Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Goals’ Category

Writing and Time Management (to get to that important writing space)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on September 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm

(Photo by Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Shelley Widhalm in her reporting days chases after a story during a county fair parade, while trying to multitask with her camera.

Considering that I consider myself a writer, I have let time dis-management get in the way of what I love.

Yes, I made up a word for my inefficiency at time management. I’m used to a 9-to-5’er, but starting a business and taking on a part-time bridge job (that’s fun because I get to wear a baseball cap, run around and be busy) has shown me that I’m not as skilled at using my time as I thought. In other words, too often I’ve exhausted myself and gotten overwhelmed, resulting in dreaded wasted time.

When time isn’t well managed, efficiency can be affected as well as how quickly work can be produced and the quality of that work. To feel more at ease and in control, I found a few ways to better manage my work day to free up space and time for my personal writing and to make the most of the writing and editing work I do for my business.

First, I learned I shouldn’t think of all of the tasks I have to do for the next day or week all at once. I tended to blow them up in my mind, thinking something that will take 10 minutes would take a half-hour or longer. I exaggerated, and then I worried, falsely believing that I’d never get it all done.

So, what I now do is break up what I have to do into small chunks, doing the most important things first, using lists to prioritize and get rid of any unnecessary things. With a boss, my tasks list was defined for me, but out on my own in the big world, I had to figure it out, get organized and develop systems. I had to get intimate with the time clock.

Time Management Tricks

Here are a few other things I’ve learned about time management:

  • Focus on one task at a time. Though multitasking sounds trendy and is touted as professional, the brain actually switches from like task to like task but can’t do both at the exact same time. The brain, however, can handle two dissimilar tasks at once, like listening to an audio book while driving. (Check out the “Mindfulness Pocketbook, Little Exercises for a Calmer Life,” by Gill Hasson).
  • Don’t squeeze too many tasks into the day, causing the time devoted to each one to become frayed or frantic.
  • Don’t procrastinate tasks, because with procrastination comes the guilt of needing to do the one thing but not doing it now, resulting in wasted thought time. Plus, the task can be broken into smaller chunks if there is a longer deadline.
  • Devote your entire attention to the task, ignoring email or other distractions.
  • Switch tasks when you get tired or thoughts seem to slow down and come back to it later with a fresh perspective, unless, of course, the deadline is immediate.
  • Mark down how long it takes to do each task—three months into my business, I started tracking how long I spent on everything, devoting a surprising half-hour ad day on email (I’d thought it was less). This helped me identify how long it took for each different task, especially to speed up the process.
  • Set a time limit for each task, but allow for some overage.
  • Don’t get caught up in too many details of the task, spending too much time on any one aspect. Be thorough and accurate, but don’t dwell or aim for 100 percent, absolute perfection.
  • Identify your most productive times of the day and set aside easier tasks or chores that are routine and do not require much thought. Be sure to do something on the weekends, even for an hour or two, to make for less work later.
  • Use waiting times, such as in an office or in line, as a time to do portable tasks, such as jotting down ideas or answering emails.

Fit in the Breaks

And lastly, take breaks, including between and during tasks. A short walk once an hour is ideal to stretch muscles and invigorate the mind and body to get ready for more work.

Some, or all, of these time management ideas can be used for writing. Be sure to set aside time every day or week for writing, so that it isn’t forgotten because of all of the tasks that have to be done. Have a place to write. Squeeze it in when waiting in those lines. Keep a notebook with you. And take pride when you do write, another task accomplished.

 

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Fiction Writing Tips (that make writing fun)

In Outlining a Novel, Writing Goals, Writing Processes on April 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

ZoeyLollipop

Outlining a novel can be as fun as a dog with a lollipop by taking the right approach.

There are two ways to write fiction: write and see what happens, or do an outline and plan what you write.

The planning involves coming up with a plot outline, character identities and the backstory, or what occurred before the story begins. In the very least, writers need a premise, the basic concept of what the story is about, or what the characters undergo as a result of what happens in the story. It’s the underlying idea or the foundation that supports the entire plot.

8-Point Narrative Arc

To do that planning, I like using Nigel Watt’s 8-point narrative arc, as explained in his book, “Writing a Novel.”

The 8 points are Stasis-Trigger-The Quest-Surprise-Critical Choice-Climax-Reversal-Resolution. The main characters experience something that upset the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads to the story’s climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis.

In three plot points, it’s the inciting incident, rising arc and falling action.

Outlining a Novel

To outline, here are a few things to think about:

  • First, think about what your basic premise or idea is for the story. What will be your hook? How will you introduce your main character or characters? What will be the inciting incident?
  • Identify a few of the big plot moments and what character actions or settings could complicate them. What does the character want and what plot complications stand in her way from getting that one thing?
  • Think through characters and plotlines to see if you can sustain both to the end of the story.
  • Consider the point of view, and think about the character’s back story.
  • Find a setting that cannot be separated from the plot and eliminate any extraneous settings.

Just a Suggestion

Finally, think of the outline as a suggestion that can be changed as you figure out what your story actually is about. Writing is a process and not a final product until the story is written and edited. Even with that outline, there’s that element of seeing what happens until you get to the story you love and want to share.

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.

 

 

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.

Taking on the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge

In NaNoWriMo, Writing, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on May 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

A friend of mine kept sending emails about signing up for the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, and I was reluctant to even try, feeling burned out on writing.

But after half a dozen emails, I was like, “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll take on the challenge.”

Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s “retreat” in April and July where writers encourage each other on their personal writing projects, forming cabins or groups as a virtual writing group and community.

The camp is open to multiple writing projects, such as new novel drafts, revision, poetry, scripts and short stories. I decided to continue working on my short story collection, tentatively called “Coffee Shop Tales,” with all the stories set in the same coffee shop with something tying them together at the end (though I don’t know what that is, being a pantser writer).

Campers set a word count goal between 30 and 1 million. I didn’t get started until May 5, when I signed up and set my goal at 15,000 words. I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice before, meeting the goal to write 50,000 words, but I wasn’t up to that fast of a pace for writing. I was kind of tired of writing, but somehow by having a goal and just doing it I felt reenergized and excited about my project.

My aim became writing words, so I lost the editor and the insecurity and let the story come out as it wanted to (rough and sloppy with the idea that revision is for later). I loved seeing my words tally up, and that inspired me to keep going.

Camp NaNoWriMo keeps track of your average daily word count (mine at the end of the project was 520 words, though I wrote nine days with a count ranging from 550 words to 1,000 or 1,500 most of the days).

On my first day, I wrote 1,150 words. On day 10, I was up to nearly 5,000 words. I got kind of busy, so faced a time crunch on April 27, when I was at nearly 11,000 words.

The next day on April 28, I got to 12,600 words, leaving 2,400 words for April 29. Since my birthday is on April 30 and I wasn’t going to do anything but have fun, I had to get those words in that day—I divided the count into two writing sessions and wrote more than 2,500 words.

I concluded the month with what I thought was 15,135 words, but the device that tallies final word count said I had 15,090 words.

I wonder where the other 45 words went. It doesn’t matter, because I lost my burnout (and those words, too) and am inspired to write again.

Thanks Camp NaNoWriMo.

What writers need to survive writing

In Writing Goals, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on March 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing can be many things: a profession, a hobby, a necessity, a companion to reading.

But whatever form it takes in your life, it requires discipline.

Writing can feel like a friend, or not so much a friend, especially during the infamous, dreaded writer’s block.

So, here are a few tools to survive writing (and keep it fun):

  • Develop a writing routine, but not so strict that you can’t take breaks. (I like to write one to two times a week, or every day when I take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November to write 50,000 words in a month, a hard schedule to follow year round.)
  • Keep track of when and how long you write, such as in a spreadsheet, so that you know you’re committed and are making progress.
  • Vary your writing by trying something new, like writing a personal essay or taking on a setting or type of character that you normally wouldn’t choose.
  • Share your writing with friends who also write and will give you compliments, like “Great job!” while also giving you some constructive feedback. They can be your coach and cheerleader.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write.
  • Don’t berate yourself when you experience writer’s block. It’s natural and may mean you have something to work out with a character, plot string or personally. Or, it may be you need to gather up more experiences to have something to write about.
  • Get those experiences. Eavesdrop. Observe. Hang out in unfamiliar places to gather up dialog bits, new descriptions and different ways of observing.

Lastly, eat some chocolate. Or caffeine. Pair your writing routine with your favorite treat, so that when you write, you get your treat.

Writing discipline during the holidays

In On Being a Writer, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on December 20, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing during the holidays can be a bit of a challenge.

Maybe you just finished November’s National Novel Writing Month of daily writing toward a completed manuscript, tiring yourself out at the fast work it requires, or you face a packed schedule of holiday-related parties, activities and chores.

Yet, you want to write and keep the momentum going. But writing, no matter if you’re extra busy or have a routine schedule, takes discipline, motivation and a willingness to write at odd times.

To get serious about writing, you may have to treat it like a job.

Here are some ways to do just that:

  • Buy a planner (even in old-fashioned paper form) and a new calendar to mark out goals for the year and schedule in 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 office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Stick to a schedule, but allow for risk and freedom and for imagination and play, 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 (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

Writing can be a reward once you get started as you see what you’ve accomplished from getting words down, while also being able to engage in the holiday fun.

Making the most of New Year’s Resolutions (and Writing)

In New Year's Resolutions, Writing Goals on January 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

I am reading from some of my writing in a public venue.

I am reading from some of my writing in a public venue.

I love getting a new planner (I still use paper) for the New Year, facing all of the blank pages to fill in my plans for the upcoming year.

Making New Year’s resolutions inevitably are part of those plans. I have three writing resolutions for 2015: participate in National Novel Writing Month, write a novel and keep blogging (but in a way that feels new to me). I’ve been blogging for five years now, mainly about writing and what’s involved in crafting, editing and revising stories. I’m working out how I will refresh my blog, Shell’s Ink, in 2015.

My personal resolutions are related to jobs and health. I plan to make the most of my writing and editing career by finding additional freelance work and taking professional and creative writing classes through the local library and writer’s groups. As for my health, I’ll continue to eat those fruits and vegetables and go to the gym every other day. I’m up to two miles running (after two years of running a slow mile) and an hour of lifting.

These are things I’m already doing. I like to have goals for the future and acknowledge what I’ve accomplished (i.e. finding that one mile isn’t enough anymore to feel fit).

But keeping to a resolution for the entire year can be difficult—according to the latest statistics, only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through. Research shows that the top resolutions are to lose weight, get organized and spend less money.

I would wager that the top resolutions for writers is to write a novel, join a writers’ group and stick with it, and participate in NaNoWriMo, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Here are a few ways to stick to those resolutions:

  • Pick a resolution that you want to do, instead of something that is good for you or is something everyone else is doing (like writing novels when writing short stories is your preference).
  • Pick one, two or 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 goals and visualize what you want to accomplish and how you’ll do it. Put your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge.
  • Make a plan to carry out your goals with 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. (I started my novel a week ago and said whatever I write is fine, because I don’t know my plan yet, so my 500 words was just fine).
  • 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. Set aside a certain time for writing or for your other goals.
  • 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, find motivation in seeing your efforts lead toward tangible results. And remember change takes time and adjustment, that continual motivation and discipline.