Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Motivation’ Category

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
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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!

 

Finding Work-Life Balance with Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on November 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Balancing writing with the rest of life is important to avoid too much time in front of the computer and to gather experiences for even more writing.

I don’t like sitting, and I don’t like being in front of a computer—at least for long periods of time.

But I used to not even think about my tools of writing. They were just there for me to use—and replace every so often when they got old and nonfunctional.

I write for a living, and I write for fun with the goal to make the writing I want to do—writing novels—full time. It’s a lot of writing, as a result, but I try to balance it with daily exercise—running and lifting weights—and doing social things.

Balance, how do you achieve it when you work life and dream life both involve computers?

Finding the Work-Life Balance:

  • First of all, make sure you read.
  • Set aside certain times for writing, but don’t guilt yourself if you don’t write.
  • Vary where you write, such as at home, a park, a restaurant or a coffee shop and find something stimulating in that environment to think about or absorb—such as the grinding of the coffee beans or the way the air feels as time shifts from high noon into the afternoon.
  • Take breaks every few minutes to stretch, or take a mini-walk for a mind refresher.
  • Make sure you have free time to do whatever you want that gives you a break from the routine, particularly if it doesn’t involve writing.
  • Try writing in a notebook if computers are your normal tool, or vice versa. The switch may cause you to see and write differently—handwriting slows you down, while typing causes you to lose the pen-hand connection and get lost in the writer’s world.
  • Find a new interest or hobby, or even forge a new friendship, to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write when you don’t feel like it.

One Final Note:

Lastly, realize it’s the writer’s life, that constant need for discipline, motivation and encouragement. Make sure to get out to the 3D, real world to gather those experiences that are much needed for the writing life.

 

A Perfect Match: Coffee and Writing

In National Coffee Day, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on October 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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National Coffee Day is Sept. 29. I’m writing and drinking coffee to celebrate the day, though I feel weird taking a Selfie!

Coffee and writing go together—for me, they’re not exclusive. I have to have coffee when I write.

National Coffee Day was Sept. 29, a day dedicated to coffee shops giving discounts and free java. I have multiple stamp cards from the coffee shops I visit, because I seem unable to live without coffee and writing most days of the week.

A perfect cup of coffee has aroma, body, acidity and flavor. The same goes with writing that’s near perfection—writing can be crafted, edited and revised but never absolutely impeccable.

Coffee’s aroma is both in the cup after it is made and when the roasted beans are ground for brewing.

Writing and Coffee Components

In the case of writing, the aroma is the detail, or the layers of description that draw readers to the plot’s action, bringing life to what happens along the storyline, without hurrying to the end. The details for making coffee are in how the beans are grown and what happens along each step of the way, with stories about the coffee’s region and how it’s grown and crafted. The process of making coffee also cannot be hurried.

The body of a cup of coffee presents its main content, just like the body of a story is the storyline or the story arc of action from beginning to middle to end. It’s what happens to draw in the reader and gets them to the climax of the story and keeps them staying to the end. A good cup of coffee brings coffee lovers back for that second cup—in fiction, it’s wanting that sequel or to reread the story, because parting is too hard.

Contributing to a coffee’s good body is the coffee bean, the roast and the brew. The bean affects the flavor and texture—which is the mouthfeel, such as silky, creamy, thick or thin. Flavor also is affected by the roast from light to dark, or less to more body, and how the coffee is brewed, such as in a coffee pot or by using a French press.

Elements of Storytelling

With writing, the elements of a story and how they’re put together affect the texture and flavor of the telling. Is the focus more on character insight and identity? The genre might be young adult or literary. Or is the focus more on the plot action, such as in mystery and romance?

A coffee’s setting, or region, affects its acidity, while setting in a story can affect a character’s culture, background and attitudes, create atmosphere and mood that ranges from dark to light, and offer insight into a character’s emotions and responses. For coffee, higher elevations often result in better quality and acidity levels, with flavors that are brighter and dryer.

Coffee lovers appreciate both the flavor and the boost of caffeine—I like both, and in the case of writing, I like the details I can discover in the process of writing and the boost of inspiration and motivation that comes just by showing up.

For me, it’s that morning cup of brew I need to get going with my day. And it’s the morning sip of writing, or daylong trips back and forth to the coffee pot, that fill me up for more words.

Finding Writing Fascination (and Inspiration!)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

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The mother duck takes her eight ducklings through the waters of the lagoon in Loveland, Colorado.

I don’t know why, but I’m absolutely fascinated with the ducks at the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colorado.

This fascination reminds me of my fascination with writing. I have to visit the ducks—twice a day if I can, once on my way to the gym nearby and a second time when I’m taking my dog on a walk—just as I have to journal, write poems and stories, and do the more serious writing of blogs and articles.

I like watching the ducks speed race across the water to grab bugs out of the air, just as writing takes grabbing the moment and getting yourself going in that creation. Writing begins with inspiration (or with discipline and routine), giving you the needed motivation to start the process.

Inspiration can give you an idea you are compelled to put into words and shape into a poem, story or other form of writing. It can offer up a feeling or a desire to express something from within. It is that mental stimulation you need to feel or do something creative.

To get started, inspiration can come from books, poems, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature. I purposely look for inspiration if I’m stuck in a writing project, or I let the writing happen as I rush to get to pen and paper or my bright blue laptop.

Here are Ways to Find Inspiration:

  • Read a beautiful description in a book or a poem, thinking about how the language is used to capture a moment or a story. What are the details of the description, and what does it make you think about? What words did the writer choose, and what words would you choose? Take the description and turn it into a basis for a story, a scene or a detailing of character.
  • Listen to a song to feel the mood it evokes and notice the words, beats and melodies it expresses. What does the music make you think about? What images or pictures come to mind? Try to translate the rhythm of the music into your own writing, turning the sounds into a mix of your words and the words of the song.
  • Visit nature, such as sitting next to a flower bed or by a body of water, and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky. Try a mini-writing field trip in the mountains, an arboretum or public garden, or the city streetscape where there are benches, potted plants, trees and sidewalk gardens. Let the unfamiliar experience give you new words or ways of getting at description. Is there something you hadn’t noticed before in this new place? Is there a detail you could delve into further to flesh out what you want to say?
  • Hang out where people like to congregate and do some eavesdropping. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches and pick up snippets of conversation. Does something you hear give you an idea for a story or a description? Is there a phrase or a way of speaking that strikes you that you can capture in a character’s voice or use to evoke mood in a poem or story?

Be Sure to Use All of the Senses:

While you stage your inspiration, amplify your awareness of what’s around you, using all of the senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell—to make your observations. Describe things as you experience them or as they are happening. Or make a list of descriptive words you can pick up from your environment, and then play around with the individual words to see what kinds of sentences and paragraphs can result.

Instead of agonizing over each word and waiting for the perfect moment, release your mind and let the writing be a sort of discovery process. You discover what you want to say as you write.

That’s why I like visiting the lagoon and discovering the changes in the ducks. I watch them as puffball ducklings eat all day long to become teen ducks and then adult ducks, and I love watching them snap, grab, squeak and squawk. They snap up their necks to grab bugs. They snap at babies that enter their territories, even if they have teens and the ducklings are tiny. And they snap at their own to keep them in line.

This snappiness is protective and a matter of survival, but it also is a way to grab what you want and need. It’s part of a writer’s own survival kit.

 

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

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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

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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

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.

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 …