Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Motivation’ Category

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.”)

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.

Blogs Key to Telling a Writer’s Story

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on March 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

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A flower assortment from a downtown Loveland, Colo., flower shop decorates the counter of a local coffee shop, demonstrating that a touch of color makes customers want to stay longer. The same thing happens with readers and good writing.

Blogging is a great way to tell your story, but how to get that message across takes some knowledge about your readers.

What is it that they want to see in your blog? It’s like a storefront but instead of opening the door, it takes a click.

They want to discover the latest news about your writing career. They want to know about your projects and get behind-the-scene peeks into your working processes and inspirations and motivations. They want to learn how you find and tell a story. And they want to know what’s up next, a short story or a full novel, and if they can support you in any way.

Blog ROI

Blogs are pervasive, but they also can have a ROI by helping writers look personal and inviting. Writers demonstrate that they want more than sales but connections. Likewise, blogs demonstrate expertise but in quick, direct messages.

Blog posts don’t need to be long with 500 to 700 words optimal. A blog that is 300 to 400 words is considered short, while a blog 1,000 or more words is long and article length.

Blogs crafted with a focus on the audience and what they care about will get more attention than SEO-centered blogs written solely to build a platform. They are not about clicks and quits—the audience sees the content is valueless and moves on. The audience stays for the quality, just like they do when they find a writer they love and can’t get enough of, visiting their websites, signing up for their newsletters and rushing to Amazon or the bookstore for a new release.

Click and Stay

To get a click and stay, here are some things to consider.

  • Identify your target readers, or who you want to write to, avoiding writing to everybody, therefore to nobody.
  • Figure out what your readers want to learn about your writing career and projects and then create the content, instead of writing whatever comes to mind.
  • Demonstrate your expertise on a subject related to writing or your projects.
  • Regularly talk about your main subject, but add some variety to keep up the interest.
  • Be specific, give examples and avoid going off topic into tangents.
  • Tell your story with details and descriptions, so that the audience can picture what you have to say.

Schedule It In

Make your blog routine, so your readers know what to expect and can mark it on their calendars. Make sure to post according to a schedule, such as once a week or even monthly, and on the same day. Sporadic blogging, especially every few months, shows a lack of commitment to the blog—plus, it’s unpredictable for the audience.

On a personal note, I aim for once a week, but when I get busy, I find that I end up skipping. But I always come back to it, not wanting to give up something I started in 2011.

 

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!

How to Train Your Writing (and Your Puppy)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Zoey the Dachshund demonstrates Up as one of her obedience tricks.

Improving writing skills and training a puppy have some similarities.

I got Zoey, a long-haired miniature dachshund, nine years ago when she was nine weeks old. I started writing when I was eight or nine—short stories and cute poems—becoming serious about it in college.

With both, I had to train my puppy and I had to train my writing. Neither came naturally to me, so I had to become a student to learn the essentials and then become more proficient with practice.

Training Writing, Training a Puppy

I found that to do either well requires research, experience and knowledge—and, of course, patience. I read about a dozen books about dog training, dog behavior and the dachshund breed, and with writing, I read close to 50 books about the writing process and various elements of writing, along with two monthly magazines.

I took Zoey to puppy kindergarten and through intermediate training to provide her with skills in basic obedience. She received a certificate and had her photo taken with a mini-dog graduation cap.

To make sure there isn’t slide, we practice those skills on a daily basis—commands like sit, down, stay, shake and come and walking on a leash. We, however, haven’t got past the treat effect—Zoey expects and requires a treat for each skill she demonstrates. For her shakes, she rapidly waves her paw as she tries to be patient. I touch it and give her what she wants.

We go on walks, and I learned that I shouldn’t pull her on her leash but patiently wait for her to understand what I want through treats and praises. I praise her when she walks and wait her out when she sniffs. I praise her when we return to walking. She gets a treat when we get home.

She especially likes it when people want to stop and give her attention—dogs are social animals and need to have comfort and routine.

How to Improve Writing, Dog Behavior

Here are a few things I learned about maintaining good behavior in a dog (and how it relates to writing):

  • Provide at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to keep the dog healthy and to release energy that when unused can result in poor behaviors (write at least once a week to keep up the routine and practice of writing; more if there is time).
  • Do obedience training to improve the dog’s mental stamina and prowess (do writing prompts, even for five minutes, to stimulate the mind and promote larger pieces of writing).
  • Do obedience training on a consistent basis to turn a dog’s good behaviors into a habit (write on a consistent basis, such as once a week, to turn that practice into a habit).
  • Offer regular playtimes, so the dog can build a relationship with you and also have fun (think of writing as a hobby and something that is for after work or playtime).
  • Pet the dog through belly rubs, head patting and massages to create an emotional bond (think of your writing as a relationship between you and your words).
  • Set the same time every night for bedtime, so that dogs have an expectation of when to settle down (write at the same time and in the same place to create an expectation that now is the time to write, even if the writing may not seem good or out of flow, or at least at first).

These are just a few ways to provide a pattern to let the dog (and your writing self) know what to expect, thereby establishing a good routine to follow. The result is a well-trained dog and a well-trained writer, eager to get to the work and fun of both.

How Writing Groups Improve Writing (and make it fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Groups, Writing Motivation on July 22, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm’s write-in group gets together once a week to write, but also celebrates birthdays to add fun to the writing venture.

A big part of writing discipline is showing up. You already may have picked a favorite spot and best time of day for optimal energy.

Accountability can add to that discipline, while also making it fun, both from setting up a date and time to meet but also wanting to have some work to show at that meeting.

Writers gather in four typical ways: writing groups to critique each other’s work, write-ins to work on individual projects at a set time, writing planning or accountability groups to check on each member’s progress on writing plans and projects, and writing partners to share the experience of writing.

I’ve belonged to all four types and find that each has its benefits.

Right now, I’m part of a planning group that meets monthly, and we talk about our accomplishments, what we’re working on, what we plan to work on over the next month and any obstacles we face.

The few times I didn’t make much progress on my novel revision, I realized I wanted to return to the next meeting with something to report. I also saw that at each meeting, which began in late 2017, I had the same excuse: not enough time or energy for writing and too many time wasters keeping me from it.

Takeaways for writing accountability groups:

  • Have writing goals to give you something to move toward, but don’t make them unreasonable. Remember you can try again tomorrow.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments, even if they seem small to you. (I kept up with my daily poem challenge, worked on my novel revision and wrote a short story.)
  • Look at what you’re achieving versus what you’re not achieving, while having compassion for yourself.

I also am a member of a weekly write-in that I joined two years ago. Currently, we have three members, and we meet at a local coffee shop and work on our personal writing projects. We talk for a little bit about our work and writing lives and do a couple of social things, such as going out for each other’s birthdays, and then focus on writing.

I’ve also met one-on-one with other writers and like the experience of sharing a writing table and find the experience to be similar but in a smaller format.

Takeaways for write-in groups (or one-on-one meetings):

  • Work on your personal writing projects, not work, because then you did not set the boundary with work and gift yourself with that time.
  • Realize that showing up for writing for two hours a week (or whatever you choose) adds to an accumulation of words and material over several months. You make progress toward your goal.

I’ve also belonged to several writing critique groups, which have varied in format. We either exchange a section of our work ahead of time and bring our revision suggestions to the meeting or revise on the spot. We then discuss our suggestions, going around the table for each critique.

Takeaways for writing critique groups:

  • You can get a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written, since each writer will notice different things.
  • You get a better understanding of what works and doesn’t work, both at the sentence level and at the level of the overall story structure or in the storytelling.
  • With the help of other writers, you can identify weak areas in plot and character development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing, setting, logistics or dialog.
  • If you choose to read the work aloud, you can notice grammar mistakes and missing words that you might not notice with silent reading.
  • You improve editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.
  • You can brainstorm plot or other elements within your story to help improve your writing.
  • You can deepen your knowledge of writing and writing techniques, because each writer has a different understanding of and experiences with the same writing concepts.

With all of these groups, I’ve worked hard to keep to a writing schedule, wanting a project to work on and to demonstrate I’m making progress on that project. I want to be a writer after all, not wishing I were a writer. That means I have to show up and be accountable, both to myself and to my fellow writers—and, of course, to my projects!

Top 10 Tips for Writing

In Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on January 14, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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A new year is a great time to think about your writing plans and goals.

Lists are a great way to get motivated and to turn desires into habits—and to get motivated to write, I resort to my top 10.

Over the years, I’ve collected notes about writing processes and habits from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. I find these notes to be helpful, especially at those times when I feel discouraged, unwilling or stuck.

From these notes, I’ve generated my top 10 tips for writing and rules to live by to make writing a routine and, over time, a habit that I do without thinking or agonizing about it. I don’t want to have ideas and put them on hold because I’m busy, tired or overwhelmed. Instead, I want to show up for writing, finding that once I got started, I have something to say, a poem to write, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress. It can be sticky or rough at first, but once I write, it seems easier to continue and I’m glad I put in the effort.

Top 10 Writing Tips

  • 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.
  • 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 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.

Writing in the New Year!

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on the best writing advice to find the time, discipline and inspiration to do the hard work of sitting down to write. It’s a great time to make writing a habit through the year of 2018!

Being Thankful for Writing

In Being Thankful, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on November 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Thanksgiving is a time for showing gratitude. What are you thankful for?

Giving thanks is a given for Thanksgiving, and the way my family and I said thank you added fun and creativity to last year’s holiday.

My brother and I had visited our mother at her assisted living place for the noon meal. Before the staff served the traditional fare of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberries, the volunteer director of activities told the 50 or so people in the room to find their tags next to the silverware and write what they were thankful for.

My first one was easy because it was about my dog, Zoey. I wrote “My dog, Zoey,” and my mom said, “I knew you’d write that one.”

Next, I put my apartment, because I love it and where I live, feeling like it’s the first place that’s a perfect fit and so me. I also love books, and I love writing and the fact that I love to write, but my list could go on.

The important thing I saw from the activity is to take a moment to reflect—not just on Thanksgiving but every day. Here are a few reasons I’m thankful for writing.

Writing is a Way:

  • To be creative.
  • To play around with words and language.
  • To improve your understanding of words and how to be concise with language and how to effectively get the message across.
  • To have a hobby (or a job) that can result in a physical product.
  • To figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • To express yourself, using your intelligence and creative mind at the same time.
  • To make connections with text, memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • To tell stories and disappear into another world, where you don’t see the page and can’t tell that you’re writing.

What is the End Result?

It’s interesting to see what you create after spending a few minutes or hours on a story or essay. It’s a process of discovery that also can give you a sense of accomplishment after completing the project, meeting a word or time goal or reaching the final page of that first or 12th draft.

What are you thankful for? What parts of writing make you grateful that you love to write?

This blog is reprinted from my monthly Shell’s Ink Newsletter, where I provide, fun, useful and inspiring tips about writing and editing. Sign up here. or at http://shellsinkservices.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=16ad8aefe047fb117d01164c2&id=098e54aecf

Keys to Writing Discipline

In The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation on November 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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.)
  • 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 coaches and cheerleaders.

And, lastly, congratulate yourself when you write.

But 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 strand or other element of the story. 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 drink some caffeine. Pair your writing routine with your favorite treat, so that when you write, you get your treat!