Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ 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.

 

Blogging to be Personable

In Blogging, The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Advice on May 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I like to blog about my dog, Zoey, who is an inspiration for my writing. That’s because she’s so cute!

Blogging is a form of storytelling that, like a book, brings in readers who want to find out what happens next.

Readers look to your blog to find out the latest news about your books and projects in progress, publications and readings. What you write can topical, showing what’s going on, trending and new. Or it can be about your processes, specifically how you write, edit and revise, or what strikes you about the writing, marketing and publishing worlds.

The blog posts don’t need to be long—a few hundred words will do—but research shows 500 to 700 words to be ideal. A blog that is 300 to 400 words is considered short, while a blog reaching 1,000 words is on the long side.

Blogs help writers become personal and inviting. The writers demonstrate they care enough to connect with their audiences. They want to share bits of knowledge and their expertise about what they have to offer.

To make blogs more personable:

  • First, narrow down to your target audience, avoiding writing to everybody, therefore to nobody.
  • Communicate your expertise on a subject related to your writing or the topics you cover in your books.
  • Write about your writing processes to give readers a glimpse of what you do to create the finished book or short story.
  • Write about the elements of writing, like dialog, character and setting, to show your personal take on the processes, while also providing readers and writers with valuable information.
  • Be yourself and show your personality as you talk about the topics you enjoy or that are important to your writing

Make sure to update your blogs often, preferably once a week, and post them on the same day. Sporadic blogging, especially every few months, shows a lack of commitment or a loss of interest in the blog.

My Blogging Experiences:

From my own experience blogging, I found several benefits to routine, consistent blogging. I blogged for years about writing and editing, and by regularly writing about the two subjects, I deepened my knowledge and detailed understanding of the elements of the craft. I increased my “expert” status though regular research and study.

I blogged once a week on a variety of topics, including character and plot development, storytelling, story structure, story and character arc, dialog and setting, as well as approaches to the craft that included writing prompts, writing spaces and habits, and inspiration and motivation.

To be able to write about the craft in an informed manner, I had to look up information online, review my notes and article clippings, and organize everything into my own take on the information.

This made me a stronger writer by thinking about writing, writing about writing and analyzing the process of writing. I methodically covered every element I could think of, gaining a better understanding of the material and how to apply it to my own work.

Basically, I taught myself to be a better writer by teaching through the form of writing. I improved my ability to tell a story.

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.

A blogger’s 2015 reflections

In Blogging, The Writing Life, Why Blog?, Why I Write on December 27, 2015 at 11:00 am

Surgery-Cast3The end of the year is a time for reflection about the past year and setting goals for what’s next.

The goals don’t have to be the intimidating New Year’s resolutions that initially generate excitement, but may fizzle out after a month or two when the change requires just that: change.

When it comes to writing, adding a resolution or a new goal to your writing schedule can liven things up, generate excitement and offer up some inspiration. This can provide a fresh start and a way to redo those things that aren’t working, such as trying to write three days a week but only getting to it once or writing so many words a session and facing writer’s block.

My writing goals for 2016 include doing National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, again in November with the aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I did NaNoWriMo in 2013 and again in 2015.

I plan to edit the novel I nearly finished, “The Heat of Trouble.”

And I plan to write more short stories and look for an agent for a couple of my completed manuscripts.

Over the past year, I wrote a novel and edited a couple of others, plus I blogged nearly every week about the writing process. I’ve been blogging for four years about the different elements of writing, types of writing and the writer’s life. I wrote about writing inspiration and motivation, the habits of successful writers and the revision process, explaining about what I love (and sometimes don’t love so much) about writing.

As I blogged, I found I haven’t generated much of an audience for my writing about writing, but I did gain a better understanding of what’s involved and how to apply it to my own writing. That’s because I could review and see things slightly differently than before by putting my thoughts into a weekly format.

In 2016, I will continue to blog about writing but may take a different approach or introduce new topics. At this point, I’m not sure.

It’s likely I won’t be blogging in January during my recovery from a surgery to my left hand. The surgery was Dec. 11, and I wrote ahead for the remainder of the year and posted the blogs to align with each Sunday, my regular blogging day.

I will return in February—after about two months of single-hand activities limited to my right hand—with a fresh perspective and hopefully some goals in how I want to approach my blog and my writing life

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.

How do you center yourself in writing and life?

In Finding Life's Meaning, The Writing Life, Writing on March 8, 2015 at 11:00 am

I used to think the question “what is the meaning of life?” was huge with an all-important answer that I couldn’t figure out.

The answer, I believed, was in tomes, churches and the sky.

But it’s more personal than that.

The meaning of life is what we make of it. It’s how we find our importance. It’s our passion. It’s how we spend our time when it’s purposeful with direction.

That question also is important for writing when you ask, “why do I write and what is the meaning that I get out of it?” There is a reason and a motivation to write, or it becomes a chore and an attractor for writer’s block or stucked-ness.

I’ve written without passion many times, such as college essays, cover letters, news articles when I did a quick interview or didn’t go to the scene, and short stories or novels when I got too focused on a word or page count. Technically, I could do the writing, but that unexplainable being in love, being in the moment, being totally there for the words was missing.

So, how do you keep the passion going, especially when frustration, boredom, loneliness or the not-wanting-to-work feelings arrive? It’s like with running, where that first half-mile seems painful and annoying, but then when the first or second mile is completed, the runner’s high kicks in and there’s a pattern to the movement, making the rest of the laps seem easier.

Do the same with writing.

Be awkward at first, not knowing where you’re heading, except around the track of possible words and ideas, but build momentum from there. Let yourself become centered in the moment, drawing into the task and the words that result. Reward yourself once the task is completed by marking in a log how many hours, words or pages you wrote or doing something you enjoy but is a guilty pleasure (so you’re doing the work, then the play).

Schedule certain times or days to write to make it a regular habit, like going to the gym every other day or running daily for a half-hour. Let the writing give outline to this schedule. Make it something to look forward to, to get satisfaction from, to know you accomplished something. Let it be a hobby, a love or even more.

Adding solidity to how you write gives it an anchor, because without scheduling time for your passions and what motivates you, the desire becomes stuck in the headspace without an outlet. It’s like making the New Year’s resolution and going to the gym once or twice and then giving up.