Shelley Widhalm

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Why I keep blogging

In Blogging, Shelley Widhalm, Why Blog? on August 23, 2015 at 11:00 am

Sometimes, I wonder why I blog when I have just a few Likes and even fewer comments. There are so many bloggers out there, it’s grown into a highly competitive type of writing with search engine optimization, blogging contests and platform building.

I started blogging four years ago, because I thought I needed to blog to build a platform and because I wanted to be published. I thought it would help me get to the big world of Successful Writer Who is Published and on the Best Seller Lists.

Last month, I attended a Northern Colorado Writer’s class featuring a literary agent who works with the big presses, and she said writers should focus on writing and do social media if they want to. They should blog if they want to. But it doesn’t matter for book promotion.

In nonfiction, blogging is important, she said, to building that platform and promoting the written work.

In a few of my writers’ magazine articles, I read, too, that blogging builds platform for fiction and nonfiction writers, generating interest from the audiences you build.

I saw the messages varied depending on the source and, likely, your goals as a writer.

If getting Likes is the goal, I didn’t do so well.

But if it’s teaching and re-teaching myself about the elements of writing, such as character and plot development, storytelling, story and character arc and setting, I did quite well. I had to look up information for my blog posts, review my notes and article clippings, and organize everything into my own take on the information. Plus, I used examples from my writing.

I made myself a stronger writing by thinking about writing, writing about writing and analyzing the process of writing. I also became reflective on that process, considering what occurs while I write and digging into my writer’s mind, something I don’t do as I engage in the physical part of writing.

In essence, I use my blog to think about writing and about being a writer. I use it to improve myself into a better writer. And as I do this, I hope there are other writers who get something out of all of my ruminations.

Finding a way back to writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

Though I have writer’s block (or did), I decided I needed to be writing. I needed to be writing something, because without writing, I feel pretty lost.

Being lost is worse than writer’s block, because during block, the words don’t come, while the other state is a loss of purpose (even if temporary) that, for artists, is anchored by the art and producing the art (and hopefully then selling the art).

To get un-lost, I started my sixth, yet-to-be-published novel, which doesn’t have a title yet. It’s about a waitress dealing with trauma unable to play her music (kind of like me, at least for awhile while I was unable to write after dealing with upheaval in my personal life).

In mid-June, I started writing a short story, feeling pretty useless I hadn’t been writing much except a few (a very few) poems. I saw the story could be a novella or a novel, so I figured I’d keep going with it and began writing a couple of times each week. I dived in, but not so deep, taking a no-commitment approach as far as days and times. It was a whatever-happens approach.

Now, I’m at 12,000 words, not actually sure what the arc or climax is, but I have a sense of the ending. I’m not a pantser writer, but like to have a plan, if not exactly an outline. It’s become a matter of what comes out when I sit down to write, and taking this approach, my subconscious seems to be doing more of the work, and the characters seem to be taking over.

However, when I’m away from the work, I get afraid I won’t know how to get back into the story. I’ve become a little insecure because things aren’t laid out with a big grid of what to do next.

Despite the lack of a plan, during each session, I write 300 to 2,000 words (with past books, I required myself to write 1,000 words before I could stop, and would write more if I could). I feel good I’m writing words and adding them up toward—something, I hope.

At the start of the novel, and sometimes now, I struggle with getting into the writing, like a lawnmower needing several pulls to make the engine go. Once I forget I’m writing, I get lost in the scene, almost like I’m reading. I lose the noises of the world around me and the keyboard under my fingers and become absorbed in storytelling, character development, laying out the scene and describing what’s going on in my imagination.

I become what I am, a writer in love with writing, wanting nothing more than to be doing the writing. That’s why I become lost when I’m not writing, because it’s like I lose part of me. It’s like my blood and bones escape out of my body, and I can’t breathe.

Overwhelming Outlets for Writing and What To Do

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

When it comes to entering contests, submitting stories for publication and finding a literary agent, I find the options overwhelming.

In my writers’ magazines, especially during special issues about contests and publications, the lists of potential places to submit work often span several pages. How do you figure out which places to submit without straining your wallet or spending excessive time and energy with little result?

First, figure out your goals and come up with a plan. Part of this plan can include an artist’s statement of why you write and your specific writing goals—what are they daily or weekly and for the year? The statement can serve as a reminder of why you write and what you hope to achieve.

Make sure your goal, or goals, is challenging and specific.

Do research of what’s out there—such as short story, poetry, book, genre and essay contests— and narrow down based on the factors you identify as most important. Do you want to win a cash prize, have your writing evaluated, get recognition, be published in a high-profile publication, meet literary agents or have your conference fees paid?

As you conduct your research, make sure the contest has a Website. Also, large contests may have a higher entry fee and because contests always are located within a region, the judges may prefer writers from that area, or they also may be looking for certain genres and quality of writing.

What are some places to look for contests and agents? Try writers’ guides, classified ads in magazines and special sections in writers’ magazines that include lists of contests (which have the notoriety to be mentioned) and agents now accepting work. Other places to check are literary journals, specialized magazines, anthologies and short story collections to see what and how they publish writers’ work.

Set a deadline of how many stories or poems you want to submit each week or month and how many agents to send query letters and sample chapters, making sure to follow their guidelines.

Measure your progress by marking how many submissions and letters you send off each week or month or by filling out something like a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet can include sections for story titles or literary agent names, journal names, dates submitted and the results.

As for the writing, I find that if I get overwhelmed with finding outlets for getting my work out there or doing the work in the first place, I need to start small.

Typically, when I’m in the midst of a writing project, I try to write 1,000 words a day three to four times a week. But if I’m stuck, I’m happy with 300 to 500 words once a week. I tell myself to do one thing at a time and to have a “to do” list, so I can check things off and have a feeling of accomplishment.

Starving Artist (or is it something else?)

In On Being a Writer, Shelley Widhalm on August 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

I’ve become insecure as a writer, not in my ability to write but in getting noticed. That’s because it takes a great deal of work, or luck, or a combination of both, to get recognized in the writing community through publication, book sales and successful readings.

For those writers still struggling to make it, there should be a new term—not starving artist but ignored artist. Maybe the ignored artist pursues writing full-time without working, or she takes the safe route and works at a non-passion job to pay the bills and does the writing on the side. She questions what she’s doing, but keeps on going because writing is who she is. It’s what she wants. It’s what she loves. She can’t think of not writing.

This ignored artist is the one who compiles the rejection notices and keeps working at writing, because it’s what she has to do. But then she realizes she’s spending her free time in front of a computer, where she spends her days, too, and she wants to go be social and gather experiences, but if she collects experiences, she’ll want to write about them, too.

The writer is stuck being who she is. She just wants attention. And, of course, she wants to write.

See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s response to the self-reflective, wondering-about-the- artist self blog at zoeyspaw@wordpress.com. Also, see next week’s blog on Sunday, Aug. 9, about addressing feeling overwhelmed by the writing life and how to move forward from here.

Writing About Characters, Part I

In Character Inspiration, Characters, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Inspiration on June 14, 2015 at 11:00 am

When I write, I tend to base my characters, at least the females, somewhat on myself, maybe because I find my identity so incredibly interesting or I don’t know any better.

A writer friend asked me if writers have the authority to write about characters different from themselves, and I thought it was a good question to explore, especially considering how I handle my own characters.

To begin this exploration, it’s important that the point-of-view or main character is rounded with a full identity, not a flat or clichéd actor who only engages in action and motion and lacks any depth. Make the character distinct and different from the other characters by using a tag that sets him or her apart, such as physical traits, mannerisms, facial expressions or speech patterns.

Put yourself into the character’s mind and body, and then take yourself out. Start with physical descriptions and sensory details, working your way into the character’s mind and way of thinking. Write from your subconscious and knowledge and experience of other people who aren’t like you as you dig into the character.

As you write about the character—I’ll use Ty Banks, a male musician in my novel “Fire Painter” as an example, because I can’t sing or play an instrument and I’m not male—here are a few things you can do to gather material to build the character’s identity.

  • Empathize or imagine how it feels to be that person. Put yourself in the character’s body physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and figure out how the character would think when alone and with others.
  • Interview people who remind you of the character to gather up details and sensations about how it feels to play an instrument, be on a stage with bright lights and have punk hair, using my example of the musician.
  • Listen to how other people speak and the words they use. As a general rule, women use more personal pronouns, such as “I,” “you” and “we,” and descriptive terms, while men use more active verbs and fewer adjectives. Women tend to state preferences instead of demands, such as “I would like to see that play,” and use apologetic language, while men are more commanding and do not divulge as much personal information in conversation as do women.
  • Figure out how the character will behave around others and how the character responds physically and emotionally to the plot situations. What is the character’s personality and behavior patterns as he or she grows and changes in response to the plot?

As an example, my book club found that “An Unnecessary Woman,” by Rabih Alameddine, demonstrates how a male writer fails to get into the head of an older woman. He writes about a book-loving, obsessive 72-year-old “unnecessary” woman who translates a favorite book into Arabic every year, then stows it away. The members of the book club said the writing failed to connect them with the main character, because the writer didn’t do a good job of projecting her thoughts and feelings.

Alternatively, Karen Stockett’s “The Help” about African-American maids working in white households during the 1960s is convincing, because she uses the language, mannerisms, identities and details of that time period.

Baby Shoes flash fiction

In Baby Shoes Anthology, Shelley Widhalm on January 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

This week, I’m going to share a bit of good news.

My flash fiction piece, “A Wanted Man,” has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming “Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology.”

The anthology will contain 100 stories of up to 1,000 words by 100 different writers, including distinguished writers Danika Dinsmore, Joe Lansdale, Linda Needham and Walter J. Williams. The stories include fantasy, sci-fi, horror, literary, erotica and humorous and range from supermarket encounters to tales of coming back from war.

The anthology launched earlier this month as a Kickstarter project. It will be funded once there are enough readers for 200 to 250 copies for the e-book edition, while for the print edition, 500 to 600 orders will need to be made.

All of the writers are teasing their Facebook and social media friends about the project, explaining what’s involved and giving an excerpt from their story.

Here is the excerpt from the beginning of my 500-word story, which is about a woman trying to find love through personal ads. Here’s how it starts:

I crafted my personal ad as if some fairy godmother could wave her magic wand and usher in a tall, handsome man with blue eyes. This, I wrote trying not to think about Derek. He managed the front of the Sushi restaurant and I, the back. Sans ring, he rode the rollercoaster of those going through a divorce. His smile blew heat to my toes, causing my eggrolls to crisp.

To learn more about the anthology, check out the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Baby-Shoes-Flash-Fiction-Anthology/914714125235669

Blogging: A Year in Review

In Shelley Widhalm, Why I Write, Writing on December 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

I am doing a model pose during the fashion shoot.

What a year in 2014!

What I love about the end of the year is getting a new calendar and planner for the next year and seeing all of those blank pages.

This is when the blank page is exciting, not when you’re a writer facing writer’s block.

The blank page presents a fresh start with those New Year’s resolutions and goals that offer a plan for something new or a way to redo something that isn’t working. It’s also a time for reflection on what you’ve accomplished over the past year and to identify what to work on or continue working on next.

For the past three years, I’ve been blogging about the writing process, the different elements of writing and the writer’s life, posting a blog nearly every week in 2014.

I blogged about revising three of my novels and the process I went through to edit, tighten and refine each of the storylines. I talked about what I love (and sometimes don’t love so much) about writing. And I discussed my favorite aspects of writing, such as finding motivation to do the writing and the habits of successful writers.

Over the past three years, I methodically covered every element of writing I could think of, gaining a better understanding of the material and how to apply it to my own writing. I blogged about what’s involved in structuring plot, developing character, coming up with original themes, providing intriguing settings and using imagery, metaphors and similes.

Explaining something to someone else is the best way to review and see things slightly differently than before; teaching is a form of learning.

In 2015, I will expand what I blog about to include more of my personal life and possibly something I’m an expert in, though I haven’t decided just what. I’ve read from multiple sources that the most successful blogs focus on an area of expertise. I have a broad knowledge about multiple topics, but don’t have a favorite except maybe reading and loving classics.

Here are a few ideas I’m considering for next year:

  • Providing writing prompts that I also will respond to, using them in my own writing.
  • Writing about the secrets of a writer’s life and what is involved in writing and editing a novel from scratch to finish.
  • Trying 52 things I haven’t done before and writing about them (except this one has been done before).

Hum, what do you think?

Why I love my dog

In Puppy love, Shelley and Zoey, Shelley Widhalm on December 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

I am going to take a break from blogging about the writing process to talk about my BFF Zoey the Cute Dachshund, a miniature, long-haired dachshund that turned six yesterday on Saturday, Dec. 20.

On Feb. 20, 2008, I found her at a pet store, though I planned to rescue a dog or cat, when she was nine weeks old. I figured I should wait a day before taking her home, so I came back the next day with my mother. We both held her and fell in love, or I re-fell in love. I think it was when she leaned her adorable 2.8 pounds against our chests, snuggling in and making a sighing, contented sound.

At her new home, she started exploring right away, sniffing around the edges of the floor and going down the hallway. I immediately tried to kennel her, but the first night, she whined so loudly, I couldn’t handle the heartbreak in her pity-me cries.

I let her out onto my bed, saying more to myself than to her, “Just this one time, okay?” As if. One time became a second and a third and a habit.

Now, she sleeps with me except in the mornings when she zooms under the bed to avoid her start-the-day walk (one of two or three I try to fit in to get her empty and exercised).

I have to lure her with treats, or it could be she’s manipulated me into thinking that I have to give her the treats to get her to go. The treats are healthy, or I’d be worried about her weight given that every time the thought of leaving the house with her along enters my mind, she’s gone.

I think she’s adorable, especially her expressions and the intelligence in her eyes. She looks at me as if she’s full of thought, trying to figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing or what I’ll do next. She comforts me when I’m sad. And she’s there whenever I need a kiss (unless I think about kissing her at the same time I think she needs a walk).

Here is a photo of me and  my babe:

Zoey11

Writing During the Holidays

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Fitting in writing when you’re busy, such as during the holidays, takes discipline, motivation and a willingness to write at odd times.

I find myself caught up in the excitement of attending holiday parties, spending time with family and friends, and eating lots of food. So to get serious about writing, I have to treat it like a job.

Here are some ways to get writing and keep going:

  • Buy a planner (even in old-fashioned paper form) and a new calendar to mark out goals for the year and schedule in specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Stick to a schedule, but allow for risk and freedom and for imagination and play, so that writing remains fun.
  • Write a writing action plan or goals for the year and check in every few weeks to mark your progress.
  • Take a writer’s retreat, even if it’s in your hometown, setting aside a weekend to focus on writing (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

Writing can be a reward once you get started as you see what you’ve accomplished from getting words down, while also being able to engage in the holiday fun.

Top 12 Writing Tips

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

With the year drawing to a close, this is a good time to reflect on the best writing advice to get motivated and inspired to do the hard work of sitting down to write.

I’ve collected notes about writing habits and the process of writing from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops I’ve attended and my own personal experience.

Here are my top 12 writing tips:

  • Write as much as you can, but not necessarily every day, especially if writing isn’t your full-time job. Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week for two hours or until you reach 1,000 words.
  • Get rid of distractions in your life while you’re writing, and don’t invite in the critic. Both can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or to invite in writer’s block.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration. It can come to you when you’re already working. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Have more awareness, using all the senses when making observations to add detail to your scenes. Take notes when something strikes you to use later on in your descriptions of the setting or in dialog.
  • Write when you’re not writing by describing what you see, hear and feel as a running mental description. Write down whatever seems compelling.
  • Figure out what is most essential, most loved for you to write about. Write about what interests you, what you want to learn about and, of course, what you know.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that, with fiction and poetry, you’re not in total control of it. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, let the story unfold because it isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the story down, then fine tune it with details, nuances and deepening of the plot, character and setting. Revise and revise again.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard.
  • Focus on the process instead of the results. Enjoy that process.
  • And, last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.