Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing group’ Category

A Quiet Writer who Likes Noise

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing group on May 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

The writing space is exterior to and, for me, opposite of the interior process of writing.
Mine has to be noisy, though I’m an introvert who likes quiet.

I need downtime from my day job as a reporter, avoiding scheduling too many social things after work, because without time to myself, I cannot put on my cheerful, confident persona the next day. I become exhausted, daydreaming about when I can next hang out alone.

So, why I need noise to write seems like a contradiction.

The noise I need is particular – that found in a coffee shop.

I’m not singular in this need, as I’ve read accounts of many other writers who treat coffee shops and cafes as their come-and-go-as-you-please office spaces.

Quiet, for me, is not stimulating, but peaceful for thinking, doing chores or reading. But too much of it is not ideal for creating. I can’t get lost in myself if it’s just me and the silence.
With noise, I might be distracted as I start to write, but after a few sentences, I lose the world and enter my created one.

The partially overheard conversations, the growl of the espresso machine, the hiss of the frothing milk and the barista’s “What can I get you?” floats in and out of the space around me, offering a stimulation that keeps the nosy part of my mind active.

It’s as if one part of my mind is processing the exterior world, while another activates the interior world. I have a setting outside of myself for the setting I’m trying to create within my story world.

In essence, I need the exterior noise and chatter to help me access my interior quiet as I straddle both worlds.

(Note: This blog was inspired after I read Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”)

Writing Group Rules

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing group on November 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

Joining a writing group is like frosting.

A chocolate cake is just fine plain. Add rainbow confetti topping with the multicolored chocolate chips for that flavorful burst of zing.

That’s what writing groups do for your writing – give it the zing that takes your skills and abilities to the next level.

I joined the Weekly Writers’ Workshop meets Under the Cuckoo Clock more than two years ago. The group of a half-dozen writers meets weekly to do a writing prompt and critique each other’s work.

Through the feedback I’ve received, I better understand how to successfully (or not so successfully) employ the elements of writing, like plot, character, dialogue and setting. I have a visible example of what works and doesn’t work, both at the sentence level and at the level of the overall story structure.

The essential idea of a writing group is to give the writers in the group feedback on their work.

To be most effective, the members should point out both what they like and where the work could be improved with suggestions for revision. The members should keep a balance between positive and negative comments, so that the criticism is constructive.

Writers groups also help to:

  • Point out where the pacing is too slow or too rushed.
  • Indicate areas that need to be cut, expanded or further developed. Is there anything that is glossed over or lacks focus?
  • Give line edits of grammatical errors, awkward phrasings or anything that seems confusing or does not make sense.
  • See the  overall story picture, including the development of character, the weaving of plot threads, the description of setting and the implementation of the other writing elements. Does the plot have tension? Is the dialogue interesting, or is it flat, making you want to skip the quote marks? Do the characters speak in the same voice, or is there variety?
  • Mark the places that seem boring or exciting, as well as any expressions that stand out or seem bothersome.
  • Identify anything missing in the telling of the overall story.

The members can only respond to what’s on the page and should ignore their own reading preferences. They should remember that a writers group is a give-and-take relationship. They should be kind and encouraging and keep all discussion within the meeting room.

Beating Writer’s Block

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing group on October 14, 2012 at 11:00 am

As a writer, this is my worst enemy – not fast-approaching deadlines, picky editors or a lack of time. Nope, it’s the dreaded writer’s block.

Writer’s block is the state of writing that involves the opposite, or the state of not writing caused by fear, laziness or lots of excuses.

In cases where the block isn’t full on, it can involve slow, methodical writing that causes agony as each word is crafted as if penciling the individual dots of the letters.

When writer’s block occurs, your conscious mind informs you that you can’t get started writing, you have nothing to write or you need inspiration to write, but it’s not there. Or your conscious mind is too controlling and doesn’t accept or believe that your subconscious mind knows what it’s doing with something in there worth getting out.

Writer’s block can be a way to avoid digging too deep. Facing your pain – such as anger, hurt, sadness or frustration – can help you discover the truth about yourself and your experiences. Your conscious mind would rather you not go there.

To combat block, realize that writing requires organization skills, time management and discipline, plus drive 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, there are a few other practices I try:

  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, scheduling a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours. For example, two of my friends and I meet once a week for a write-in, ensuring that we have at least one writing day in our planners.
  • Treat writing like a job and clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • 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.

While working on a writing project, end you’re writing session 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.

If there is something that requires research or is a sticking point leave a blank space and return to it later.

Lastly, write from within yourself, tapping into your creative unconscious and staying there. Discover what comes out of your writing as you let loose and experience the wonder of being lost in the process.

A Novel Finish

In Watch stopping, What's important, Writing, Writing group on February 27, 2011 at 8:49 am

I skipped last week’s blogging session to work on my novel. I have a tendency to focus in when I am near the end of a project, wanting just to get it finished.

On Tuesday (2/22), I got off at 4 p.m. and went to the Mandolin Café, one of my regular writing spots. I ordered my usual, a large caramel latte, and started writing. I had expected that I would finish my novel in another couple of weeks, but as I was listening to local musician Tim Byrnes sing and play the guitar, I felt extra inspired. I figured out the ending and that writing anymore would have been over writing.

I saw a couple of my friends ordering coffee and told them, “I just finished my novel two minutes ago.” They hugged and congratulated me. I stepped outside and called my parents, members of my writers group and some of my friends.

Back inside the coffee shop, I ordered a sandwich. Alex Zoll, shop owner, pointed at the clock, 6:45 p.m. The grill had been shut off for the 7 p.m. closing time. I looked at my watch, and it said 6:02 p.m. Alex said my watch must have stopped right when I finished my novel because he had heard me talking to the couple at five after.

It’s a neat coincidence if anything, but whatever it is, I feel encouraged that I’m not totally off track with my goal to become a novelist.

As for my challenge to do something that reminded me of my youth, I took Zoey to a neighborhood park and swung on the swings with her on my lap. She leaned against me as we swung back and her ears flopped back and forth. I liked how the air felt and the feel of my legs pumping me back to a time when playing was my norm.

I wasn’t brave enough to try the slides. I figured someone would think I was weird doing that without a child along, even if I had my four-legged, furry one.

Where’s the “Merry Christmas”?

In Christmas meaning, Holidays, What's important, Writing group on December 26, 2010 at 9:30 am

At my last writer’s group meeting, we talked about our Christmas traditions. Most of them involve opening stockings Christmas Eve and presents Christmas Day and preparing a traditional meal of ham, turkey and, in one woman’s case, seafood pasta.

At my mom’s house, those traditions have been dropped little by little. First went the Christmas tree, because removing it and the ornaments, and then putting them away, takes a lot of energy. My mom, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a cane to get around, tires easily, so she opted for a one-foot tree instead.

Next went the decorations and the tree with miniature ornaments.

This year, we lost the stockings because my brother had plans with his girlfriend on Christmas Eve.

But these changes haven’t fazed me. They reflect my mom’s exhaustion from M.S., along with the altering of family dynamics from a divorce and my brother and I growing up and not having children of our own, at least not yet, to carry on the traditions.

No matter, I love the atmosphere surrounding Christmas. There are Christmas trees on display in stores and the red and green decor. There are Christmas songs instead of top 40. And there are houses and shopping centers glittering with lights, adding joy to the shortening days.

What I don’t like is losing the phrase “Merry Christmas” from holiday cards and interpersonal greetings. Instead, it’s “Happy holidays,” but there’s a holiday practically every month, so which holiday is the happy one?

I understand why my family has to let some traditions go, but I don’t understand why we, as a nation, have to remove the word Christmas from Christmas. We’ve taken political correctness too far, so that even though a sampling from a writer’s group has similar traditions, we can’t say the “Merry Christmas” that reflects those traditions, because we might offend someone.

It’s like words are the wrapping paper that hide so much anger and bitterness, but why so much hostility over words? Can’t words just have their intended meanings without having to be erased, removed and rewritten, so that what is real becomes whitewashed into blandness? The Christmas lights in my town are white holiday lights that don’t offend other religions from the red and green. At least the stores keep the trees up and the Christmas music, even if it’s all for profit.