Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Discipline’ Category

How to Deal with Writer’s Block

In Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on April 2, 2017 at 11:00 am

Journals4

Keeping a journal or two is a way to add discipline to your writing routine and to get past writer’s block.

When writer’s block occurs, does that mean you’re no longer motivated to write, or is it that you want to write but can’t access the words?

I find writer’s block to be trying and a chore and more difficult to deal with than having the words pour out, even though a writing session where I’m blocked lasts a few minutes and a productive session can last two to three hours.

What Causes Writer’s Block?

Is it fear, laziness or lots of excuses? Or is it not having anything new to think about or ways to describe things? Is it a matter of being stuck at the place you’re at as a writer, not knowing where to go next?

Writer’s block is a state of insecurity where the mind plays tricks on you. When it occurs, you tell yourself you can’t get started writing, you have nothing to write or you need inspiration to write, but the motivation is lacking. It’s a way to avoid digging too deep, especially if there is pain to be faced, such as anger, hurt, sadness or frustration, though facing the pain can help you discover the truth about yourself and your experiences.

Writer’s block is like hitting the snooze button, a way to avoid waking up to what’s really there that, with some work, can come to the surface.

How Do You Combat Writer’s Block?

Realize that writing requires organization skills, time management, discipline and motivation. Keep a routine and don’t wait for the muse or some form of inspiration to begin writing. Inspiration can occur as you start writing, losing yourself in the process instead of worrying about the outcome.

To beat writer’s block, here are a few ways to get engaged in the process of writing:

  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, scheduling a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Treat writing like a job and clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • Find a special writing spot, such as a coffee shop, the park during the warmer months or a place where there’s lots of activity or no activity.
  • Stick to a schedule, but allow breaks, so that writing remains fun.
  • Write a writing action plan or goals for the year and check in every few weeks to mark your progress.
  • Take a writer’s retreat, even if it’s in your hometown, setting aside a weekend to focus on writing.

Other Advice

While working on a writing project, end mid-chapter or mid-paragraph, or jot down a few notes to start the next chapter to avoid facing the blank page the next time you write.

Write continuously, marking any places where additional research is needed or cause a sticking point, so that you don’t get sidetracked.

And write one word after the next, even if you don’t like what you produce, because at least you are writing. Once you get started, it’s easier to keep going. And it’s easier to come back to it again the next day with the words already there, offering an anchor for your next spilling out of sentences, paragraphs and hopefully stories.

Finding Subject Matter for Weekly Blogging

In Blogging, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on March 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

SHELLEYWIDHALMpicI have the honor of being a guest blogger this week on the Loveland Business Development Center’s website. To see the blog, visit https://lovelandbusiness.com/finding-subject-matter-for-weekly-blogging/.

Or check it out here:

Blogging about the same subject for years is reaching into a bottomless well.

That’s because content is continuously being generated with different approaches. But how do you, as a blogger and writer, create content that is interesting for you to write and compelling enough to get followers and clicks?

I began blogging on a weekly basis in 2012 at WordPress as Shell’s Ink about the writing and editing process and the writer’s life. When I first started, I methodically explained the elements of a fiction manuscript, such as plot, character, setting, dialog and storytelling. I blogged about finding ideas to write about, the inspiration and motivation to do the work and the habits of successful writers from setting aside time each week to write to making sure to revise the work—a rough draft is not a final, readable draft.

To generate ideas for the blogs:

  • I keep a running list of ideas by browsing through articles clipped from writing magazines and thumbing through my books on writing.
  • I ask other writers what they want to learn about writing and editing and respond with a blog.
  • I pay attention to the topics brought up in my writers group and book club, such as how to combine different point of views in the same scene.
  • I consider what I need to learn about writing and editing to improve my own work and write about it.
  • I look on bookseller websites to see what’s trending in literature and write about the topic—such as why young adult fiction is gaining ground in the publishing industry.
  • I review old blogs and recycle some of the content to come up with another blog from a different angle.
  • I guest blog on my friends’ and co-writers’ blogs and post those blogs on my site.

Here’s how else to find subject matter:

  • Read other blogs about the same topics you’re writing about and put your own spin on the material.
  • Carry a notebook with you and write down ideas as they come to you, because they will once you state that you want to write.
  • Read a snippet of a news article or a dictionary definition and apply it to your blog topic.
  • Eavesdrop and use the bits of conversation for a blog, first doing a little more research (this is very entertaining, but be sure to pretend you’re busy and into your own stuff, head down, fingers on the laptop).
  • Take another blogging topic and use that angle to write about your topic.

Also realize:

  • Blogging is best done once a week with content at 500 to 700 words about the same subject matter, but veering off topic every few blogs can bring in other readers, too.
  • Breaks from blogging are acceptable; feel confident your followers won’t give up on you.

For example, I blogged regularly over the past five years, but took a break during a surgery to my hand in early 2016 and again in early 2017. I didn’t lose any followers but seemed to get more clicks in February and March when I came back on line.

I took the break this year to launch my writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services, and also have a blog on that website. That blog is more business-oriented with advice on writing and editing for those who may not love writing but want to give it a try and to explain what I do as a professional.

I started with my top 10 tips for writing and then for editing. To continue generating the content, I’ll keep digging into that well of ideas to make sure I have content that is fresh, engaging and interesting.

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.

 

 

Shell’s Ink Spot launch

In Editing, Loving Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on February 19, 2017 at 11:00 pm

Ranch2.jpg

I reconfigured and launched my blog about writing and editing at my new website, http://www.shellsinkservices.com, on Valentine’s Day, which is fitting because I love writing and editing.

Here’s my initial blog at Shell’s Ink Spot:

Writing can be intimidating, especially figuring out where to start. Facing the blank page is something writers agonize over, because it beacons with, “Here I am. Write right here.”

The same goes with editing, especially when associated with the red pen. I’d considered making my tagline for Shell’s Ink Services “With a Flair of Red Ink,” but my family and friends, including one with marketing expertise, said to get rid of the red. Red is associated with love and passion (Happy Valentine’s Day!), but also with graded papers filled with things needed correcting.

Here at Shell’s Ink Services, I focus on writing and editing, because, though I face that blank page too many times to count, I love to write and I love to fix sentences. I’m taking that love to my Ink Spot. I’ll blog once a week on Mondays about writing and editing with practical tips but also reflect on the struggles associated with creating and perfecting content.

I’ve blogged for half a dozen years about the writing process and the writing life. My blog, shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com, is written from the vantage point of being a fiction writer to an audience consisting of other writers. But here, I’m writing from another perspective—I’m a new business owner writing my first blog, and I face a similar blank page. How do I fit all of my thoughts about writing and editing, plus owning a writing and editing business, into 300 to 500 words?

The best place to start is at the beginning. Writing happens in stages, such as freewriting, or writing whatever comes to mind, drafting, writing, editing and rewriting, followed by polishing. I can help writers figure out what they want to say and help them organize the content. What they say needs to have a clear message and voice and a good structure, cohesiveness and flow from the beginning to the end. The result is content that is “Crisp, Clear, Concise,” as stated in my tagline.

After the content is written comes the editing process that includes feedback from another writer or editor for a new perspective. Editing happens at both the line level, or each line of text for spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics, and the structural level, or what the entire piece looks like.

The editing is where I take out my pen, but I use blue or green ink, or the computer direct to copy. On that note, I’ve reached 400 words, and my blank page is gone, filled with ink.

Taking a writing (and running) break

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on November 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

As a writer and a runner, I learned, albeit slowly, that breaks are important.

Breaks offer relaxation, a time to heal and a way to spur new creativity.

I pulled a muscle in my hip three weeks ago, but, being stubborn, I thought I could still run … when I couldn’t. Over the past week, I ran slower and slower, taking my mile down to a minute a lap at the gym, where 14 laps equals one mile. That’s pretty darn slow for someone who’s been running for five years.

As I forced my running, I got to the point where my back started hurting, and then my knee, my ankle and my other hip. Basically, it was a bad idea to run. I had to get a massage on Thursday and, with my hip still hurting, accept the fact I now can’t run for a few days.

I did the same thing earlier this year with my writing. I forced it, thinking, “Well, I’m a writer; therefore, I should write.” The ideas dribbled away, and, as was the case with my running, I felt stuck and unable to do it.

Luckily, I had to do lots of editing work on a novel I’m revising and some short stories, and I promised myself I’d only write when I was with my writing friends or felt the inspiration. I made it a matter of casual writing fun, though I recognized that daily discipline is important in writing with breaks just as important.

Taking a break is a way to relax and let the mind go, allowing for the subconscious to make connections that the conscious mind can’t force.

It’s a way to get new ideas or find new approaches to a project.

It’s a way to gain objectivity, because it’s hard to see the whole story or novel when caught in the middle or in the midst of the details. Stepping back lets the details or parts of the project become one overall piece, instead of the next part of the writing puzzle. It refreshes your mind for better critiquing by having a new view of the work that’s already been done.

And it’s a way to vary routine, so that things feel new, fresh and different.

Forcing writing can cause boredom, making it feel like a chore, affecting the quality of the work. The quality is evident when it comes to revising, because the work requires more layers of editing from line to content.

Taking a break is a way to come back to the work with a clear mind and a new perspective and, hopefully, an understanding of why it wasn’t working before. As with running, it’s a way to heal the mind, so that the writing becomes faster and better, just like I’ll be when I get back on the track—or, at least I hope so. Otherwise, it’ll look like I’m on a walk!

Running and Writing (and getting inspired)

In Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Processes on August 14, 2016 at 11:00 am

Going for a run and sitting down for a writing session require the same grit.

The obvious reason is the discipline, showing up day after day to get fit and maybe lose weight or to sharpen skills.

Various writers approach that grit in different ways: by writing 1,000 words a day or for a certain length of time, going for writing sprints, setting writing goals and incrementally meeting them, and doing things like writing a short story a week or the rough draft of a novel in a month.

Writing the first few times may be crappy—for new writers, figuring out how to translate what’s learned about the elements of writing into structure or overwriting or underwriting a messy first draft. The first draft can be too much with too many details, repeated scenes, dialog that drags and too many characters not doing anything; or, it can be too little with scene jumps, jumps in logistics, a lack in transitions and underdeveloped plot, character, setting or dialog.

Running daily incrementally builds muscle, increases metabolism and improves lung capacity, while doing it here and there is nice, but won’t change the body in any noticeable way. I ran my way three sizes smaller and wrote my way into lots of copy, noticing how both become easier through time and practice.

The less obvious similarity between running and writing is that it can be a real pain to do both. I don’t always want to go for a run, particularly at the end of a long work day when I’m already tired. I feel like I don’t have any energy until I get into the third, fourth or fifth lap, and then muscle memory takes over. Oh yeah, this is how running works.

I don’t always want to write, particularly after coming off of a sprint, such as a National Novel Writing Month activity in April, July or November.

I have to force myself into the chair and say just write. It doesn’t matter the result, and then the looseness of freewriting without the annoying boundaries of the internal editor or the need to write something good fall away. Muscle memory takes over, and I count the laps and the words, getting somewhere just because I showed up.

It’s habit, discipline, practice and wanting to change shape—fit in body and fit in my writer’s hand—that gives me that running and writing grit.

Camp NaNo motivation/discipline

In Camp NaNoWriMo, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on July 31, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writers are supposed to be self-disciplined and motivated to write, right?

Not always so, and certainly not always easy with writers’ block, a limit of time or place, and life getting in the way.

That’s why Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July is a good option to offer that discipline and motivation with a bit of competition. The writing challenge offers writers working on novels, short story collections and other writing projects a numbers goal and a deadline. Writers pick how many words they want to write for the month and have 30 or 31 days to finish the count, depending on the month.

Writers can choose to be put in camps with other writers who have similar projects or goals, and can measure their progress in a group setting. I set my goal at 20,000 words, and because I like to do what I set out to do and hate last-minute writing, I reached 17,400 words by July 20. And then I thought, “oh well, whatever,” and skated through the rest of the month, writing less frequently with fewer words during each writing session. I was a little tired, though not less excited about writing.

I worked on a collection of short stories with the same setting of a coffee shop, tentatively called “Coffee Shop Tales,” and I finished one story and wrote eight more during the month. In April, I worked on the same project but spent most of it writing a 15,000-word neither-here, neither-there project that I have to cut or lengthen to be an actual short story or a novella or novel.

Here’s a sampling of my writing days (as pulled from my journal):

  • July 6: I wrote 2,060 words in one-and-a-half hours, finishing a short story that was kind of strange.
  • July 11: I wrote 1,090 words in 40 minutes and am at 8,230 words for Camp NaNo, so far writing seven out of 11 days. I edited the story and added another 135 words.
  • July 13: I wrote 2,280 words in one-and-a-half hours.
  • July 20: I worked on finishing a short story and wrote 1,540 words in one hour, feeling good that I wrote and could solve the problem of the story’s direction. Later in the day, I wrote 1,540 words in an hour, finishing a short story in that time (and accomplished writing 3,140 words in one day, my record so far). It was kind of fun, and the voice was a little different.
  • July 28: I wrote a short story and wrote 2,830 words just to get the Camp finished. I reached 20,700 words exactly!

I love Camp NaNo, because you get to choose your goal and get some motivation and discipline as you work toward it, all within a month.

Writing fast for Camp NaNo

In Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on July 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

Camp NaNoWriMo is a way to write fast, focus on word count and get a project started or continued without worrying about perfection.

Being a perfect writer slows the process, because what if there’s an error at the sentence level or in the overall structure?

To see the whole, it’s necessary to write through all the parts. And then each of the parts—plot, character, voice, dialog, setting and theme—have to be edited and revised to tie together the whole into a great story with all the elements pulling in the reader.

Earlier this month, I was reluctant to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo, because once I set a goal, I have to meet it, and I get a little anxious trying to get there. But my friend signed up, and I was like, “Oh, all right,” not to her, but to myself.

I signed up because I want to finish a project that seems to be treading water, a collection of short stories tentatively called “Coffee Shop Tales.” Though I have the same setting for the collection, the stories are lacking a narrative thrust toward some major event as I’d originally planned.

The advantage of Camp NaNoWriMo—offered in April and July where writers encourage each other on their personal writing projects—is the automatic discipline of announcing a goal and feeling obligated to meet it.

In April, I worked on the collection, going 100 words over my goal of 15,000 words. This time, I’m aiming for 20,000 words, upping the challenge with the hope I can write through to that major story event.

Fast writing is a way to retain plot, character and setting, because the project is constant, not something to go back to days or weeks later.

It’s a way to freewrite with an idea of the elements of the story in mind, so the writing remains structured.

And it’s a way to get into the zone, letting the imagination take over. It’s almost like reading because the characters and plot do the work—even though you’re there, the writing is so quick one thing plays off the next.

The writing becomes intuitive. It may be coming from the subconscious. It can bring up surprises. And then one thing happens and the next and the next …

Coming back to incomplete stories

In Getting Unstuck in Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on July 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writers can get those thorns in the side, or what I call incomplete works that have potential coupled with a big black lack.

The lack, or “lack” because it’s temporary, is like a flaw that through some thought can be worked out.

Maybe the lack is from a dip in motivation to return to the starter idea, because it’s moved from a small rip to a hole.

Maybe it’s from not knowing where to go next, or from stitching that’s uneven from not seeing the thread to move it along.

Or, maybe it’s from having too many ideas that cannot be sorted out in immediate thought but needs some subconscious work, achieved by getting in front of the story and doing some pantsing, freewriting and exploring. It’s from too much thread covering up the hole, so that the material becomes tough, needing some of the stitches let loose.

It also can be, instead of from a lack of direction, the result of trying to be too perfect, trying to come up with the whole product without seeing the small steps, or stitches, needed to get to the seam.

That’s because it’s hard to hold the whole story in the head.

What I’ve found is that it’s okay to not know where the story is headed.

Earlier this week, I returned to a short story hanging out with the gap of a middle and the lack of an ending. My story only had a beginning. It had a protagonist who made me uncomfortable—he was male, not my usual point-of-view, and he had a rough, sardonic voice.

I’d wanted to fix and find the rest of what I’d started.  I decided, I’m just going to finish this thing.

To do so, I had to let go of my planning, controlling thoughts and go deeper into the mind where raw stories can emerge. I had to let the characters take over, setting aside plotting and planning, and also my ego, so I could immerse in the story.

I filtered out the rest of the noise, outside and inside, thus increasing my focus.

And I allowed my mind to go free, so the subconscious could solve the plot and characterization problems I’d launched into that left me temporarily directionless. I took the material that I had and found that as I let my mind go, I was solving problems and coming up with new material.

I found that my writing became about risk taking, surprises, making it up and letting go. I found, too, that I hadn’t wanted to leave the story for too long, abandoned, because it would become unfamiliar and not me.

I came back for my middle and The End.

Poetry inspirations (plus some writing discipline)

In National Poetry Month, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration on April 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing poetry is like getting a little gift in the mail, a sending of words from something felt, seen, observed or known.

At least that’s what it seems like—the raw version of a poem that comes from fast writing. And then it’s time to revise, look for word echoes and get rid of the clichés and the simple descriptions.

That’s where the crafting comes in, or the hard work of writing.

April is National Poetry Month, an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

To wait for a poem can be unreliable, as if expecting inspiration or the right feeling or right circumstances in order to start writing. To make a poem happen, here are a few tricks to turn discipline into that inspiration, such as:

  • Using the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture thoughts, ideas, feelings and observations.
  • Playing around with words and descriptions, or simply putting words on the page and rearranging them.
  • Avoiding using clichés, generalities and vague concepts, like love, hope and war.
  • Avoiding overusing trite words, such as tears and hearts, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • To get to the concrete, describing the specifics, such as how the colors of a particular flower look in the changing light of day or how love is like the foam on a latte, light on top but deeper underneath in the cup.

Once the poem is written, read it several times to cut excess words to get to its core. Think about what the poem is really saying and look for ideas that can be further explored. Think of the intent of the poem and what it is you want to express. This may expand the poem out after the former cutting.

And then give the poem a title, or maybe make the first line the launch into your words.