Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Passions’ Category

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.

2011: Writing Reflections

In Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness, Writing on January 1, 2012 at 10:00 am

Shelley Widhalm reads some of her poetry during a poetry reading in 2011.

The end of the year offers a time for reflection, while the New Year is a time to make those resolutions that too often get broken.

I started 2011 with a shyness challenge with the goal of overcoming my shyness by the end of the year.

By August, I realized that too many of my friends were telling me that I wasn’t shy but quiet and reserved. I realized, too, that in most situations, I felt comfortable starting conversations with people I didn’t know, engaging in conversations in large groups and going to bars, dance clubs and parties by myself.

Though I’m reflective and spend a lot of energy on the inner life, I saw that I equally loved being social. The fact I seek the company of others probably indicated that I was not socially afraid.

So on to 2012.

I’m going to engage in a new challenge:

52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.

Each week, I will tackle a writing topic, reflect on the writing process and remark on any beauty I find in the writing life. At the same time, I will try to get my work published and work on my fourth novel.

I’ll start with the basics, such as Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue, Pacing, Arc and Tension.

I will reflect on how reading influences writing, what is creativity and what motivates and inspires.

I will talk about my struggles, frustrations and accomplishments as I look for an agent, write stories and poems, and try to market myself as a writer. I hope that as I write about writing, I will become a better writer and inspire a beginning or veteran writer to engage in the social side of writing: talking about the passion that gives life to words.

A Writer’s Santa Wish List

In Frustration, Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 25, 2011 at 10:30 am

I’m long past the time of believing in Santa Claus, but like a few adults, I wish I could believe in the Christmas wish list.


Faith carries the writer through the frustrations of sitting on piles of completed but unpublished manuscripts.

And faith is what is required for believing in the North Pole resident who delivers wishes in exchange for milk and cookies.

If I were to mail off my wish list for writers, it would contain some essentials, including:

* A room of one’s own, or a place to write that is comfortable but also fosters excitement and imagination.

* Time to write in that place.

* Some sort of financial backing that allows for that writing (juggling a full-time job with writing doesn’t open up the space for creativity but limits it to certain hours, likely when the writer is tired, at least for me).

Beyond the essentials of who, what and where, there is the how of being a writer.

A writer, I believe, needs to constantly observe and participate in life, both through being there and a part of things and reading about it.

This gives the writer something to write about, at least from external influences, added to the given internal dialogue, reflections and thoughts.

Studying through reading writers’ magazines, taking classes and attending conferences also adds to what a writer knows about the process.

But what is absolutely essential is that snap-and-pull attraction toward words without which there wouldn’t be anything to who you are. Words and how they sound and feel in the mouth and the ear are the foundation of the passion, at least for me.

The salt is the way I am lifted out of myself into the beauty of letting my fingers trill over a keyboard as I create out of the rhythm of my breath.

Dear Santa,

Please do not let my frustration break my heart.
I guess that is my only real wish.

Trying to Be Me

In Artists, Fitting in, Passions, Shelley Widhalm, Shyness on October 23, 2011 at 7:00 am

Be You is the moniker for the Innovation Lab, an alternative program in Loveland, Colorado, that educates public school students by allowing them to identify, explore and follow their passions as opposed to prescribing their learning according to subject matter and state standards.

Earlier this month, I visited the Be You house, a 1910 Victorian home redesigned to fit the program with study, meeting and exploration spaces. I sat in the detox room, which is the starting point for students to let go of what is clogging their inner self, so that they can begin to be who they are.

Artists have to have some connection to their Be You-ness. Before creating something, colors, motions, sound and touch have to break the barrier of the skin and be internalized.

As a poet and writer, I try to be attuned to the sound of leafs skidding against pavement and how geese sweep from disorganization into a V of flight. I try to gather words through my observations, as well as eavesdropping on conversations that I happen upon, so that when I do write, I have an arsenal to work from that gives me things to think about and reflect upon.

This constant gathering of sense impressions is part of who I am, but is it the Be You-ness a few students are finding in the Third Street Victorian house? My art that is within comes out when I express my observations, thoughts, ideas and inner core into words after I learn, grow and do.

But I can’t do it alone. I can’t learn about other people by remaining entirely internally focused.

I need to look outward. When I do, I find that I lose some connection to my innerness. When I try fitting in, mainly with friends and the corporate culture so that I can earn a paycheck, am I fulfilling my Be You mission? If I ignore my artist self to earn a living, I notice my Be You gets ignored or pushed aside.

So, what is this question that we all have – be yourself or be what you need to be to survive, whether it’s for a moment or a year? Can we know who that Be You self is but be afraid or unsure how to get there?

The Be You realness has to, I think, offer up a balance between the internal and the external, so that both can mutually benefit without harming either one.

Condoleezza Rice at CSU

In Passions, Shyness, Writing on April 24, 2011 at 8:06 am

I was one of 8,000 lucky people to attend Condoleezza Rice’s lecture Tuesday night on current events, foreign affairs and education atColoradoStateUniversity’s Moby Arena.

As a reporter, I had a media pass and sat on the floor of the arena with a dozen other reporters, photographers and videographers.

At 7 p.m., the song “Celebrate” came on, making me think we, as an audience, were celebrating the chance to hear the former secretary of state speak.

After the National Anthem and the introductions, Ms. Rice took the stage. I dutifully took notes, expecting to write my story and be on my way. I’ve covered dozens of lectures, panel discussions, speeches and whatnot on political, social and economic topics. But Ms. Rice, after touching on her experiences in and out of office, as well as what is happening in the Middle East, talked about passion.

What struck me was her saying that you need to follow your passion, or it will find you. If you follow it and do what you love, other things will fall into place, she said.

Ms. Rice’s passion is in the political arena, something that found her after she tried studying piano. She served in political office, held many roles and now is a political science professor at Stanford University.

My passion is writing. I found my love of it in the sixth grade and have been chasing my dream of becoming a published novelist since. But I am not being brave about it. I wrote my novel and am editing it, but I’m waiting, not chasing. I’m taking the safe course of working and fitting in my passion when I can. I let this mad desire to write drift away when I think about the practical things I have to do each day.

It’s like my heart is bursting with my love of the dance of words that take over my body, but I hesitate. I don’t know how to push myself over that fine line between practicality and going for your dreams to be who I really am.

It’s like shyness, I guess, this holding back of the self to be safe and practical.

I’m not saying, though, I will ever give up my chasing of words, wanting to hold them on my breath before I let them loose onto the page.