Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Vacations’ Category

Writing with a Bang (even during holidays/vacations)

In Vacations, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on July 1, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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This is called bun chasing. Check out the shorebird at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Fla., with the bun on the run.

Getting back to writing or blogging can be a bit difficult if it’s sunny out and you’ve just been on vacation—add in that Independence Day is quickly approaching, giving you another reason to let your brain keep on being on holiday.

Yep, I’ve got the holiday/vacation motivation and discipline problem.

First off, I returned to a pile of work, a tad tired from riding the rollercoasters at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens during my early June visit to Clearwater, Fla. I had so much fun, six days into my trip, when I went to Howard Beach and collected a few seashells, I came home to a big long afternoon nap.

Writing Reality

Two days later, I had to re-shift to reality, though I had a load of memories to use for my writing. I have a couple of favorites, including seeing a shorebird grab a hamburger bun at Busch Gardens and run about, but not able to take a bite for all the other birds ensuing in a hungry chase. I also loved riding the Manta at SeaWorld and feeling like I was flying, twirling in loops and going upside down. (I must have a thing for birds.)

As I got back to my work routine, I thought about how I lost track of what I love—writing though it oftentimes feels like work.

Writing requires time, energy, thought, discipline, motivation and desire. Writing isn’t always easy even for a writer, while being on vacation or holiday is easy. Just relax, have fun, and go places. One of my friends kindly reminded me that the other place you visit becomes mundane once it is your every day. I’d put some magic around Florida, thinking I’d been in heaven with all the fun. Writing seemed not so heaven-like, requiring sitting in a chair and not running about. But from my vacation, I collected new images and new ways of seeing, and thus, describing things. I had something to compare the old with the new.

Writing Return

I figured if I want to write, I have to sit in a chair and treat it seriously. Here’s a few ways to get back to writing (without it being too much like work):

  • Identify your goal or what you want to accomplish.
  • Develop a writing routine, setting aside time each day or week to help you reach the goal.
  • Find a special place to do your writing, so that it gives you inspiration and comfort.
  • Keep track of the time you dedicate to writing, demonstrating your work toward your goal.
  • Take credit for each accomplishment toward the goal.
  • Don’t allow for excuses, at least most of the time, while also realizing that setbacks will happen.
  • Forgive yourself if you get sidetracked or frustrated.

And as you engage in writing, remember to keep the commitment and to keep going, no matter what. For those who like writing, writing is fun (and, if treated right, it can feel like vacation!).

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Shelley Widhalm poses by the Manta ride at SeaWorld, which feels like flying.

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.

A semi-disappointing “writer’s retreat”

In Novel editing, Shelley Widhalm, Vacations, Writing, Writing Discipline on June 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

When it comes to setting my writing goals, I treat them like food, always looking with bigger eyes than the size of my stomach.

In other words, I had all these great plans for my DIY writer’s retreat stay-cation during the week of Sunday, June 15, through Monday, June 23.

I wanted to treat nearly every day off as a shortened work day of three to six hours spent writing and editing. And I wanted to write at least two short stories, craft a few poems and do a complete revision of my 80,000-word novel, “The Money Finder.”

But as a friend likes to tell me, life is what happens in spite of your plans. The life that happened during my vacation included getting sick, spending time with friends and dealing with the after-effects of a move. I got a bronchial infection; I met up with a few friends at a concert or over food or coffee; and I had practical stuff to do after moving in early June, including putting extra stuff in storage, cleaning my old apartment and finishing organizing and setting up the new one.

The result was I didn’t begin editing until Wednesday, or four days into my nine-day vacation. To say the least, I was disappointed in myself, because I hadn’t been perfect in meeting my goals. I wanted to make up for lost time, but it didn’t happen because of that life-getting-in-the-way thing.

Even so, I was able to set aside time and put in two to four hours a day, totaling 15 hours by the end of the week. Despite getting through about 30,000 words, I increased the intensity of my guilt trip on Saturday, thinking that because I hadn’t reached my goal of 80,000 words my vacation was a total waste.

Two days later on the last day of my I-get-to-be-a-writer-all-day freedom, I readjusted my thinking to that of acceptance. I realized I’d done the best I could with the time I had. I extended my editing project to next Sunday, or the Sunday after, with plans to edit and write, knowing that though I did not achieve my goal 100 percent by the end of the week, I got that much closer.

That’s the point of a stay-cation: having fun, doing what you love and living a little. Guilt shouldn’t be part of it, because it is time off, from everything, including the punch clock.

Stay-cations as DIY retreats

In Shelley Widhalm, Vacations, Writing, Writing Discipline on June 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

Every time I have a vacation where I don’t have travel plans, I turn it into a DIY writer’s retreat stay-cation.

I lodge at my apartment. I write there and at the coffee shop. And I get my meals the usual way, home-cooked (thanks to my boyfriend) or out to eat. Instead of heading off to work and clocking in, I sleep in or laze around, go off to do some writing (usually two to three hours), take a long break and possibly do more writing (or editing).

I usually put in 20 to 25 hours during my stay-cation, as opposed to 0-15 when I’m working full-time. By the end of the week, I’ve accomplished something without spending a dime (except on coffee).

To participate in a stay-cation writer’s retreat, I’ve learned that there isn’t a need for mountain cabins, peaceful lakes or fancy hotels. All that is needed is a quiet place where work will not be interrupted, such as a coffee shop, mall, library, community park, hotel lobby or bookstore.

Here is some other advice for setting up a at-home retreat:

• Commit a certain amount of time to writing, such as three hours, but allow for 10-minute breaks every hour, or whatever meets your needs. Take a lunch break and return for another writing session.
• Set a goal for what you want to achieve by the end of the retreat, such as writing a certain number of chapters in your novel, writing a couple of short stories or working on some other writing project.
• Take a portable writing kit, so you have your tools on hand, such as a dictionary and thesaurus, books on the craft, notebooks, journals, pens and music.

And remember to clock in how many hours of work you accomplish, your word count and any other measures of achievement. Compare what you achieved with your regular writing session. This self-assessment will determine if your retreat was productive.

The Town Cry-er

In Rejection, Shyness, Talking, Vacations on June 26, 2011 at 7:28 am

I took five days off for a friend’s visit but it didn’t turn out so well. It’s the classic case of uneven liking – I like him lots and he thinks I’m more boring than eating pasta shells sans sauce.

During these five (reduced to three because, yep, you got it) days, I realized that besides hating being shy, I hate that I’m sensitive.

Actually, a better way to put it is I have a penchant for crying. You would think I would be dehydrated and ultra skinny from all the energy I burn from letting the water roll. But I have to lift weights and diet and all that crap.

Plus cry.

Add to that the fact I got my hopes up and don’t know where to put them now. In my anticipation of this visit, I jumped out of my comfortable numbness, though I didn’t know that I was numb until, well, now. I’ve been going through the motions of living as I impatiently waited for the weekends when I could sit outside and read or work on my writing.

But hey, I now see that my problem is that I’ve let my shyness keep me in this introverted state where I hang out by myself. My problem is I really do like to talk. It’s just I don’t know how to open my mouth and get words out. Sure I can talk to people who approach my dog to pet her or if I have to interview them or want to make small talk.

But if there is a pause, or silence or discomfort on my part, I don’t know what to do.

Unfortunately, after not reading a book for three weeks because I went on a vacation, tried to finish my novel editing and had this five-day visit coming up, I realized that, unlike what I’ve been telling myself, real life is more fun then books. Now, I just need a how-to book to read to tell me how to live, hence returning me to my comfort of reading instead of living.

For my dog Zoey’s perspective, check out

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Working, or Vacation?

In Artists, Novel editing, Vacations on June 12, 2011 at 7:00 am

This past week was supposed to be my vacation, but I spent more than 20 hours editing my novel.

Unfortunately, it’s Friday, and my vacation ends on Sunday. I’m ready to restart my vacation and not do any work, but unlike in politics, there are no re-dos.

My mom and I drove to Omaha to stay with relatives, meeting my brother and his girlfriend there for our weeklong stay. I gave up a few things to do my editing, like a trip to the casinos across the river in Iowa, grocery shopping, cooking dinner (my brother’s girlfriend loves to cook) and playing Rummikub at night (the family had a tournament thing going on).

I “snuck” off to Starbuck for two to three hours at a time to do the editing. I can concentrate there, do some people watching and listen to music as I slowly edit about 10-15 pages in an hour.

I also spent two or three evenings out on the patio doing more editing. I liked looking out at the verdant sloping lawn and at the rabbits hanging out there. One even plopped down on its belly, with its front paws splayed out, looking pretty cute.

But I missed things. Like conversations over preparing meals, playing board games and being together. I was away at Starbucks, chasing this dream that is just that, at least for now. Being a starving artist takes many forms, whether it’s not being who you want to be in order to pay the bills or being who you are but then not having enough money.

I fit my starving artist self into little slots of time that I would rather use for having fun. It’s the weekend, or after work or, like now, a vacation. I spend my vacations being who I want to be during non-vacation time, when I am not who I am.

It’s quite confusing.

All I know is that my family probably wonders where I am. Oh they know, it’s Starbucks, but I’m away from them when, really, I should have been a part of their whole. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year, having learned my lesson.

Working hard has its place, but not at the cost of what’s in front of you, that moment, that being together. Even so, I’m glad to have the editing done.