Shelley Widhalm

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Top 10 Writing Tips

In Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on February 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

Every writer I meet has their top tips for writing and the rules they live by to make sure they write, both in the sense of discipline and inspiration.

Writing takes both, because there has to be a little bit of the spark, as well as the willingness to show up and do the work. There are times, I’ve had ideas but put them on hold, because I was busy, tired or overwhelmed. I didn’t want to write.

But there also have been times when I made myself write, finding that once I got started, I had something to say. I got to work and got results, even though, at first, I wasn’t sure I had something to say.

Writing requires work and lots of it, so:

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, make it a goal to write for two hours or 1,000 words in a session.
  • Get rid of distractions and the inner critic, which can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or to invite in writer’s block.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because the more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Have more awareness, using all of the senses when making observations.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that 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, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down, then 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.

 

 

Missing my blog

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

Hello my dear readers,

I will be back at blogging next week after a two-week hiatus. I am working on a big editing/revision project that is taking all of my extra time and most of my focus. I hope to finish it next week!

And then it’s back to writing.

I much prefer writing to revising, but revising is an interesting/self-teaching process that does improve the writing process.

See you next Sunday.

Unexpected poem”gift”

In Poetic Inspirations, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Inspiration on January 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

Though I am on a break from blogging to give my one-handed typing a rest (following a surgery on my left hand), I have to post this poem.

I interviewed a musician for a features article for my day job at a Colorado newspaper and a couple days later was in a local coffee shop eavesdropping on an impromptu jam session. Nine friends played guitars, a mandolin and a ukulele and the music got into my fingers, causing me to feel out a poem.

Here it is:

The making of stars

The warrior poem came in on the beat of the drums

all of it colliding like butterfly wings

a ripple of air through my heart

I hear it, I hear it

the hey—

let the voices

let all of them come

hey, hey—

the rising star on the stage of a field and

the other smaller stars in a coffee

house

let it come

where is the music

I hear it call

me out of my skin, magical arising

 

Hey, hey—

can I reach the sky

what are fingers on a guitar

and the wings of the butterfly

but ways to—

hey, hey—

touch blue into the falling

of loving night and day.

 

Stars are out all the time.

Hey, hey stars just don’t belong

to the sky.

 

NaNoWriMo reflections

In National Novel Writing Month, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline on December 6, 2015 at 12:52 am

I actually can’t believe I did it: I reached the NaNoWriMo finish line.

I wrote 50,000 words in a month when I’d been hesitant about signing up for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, at the beginning of November. I’d been a third of the way into my current novel project, “The Heat of Trouble,” and now am nearly done. I suspect I’ll finish in a week or two.

Most of the month, I remained behind on my word count and even took a week off from work and caught up and got ahead, but just for one day. When I returned to work, I immediately fell behind again and remained there, and I questioned whether or not I should continue.

I then figured I started, so I finished.

During the last full week of NaNoWriMo, I cleared my schedule as much as I could and wrote six of the seven days, focusing on catching up. I did this by upping my word count from 1,667 a day to 2,000 or 2,500 or even 3,300 one of the days. I also told myself that I didn’t have to do this every day, just for a week.

Yes, I love to write, but there’s balance of work, play and hobbies.

By the end of the week on Nov. 28, I reached 45,939 words, short by 737 words to keep on pace. I had two days left, so I knew I could do it. I made a file for my NaNoWriMo writing and found I’d edited out 602 words, though I hadn’t done much editing, so that meant 300 more words of writing for each day.

On Sunday, Nov. 29, I wrote 4,819 words in three-and-a-half hours, my record for the month. That brought me to 50,758 words, but then with the shortfall, I ended up with 50,138 words.

And I finished one day early.

I finished! Yeah for me.

But I kept going on Monday, just because I wanted to wrap up my book before Christmas. I wrote 1,562 words in an hour, bringing my NaNoWriMo total to 51,700 words.

More yeah. Double yeah.

Almost there with NaNoWriMo!

In National Novel Writing Month, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline on November 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing every day Monday to Sunday, especially after writing at work five days a week, was a bit challenging.

I felt worn out after work, especially with it being dark, but I pushed on for National Novel Writing Month. I found it hard to fit in writing every day between work, meals and going to the gym, plus anything social that I did. But I’d set a goal to write 50,000 words in November and was determined to stick with it.

I had staying power, all for the sake of virtual credit.

I came into the final full week of NaNoWriMo having written 31,845 words and behind by 3,162 words. I should have been at 35,007 words to be perfectly on track with writing 1,667 words a day.

The week was hard, and it was a challenge to catch up. Plus, I felt the lull, as if in some writing sessions, I had to strain to get the words. But I wrote anyway, letting the characters take over when they were willing. When they were harder to access, I kept writing and hoping my story would come out, however it wanted to.

Here’s my progress for the week:

Day 22: (Sunday): I wrote 1,717 in an hour-and-a-half, just a little more than the daily goal.

Day 23 (Monday): I wrote 1,872 words in an hour.

Day 24 (Tuesday): I wrote 2,410 words in an hour-and-a-half and started catching up, slowly but surely. I just knew I couldn’t skip a day if I was going to do this.

Day 25 (Wednesday): I didn’t write. I worked, went to the gym, met a friend and got home at 8:30 p.m., too tired to open up my laptop.

Day 26 (Thursday): I wrote 1,852 words in an hour, once again more behind.

Day 27 (Friday): I wrote 2,911 words in two hours.

Day 28 (Saturday): I wrote 3,332 words in two hours, feeling the pressure to catch up with only two more days.

So, now I’m at 45,939 words, short by 737 words of my goal of 46,676 words.

It was tough going, and frankly, I’ll be glad when this month is over, but I’m also glad I’m doing it. I’m almost there. Two more days!

Third week of NaNoWriMo (and feeling behind!)

In NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Uncategorized, Writing Processes on November 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

I found the third week of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, to be a struggle after two weeks of steady, easy writing.

I questioned where I was going with my novel, and I wondered if I was repeating myself, or just writing to be writing and getting in words toward a word count.

Because I have a full-time job, I’m used to writing one to three times a week, not every day. By taking on the 50,000-word goal for the month of November, I felt like I had to be on the ball with my next scene and think of ideas every day, because the current project is a pantser with the ending sort of planned.

As a result, it seemed like some of my scenes were forced, at least this week, but once I started writing, the characters and the story took over, so I just let it go as it wanted. One of my characters became a real snot, and I started disliking her, even feeling uncomfortable hanging out with her and seeing how she treated her sister, the main character.

Anyway, here is my progress for the week:

Day 15 (Sunday): I wrote 2,754 words in two hours, struggling at first and feeling stuck, but then once I got into it, I kept writing. I reached 24,725 words, short 275 words for the 25,000 goal at the halfway point. I didn’t have the energy to write more; plus, I had an errand to do.

Day 16 (Monday): I wrote 2,130 words in two hours, and again it was slow-going at first, but it picked up after a half-hour or so. I reached 26,855 words, getting ahead for the first time. The goal was to be at 26,672 words, meaning I pulled ahead by 183 words. At least it was something.

Day 17 (Tuesday): I returned to work and had so much going on after work, including my book club meeting, I didn’t have time to write. The result: I’m behind again.

Day 18 (Wednesday): Again, I didn’t work on my novel, because I mentored a student, and we did a short story writing exercise. At least I wrote something, but not for my novel.

Day 19 (Thursday): I finally had a chance to write and wrote 1,861 words in one-and-a-half hours. I reached 28,716 words, short by 2,957 words but getting back on track.

Day 20 (Friday): I wrote 2,056 words in nearly one-and-a-half hours.

Day 21 (Saturday): I wrote 1,073 words in 45 minutes, but then a poetry reading I wanted to attend got started at the same coffee shop where I like to do my writing. I reached 31,845 words, short by 3,162 words.

Up to this point for NaNoWriMo, I’ve remained behind, except one day, and then I got busy and got behind again. The thing is, once I set a goal, I try everything I can to make sure I follow through. I’ll keep plugging away toward that 50,000-word carrot stick.

Flash Fiction sale

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2015 at 7:42 pm

My flash fiction piece “A Wanted Man” is in the anthology “BABY SHOES: 100 Stories by 100 Authors,” available in print and e-book on Amazon. There is a one-day sale, half-price, tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 18!

Recovering from mistakes in writing (and life)

In Editing, Shelley Widhalm, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline on July 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

When I make a mistake in my writing, I get to revise, edit and ask for advice, either through my writer’s group or my writing/reading friends.

But a mistake in life doesn’t give you a do-over (or a revision), particularly when you are dealing with other people, businesses and employer/government rules and regulations. My largest mistakes in life, so far, include:

• Taking my car to a particular brand-name dealership and believing (at least initially) in the list of non-necessary and expensive repairs, instead of finding a trusted, local mechanic. I should have clued in on the first bogus set of repairs, but I had a warranty and very little knowledge about what is important to keep the vehicle fully operational, versus those preventative maintenance and repair items that sound plausible, but are not needed.
• Hiring a national mover and not pursuing the BBB when the company lost and broke some of my items, and then charged nearly double the initial estimate.
• Believing people in positions of authority instead of questioning their motives, such as making money, using others as their lab rats and trying to get something for the price of dishonesty, greed or some other poor behavior.
• Not considering how to word written memos or handle phone conversations when I need to make a change to a place, thing or device that I rent or own, such as a housing unit, cell phone or electronic device.

These life mistakes, if I were to ask around, are most likely pretty universal. We all meet less-than-questionable and power/money-hungry people and deal with businesses with non-customer-focused practices out for the bottom line.

The problem with making a life mistake is it usually costs you time, money and even self-confidence. You usually don’t get a redo, editing what you said or did or didn’t do.

But in the writing world, mistakes (such as incomplete drafts, not gathering enough writing experience before trying to publish and sending your work off too early) can be remedied by researching what agents and publishers want, writing a pithy pitch and query letter, learning what other writers do to get their work out there and accepting rejection as part of the process. I have my own personal rejection pile from short story submissions, contest entries and query letters.

But I don’t beat myself up for these “mistakes,” because I consider the arc of the writing life a learning process. I become better because of my mistakes by fixing what I did “wrong” and carrying that lesson into my next writing project, so that with each novel my plots are tighter and more closely follow the story arc, my characters are more fully developed and my setting is better tied to plot and character.

That’s because with writing you get to start again and again and continue trying until you get published or meet your other writing goal. There’s Writer’s Market; there are thousands of agents and places to get your work out there, including blogs, magazines, journals and writing contests; and there’s the comforting stories of how many times the now-famous writers had to get rejected before their work was considered: Karen Stockley, Stephen King and James Michener.

The only costs I’ve found with my writing mistakes are the contest fees, the price of paper for mail-ins, and time. But it’s worth it. I don’t have to beat myself up over my list of mistakes, thinking only if … after the fact when it’s too late.

Writing and Dating (or App Dating, cont.)

In Dating, Shelley Widhalm, Uncategorized, Writing on March 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

After years of writing in many different genres and my limited experience in dating, I’ve seen some interesting connections.

The question you might ask is how writing helps you date and dating helps you write. The obvious answer points to having stories to tell, character qualities to describe, bend and reshape, and snippets of dialogue to reconfigure from real life.

What’s not so obvious is that profile you have to put on the dating sites. You describe who you are and what you’re seeking in a relationship, from something as simple as height and hair color to work and personal interests.

Reading the one side of what men are seeking (I’ve yet to sign up), I tend to start with their looks, followed by height and weight (making me realize I’m a bit shallow, but also aware of the need for chemistry). I move through the rest of their qualities list and then their “Her” lists to see what they want in a date or girlfriend and whether or not I “match.”

This is like creating the structure of your novel that still lacks the creativity, imagination and time needed to add three dimensions to that outline (or dating profile).
Planners outline, while plungers write without structure, not knowing the ending or even the middle of the story.

In the case of dating, I planned a few of things I want in a date, and I’ve also plunged into dating the wrong ones just because they were handsome, or I thought we had chemistry but without anything solid underneath.

Expecting that perfect match – or the perfect story to unfold from that perfect first sentence – can result in dating block. I look at the matches and think, oh, he won’t like me, because I don’t fit his range of what he wants, even if I like what he presents.

In other words, I don’t try.

The same goes with writing. If I expect to write something great in my first draft, I don’t allow myself to explore and see what I can discover. It’s in the process that you can find out what you want to say, and then you can go back and fix what doesn’t fit.

Of course, I don’t want to fix the men out there, just my fear of dating them. To get over that, I will have to let my life be creative and just happen like a big what if, or a big whatever.

I can’t expect everything to be just how I want it, because I had planned it that way.

Writing with the Senses

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Uncategorized, Writing on August 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

Writing that uses the senses is easy to read and hard to write.

What is hard, I find, is using words in such a way that the reader can see, smell, taste, hear or feel what you are describing.

When using sensory writing, let the reader experience things, rather than telling them what they should be sensing.

For instance, instead of saying the wine smells fruity, the writer could say it has a light, crisp aroma with a hint of spice riding alongside the sweet dip of cherry.

Or, a bird sings could become the plump house sparrow chatters a high-pitched melody of wonder as it pecks for bread crumbs.

Use concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Say, chokecherry tree instead of tree, or hot green tea instead of a drink.

Avoid using adjectives, such as the pretty girl or the cute dog.

And do not rely only on sight, the most immediate sense that is the easiest to use.

Engage all five senses, those of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, writing down your individual sense impressions.

To do this, notice and observe and get deeper into the subject, paying attention to the smallest details in your environment.

Ask what sounds you hear, what colors you see and what the air feels like as it rubs against your skin.

Find that one detail or cluster of details that makes reader see all of the others.

Writing with the senses in mind makes the words come alive, giving a clear image of the character’s environment and what he or she is experiencing. Think of the character’s dominant sense. Does she love to touch fabrics? Does he like smelling a campfire?

Know when to use descriptive scenes, or how to show the reader what is happening right now, and when to use narration, or to tell.

Finally, try to feel what you are writing, putting all of yourself into your words.

See Zoey’s blog, Zoey’s Paw, at http://bit.ly/REyxkV