Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Reflections on Writing’ Category

Writing Out Your Soul

In Reflections on Writing, The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Inspiration on June 18, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Writing is a way to craft internal processing into interesting stories and content.

Writing is like confronting your soul.

It digs to let the subconscious come forward, while the conscious part of the mind thought it simply was taking notes and plotting out the story. The subconscious has things to say you didn’t necessarily know about or were too busy to give any attention to … until you have no choice but to listen.

The inside stuff comes out in unexpected ways exposing what you won’t admit in your head. Even if your writing is all about the characters, plot and setting that doesn’t seem like you, there is a piece of you in the words that unravel into the form of story.

The unraveling happened to me when I wrote my young adult novel, “In the Grace of Beautiful Stars.” Fifteen-year-old Grace Elliott, my main character, faces impeding homelessness and tries to save her family through money finding. She wonders if her ability to find fives, tens and twenties is a gift, a coincidence or something she’s manifesting.

While writing the book, I consciously looked for money and found coins and dollar bills, but afterward realized I was searching for more. I’d let life dictate how things happen to me, taking jobs and making decisions because I thought that was all I could get. I wasn’t confident even if I had a mostly comfortable childhood.

At a young age, Grace worked hard to save herself and her younger sister, who she’d protect to the death like the sister pair in The Hunger Games. I feel guilty I had teased my younger brother—I dressed him up in girl clothes and made him play my girly games. I left him out when my girlfriends came over. I sent him away with candy.

The brother who as an adult I adore married last weekend, and the time leading up to it, I felt jealous and sad and questioned what our family will be like now.

I thought about my mother, too, and how I’d been angry with her when I was a teen and then in my thirties and for a spot in my forties. She didn’t deserve my dragging up the past, but like Grace, I had mother issues over things that, really, had more to do with me. And then once I realized what I was doing, I had to forgive myself for being angry with her.

I realized as I wrote Grace and revised her story, my subconscious wanted to come out and tell me to collect, not money, but self-love, self-worth and self-value despite what life does on the outside. It let me know I don’t have to be an adult with mommy, money and fear issues.

What I’d done is “Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. … Tell the truth as you understand it. … Truth is always subversive,” as Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird.

Writing is an emotional experience that causes joy and pain and love, and as you write, or after, you wonder what exactly happened. You ask yourself, “Why do these words cause me to feel things I didn’t know where inside and now are outside?”

Writing gives you the ability to see new things. And to feel, and to describe and hear and absorb.

Writing is emotional, intellectual and an interior process. We, as writers, need to tell our truths and our stories. We need to be at a place of perspective, so we can write about it, even if it’s fiction, because writing comes out of that center and our knowledge and experience.

Note: My blog appeared as a guest blog on June 14, 2017, at the Writing Bug, a blog by writers for writers published by Northern Colorado Writers, at http://www.writingbugncw.com/2017/06/writing-out-your-soul.html.

 

Writing (and daring) to move

In Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on January 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

I am honored to be in the spotlight this week in Jennifer Tracy’s Inspire blog on her Linkedin page at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shelley-writes-how-she-moved-jennifer-tracy-gray-.

Tracy is a motivational speaker who encourages getting out of ruts and getting moving. I found her message to be inspiring.

 

Shelley Writes How She was Moved…

Published on January 3, 2017

 

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Shelley Widhalm, left, intently listens to a Dare You to Move program Dec. 30, 2016, presented by Jennifer Tracy.

When I think about writing, I think it’s what I love most.

But sometimes I hate it. I face writer’s block, burnout, a lack of ideas, or a feeling of being stuck in a story or a character, not knowing how to pull it all together to get moving again.

In other words, I get insecure, and then I feel lost because writing is my anchor.

Since my sixth-grade year, I’ve known that writing is my passion, but in the last couple of years, I’ve realized that I’m not living up to that passion.

I’ve written six novels, dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems, and I write two blogs. Most of my work is unpublished. I’m aiming for traditional publication of my last two revised novels, both literary and character-driven, one young adult and the second adult. I’ve considered self-publishing, but will try the traditional route for now.

That’s not where I’ve got the lack. I’m querying agents, and I’ve compiled all the background materials. I’m also sending off my short stories and poems.

What I’m not doing is being courageous, the 100 percent, full-throttle kind.

I’m accepting, or making due with, my small dose of courage, but not the kind that’s allowing me to blare to the world that I have a great body of work. Even writing this makes me feel scared. I’m supposed to put on a brave front, right?

We all are.

I met Jennifer Tracy, a speaker and mentor, through my daytime writing job that serves as a way to expand my nonfiction writing and editing skills.

Jennifer’s business, Jennifer Tracy-Inspire, focuses on being courageous, overcoming adversity, making positive changes, having resiliency and becoming self-aware.

On her website, she has this quote, “Be inspired to change your life, regardless of where you are or what’s happened to you.” She says, “Look inward and find personal growth,” “Find courage to never give up,” “Discover power in self-awareness” and “Replace excuses with empowerment.”

When we met for coffee in June, I was amazed at her story and how she overcame a traumatic incident to rebuild her life, finding her own passions in the process. To me, she seemed happy and settled. She’d found her place in the world.

I sat across from her, keeping it all in, or most of it as I hinted to her about reeling from my own trauma. Trauma disrupts and causes a sense of loss that brings up those big life questions. It harms, hurts, dislodges, breaks, interrupts, and causes you to stagger. Who the heck am I? Who are you, world out there? Why did this happen to me?

What do I love?

Do I love?

Am I lovable?

What, why, how, who, where? Why? Why? Why?

I smiled at her. And I’ve been smiling as the tears slip through. I always thought I had it together, because I’ve always had my passion anchor.

After our meeting, I wrote in my journal: “I felt intrigued and a little more healed after talking with her. She said she’s learned a lot from her trauma and came up with self-talk methods, including a series of questions, all with the aim of being positive. What she said was so thoughtful and based on a lot of life experiences that it was hard to take it all in. I wish I could remember it all.”

I walked away from our talk—and wanting to meet her again—feeling like I need to let go, continue looking inward, and think about being positive, live being positive and bat away the negative.

I need to continue the slow hope and progression of finding and living out my passion.

And I need to be confident that I’ve written, love to write and am a writer no matter what happens in the world out there.

–Shelley Widhalm/ Shell’s Ink Services

Happy New (Writing) Year

In Blogging, Reflections on Writing, Writing on January 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I still keep a paper planner!

What I love about a new year first and foremost is getting a new (paper) planner. Yep, I’m old-fashioned. I still use paper to keep track of my life.

A new year presents a time to make resolutions and set goals and a time to review the past year’s accomplishments and not-quite-there-yets.

To review my writing life, I’d like to point to a few highlights:

  • I’ve written a couple of novels, a few short stories and dozens of poems, and I’m in the process of looking for a literary agent.
  • I’m launching a freelance writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services, on a more serious level, going after work instead of doing my day job and putting it on the back burner.
  • I blogged nearly every week through the year and have been blogging since 2011. My focus is on dispensing advice on all aspects of writing from structure to the elements of fiction, like plot, character, setting and dialog, and the editing and revision process. I also write about my life as a writer and what inspires and motivates me to write, along with some of my disappointments and frustrations.

I love my blog, but I feel like I may need to change direction. I’m not getting very many Likes—blogging is very competitive, and I don’t market my blog. I simply write to see what happens, but that’s not a very good business plan.

The result: I don’t win any popularity contests.

Despite this, there is a ROI: I learn about writing on a deeper level by explaining the elements from several vantage points. “Teach to learn” is the motto, and that definitely works in the case of keeping a regular blog. I also love the discipline of feeling obligated to write about writing every week. It keeps writing on my mind.

I want to continue my blog but will take it in a new direction in 2017. What that direction is I still haven’t decided, though I’m a big planner and like to be disciplined and organized. That’s why I have to have my paper planner with me wherever I go.

I may take a month off—January—as I figure this out.

In the meantime, I would love feedback from my readers! What would you like to see? What should stay? What should go?

Happy New 2017!

Merry Christmas (and happy writing)!

In Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, The Writing Life, Writing on December 25, 2016 at 11:00 am

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I’m showing off one of my gifts from Christmas 2015.

I want to wish my followers and readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2017.

I’ve enjoyed writing about the writing process, my ups and downs with writing and my life as a writer over the past few years.

Writing is a way to escape into a poem or story, play with language, capture experience and grow from seeing the world in different ways by finding new words, descriptions and visions, or ways of seeing, feeling and observing things.

I love when I’m in a coffee shop or on a walk and a poem strikes me, compelling me to find a piece of paper and start writing. I’ve gathered bits of napkins and pieces of paper over the years that I typed into my rolling poetry collection, which consists of all of my poems in one large document that’s too large for a chapbook or book of poetry.

I also love when I’m stuck in a short story or novel and meet up with friends for a writing session and feel like, um, I better write. So, I start writing and words come out even though what I write may not be the best—at least I’m writing and doing it. Oftentimes, I may write stuff to later cut, but I find that I’m moving forward in the story or figuring out something with plot or character.

My last love about writing that I’ll mention is how I may start off with a short story and somehow it becomes a novella, because I seem to not get to the story answer. This makes me wonder if the characters have more to say than I planned for, because I try to write my stories in one sitting session. Or it may be that I don’t know what I’m doing in this particular story and have things to learn about plot and character development.

Either way, it makes me feel a little stuck in my head and my own processes. Because I like to write without plotting, I decided for my next novel, I’m going to plot because that endless writing and not getting to the solution is a little painful, even if it is fun.

I hope you also had a fun year with writing.

And here’s to a great year of writing in 2017.

Taking a writing (and running) break

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on November 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

As a writer and a runner, I learned, albeit slowly, that breaks are important.

Breaks offer relaxation, a time to heal and a way to spur new creativity.

I pulled a muscle in my hip three weeks ago, but, being stubborn, I thought I could still run … when I couldn’t. Over the past week, I ran slower and slower, taking my mile down to a minute a lap at the gym, where 14 laps equals one mile. That’s pretty darn slow for someone who’s been running for five years.

As I forced my running, I got to the point where my back started hurting, and then my knee, my ankle and my other hip. Basically, it was a bad idea to run. I had to get a massage on Thursday and, with my hip still hurting, accept the fact I now can’t run for a few days.

I did the same thing earlier this year with my writing. I forced it, thinking, “Well, I’m a writer; therefore, I should write.” The ideas dribbled away, and, as was the case with my running, I felt stuck and unable to do it.

Luckily, I had to do lots of editing work on a novel I’m revising and some short stories, and I promised myself I’d only write when I was with my writing friends or felt the inspiration. I made it a matter of casual writing fun, though I recognized that daily discipline is important in writing with breaks just as important.

Taking a break is a way to relax and let the mind go, allowing for the subconscious to make connections that the conscious mind can’t force.

It’s a way to get new ideas or find new approaches to a project.

It’s a way to gain objectivity, because it’s hard to see the whole story or novel when caught in the middle or in the midst of the details. Stepping back lets the details or parts of the project become one overall piece, instead of the next part of the writing puzzle. It refreshes your mind for better critiquing by having a new view of the work that’s already been done.

And it’s a way to vary routine, so that things feel new, fresh and different.

Forcing writing can cause boredom, making it feel like a chore, affecting the quality of the work. The quality is evident when it comes to revising, because the work requires more layers of editing from line to content.

Taking a break is a way to come back to the work with a clear mind and a new perspective and, hopefully, an understanding of why it wasn’t working before. As with running, it’s a way to heal the mind, so that the writing becomes faster and better, just like I’ll be when I get back on the track—or, at least I hope so. Otherwise, it’ll look like I’m on a walk!

Coming back to incomplete stories

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on July 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writers can get those thorns in the side, or what I call incomplete works that have potential coupled with a big black lack.

The lack, or “lack” because it’s temporary, is like a flaw that through some thought can be worked out.

Maybe the lack is from a dip in motivation to return to the starter idea, because it’s moved from a small rip to a hole.

Maybe it’s from not knowing where to go next, or from stitching that’s uneven from not seeing the thread to move it along.

Or, maybe it’s from having too many ideas that cannot be sorted out in immediate thought but needs some subconscious work, achieved by getting in front of the story and doing some pantsing, freewriting and exploring. It’s from too much thread covering up the hole, so that the material becomes tough, needing some of the stitches let loose.

It also can be, instead of from a lack of direction, the result of trying to be too perfect, trying to come up with the whole product without seeing the small steps, or stitches, needed to get to the seam.

That’s because it’s hard to hold the whole story in the head.

What I’ve found is that it’s okay to not know where the story is headed.

Earlier this week, I returned to a short story hanging out with the gap of a middle and the lack of an ending. My story only had a beginning. It had a protagonist who made me uncomfortable—he was male, not my usual point-of-view, and he had a rough, sardonic voice.

I’d wanted to fix and find the rest of what I’d started.  I decided, I’m just going to finish this thing.

To do so, I had to let go of my planning, controlling thoughts and go deeper into the mind where raw stories can emerge. I had to let the characters take over, setting aside plotting and planning, and also my ego, so I could immerse in the story.

I filtered out the rest of the noise, outside and inside, thus increasing my focus.

And I allowed my mind to go free, so the subconscious could solve the plot and characterization problems I’d launched into that left me temporarily directionless. I took the material that I had and found that as I let my mind go, I was solving problems and coming up with new material.

I found that my writing became about risk taking, surprises, making it up and letting go. I found, too, that I hadn’t wanted to leave the story for too long, abandoned, because it would become unfamiliar and not me.

I came back for my middle and The End.

Final reflections on the 2015 NaNoWriMo

In NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Reflections on Writing, The Writing Life on December 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

I continued working on my novel past the Nov. 30 deadline for National Novel Writing Month.

I liked the discipline of aiming to write 1,667 words a day toward a 50,000-word goal. I liked marking my progress, seeing the results and knowing I was part of something larger—a community of writers trying to write fast and get that novel started or going.

I worked on my novel, “The Heat of Trouble,” as if NaNoWriMo were a six-week deal of daily word counts, because I wanted to finish it prior to my Dec. 11 surgery on my left hand. I had a looming deadline of finishing the book, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to type (at least two-handed) for seven weeks due do doctor’s orders.

When I started NaNoWriMo on Nov. 2 (not the 1st for me), I was at 34,000 words. I wrote 51,000 words during November, and now am at 100,436 words and still have a couple more scenes to write.

In other words, my book’s a tad too long.

According to Chuck Sambuchino at the Writer’s Digest , a novel can be 80,000 to 99,999 words “to be safe,” but anything over 110,000 words is too long or below 70,000 is too short. A novel 100,000 to 109,999 words might be too long but would probably be all right.

So, is my novel all right?

Generally, I try to write in the 75,000-to-90,000-word range, but this novel was a pantser with little planning, the approach I usually don’t take. My plot strings became a little entangled, and the characters took on larger roles or new characters showed up, most of it without my planning and as little surprises.

As I wrote, I realized I liked the pantser approach, because my self-editor went away and I just let the characters take over, with one thing leading to the next. I wasn’t looking far ahead for the outcomes, but let the book unfold as it wanted to (at least I think that’s what happened).

Taking this approach, I kept piling on the words. During the first week of December, I worked on my novel nearly every day, averaging 2,000-plus words each day and totaled 9,100 words for the week. I wrote 7 ½ hours, about three hours less than what I was doing during NaNoWriMo. I guess I needed that daily goal to push me even more, but at least I wrote a little.

The second week, I wrote 4,100 words and only could write for two days and didn’t finish my novel. This will give me something to look forward to when I recover.

Benefits of NaNoWriMo

In Reflections on Writing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

Though I bailed on NaNoWriMo and have guilt associated with that, I thought I would return to my old notes about last year’s experience of writing 50,000 words in 30 days by a Nov. 30 deadline.

I turned off the self-editor and simply wrote, knowing I had a goal to meet by writing 1,667 words a day or doubling up when I missed a day or two. I got absorbed in telling the story, developing my characters and carrying along the plot I briefly sketched out in order to keep moving forward.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is about discipline and just doing it, not worrying about the final draft when it’s a rough draft with lots of potential. Writing daily, or nearly every day, allows the story to unfold more organically, one scene leading to the next as you let the subconscious and your speedy fingers take over.

Anyway, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing daily (which I learned last year and not this year, unfortunately):

  • I didn’t forget the beginning part of my novel, my character identities or the plot strings after setting aside my draft because I got busy with life and excuses.
  • I got excited about writing after work and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen with my plot and characters.
  • I focused on word count, instead of on the story elements, and got lost in the writing, so that it felt like I was just typing away without worries about what I was producing. I just didn’t care, because all I cared about was getting to at least 1,700 words each day. Oddly, by not caring, I had more fun and let the characters take over.
  • I operated on adrenaline because I had to write my daily word dose, but I could take off a couple days because a few days I wrote 2,000 up to 3,500 words (well, that happened once). My least productive day was 700 words.

Anyway, it’s nice to see that NaNoWriMo had many benefits, so next year, I will participate in the writing event, hopefully with the real-life-experience-to-novel that got me stuck this year.