Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Staying Motivated’ Category

How to Write during Vacation (and still make it fun)

In Staying Motivated, Vacations, Writing, Writing Advice on June 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm

GeeseSummer5 2016

Ducklings swim at a Northern Colorado lagoon, which is a drop in size compared with the ocean. The ocean makes a great travel spot and a place to fit in some writing, while keeping vacation fun.

Going on a summer vacation is all about fun and taking a timeout from routine.

But for writers, bloggers and those who need to post a weekly or monthly blog or article, can the serious work of writing be included in a travel itinerary to make the break still exciting?

Yes, in small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work.

To accomplish this, plan a time for writing, but do just a little bit at each sitting, and then congratulate yourself for accomplishing something practical without it being too painful.

If travel plans are overbooked, write ahead and schedule the blog online, or turn in the article early before deadline. And then don’t open the laptop or notebook unless there is free time, or inspiration or motivation gives a reason to write—and let it become all about the moment and not an obligation.

Writing Opportunities

For those who like creative writing, think of your vacation as an opportunity to delve into travel writing. Collect notes and quick descriptions of the places you’re visiting to use for future projects—the details can serve as a referral source for settings, plot details and character profiles. Or try writing a poem in free verse without counting syllables or lines. Write a few sense impressions and cut out filler words, like “a,” “an” and “the,” to create the shape and feel of a poem.

Make the work, whether notes, a poem or a full story, a small endeavor to still allow for downtime, created in snippets between the fun moments. Vacations are about relaxing and not working, as my mother told me. She said I always have some personal project, or work—and back in college, schoolwork—that I have to do. She reminded me to have fun during my weeklong trip to Florida with my brother and his wife—we’re heading to SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens and some other amusement parks (but not the big one), plus the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and, of course, the ocean.

I told my mother I wanted to do some writing—I plan to write a couple of short stories, keep up my daily poem challenge and edit my novel (just a tiny bit). She said to not work too hard, and I promised to not spend more than one to two hours every other day on writing.

I figured I can do both—achieve concentrated and quick writing, like flash mobs that appear suddenly and are gone, and still enjoy the vacation cheer. I’ll think of it as mini moments of work with a reward.

Ways to Write Effectively

Here are a few tips for quick, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting at the airport or for transit to get into the mindset that you will do some writing over the next few days.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or just before going to bed) and treat yourself to the rest of the fun vacation schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list. (I’ll put it in the timesheet that I keep for work.)
  • Break it up into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work.

On a Personal Note

I plan to write about the ocean and the different animals and sea creatures I don’t encounter in Colorado. I love watching the ducks and geese at the lagoon a half-mile from my house, especially the ducklings, but the venue is quite a bit smaller—I run around it four times for a mile, and, of course, I can see the other side.

Basically, I plan to write as if it’s a hobby and also a tiny part-time (and fun) assignment, while sitting on a beach blanket, exploring new things to put in my notebook.

Picking the best writing contests to enter (and overcoming the fear to try)

In Staying Motivated, Writing, Writing Contests, Writing Processes on April 5, 2015 at 11:00 am


I have a slight fear when it comes to entering writing contests, or actually two fears—will my writing be thrown into the reject pile and will I be wasting my money?

The answer to the first is practical and philosophical—I can’t win if I don’t try, and, as a friend told me, I basically lose by not trying.

What can be “won” can include publication in a magazine, journal or anthology, prize money, an all-expense trip to a writer’s conference or a meeting with agents and editors.

As for my second fear, I have to remind myself that not all contests require an entry fee, and those that do can provide a return on investment, if not a win. The ROI is the feedback you receive in the score sheet or written comments beyond the form letter rejections that will help you improve your writing for the next time.

The ROI in a win or an honorable mention, such as for a short story, nonfiction or poetry contest, is a demonstration to agents and publishers that someone other than family and friends sees merit in your work. You earn an accolade to mention in the query letters you submit to literary agents for longer work.

But before you even enter a writing contest, realize winning or not winning isn’t personal or a reflection of your writing quality and originality. It can be a matter of the publication’s style, the editors’ personal taste and a high number of entries from other talented writers.

Also, it’s important to:

  • Be selective on which contests you enter, and only enter those where winning guarantees publication in a reputable journal. Avoid contests that lack a website or mailing address or that have large entry fees and low payouts to the winners.
  • Follow the contest guidelines, themes and rules for entering.
  • Get a sense of the taste and style of the magazine, journal or anthology.
  • Research the final judge and read his or her work.
  • Avoid entering simultaneous submissions; save them for non-contest entries.
  • Keep track of your submissions on a spreadsheet, including contest name, entry date and deadline, title of the work and the entry fee, if required.
  • Submit early and, if allowed, often.

Most of all, make sure what you enter is your best (and polished) work. Realize that contests are one of many paths to publication. Submitting to a journal or magazine during regular submission periods also can earn you those publication credits.

(See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s blog at