Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Why do I write (and why write in general)

In Motivation, Writing, Writing Motivation on August 30, 2015 at 5:00 am

I write both at the computer and in my pile of journals.

I write both at the computer and in my pile of journals.

I write and I blog, and I write some more.

I can’t stop. Not really.

I’ve got a tight grip on my writing pen; in other words, I write because I have to. When I’m not writing, I feel like there’s something missing in my life. When I am writing, I feel anchored and purposeful.

It’s that whole meaning-of-life, what-is-your-passion question.

Writing is my passion.

Sitting in front of a computer isn’t. I tire of sitting in front of computers, but I like using computers to write. Writing by hand is too time-consuming; plus, for me, my writing has turned to crap. I’m a journalist by day, so I spend lots of time in front of the notebook and computer, taking notes, organizing my thoughts and writing.

I write to a form.

And then after work, I write some more, at least a couple of days a week. I get in maybe five to 10 hours of novel and short story writing if I’m lucky. It’s hard to find the time, but it’s not so hard to find the passion, because it’s a given.

Though I love to write, I have to tell myself to write two to three times a week and to write even if I don’t feel like it. It’s ironic I love to write but then have to tell myself to write.

When I get into my writing, particularly a novel-length project, I find writing breaks apart the soul to lift out the words; it’s digging in and discovering beyond the top layer of insecurity of getting it wrong, wasting time and not finding the story, the characters, the setting.

It’s there; it’s just finding it with the elements of craft and patience and time and getting down and dirty.

It’s discipline; it’s need; it’s want.

And it’s exploration, adventure and unearthing what’s underneath.

(Musings on writing, and blogging about those musings)

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NaNoWriMo Procrastinator

In Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on November 3, 2014 at 12:44 am

Yes, it is that time again for fast, furious writing without worry about quality with the goal to type, pen or pencil quantity of words.

It takes 1,667 words a day to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge, or National Novel Writing Month during November.

NaNoWriMo brings together writers worldwide who aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The daily challenge of 1,667 words is totally doable, because when I write I aim for 1,000 to 2,000 words. The problem is I haven’t started, so I’m behind 3,334 words already as of today.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to do fast writing, not actually to write something perfect. You can write a crappy first draft and just let go, expelling the cranky editor, procrastinator and creative excuse maker.

But already I’ve let the procrastinator hang out with me, and I don’t know how to get rid of her. That’s because I’m not sure if I want to participate in NaNoWriMo. I took part in it last year but had done some prep work beforehand. This time, I prepped for something that I’m not ready to write about, not just yet, so I am empty handed, literally.

I could be a seat-of-your-pantser writer instead and just start writing to see what happens, freeing myself of the planning and outlining process I usually rely on to get into the writing and storytelling process. But even without a plan, I always have a core idea, not quite a theme but a main character and something he or she wants.

So if I do this, each Sunday, I will check in and let you know about my process for daily writing, as well as give tips on daily dedication, motivation and inspiration. I just have to get out of my procrastinator’s chair and sit down in my writer’s chair and join thousands of other writers who are serious about getting and going and doing writing.

So, here’s to NaNoWriMo!

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.

Making the Best of Not Being a Paid Novelist

In Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

Imagine in flashing neon the highlights of your writer resume.

You’ve made the New York Times best-seller list (over and over), sold a screenplay and watched it on the big screen, accepted a Grammy or two, and traveled the world, attending packed book signings.

Yep, you’re a dreamer, a dreamer of the type that can’t give up.
But you have to do this thing called work that takes time, energy, talent and effort away from what you really want to do.

That’s my story as a journalist who wants to be a novelist and can’t think of anything else to do but write. I go to my steady-paycheck job, trying not to feel resentful that my dreams didn’t arrive by courier, handed over just because I want instant publication, fame and money.

A coworker has taped to her desk, “Focus on what you have control over, and enjoy the crap out of it,” an attitude adjuster for when we want to complain about our dismally low paychecks and wacky hours.

I took a photo of that saying, which my coworker copied down from another journalist friend.

So, here’s how I’m enjoying the crap out of one writing job (journalist), when I want the other one (published novelist):

• I get to experience things that I wouldn’t get to in most other jobs, such as sitting in a Cessna, riding in a fire truck, traveling on a three-seated airplane, taking the passenger seat on a combine, hanging out on roofs to learn about new technology, and riding a hot air balloon (and getting paid for it).

• I get to interview people in all different types of jobs, getting a glimpse into what their work lives are like, information that comes in handy for character development.

• I practice my writing daily. I interview. I research. These are things novelists also do.

• I get bored with my work writing. I get writer’s block. I can’t think of a lede. All for about five minutes. There’s deadline. Translate: I try to treat my after-work writing life like a job, so that I can’t come up with loads of excuses.

• I absorb how other reporters approach their jobs, because we’re all in one large room where we can overhear each other. I compare how they ask interview questions to my own methods, adding to my repertoire, and I pick up on their comments about interesting and annoying assignments.

• On occasion, I can sneak in some of my own research. For instance, I wrote about an apartment fire in one of my novels and asked the American Red Cross, when I was writing about disaster response, if the nonprofit goes to individual home and apartment fires.

The Joy of Writing

In Motivation, Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

The Joy of Writing may not be as enticing as The Joy of Sex or as yummy as The Joy of Cooking.

It doesn’t require pictorial diagrams or recipes with ingredient lists and step-by-step directions.

I haven’t opened a copy of The Joy of Sex, though I’ve seen it in bookstores as I browse for other less sexy books.

As for The Joy of Cooking, I have a copy in my kitchen cupboard, mostly unused because I stick to my mother’s recipes the few times that I cook.

However, if The Joy of Writing existed, I would buy it to find out the secret to achieving a state of joy in writing, just like I’ve been trying to figure out the meaning of life since I understood that there was meaning to it.

Writing is work. It takes discipline. And it takes time away from real, three-dimensional living.

It takes motivation.

It requires sitting in a chair.

And it can cause pain from unbidden emotion, or pride in something finished.

Joy, according to my Webster’s thesaurus, means mirth, cheerfulness, delight, pleasure, gratification, revelry, frolic, playfulness, merrymaking, high or good spirits, jubilation and celebration.

It’s opposite is complaining, weeping and wailing.

Writing causes me to experience both, except maybe for the wailing bit.

The Joy of Writing, if such a book existed, would let writers know that first they need to understand the elements of storytelling and the structure of a short story or novel; ways to develop plot, character and setting; and where and how to find their voice before they can get comfortable in writing.

Once the writing becomes comfortable but not easy because it never is, the writer can get lost in the process. It’s like learning to read where seeing and then understanding the meaning of each individual word is difficult, but with practice, the individual words aren’t required to get that meaning. Instead, the mind makes a moving picture from the words so that each one loses its rigid structure on the page and becomes part of a visual and sensual world.

The same thing can happen in writing.

After a great deal of practice and fast fingers on the keypad (or a fast hand with the pen or pencil), the words disappear into thought, and then into full scenes that are unfolding with the typing. It’s as if, for me at least, the subconscious mind comes forward with memory, imagination and a touch of soul to connect the known physical world and the physical words describing that world with the undefined – writers describe this as their characters taking over.

Is it inspiration? Is it creativity? Is it something that’s plotted and planned with room for what’s not understood until the writing happens?

For me, when I enter my writing and lose the words – the fact that I’m typing, the noises around me, that I’m in a different room than where I am in the story – this is when I experience joy, mirth and play. I feel childlike in this purity of experience, the running wild with the words.

(See next week’s blog on how I try to practice this joy, despite …)

Mountain fires and writing with fire

In 52 Writing Topics, Motivation, Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

The High Park fire as viewed from Fort Collins, Colorado.

When the wind rode my laptop screen as if it were a sail, pushing my years of work across the table and onto the cement ground, I panicked.

Had I saved my latest work on my flashdrive? What if I lost a few pages, a few poems or a short story?

This was before theHighPark fire struck northernLarimerCounty, smothering the air in my hometown with the smells of a campfire gone wrong. From a lightning strike, thousands of burning acres. Evacuees. Lost homes. Harmed wildlife. A story that is becoming too large to imagine, at least from the outside.

I am writing about fire, a project I started in January nearly six months before my environment became engulfed in the smell, the texture (ashes drop like gray snowflakes), the sight (the smoke rises off the mountain as if from a chimney) and the taste and sound of burning .

My character in “Dropping Colors,” has lost her home in an apartment fire and is on the quest to find her lost things. A few of theHighParkevacuees had the chance to grab their essentials and most important personal things. Kate Letts, my character, does not get that chance and becomes reflective about the meaning of stuff.

Writing is about stuff, about loss and gain and about fire and the flame that lets the words burn. That burn will be revealed in my six-month review of blogging about 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.

Here’s the stuff, or what is essential to writing: Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue, Voice, Pacing, Flashbacks, Scenes, Arc, Storytelling. The elements of fiction that are the pieces of wood in a fire.

The match is that initial idea for a character identity, an outline for a story or a snippet of something seen or overheard with the unanswered What If?

Strike the match to that pile of wood symbolizing the writer’s blank page. The spark is the inspiration, motivation, creativity and imagination that ignite the initial idea into flow.

Flow is the opposite of writer’s block, which is the state of mind when words refuse to come.

Flow is losing track of time, place and whatever evokes the senses and getting lost in the telling of the story. For me, it’s almost like reading, because I am not in complete control, though I am conscious, at least somewhat, that I am writing.

To stoke the fire to last until the next writing session, find a good stopping point in the middle of a scene or a chapter or an idea. That way the flame can be picked up to continue the writing burn.

Stoking the fire is keeping to a writing schedule. It is discipline. It is putting time into the craft and art of storytelling.

To keep on writing, there needs to be goals, a belief in the self and the knowledge that this is a rough draft. Just as the main character has to face her flaws, fears and limitations and overcome them to get what she wants, the writer has to work through the same things.

That’s what passion is, doing this thing you love without ever giving up. Despite heartbreak. Despite being told your work is ashes. Despite not having a home for your words.

Writing is Catching Fire, Running with the Wind and Being Wild with all the elements of fiction, so that what results is a thing of beauty. From fire comes a myriad of colors that cannot be washed away. It becomes part of the text, so that the readers lose track of their own settings, identities and stories of their lives.

The Motivation Struggle

In Frustration, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 11, 2011 at 7:00 am

Motivation is like an oil slick – pretty on the surface, but it can catch you off guard if not taken seriously.

As a writer, I constantly struggle with finding and sustaining my motivation unless I’m involved in a project. When I’m writing a novel or working on a short story, I follow a schedule and get my butt in the chair, and I write.

I don’t churn the excuses, at least when I have a direction and a goal that are integral to being motivated.

When I don’t have that direction, I get lost in my desire to write without control of where, when, how and what. I may have a general objective of wanting to write, but it’s not enough. I let life get in the way, like my 9-to-5 job, sleeping, eating, reading and seeing friends.

I am not smart enough to think 15 minutes is enough to create.

I want a block of time that is two hours or more, believing that like a runner setting her pace, I can’t sprint through words. Plus, I don’t want to be tired or hungry, and I believe that my house has to be clean. Excuses, I know.

To recharge my motivation batteries, so to speak, I try the following:

  • Set a schedule and, if I can’t carry out a writing session, readjust.
  • Mark down the hours I work to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished.
  • Notice what is around me that I find inspiring, such as how leaves sound on pavement or the touch of winter air on the skin.
  • Try to find spaces of time and place during the day that can be used for writing, even if it is a line or two.
  • Don’t be afraid to write, and don’t allow for excuses not to write.

Even though I know these things, I sometimes let a bad mood, being tired or working long hours become a roadblock.

I forget that I have to make writing a daily dose that without which I notice my energy slip away. I need that goal in front of my face as a constant reminder that there is a reason I write: I love to do it. I know this to be true when I am writing, not when I am thinking about it, avoiding it or wondering when I can do it.

The Frustration-Motivation Question

In Artists, Frustration, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 4, 2011 at 7:00 am

The opposite of motivation, I believe, is frustration.  

As a writer (I wrote a couple of novels and hundreds of poems), I find it frustrating that I keep writing and writing and am not published, but I can’t fathom the idea of stopping. I am motivated to write, but on the flip side of that, I’m frustrated that what I write gets sucked into a big vacuum of “whatever.”

I’m not trying to engage in self pity.

Instead, I want to explore the word’s meaning. Frustration is the result of encountering obstacles to a goal or a project. It can be a feeling of being stuck, of not getting anywhere no matter what you try to do – a feeling that left unresolved can crystallize into anger.

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.

How can you turn frustration into motivation?

First, remember your original goal or what you want to accomplish.

Keep track of the steps you take toward that goal, taking credit for each accomplishment.

And realize that setbacks will happen.

I can write all of this off the top of my head, but I still let frustration come into my day.

For instance, I have to work a regular job and can’t spend the time I want to, when I want to and how I want on my art. I want to pick up my bags and travel all over, gathering experiences to craft into words.

But if I stop to think about it, my desires are unrealistic. It’s expecting life on a silver platter.

Artists have to earn their place; otherwise, how will they encounter the angst they need to produce the beauty that lifts off the wing of its opposite, that of pain? If artists are given it all, how can they be motivated to explore the depths of difficulty instead of riding through the easy?

Frustration, I think, keeps me propelled onward as I write out my soul in the hope that someone somewhere will listen. Motivation does the same thing, so that I have to fight to keep both emotions in balance.

I need the frustration, or the dark, to experience the lighter, happier side of motivation – it’s like dancing, singing, living and being free just because I have words to take me there.

Creative Motivation

In Artists, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 20, 2011 at 7:00 am

I don’t wake up with it every day but I want it to get me through until I return to bed.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out why it ebbs and flows and can’t be a reliable constant.

I wonder why I have to keep reminding myself of it.

It’s called motivation.

Motivation is the desire to do something, the drive to carry out a goal.

For example with work, my motivation is that I want to get paid, I want to do a good job and I want to learn and better my writing skills as a reporter at my hometown newspaper.

But at the same time, I want to write my novel and live the novelist’s life.

Herein is the contradiction: when I’m in the midst of a writing project, I don’t want to leave it do practical things. And when I get caught up in practicality and the hey-ho march to the mines, I convince myself I’m too tired for my passions.

What exactly is motivation?

I looked up the term, as well as the phrase “artists and motivation,” and found a few definitions.

Motivation is the process that initiates and guides goal-oriented behavior. It is what causes you to act.

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.

* And intensity, or the degree of concentration.

Like a kick starter, I have to remind myself of my goals and think of the eventual rewards whenever I find that I’m tiredly crossing off items from my list of have-to-dos.

If I’m bored, I have to remember that I have constructed my life and that even though I’m not doing something at the moment, my life isn’t meaningless. I have inserted it with future goals, present friends and past lessons. I have goals and friends and things I want to do.

Here’s some other advise I try to follow:

* State goals in a journal or tape them up on the fridge.

* Plan out the steps to take to reach those goals.

* Forgive yourself if you get sidetracked or frustrated. Like with trying to lose weight, if you binge, you shouldn’t stop the diet and call yourself a failure but continue on the next day.

* Get active by doing something physical or social.

* Dream.

* Plan.

* Retain the commitment.

And remember your passion, the reason you are chasing your dream in the first place.