Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Inspiration’ 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.

Getting Yourself to Write

In Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on March 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

zoeysnow

Getting past writer’s block is like a dog trying to walk on the snow.

Writing can be a struggle for writers of all levels, from beginning to professional.

The struggle has a dreaded name: writer’s block.

Writer’s block refers to not being able to write while facing the blank page or the middle of a project. It can be a matter of losing the inspiration or motivation to write, or not having the time and space.

Maybe the writer wants to write but does not know what to say or how to say it. Or the writer does not have anything new to think about or ways to describe things.

Or, could it be a matter of the writer not knowing where to go next?

Every time I face writer’s block, I engage in a little bit of B.S., my form of freewriting where I don’t care about anything but putting one word after another, placing speed above content.

I quickly think of a setting, situation or character and start writing, not caring about what I’m saying, aiming for quantity, not quality. The quality comes later when I get started and realize I have something to write about, can scrap the beginning bits and edit the rest.

Here are ways to get yourself to write:

  • Make up a writing prompt or use an existing prompt, which can be found online or by visiting my blog about ideas for writing prompts at https://shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/benefits-of-writing-prompts-examples/. Prompts can serve as a freewriting, block-freeing exercise.
  • Go to the dictionary and pick a word, using that as your starting point.
  • Try to write as many words as you can in 10 or 15 minutes, or even in an hour. Experienced writers can write 1,000 or more words in an hour—though what they write likely will need editing.
  • For fiction writers, start with a setting or a situation. Or develop a character identify and think about what that character would do in a certain odd, unwanted or awkward situation.
  • For nonfiction writers, think of a topic you want to learn more about and look up three ideas about it. Relate your personal experience or knowledge to that topic and aim to write 500 to 700 words, the typical length for a blog.

Why freewrite and use prompts?

The idea of freewriting and using prompts is to let go of the editor self and just start writing, not thinking too hard about the words and sentences and whether or not they are written correctly and make sense.

Freewriting allows for free association as you let the mind go, letting subconscious material arise to the surface. It’s a way to get ideas for a blog, article, short story or a novel you’re already working on. It’s a way to think of new ways to describe things and new approaches to what you’re already working on.

It’s process, then product.

What you write is rough, and then with the editing and revision process, you give it shape. You cut and paste and rework until you get what you want, seeing that you have something to write, say and do.

Writing (and daring) to move

In Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on January 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

I am honored to be in the spotlight this week in Jennifer Tracy’s Inspire blog on her Linkedin page at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shelley-writes-how-she-moved-jennifer-tracy-gray-.

Tracy is a motivational speaker who encourages getting out of ruts and getting moving. I found her message to be inspiring.

 

Shelley Writes How She was Moved…

Published on January 3, 2017

 

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Shelley Widhalm, left, intently listens to a Dare You to Move program Dec. 30, 2016, presented by Jennifer Tracy.

When I think about writing, I think it’s what I love most.

But sometimes I hate it. I face writer’s block, burnout, a lack of ideas, or a feeling of being stuck in a story or a character, not knowing how to pull it all together to get moving again.

In other words, I get insecure, and then I feel lost because writing is my anchor.

Since my sixth-grade year, I’ve known that writing is my passion, but in the last couple of years, I’ve realized that I’m not living up to that passion.

I’ve written six novels, dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems, and I write two blogs. Most of my work is unpublished. I’m aiming for traditional publication of my last two revised novels, both literary and character-driven, one young adult and the second adult. I’ve considered self-publishing, but will try the traditional route for now.

That’s not where I’ve got the lack. I’m querying agents, and I’ve compiled all the background materials. I’m also sending off my short stories and poems.

What I’m not doing is being courageous, the 100 percent, full-throttle kind.

I’m accepting, or making due with, my small dose of courage, but not the kind that’s allowing me to blare to the world that I have a great body of work. Even writing this makes me feel scared. I’m supposed to put on a brave front, right?

We all are.

I met Jennifer Tracy, a speaker and mentor, through my daytime writing job that serves as a way to expand my nonfiction writing and editing skills.

Jennifer’s business, Jennifer Tracy-Inspire, focuses on being courageous, overcoming adversity, making positive changes, having resiliency and becoming self-aware.

On her website, she has this quote, “Be inspired to change your life, regardless of where you are or what’s happened to you.” She says, “Look inward and find personal growth,” “Find courage to never give up,” “Discover power in self-awareness” and “Replace excuses with empowerment.”

When we met for coffee in June, I was amazed at her story and how she overcame a traumatic incident to rebuild her life, finding her own passions in the process. To me, she seemed happy and settled. She’d found her place in the world.

I sat across from her, keeping it all in, or most of it as I hinted to her about reeling from my own trauma. Trauma disrupts and causes a sense of loss that brings up those big life questions. It harms, hurts, dislodges, breaks, interrupts, and causes you to stagger. Who the heck am I? Who are you, world out there? Why did this happen to me?

What do I love?

Do I love?

Am I lovable?

What, why, how, who, where? Why? Why? Why?

I smiled at her. And I’ve been smiling as the tears slip through. I always thought I had it together, because I’ve always had my passion anchor.

After our meeting, I wrote in my journal: “I felt intrigued and a little more healed after talking with her. She said she’s learned a lot from her trauma and came up with self-talk methods, including a series of questions, all with the aim of being positive. What she said was so thoughtful and based on a lot of life experiences that it was hard to take it all in. I wish I could remember it all.”

I walked away from our talk—and wanting to meet her again—feeling like I need to let go, continue looking inward, and think about being positive, live being positive and bat away the negative.

I need to continue the slow hope and progression of finding and living out my passion.

And I need to be confident that I’ve written, love to write and am a writer no matter what happens in the world out there.

–Shelley Widhalm/ Shell’s Ink Services

A NaNoWriMo break

In Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Writing, Writing Inspiration on November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

This month is National Novel Writing Month, when writers aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I love NaNoWriMo, but this year I’m taking a bit of a break from routine writing.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice, in 2013 and 2015, and I’m editing my 2013 NaNoWriMo book and some of my short stories and having fun with the process of adding little details and cutting out large chunks (which I save, because I have a hard time letting go).

Basically each week, I’m doing lots of editing and a tiny bit of writing.

In the process, I’m finding that taking a break from serious, constant writing is necessary to get inspiration, to get motivation and basically to hit a mental Refresh. I’m writing in little flashes, instead of my regular routine.

Right now, I’m working on writing prompts and a short story that became a sort of novella but isn’t a novel. It’s just a big fuzzy mess I can play around with, because I’m not working on it with a specific goal in mind. It’s there to work on when I step up to the plate to write—meaning, I’m meeting with my writer friends for a write-in or doing some mentoring with writing students.

Basically, it’s keeping me in the game until I’m ready to go off break and “clock in” rested, relaxed and refreshed.

Writing requires a lot of mental work, processing sensory details from the world, developing character identities and creating plotlines, and this work can be tiring without the balance of a three-dimensional life. Writing takes a great deal of brainstorming, thinking, evaluating, creating and, of course, revising.

Doing NaNoWriMo is a way to speed write through a draft of a novel or part of a draft, so that the characters and storyline are almost happening like real life, because every day, writers show up to do the inventing and creating. It’s quite the opposite of taking a break, but going all out for a project. That’s why I admire anyone who takes it on, both for the commitment and for the magic that seems to happen with fast, furious writing.

I did Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, when writers pick their word-count goals for the month. The first one, I did 15,000 words and the second, 20,000, which spurred me into writing a bunch of short stories, including the one that’s become a novella or something else that I haven’t figured out yet.

It’s all part of the process, going from rest and refreshing to serious, fully-engaged, fast, furious and also fun writing.

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.

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 …

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.

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.

Unexpected poem”gift”

In Poetic Inspirations, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Inspiration on January 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

Though I am on a break from blogging to give my one-handed typing a rest (following a surgery on my left hand), I have to post this poem.

I interviewed a musician for a features article for my day job at a Colorado newspaper and a couple days later was in a local coffee shop eavesdropping on an impromptu jam session. Nine friends played guitars, a mandolin and a ukulele and the music got into my fingers, causing me to feel out a poem.

Here it is:

The making of stars

The warrior poem came in on the beat of the drums

all of it colliding like butterfly wings

a ripple of air through my heart

I hear it, I hear it

the hey—

let the voices

let all of them come

hey, hey—

the rising star on the stage of a field and

the other smaller stars in a coffee

house

let it come

where is the music

I hear it call

me out of my skin, magical arising

 

Hey, hey—

can I reach the sky

what are fingers on a guitar

and the wings of the butterfly

but ways to—

hey, hey—

touch blue into the falling

of loving night and day.

 

Stars are out all the time.

Hey, hey stars just don’t belong

to the sky.

 

Writing About Characters, Part I

In Character Inspiration, Characters, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Inspiration on June 14, 2015 at 11:00 am

When I write, I tend to base my characters, at least the females, somewhat on myself, maybe because I find my identity so incredibly interesting or I don’t know any better.

A writer friend asked me if writers have the authority to write about characters different from themselves, and I thought it was a good question to explore, especially considering how I handle my own characters.

To begin this exploration, it’s important that the point-of-view or main character is rounded with a full identity, not a flat or clichéd actor who only engages in action and motion and lacks any depth. Make the character distinct and different from the other characters by using a tag that sets him or her apart, such as physical traits, mannerisms, facial expressions or speech patterns.

Put yourself into the character’s mind and body, and then take yourself out. Start with physical descriptions and sensory details, working your way into the character’s mind and way of thinking. Write from your subconscious and knowledge and experience of other people who aren’t like you as you dig into the character.

As you write about the character—I’ll use Ty Banks, a male musician in my novel “Fire Painter” as an example, because I can’t sing or play an instrument and I’m not male—here are a few things you can do to gather material to build the character’s identity.

  • Empathize or imagine how it feels to be that person. Put yourself in the character’s body physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and figure out how the character would think when alone and with others.
  • Interview people who remind you of the character to gather up details and sensations about how it feels to play an instrument, be on a stage with bright lights and have punk hair, using my example of the musician.
  • Listen to how other people speak and the words they use. As a general rule, women use more personal pronouns, such as “I,” “you” and “we,” and descriptive terms, while men use more active verbs and fewer adjectives. Women tend to state preferences instead of demands, such as “I would like to see that play,” and use apologetic language, while men are more commanding and do not divulge as much personal information in conversation as do women.
  • Figure out how the character will behave around others and how the character responds physically and emotionally to the plot situations. What is the character’s personality and behavior patterns as he or she grows and changes in response to the plot?

As an example, my book club found that “An Unnecessary Woman,” by Rabih Alameddine, demonstrates how a male writer fails to get into the head of an older woman. He writes about a book-loving, obsessive 72-year-old “unnecessary” woman who translates a favorite book into Arabic every year, then stows it away. The members of the book club said the writing failed to connect them with the main character, because the writer didn’t do a good job of projecting her thoughts and feelings.

Alternatively, Karen Stockett’s “The Help” about African-American maids working in white households during the 1960s is convincing, because she uses the language, mannerisms, identities and details of that time period.