Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Discipline’ Category

What’s up with Self-Improvement Month? (Think Writing/Editing!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Self-Improvement Month, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on September 13, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works on a writing project of writing a short story for Self-Improvement Month. She plans to enter the story in an anthology contest.

It seems there’s a month or day for most everything, so it’s fitting to have a month dedicated just to self-improvement.

With September being Self-Improvement Month, do you have something you’d like to improve in your own life? Is there a hobby you’d like to pick up or a behavior you’d like to engage in to be healthier? Hobbies expand your skill set and teach you something new, while living a healthy lifestyle helps you function better mentally and physically, and exercise is shown to reverse the effects of aging.

Take Steps toward Change

Self-improvement takes change, which can be difficult to do, but staying stagnant can be boring or frustrating. Change is best done in steps, instead of all at once. That way over time, the new activity, behavior or approach becomes routine without requiring a lot of self-convincing to get started or going.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, taking on too much may result in goal dropping by February—gyms are busy in January, but then numbers go down a month later. To start, cut out what’s not working then pick your goal.

If you decide you’re goal is writing or editing (that’s my subject of expertise), here are a few things you can do to turn the goal into a habit (something you do automatically without a lot of forethought).

To start, maybe you need to change your approach to the task and not look at it as something to fear or a chore to dread. I used to dislike editing my own work, but now I see it as a fun project because I get to cut, move things around and flesh out what’s flat or boring. To get to that point, I had to set up my editing routine with a list of goals, timelines, due dates and progress check-ins.

Establish a Routine

To get into a writing (or editing) routine, you can:

  • Create a writing plan to prioritize a set of goals that keep you dedicated and focused. You could write 30 to 60 minutes a day or two times a week, but plan for the same time and day, so that it becomes part of your schedule (and be sure to put it in your planner). Get started writing even if you don’t feel inspired simply by describing something in the room or counting syllables to write a haiku (it’s 5, 7, 5).
  • Break writing into smaller tasks, so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Set up mini-deadlines and items that you can cross off your to-do list. (I like to start my new lists with recent accomplishments that get a big checkmark, so I can remember what I just finished and feel like I’m in the middle of things, not just starting.)
  • Go backward, figuring out a final due date or deadline for a project and coming up with a list of tasks to get there. Write in an estimated completion time for each item on the list. Then schedule the items out, leaving a couple extra leeway days in case of interruptions.

Self-Congratulate

Once you finish your first writing or editing project, have a reward in place, doing something you normally wouldn’t do. Maybe go out for an extra nice dinner or buy a gift for yourself (I tend to pick boxes of fancy chocolate).

If you get through September with your new goals turned into routines or even habits, you can get ready for the long months of winter when you might be stuck inside. I find the cold weather is a good time to buckle down and get serious about my writing projects—during the warmer months, I tend to want to be outside and play. That’s why I’m glad Self-Improvement Month happens in the fall.

Outfitting the Writer’s Tool Kit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on August 30, 2020 at 11:00 am

My writer’s tool kit includes my bookshelf of writing reference books, which help spark the passion engine.

Every writer’s tool kit has different tools, but the most essential is the desire to write. It’s what keeps the passion engine going.

Learning about the elements of writing—storytelling, story structure and word usage—is similar to using an instruction manual to fix a car without the wrenches, pliers and other tools.

Diagnosing the problem, looking at a chart pointing out the parts of the car and reading about the necessary steps doesn’t mean the problem will be solved. The missing element could be the desire to do the work, or the confidence and skill to complete it so the car runs. Even if that passion is there.

The Work of Writing

Writing requires work, and to do that work, there needs to be motivation, discipline and, I believe, a love for some or several aspects of creating or the final creation. Do you love words, individually or how they sound in sentences? Do you love telling stories? Do you love solving story problems? Do you want to make readers feel? Do you want to feel?

Or maybe you like to see your name in print? Or to have finished something?

Writers need spark, just like cars need spark plugs to fire the ignition. For me that spark is a passion for words and getting lost in the story or poem I’m writing, so that what comes out feels like dancing and breathing and living, while I lose awareness of my physical self.

Setting Aside Writing Time

Like cars that need gas in the tank, writers need the space and time to be present for writing. If the tank drops toward the E, writers need to ride out their writer’s block or frustration with the knowledge that these emotions are not permanent.

I find that I get frustrated having so little time for writing.

The result is I save up words, emotions and ideas like money in the bank for when I do get to hang out with my laptop. I let go of my editor and inner critic, plus any negative emotions I have, because now it’s time for my date with QWERTY.

I schedule my writing time, not to specific days but to two to three times a week. I log in the hours I write, so I can see that, like an odometer marking the miles, I am making progress toward a goal. I get excited about every 5,000 words I finish in a novel’s rough draft.

The Writing Fuel

All of this is my fuel for not giving up when I am unpublished with a burning, driving, raging yawp to get my words out into the world. I want my words to be heard, read and even sung.

I don’t necessarily have a map with every step plotted out, but what I do have is a giant imagination, a spark of creativity without which I would fade and a passion for this art I cannot stop loving.

50 Tips for Writing and Editing (plus, a book for sale!)

In Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on June 22, 2020 at 11:00 am

The image appears on the cover of the soon-to-be-released “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.

Writing has a bit of mystique to it, since it’s something we all do, but it also has what I like to call the Gold Star Effect.

Writing is essential to work, life and business, but …

What Exactly is Good Writing?

Good writing tells a story, inspires change and is layered in purpose and in meaning, causing readers to ponder, think and act.

Good writing is structurally sound with clear, concise content and, if fiction, a fully fleshed-out story.

Good writing also looks impeccable on the page, free of errors in grammar, mechanics, syntax, punctuation and spelling.

But to get that place of good writing, or the Gold Star Effect, work is involved, along with discipline, motivation, practice and, of course, revision.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years, first as a journalist, then as a freelance writer and editor, but also as an aspiring author. I have plans to self-publish two novels and am trying to get agents for two other novels. I also have two I shelved, because they just didn’t work out.

50 Tips for First-Time Authors

Through all of this writing work and experience, I’ve gathered my top tips for writing, editing and doing the work of both.

I share my tips in “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication,” which will be published on Kindle and in print on Lucky 7/7, or July 7, 2020.

In my booklet, I cover tips for getting started writing, what’s involved in the writing process, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and editing best practices, plus ways to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I wrap up with a dozen reasons for loving writing.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

A writing list is a great way to get motivated and stay on task, turning a desire to write into the action of writing.

It provides a few rules to live by that make writing a routine and, over time, a habit without too much planning, thinking or agonizing about it.

It’s a way to show up for the writing, finding that once you get started, you have something to say, a short story to write in a sitting or two, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

To find even more tips, visit Amazon for a pre-order to have the book ready to go on Lucky 7/7.

Thanks for checking out years of tips made concise in nine chapters. These tips have the Gold Star Effect in that they rose to the top from the hundreds of tips I’ve learned and collected!

(Note: I must admit the idea of self-publishing seemed intimidating, so I attended webinars, workshops and seminars and read two books on the subject. Two particularly useful tools are Gundi Gabrielle’s “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: Publish a Bestseller in the Next 30 Days!!” and Richard N. Williams’ “Self Publish Your Novel Made Easy.”)

Fast and Fun Tips for Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on August 4, 2019 at 5:00 pm

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A duckling snuggles against Mom in July at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo. Good writing helps keep the words tight and comfortable for the reader.

Writing is not easy, even for a writer, but there are some fast and fun tips for writing that you won’t learn in English class.

Forget the five paragraphs and the introductory and concluding sentences. Go for the essential details and tell your story clearly, concisely and simply. Get in the needed transitions, or those sentences that tie together two seemingly disparate ideas, and forget the tangents.

To avoid veering off subject, figure out what you want to say or write first and identify the message from your rough notes. Otherwise, you’ll lose the reader in your word clutter.

The Fast Tips

There are three things you should do in any piece of writing.

First, identify that main message. What is it exactly that you want readers to take away from your blog, article or social media content? What ideas, perspectives or emotions are you trying to convey?

Second, figure out your audience. Are your aiming to reach high-end coffee connoisseurs or do they prefer a casual outing? Write in that tone? Do you want some humor? Do you want to be casual? Or is being serious more fitting?

And lastly, peg your structure. Do you want to tell an anecdote up front and then tell a story? Do you see a beginning, middle and end to what you have to say? Do you want to segment the content into topics or create a list?

The Fun Tips

Here are some tips writers know but may not want to share (it’s what sets them apart and makes their writing great).

  • Be concise and say what you want to say in one sentence, not three. In other words, know how much information is enough and what’s relevant. Cut the rest.
  • Avoid writing in abstractions and using words that convey only the big ideas. Don’t generalize but be specific in what you want to say.
  • Avoid using jargon and unnecessary and fanciful words. Don’t embellish your language just to sound good.
  • Write in the active voice to keep the writing brief and in the present, so that it feels current and relevant.

Once you achieve quick and dirty writing and put in the time and energy to practice, you’ll be able to fit in writing between the busy hours of running a business. Or you can hire some to do it for you and know that they’ve got the clean writing that brings in customers and clients.

 

How to Keep Up With Summer Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on July 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

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During my 2018 summer trip to Florida, I photographed shorebirds at Busch Gardens chasing another bird holding a bun, making it so the bird with the prize couldn’t stop to have a snack. I turned my observation into a poem, taking advantage of summer fun to get in some writing time.

With summer a few weeks in, how do you keep up the writing pace when fun beckons?

Writing and blogging seem to be the kind of practices that if set aside lose momentum. Coming back to the project or a regular posting schedule takes review and discipline, just like setting aside a book and forgetting some of the intricacies of the plot and character.

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 busy summer plans?

Try small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work. Plan a regular time for writing, a little at a time, or 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 you feel inspired or motivated to write, so that it is not an obligation.

Think of it as quick and dirty writing: get in, do the work of fast content and return to the fun. The result is a mini-moment of work with a reward of having achieved something.

Methods for Quick Writing

Here are a few tips for quick and dirty, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting or between the moments of work, errands and summer plans.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days. Even 15 minutes will suffice. It will add up over time, but if you don’t write, then there will be nothing but the desire to do so.
  • 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 summer schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list.
  • Break up writing into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work. Come back to it later.

What I Do for Quick Writing

For me, writing after engaging in professional writing and editing during the workday requires discipline, so I set up a schedule in my planner and mark on my spreadsheet the number of hours I achieve writing. I have a project deadline and a weekly goal of a certain word count or page count, depending on if I’m in the writing or the editing stage of my project.

And then I sit down and write, aiming for an hour but if it’s less or more, I’m fine with it. The important thing is that I write.

Fitting in Writing Time and Space

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing and Mindset, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on June 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund is a key motivator for finding time and space for writing.

A fellow writer said five minutes is enough time to write and a car is a good enough space to pull out a notebook—the key is acknowledging the writing no matter when, where and how.

Writing doesn’t have to have the optimal conditions but can be slipped in, because waiting for the right place and right time can end up being limiting. The ideas or what could have happened get lost in the takeover of seemingly more important things.

I find that I can write for 15 minutes (five doesn’t work for me) and get a poem in, but for stories I do need a half-hour. If I wait for an hour or more, I skip it and do other tasks on my to-do list.

The lesson: just make do so you can write.

Carry a notebook wherever you go, or even different notebooks for different places—I have a mini one in my purse, a small one in my workbag and a few in my house. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or inconvenient moments, but take the five minutes, or even two, to jot down a reminder of what you want to say when you do have the time.

Finding a Writing Spot

For those mini writing moments, establish a writing spot that becomes your writing get-away. To do this, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Do you need quiet or background noise from conversations and music?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or a small space, such as a closet converted into an office? Do you like working outside if it’s nice out?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people? Do you need to write with a writing partner or a write-in group?
  • 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, bars or a porch, deck or patio during nice weather.

Once you find a spot you consider comfortable and also inspiring, make that your go-to place for writing. And then cherish it and the work that you do there.

Use a List to Make Writing a Habit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 27, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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The 10 geese at a local lagoon represent the top 10 writing tips to get you inspired for writing in 2019!

Lists are everywhere for a trip to the store, errands and business tasks, but do you have a list for writing?

Even if you are not a writer, these tips can help you get started. Or if you already love the process, do you have your own top 10 writing tips?

Why a Writing List?

My list helps me get motivated and stay on task, turning the desire to write into the action of writing. If I don’t keep resorting to it, I let other things fill my planner. It’s easy to do, and despite tracking how many hours I spend on writing each week, I come up with excuses for not writing.

It seems ironic—don’t do what you desire though you desire it.

The idea of a list is to turn desire into a habit, something that can be carried out through 2019. My list is compiled from writing advice I gathered from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences.

The advice includes a few rules to live by to make writing a routine and, over time, a habit without too much planning, thinking or agonizing about it. It’s a way to show up for writing, finding that once you got started, you have something to say, a poem to write, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

Top 10 Writing Tips

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three or 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.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because it could take awhile to arrive. Also, the more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Figure out what is most essential for you to write about. Write about what interests you, what you want to learn about and, of course, what you already know.
  • Have more awareness, using all of the senses when making observations to add details to your descriptions. Take notes for later use.
  • 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 perfect 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.
  • Last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

Writing lists are a great way to pinpoint the best advice and serve as a source of motivation to find the time, discipline and inspiration to do the hard work of sitting down to write. With that list in hand, it’s a great time to make writing a habit in 2019!

Happy Writing New Year! (and setting writing resolutions)

In National Novel Writing Month, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on December 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund poses by a 2019 planner, a good place to start planning out writing resolutions for the New Year.

I have a bit of writing guilt, and every year, I try to come up with spectacular, amazing resolutions and a plan to make writing my main goal.

And then I slip up, slip behind and see the goal slip away.

I find, instead, that the other resolutions are easier.

In 2019, I plan to run a faster mile—I’ve already cut off a minute during my last two runs, but that’s because I run slow and with the downtime of the holidays have more energy.

I plan to eat healthier by foregoing samples at the grocery store (where I work weekends) and cookies at home.

And I plan to continue learning how to knit and returning to my hobby of drawing.

As for my main resolution, it’s a longstanding one. Since second grade, I have wanted to be a famous novelist but in 2018 did not work in a way to achieve that. I wrote in other ways. I wrote for work. I wrote a weekly blog. I wrote in my daily journal. I wrote poetry.

But I need to do my real passion type of writing … writing novels. So for 2019, I have a new planner and new plan for an old goal.

Writing Resolutions for 2019

My New Year’s resolution is to make my writing more of a priority, instead of fitting it in when I have time, just like I did last year. I had the same goal for 2018 and blogged about it then, too.

Over the year, I achieved revising one but not two of my novels. I kept up with the daily poem challenge though had a few times of playing catch-up. And I wrote short stories—I wrote three and 10 in 2017, so not an improvement. I also said I’d start drafting a new novel—I didn’t.

For 2019, I’m scaling back my resolutions so that they are achievable and I feel like I can carry them out with accountability. I plan to revise the second novel, keep up with the daily poetry and write six short stories. I also plan to pitch my revised first novel.

What are your writing resolutions for 2019? Do you want to join a writers’ group, write a novel or a few short stories, or participate in NaNoWriMo, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November? Or if writing is something you don’t like to do and would like to try, how about starting with a class or one-day workshop or meeting up with a writing friend to get some tips?

Keeping to a resolution can be difficult, shown by the statistic that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through.

Sticking to Your Resolutions

Here are a few ways to stick to your writing (and other) resolutions:

  • Pick a resolution that you want to do, instead of something you think is good for you or everyone else is doing (like writing novels when writing short stories is your preference).
  • Pick up to three resolutions instead of a long list that will be difficult to manage or even remember. That way you can focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Visualize how you will carry out these goals.
  • Break the goals into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month. If writing is one of your goals, start out with 500 words or a half-hour and build from there.
  • Be specific, such as planning to write two days a week for one hour each time, or to write 2,000 words three times a week.
  • Figure out your most productive time of day to work and fit your goal into that timeframe, even if it is for a half-hour. A lot can be accomplished accumulatively.
  • Check in every so often to make sure you’re meeting your goals and ask if any adjustments need to be made.

As you work on your resolutions, reward yourself as your efforts lead toward results that are tangible and measurable. Writing consistently week after week takes some adjustment, motivation and discipline. But then it will become habit and easier for 2020!

Merry Christmas (and Happy Birthday to Zoey!)

In Holiday Traditions, Holidays, Merry Christmas!, Writing, Writing Discipline on December 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund opens her presents during Christmas 2017, while wearing her special Christmas shirt.

Five days before Christmas, Zoey, a dachshund with attitude and cuteness, turned 10. I got her at nine weeks, so we’ve been together 9 years and 10 months.

This year, I gave her two rawhide treats, one in the morning while I worked from home and the second in the evening. I save the presents for Christmas Day, when I wrap up some treats, a new toy and a few of her old doggie bears and other toys in tissue paper, and she rips it all up to see what’s inside. She even goes for the plastic, wanting to get to something to eat.

Favorite Christmas Story

What’s your favorite Christmas story? My brother said his in-laws have a tradition of writing down their most meaningful memory of the year and sharing it over dinner, and then his mother-in-law puts the memories in a book.

Mine is going to my mother’s assisted living place and seeing all the decorations from mini-trees on the tables to walls covered with cutout stockings and reindeer, plus the changing lights on the Christmas tree in the foyer. When I was a child, my family and I used to open up stocking gifts on Christmas Eve and presents under the tree on Christmas Day. The stockings were lined up in a row on the coffee table, and the tree had gifted and handmade ornaments from elementary and middle school.

How to Celebrate

Now, my brother, his wife and I visit my father for a weekend around his birthday, which is on Dec. 11, to celebrate both it and Christmas. We go see the Christmas lights in his small eastern Colorado town, taking 20 minutes to cover the entire town limits. On Christmas Day, my mother, my brother, his wife and I mainly trade gift cards and an occasional present. After eating the noon meal, we talk for a bit and then engage in gift giving. Zoey gets her gifts last, and we laugh as she hurriedly bites off the tissue paper, wiggling her tail at the attention,

Here are a few photos of my family holiday traditions, with a lot of the focus on cute Zoey. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and happy holidays and happy however you cherish your traditions. Happy New 2019!

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services opens a gift from her family during Christmas 2017.

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Sisters-in-law Kim Widhalm, left, and Shelley Widhalm post after opening presents during Christmas 2017.

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Zoey gets busy chewing her rawhide after opening her presents during Christmas 2017.

Keeping on Task with Writing During the Holidays

In Habits, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on December 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services holds up one of her gifts during Christmas 2017, celebrated at a local Starbucks with her family, after spending an hour that morning at another coffee shop doing some writing.

The holidays are about fancy parties, good food and fun get-togethers, but they also can be about writing and keeping up that routine.

Each year, I have to make a conscious effort to fit in writing on my holiday to-do list. Beside my usual work and life activities, I need to set aside time for writing my annual Christmas letter and shopping for presents, along with extra holiday socializing. With a busier calendar, I still need to retain focus on my main goal, which is writing. Without that focus, along with some discipline and a plan, the additional activities can become a distraction.

That’s why setting a routine, especially during a busy time of the year, is extra important.

Writing Routines

Here are a few ways to be disciplined in writing no matter the time of year:

  • Buy a planner or use a phone app for 2019 and schedule specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write, i.e. keep writing office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you have accomplished and add up the hours every week or month and compare them over time.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes in between other activities, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Write a writing action plan with 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 (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

Writing Results

Once writing is routine and you mark your progress toward your goals, you can see how you are reaching those accomplishments, while also being able to engage in holiday fun.

Over the course of a year, I like to calculate how many hours I spent on writing my novels, writing poetry and revising my work, along with the time I dedicated to writing each month. I can tell when I’ve gotten distracted and for how long, not putting in those important hours and minutes that can add up to a significant amount, especially in a year’s time.

This holiday, I plan to stay on track and keep to my original goal of writing at least two times a week and fitting in writing whenever I can. That way I can get in more writing for my year-end tally!