story is headed, picking up clues in what I’ve already written. I have to figure out the plot strands and bring them together, knowing my one basic question, while also wondering, but how do I get there?

I’m stuck in the middle and have to move backward, do some planning and thinking, and then I can get back to writing. What I do is stop, plan, and write. So am I really pantsing my novel, when I really had to middle-plan? The arc has to come full circle, not move in a straight line of writing whatever pops into my head.

That’s where the pain comes in. I’m in the middle of writing, and I have to throw my nature aside and start planning.

What is it like for you? Are you a pantser or a planner?

Working around writer’s block

In Freewriting, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on September 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

Let your imagination go as you kick past writer's block.

Let your imagination go as you kick past writer’s block.

Writer’s block: my big dread. It’s not just the blank page and the start of the project. It’s being in the middle of something.

Like right now. I set aside a couple of hours to work on my novel about an unhappy waitress who wants to be a musician, but instead I’m checking my email, writing about my blockage and thinking about how nice it is outside.

I know that once I start writing, I’ll get into the process. I’ll lose track of time. I’ll absorb into the story.

That’s because writing is a type of unfolding. It’s a creative process, just like painting with one brush stroke being added to the next and the next until line and form begin to emerge.

How does writing let one thing lead to another? If you lose your conscious, self-editing self and just write, not caring about the result, there will be some possible sloppiness that can be edited out later. The sloppy can be at the grammar level or in character or plot development.

But the idea is to get something down, which can lead to more writing and then to form, as one description opens into the next. It’s a matter of jumping in without caring or worrying over product.

For example, I’m writing my novel as a seat-of-the-pantser writer, instead of writing from an outline, though I know the end scene. I don’t know the arc or how my scenes will lead up to the end.

Each time I sit down to write, I face the blank page and not a specific part of a scene to move the story forward, making me a little insecure. I immediately ask where my book’s heading? Sure, there’s The End, but what about the middle?

Not knowing about the middle is like not knowing what is in the subconscious mind, but interestedly enough, once I start typing wanting to reach 500 or 1,000 words, things bubble out that I don’t expect. I’ve freed up my writing, but because I still have an idea of the ending, I have a framework, but one that is loose.

As a result, I’m writing from another part of myself, one with fewer boundaries and fears because it just wants to push the words out. The scenes are there, but with more of my memory and thoughts and passions embedded in the words.

Getting ideas for writing

In Freewriting, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

After finishing my big three revision projects—I revised three novels alternating among them—I am at a loss.

I have ideas for short stories and a novel, but, to say the least, I am not feeling inspired. So what do I do?

Get it. Get going. Get writing.

Inspiration can come from books, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature. It is a feeling of motivation mixed with passion to do the thing you love.

One way to get to that place of inspiration and desire to write is to freewrite without parameters, the internal editor or specific goals.

Another is to amplify your awareness of what’s around you by invoking the senses—those of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell—focusing on each one to describe an object, time or place. Give description to the things around you as you see them or as they are happening.

Writing lets thoughts, feelings, experiences and responses unfold, so that what isn’t immediately apparent becomes real and evident when it’s put into words. It’s like mixing together ingredients from a recipe that assembled together become something consumable, instead of being stuck in their little boxes, bottles, jars and spice racks.

Writing mixes together words into meaning to give what’s inside definition, direction and solidity. The process of writing is a way to discover what you want, could or have to say.

To find inspiration to make that discovery, here are a few prompts:

• For dialog, do some eavesdropping and listen in on the conversations around you. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches. Use a snippet of conversation and the gestures and facial expressions you observe to start a dialog between your characters.
• Visit a public garden, go to the mountains or sit on a city bench and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky, using all of the senses.
• Randomly read a line from a book or look up a word in dictionary to use as a launching point to begin writing.
• Recall a childhood place or a memory from your more recent past and describe it.
• Read a poem and use the mood it creates to start writing. Maybe pick out an odd word or phrase, reword it and use it to invoke word play.
• Look in newspapers and magazines for story, word or idea prompts.
• Write about an old object. What does it make you think about and what emotions does it evoke?
• Write about something you lost and want back, and then imagine what you would do to get it back or how you’d react having it once again in your possession.
• Write about what you regret and the emotions associated with that regret.
• Write about what makes you the angriest or happiest.
• Write about a compelling person in your life, starting with physical description working your way to the characteristics, motivations and personality of that person.
• Go to a public place—a coffee shop, bar, restaurant or mall—and take notes on the physical surroundings, such as the furnishings, lighting levels (bright in stores and low in some bars) and atmosphere or mood. How does the setting make you feel? Comfortable or edgy? Overwhelmed or energetic?

Whatever prompt you select, realize that writing is about exploration and trying out new and old recipes to get to that place of passion.

Writing from big-wheels to Big Wheels

In Freewriting, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

Mastering something like writing is like mastering the wheels of your life.

Once you know how to ride a bike, you don’t forget—and the same goes with writing. The old skills are stored away as you move on to the bigger wheels, except in those cases where you get stuck, or experience writer’s block or burnout.

For me, I started with a big-wheel bike—a four-wheeled, pedaled toy I rode in the driveway because the road I grew up on was on a hill.

By four or five, I upgraded to a tricycle and then to a bigger tricycle, which now hangs upside down in my younger brother’s garage, a sentimental reminder of our childhood. We both rode the red trike, and we both started with training wheels on our bicycles—a step up in our wheels with our father running behind us, yelling to keep straight, turn, pedal or brake.

At 17, I got “real wheels” with my first car (a bright orange Mustang), followed by a pickup truck and a trailer, but never equipment, semis or boats because of fear and a lack of desire and skill. I arrived at a stopping point in my growth, similar to how I got stuck by writer’s block or writer’s burnout in a creative shutdown.

These shutdowns caused guilt, fear and curiosity about why it was I couldn’t write. I stopped and reflected, questioned, got edgy and waited, eventually learning that I could take steps to get out.

Writer’s block—temporarily being unable to produce new work or come up with new ideas—can stem from a sudden lack of confidence, a fear of completion, the seeking of perfection or taking on a project that seems too daunting.

Alternatively, burnout is long-term exhaustion in writing, work or even a hobby involving disengagement, a lack of energy, diminished interest and a reduced sense of accomplishment. In a job situation, it can be caused by constant stress and feelings of helplessness, such as working for low pay without hope of a raise or promotion.

The key is to realize that writing is a process of discovery. It’s a growth of experience—taking on larger and larger wheels as you put in the hours—and it’s a relationship between you and your world, you and your characters, and you and your creations. A blockage or burnout, once over, can help you feel revived and re-energized to return to writing, having stepped back to think about why you couldn’t do what you loved and figured out a few methods and techniques to go forward.

Focus on the process, not on the final product through freewriting, journaling, brainstorming and engaging in nonjudgmental writing with the inner editor turned off until the editing stage. Focus not on writing to get published but for the internal rewards.

Just like riding each level of wheels, realize it was all about play until you got to the vehicles that require state-issued licenses, or the Big Wheels. Enjoy the little wheels as you experience them, instead of putting so much expectation on each word that you write, type and think out during the process.

At the end, you’ll have both the little and the Big Wheels, the process and the product.

Freewriting to Prewrite

In Freewriting, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

Freewriting is a useful writer’s tool to get out of writer’s block, to tap into memory or to get started on a writing project, like those runners who first walk a lap or two as a warm-up exercise.

It is a concept invented by Peter Elbow, author of “Writing Without Teachers,” one of the books I was required to read as a master’s English student. He said, “Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you’re doing.”

The only rule of freewriting is to not stop writing.

Freewriting is a prewriting technique, a discovery process and a way to develop or find new ideas. It is writing without rules. You don’t need a topic and can jot down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if what you write is disconnected.

Freewriting can be for 5 or 10 minutes, or a length of time you choose. During that time, don’t stop writing. Don’t lift your fingers from the keyboard or stop moving your pen or pencil.

Here’s a freewriting exercise I did with the following 10-minute prompt: Write the story of some highlights (or lowlights) of your life.

Response: I never went there, the seemingly far-away dungeon we called the garage. Tricycles, bicycles, tools in the red fancy-name box with sliding-out drawers, work benches, gray cabinets form the disorganized, caked-on-dirt, boy’s world. My brother spent afternoons and weekends in Dad’s shop, while I was off playing Barbies, smacking my gum and dreaming about boys.

When the garage door was down, Dad’s workshop became my basketball court. Does he love me. He does if I make the free throw. I’d miss every time, at least when I’d make bets on boys. This was on summer nights when the crickets sang their sliding cello-like rhythms that floated above the heat.

The next day, a Saturday let’s say, Dad would be back in the shop, and Mom would be baking or reading, and I’d be in my bedroom drawing, or I’d have the music on and my cooling curling iron would become a microphone as I danced around, being a Material Girl or Like a Virgin.

Andy my brother would be in the shop, learning how to build things, how to cut wood, how to Sauder, how to do all these “boy things” I regret not learning when the lessons were free with the man I adore. I ignored my dad’s shop, because I was into girly stuff. I didn’t like to get dirty. And I had other things on my mind.

This now, in reflection, is a lowlight in my life, not exploring my other side when I was worried about keeping my hair perfect and my clothes pristine clean. When I think about my job, the one I love and hate, I wonder who I’d be if I hadn’t been so girly in my material world, crushing on boys, when all along my dad wanted me to come visit. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve come back, not to his shop, but into his life as his princess. He’s the one who makes, fixes, builds and creates things for me, just because.