Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Advice’ Category

The Ins and Outs and Benefits of Journaling

In Freewriting, Journaling, Writing, Writing Advice on July 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Journals can be used for multiple purposes beyond recording daily life.

Journaling is like pre-writing, or it can be a form of record-keeping.

It can be private or public, as in the case of blogs, which technically are considered digital diaries.

And it can be practice toward fine-tuned quality writing.

A Dozen Journals

I have a dozen journals, each with its purpose and different sized cover and pattern. I’ve journaled since second grade, a process that’s essential to my day and to my growth as a writer. I record what happens, the things I do and my interactions with others.

I find comfort in the result: my days are tracked, and I have a reference to recall events, conversations and even when I last gave the dog a bath. I can look back and see what I’ve learned, laugh over the drama that, now, isn’t a big deal, and, hopefully, figure out where to fix things.

I have another journal that’s my play journal. The half-dozen colored sections are designated for freewriting, book starts, book and story ideas and notes about the writing process.

Another of my journals is solely for freewriting because it already has prompts I can use when I’m blocked.

I also have a journal for the books I’ve read and one for notes on the books I borrow.

And I use one for sketching out poems I later type up.

Journaling is a form of writing that isn’t as official as sitting in front of the blank page. It’s like an artist’s sketchpad used to practice drawing skills; it’s a place to play around with language, descriptions and ideas.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality, grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write, and by doing it regularly, the writing will be easier and the ideas will start showing up.

A Journal’s Uses

You can use journal for many things, such as:

  • Writing exercises you want to try.
  • Taking notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.
  • Capturing snippets of conversation and recording details you observe in your environment.
  • Drafting short stories and novels.
  • Playing around with language for a poem or beautiful description in a story.
  • Listing ideas for poems, short stories, novels, essays and blogs.
  • Compiling character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions.
  • Pasting photos or describing settings and the buildings and places in your story or poem.

I forgot to mention that I even have a mini-journal, it’s a miniature composition book, to take notes on anything and everything I encounter in a day, and then those notes go into the proper big journal.

I’ve journaled since second grade and probably have written a million words, most of them pretty boring about the routine, mundane aspects of life. But there’s gossip and intrigue, plus the whole figuring-out-life thing. And collecting those cool ideas for later …

 

Comparing Blogging to Diary Writing

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Writing, Writing Advice on July 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Blogging is like keeping a personal diary but with the http://www.com involved.

Blogs at the most basic level are digital diaries.

The word diary implies, “This is personal,” but with 150 million blogs out there, the recent communication phenomena has become quite the opposite.

Unlike the red-bound diary with a little golden key to keep everyone out, blogs are designed to create a following, build an audience and invite the public to read, link to and share text, photos and videos. The content goes beyond the ripped-out diary page with the use of SEO, headlines and bullet points.

Blogs Defined

Blogs are a megaphone about a product, project, event, company, service or topic of interest and a way to spread thoughts, ideas, opinions, knowledge and expertise. They are a sales, advertising, marketing and promotional tool to find clients, customers and prospects. They are a tool to build brand awareness. And they are a way get a writer’s voice out there, instead of keeping it under lock and key.

In other words, they are an oxymoron. Digital diary, maybe not so much. Digital and powerful communication tool, yes and yes!

The power comes in the building of the blog, i.e. the appeal of the sibling wanting to read the little red diary.

To get that appeal, bloggers need to create original content targeted to a specific audience. They need to maintain their blog, providing new, updated and engaging content on a regular basis—preferably weekly, but monthly is okay, too, as long as it’s consistent. And they need to promote their blog to social media and other outlets to keep building that audience.

First, Ask a Few Questions About Your Blog:

  • Who’s the audience for this topic? Other writers? Your customers? Or hobbyists who also love to do what you do?
  • How will you reach the audience to let them know about your blog?
  • Is your topic something that can be written about in different angles? Will it be relevant in six months or a year?
  • What is your competition, including other blogs, newsletters, podcasts and media and social media outlets?

Here are a Few Ideas for Blog Topics:

  • Product and service comparisons and testimonials.
  • How-to instruction.
  • Book reviews.
  • Commentaries and other reviews.
  • Trends locally or in the news.
  • Hobbies and special interests.
  • Business and financial news.
  • Interviews with clients or key resources.
  • Stories about what happens behind the scenes.
  • Personal experiences.

Blogs Also Can …

Cover a wide variety of topics from a certain vantage point, such as humor, insecurity or trying to understand the world. They can serve as a portfolio, as in the case of artists who want to post their artwork and writing to promote what they do and generate sales, but also to get those followers.

And they can be a way to track your life, your interests and what you want to share with the world. Open up your diary and begin the story …

Finding Time & Space to Write/Blog

In Writing Advice, Writing Spaces on June 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund, a lapdog, offers a great companion for writing on the laptop!

What if you don’t have enough time for writing or blogging?

Part of writing process deals with the “what” and the “where.”

The “what” is doing the actual writing and the “where” is the physical place you, the blogger, feel most comfortable sitting down and creating the content. But this comfort shouldn’t limit you to writing only when you can show up to do the work.

Make writing more entertaining by sneaking it in and knowing where to find a few good spots. Don’t let the excuse of not having the space or a short amount of time prevent you from starting. Realize where you write doesn’t have to be perfect and that you can make do just so you can write, even if it’s not at a desk or table.

Start by carrying a notebook wherever you go, except maybe the gym or the swimming pool. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or even awkward moments, such as when you’re out with friends or in a public, non-coffee shop place where pulling out a napkin or scrap of paper isn’t the norm. But do it anyway.

Finding a Writing Spot

To find a good writing spot, ask yourself a few questions, making sure you’re ready to write. For instance:

  • Do you need quiet or activity around you?
  • Do you need background noise—such as conversations, music, doors opening and closing and the sounds of food or drinks being made?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or cozy? Do you like working outside or in a small room, such as a closet converted into an office?
  • Do you need bright lights or sunshine, or do you need cloudy weather and low lighting?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people?
  • Do you want your things around you set up in a special way?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, the mall or a porch, deck or patio as long as the weather is warm and the wind isn’t blowing.

Once you find a spot you consider inspiring, yet comfortable, make that your go-to, your office, your special place to engage in and do your blogging writing. It will then become that room of your own.

Creating an Attention-Grabbing Blogging Voice

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Voice, Writing, Writing Advice on June 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

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My dog Zoey employs multiple ways to get my attention and the attention of everyone else!

To get noticed in the crowded blogosphere, how can bloggers get attention and keep that attention?

One way is through their voice, or how they use language and display their written personality. Readers become fans of a particular blog when they know what to expect—the voice is consistent and recognizable and the content has a clear purpose, such as providing information, entertainment or motivation.

Bloggers set themselves apart by having something original to say and a unique way of saying it. They’re not just blogging to grow their audiences, get clicks and drive traffic to their websites. Instead, their content is authentic and real and doesn’t read like a mishmash of sentences saturated in SEO-heavy language.

The Sound and Appearance of Writing

Voice, at the simplest level, is how bloggers or writers sound and appear on the page. It’s their style, or the way they use words to describe things. It’s how they handle language, the words they choose and their techniques for putting together sentences and paragraphs. It’s a matter of their word choice, syntax and phrasing and options for structuring sentences and paragraphs.

Alternatively, the way the writing sounds can be thought of in physical speaking styles. Is the writing conversational or formal, or is it humorous or academic? Is it fun and trendy? Or cute and quirky? Is it snarky, condescending or longwinded? Or is it accessible and helpful?

Another way to look at it is does the writer sound like a computer manual, a thesaurus or a grammar book? Or does the writer offer up jargon or slang? Does the writer sound like an instrument, harsh or melodious?

Voice goes beyond sound to the appearance on the page. Is there a lot of white space or dense paragraphs with few breaks? Are caps or ellipses used to show casualness, or is there a heavy use of long words and scientific terms? Is there variation of sentence length and structure, such as subject, verb and noun interspersed with questions and partial thoughts?

Other Components of Voice

Voice also can be about story. Do the writers start in the middle and get sidetracked, or are they clear and concise, getting to the main point with just the right amount of detail not to bore the listener or induce interruption?

Voice can be about worldviews. It’s the way writers see the world and interpret events. It involves the feeling and tone or mood of what they write.

Overall, voice is:

  • The writer’s attitude toward the subject.
  • The writer’s way of telling a story.
  • The writer’s use of language.
  • The words and phrases the writer uses frequently.
  • The writer’s ways of engaging with the audience.

From the reader’s side, it’s:

  • The adjectives used to describe the voice.
  • The incentive to read in the first place.
  • The reason to continue to read down the page.
  • The connection with the writer.

Voice is the writer on the page. It is the reason they write. It’s what they choose to write about, revealing what they notice, what they care about, what matters in the world they’ve created.

And it’s what makes readers care and want to read more.

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.

Tips for Writing Memoir (to make it fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Memoir, Writing Nonfiction on May 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

Writing a memoir that reads like fiction is tricky.

This requires taking real life experiences and fitting them into the story arc of beginning, middle and end when life typically is episodic without story structure.

There, however, may be episodes of life that work within the arc when you, the main or point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.

The requirements for writing memoir:

Writing a memoir requires you to make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions. You have to face yourself and think about what matters to you, what affects you, what hurts and helps you and why you are who you are.

You look back on your past self/selves and, through the process, come to a different understanding of why you did what you did or what you were thinking at the time.

The self reflection, description and analysis may break you as you put yourself into words and see what you were avoiding when you were just living and trying to deal with whatever life put in your path.

As you take yourself apart to find the words and then the story, try to remember the emotions, events, contents and the feel of scenes from your life. Think about what people weren’t saying. What does their non-spoken dialog, such as body language, gestures and facial expressions, say? What do your non-spoken parts want to tell, not just others but yourself?

Beside the emotional affect that writing about the self may have on you, also consider the reader.

Here’s some more advice for writing memoir:

• Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail. Don’t assemble a scattered collection of scenes and vignettes that don’t create a cohesive and complete story.
• Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail. Trust your memory to recount the gist and emotional truth of your experience to write the scene and see if there are any recurring images, phrases, themes or metaphors. Use these to dig deeper.
• Track the action that drives your story and ask what the story is that you’re trying to tell. Begin as close to the climax as possible to find the driving narrative that moves the arc.

Thinking of the reader is the last part of writing about the self, because it starts within as a seed that grows outward. Once you find that external place where the words go, then you can bring in others who are outside to give them a glimpse of your inside.

Nonfiction Writing Tips (to make writing fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Nonfiction on April 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

Writing nonfiction, unlike fiction, requires sticking to the truth as close as possible.

It’s like wearing something skintight—you can stretch what happened and make up a bit of dialog, but you have to admit, too, that you are writing from memory, while also trying to keep to the truth.

Creative nonfiction, memoir and personal essay are all forms of nonfiction, in addition to all of the categories found in the bookstore from history to science that stick to the facts. Other forms of writing like self-help and inspiration combine experience with ideas and advice, while also giving the writer’s truth. Business and money management books give that advice, all with the goal in mind toward self-improvement.

To be a truthful writer, while also being creative and imaginative and still employing the storytelling elements of fiction, can be a challenge. Storytelling involves telling a story from beginning to the middle to the end with the climax and resolution tying the story together and the character and plot arcs moving the story along.

The characters change as they start out with a want and at the end gets what they need, which is the character arc. Their actions and behaviors through the unfolding of the story give the plot art.

Other storytelling elements include setting, dialog, the voice of the narrator and the detail and description. To bring in those elements while telling the whole story requires combining the art of writing fiction with telling the nonfiction’s truth.

With that in mind, here’s some advice for writing memoir:

  • Make yourself into a character with physical, spiritual and emotional descriptions.
  • Employ storytelling techniques of fitting your story into the story arc of beginning, middle and end and avoid telling everything from birth to death and showing how life typically is episodic without story structure.
  • Leave out things that interfere with the flow of the story, because readers want a story with thematic cohesiveness, not a diary or journal with too much incidence and detail.
  • Show how you, as the point-of-view character, face an obstacle and overcome it through your internal strength and motivation with some lesson learned toward the end of the process.
  • Try writing memories into scene form and if you end up with a lot telling, go back and rewrite the scene with more action and detail.
  • Make sure you follow a particular theme or main subject to tell the story in a cohesive manner. To do this, identify the patterns of your experience and select what is relevant from your life.
  • Lastly, show you’ve changed and grown from your experiences, how you were affected physically and emotionally by those experiences and how you found meaning and insight from them.

Here’s advice for writing a personal essay (a personal essay represents what a writer thinks or feels about a topic or describes thoughts, feelings and emotions related to a personal experience):

  • Write in the first-person point of view.
  • Structure it in various ways, such as a list, a question-and-answer form, a story or a scattering of musings.
  • Make sure to provide a main point, or a message or theme, such as providing meaning through a lesson learned or the outcome of personal growth and development.
  • Avoid lecturing, sermonizing or moralizing.