Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Fitting in Writing Time and Space

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing and Mindset, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on June 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund is a key motivator for finding time and space for writing.

A fellow writer said five minutes is enough time to write and a car is a good enough space to pull out a notebook—the key is acknowledging the writing no matter when, where and how.

Writing doesn’t have to have the optimal conditions but can be slipped in, because waiting for the right place and right time can end up being limiting. The ideas or what could have happened get lost in the takeover of seemingly more important things.

I find that I can write for 15 minutes (five doesn’t work for me) and get a poem in, but for stories I do need a half-hour. If I wait for an hour or more, I skip it and do other tasks on my to-do list.

The lesson: just make do so you can write.

Carry a notebook wherever you go, or even different notebooks for different places—I have a mini one in my purse, a small one in my workbag and a few in my house. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or inconvenient moments, but take the five minutes, or even two, to jot down a reminder of what you want to say when you do have the time.

Finding a Writing Spot

For those mini writing moments, establish a writing spot that becomes your writing get-away. To do this, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Do you need quiet or background noise from conversations and music?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or a small space, such as a closet converted into an office? Do you like working outside if it’s nice out?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people? Do you need to write with a writing partner or a write-in group?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, bars or a porch, deck or patio during nice weather.

Once you find a spot you consider comfortable and also inspiring, make that your go-to place for writing. And then cherish it and the work that you do there.

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What Your Writer Won’t Tell You (until you go to a conference)

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writers Conferences, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 12, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Amy Rivers, director of Northern Colorado Writers, right, welcomes writers to the 14th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference during the banquet dinner May 3 in Fort Collins, Colo. April Moore, left, dresses in sailor gear in line with the conference theme, “The Muse Cruise: Let Your Writing Set Sail!”

Going to a writing conference is a way to learn trade secrets about writing, editing and publishing without having to spend years on experience and time and energy on classes.

A few such secrets could be found at the 14th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference, “The Muse Cruise: Let Your Writing Set Sail!” May 3 to 4 in Fort Collins, Colo.

The secrets came about during workshops, panel discussions and editor-agent consultations. Literary agents, editors, authors, freelance writers and industry professionals taught one-hour workshops on a variety of topics, including writing at the sentence level, plotting the scenes of a novel, building a platform and applying film techniques to novel writing.

Writing Secrets

Here is a sampling of a few of the writing secrets (followed by the workshop name and presenter):

  • Find the Intention: If you want to freelance or hire a writer, figure out your intentions. Money? Fame? To keep busy? To promote yourself and what you do? To sharpen your writing skills? That’s the why. The what is your subject matter expertise, such as about current trends or untapped topics. The where is the places where your writing will appear. The how? How much do you want to get paid or are willing to pay to achieve quality? (The Business of Art: How to Make Freelance Writing Work for You, Kristin Owens, freelance writer)
  • Stick with It: Don’t give up if you believe in your writing, and be sure to schedule it in, even in small chunks. Realize that writing is a process. You can’t edit a blank page, but you can edit bad writing. The biggest mistake in writing is to turn it into early before it has been edited or revised. Lastly, remember “Writing is hard, not easy. Only stick with it if you can’t imagine not doing it.” (A Writer at Any Age, Cynthia Swanson, bestselling author of “The Bookseller,” keynote speaker)
  • Come Full Circle: The opening pages of a long project should have a hook to draw in the reader and also mirror the closing pages. Start in the right place where the action is, not with a lot of backstory that slowly leads up to the storytelling. Don’t perfect the beginning over and over again, but consider the middle and the ending as equally important. (Opening Pages That Lead to Yes, Angie Hodapp, literary agent)

Writing Passion

The conference concluded with a discussion and poetry presentation by Jovan Mays, former poet laureate of Aurora, a TED speaker and a National Poetry Slam Champion.

“Honor your passion, your love for words,” Mays said. “Keep your options open about who you are in this life. … It’s not about the about, it’s about the journey.”

Write Fluff-Free (and get Clicks and Stays)

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing Tips on April 21, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Get rid of the extras to get readers to click and read, just like trying to focus on a tree in a busy Florida landscape.

Writing can get a message across, but there can be a lot of fluff, or something to skip over and move on.

The idea is to get attention—with the first sentence of a story, the headline to a blog or article, or the top item of a list. Don’t let them scroll or scan on to the next paragraph or item, but keep them locked within the body or the story. Get them to click and stay.

Want Action?

But don’t stop there. Get them to take action—either by getting lost in the storytelling and not leaving the book or wanting what you have to sell, offer, promote or persuade. What you’re doing is engaging them in the moment and leaving an impression. They remember what they read instead of letting it sift out like all the clutter in a house or office.

Cutting out writing clutter results in a clear, concise and compelling style that has spark. But how do you add spark to your writing?

You can practice and put in the time, so that writing moves from desire to habit. It’s not a one-day thing to achieving that place of great, high-quality writing. It’s a matter of discipline, motivation and inspiration.

Or, you can find someone who loves writing to do the work for you. Make sure they know the key aspects of your message, or what you want to say and hope your readers will learn, get inspired by or do.

Want Spark?

To get that spark in writing and storytelling:

  • Lead in with something new, interesting, different or compelling.
  • Keep to the topic on hand without veering off into tangents.
  • Add enough detail and description but don’t overdo it. Keep adverbs, those words ending in –ly, to a minimum.
  • Describe things using two or more senses, like sight, sound and taste.
  • Establish all of the elements of telling a story, such as setting, character, plot and dialog. This works even when talking about your business—where and when were you founded, who are the staff, what stories do they and you as the owner have to tell, and what are your favorite quotes about what you have to offer?

For action-taking, once readers and customers know you, they will be intrigued. Once they realize you can help them with their pain points, or what takes away from their own time, energy and resources, they’ll look to you as problem-solver. They’ll see you as story crafter creating The End, or I’m Sold!

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.

 

Why Businesses, Writers Need a Regular Blog

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Blogging is a way to separate you from the crowd, just like the ducklings huddled together eventually will go out on their own.

Everyone seems to have a blog from writers to business owners, but are they a necessity?

With more than 150 million blogs in existence, it seems like a key way to promote what you have to offer to your readers, customers and clients. Google certainly likes blogs and other written content for Search Engine Optimization and higher online rankings.

Beyond SEO

But blogging goes beyond simple SEO. A blog is part of branding, an aspect of creating a platform and a form of marketing.

Consistent, quality blogging creates an image and demonstrates expertise and authority in a niche. It gets readers to turn to you, because, over time, they begin to value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, plus your values and what you see as most important. It’s a way to connect in the fast-pace world of social media that feels a little more personal.

Blogs should educate, inform and entertain and not be solely written for SEO purposes. Content-mill produced blogs are written to get clicks—what’s created is SEO-stuffed with little meaning and value. They only are about quantity, not quality.

Quality Blogs

Alternatively, writing regular quality blogs create relationships, build audiences and convert readers to fans, clients and customers. They result in engagement and a following.

Research shows that blogs should be posted once a week on the same day of the week, and not randomly, especially with big gaps of time and a lack of focus in topic. To create quality blogs, think about your target market. Who are you writing to? What voice do you want to use to reach them? What is it you want to say?

Blogs are a way to talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. It’s a way to show your process of creation. It’s a way to show what attracts fans to your business or what you have to offer and why you are the best pick.

Blogging Advantages

Here are some advantages of blogging. Blogs can:

  • Put you in front of your customers, serving a similar purpose as an ad or marketing materials.
  • Bring traffic to your website.
  • Nurture and build a relationship with your audience through regular connection.
  • Separate you from your competition.

Blogs also can be used to tell your story and to make your business, platform or website look personal and inviting. The good news is they don’t have to be written by you—you can hire a ghostwriter to get great quality and a consistent approach that brings readers back wanting more.

Use a List to Make Writing a Habit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 27, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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The 10 geese at a local lagoon represent the top 10 writing tips to get you inspired for writing in 2019!

Lists are everywhere for a trip to the store, errands and business tasks, but do you have a list for writing?

Even if you are not a writer, these tips can help you get started. Or if you already love the process, do you have your own top 10 writing tips?

Why a Writing List?

My list helps me get motivated and stay on task, turning the desire to write into the action of writing. If I don’t keep resorting to it, I let other things fill my planner. It’s easy to do, and despite tracking how many hours I spend on writing each week, I come up with excuses for not writing.

It seems ironic—don’t do what you desire though you desire it.

The idea of a list is to turn desire into a habit, something that can be carried out through 2019. My list is compiled from writing advice I gathered from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences.

The advice includes a few rules to live by to 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 writing, finding that once you got started, you have something to say, a poem to write, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

Top 10 Writing Tips

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three or 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.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because it could take awhile to arrive. Also, 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 perfect 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.
  • Last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

Writing lists are a great way to pinpoint the best advice and serve as a source of motivation to find the time, discipline and inspiration to do the hard work of sitting down to write. With that list in hand, it’s a great time to make writing a habit in 2019!

Keeping up with Blogging During the Holidays

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on December 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Blogging during the holidays is like giving your pet a bunch of presents—readers like to open up your blogs and see what you have to say at all times of the year.

Writing a blog, even during busy holiday times, can be a cheerful enterprise.

Blogging can fit in with holiday lights and letters, holiday get-togethers and fancy holiday parties. Blogging weekly, every other week or monthly is a commitment, and the holidays should be a way to celebrate the desire to blog—even if parties and good food offer the bigger draw.

You can do both—write quickly and efficiently (or hire someone else to be your ghostwriter/ghost blogger) and still have time for the other fun.

Your readers look to your blog and expect to see what you write at all times of the year—even at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukah and any of the other holidays. That’s because blogging is a way to build your expertise. It’s a way to spread your thoughts, ideas, opinions and knowledge. And it’s a way to promote your project, event, company, service or favorite topics.

Blogging Basics

Here are a few “rules,” or things to keep in mind about blogging:

  • Blogs should follow a schedule to keep up the interest. Weekly is best, but monthly is OK. Inconsistent blogging causes you to lose readers and get lower rankings from the search engines. Blogging on a regular basis is a way to give updates and provide new material, provide fresh content and get higher rankings.
  • Blogs can vary in length. Blogs are considered short at 300 to 500 words and optimal or medium length at 500 to 700 words. Blogs that are 1,000 words or more are considered long or article length.
  • Blogs should have short paragraphs—usually one to three sentences—with lots of bullet points and subheads within the content.
  • Blogs should have original content targeted to a specific audience with new, updated and engaging material.
  • Blogs do best when they follow a theme and focus on a topic or set of topics to keep up the interest.

Make Blogging Fun

How do you make “the rules of blogging” fun? Think of it as work with a reward. Literally, do the writing and then go to the party, knowing the work is done. Acknowledge the accomplishment, tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list. Make it part of your routine.

Break it up into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work. Write about something that interests you or find an angle that is interesting within the subject that may not be as compelling.

And, best of all, create a blogging editorial calendar with a weekly, bimonthly or monthly plan to identify what you covered and would like to cover. Do this for next year, turning your holiday cheer into a New Year’s resolution. Happy Blogging in 2019!

Coffee and Writing and How They Relate

In Espresso, National Coffee Day, National Espresso Day, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on November 11, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services compares coffee to writing in honor of National Espresso Day on Nov. 23.

I’m addicted to fancy coffee because there are so many aspects to the experience.

A bit of sweet with the bitter of espresso, the heady smell of freshly ground espresso beans and the smooth texture give coffee that appeal of wanting more.

The well-known National Coffee Day was Sept. 29, but National Espresso Day is Nov. 23, created by PartyExcuses.com, “365 days—thousands of excuses.”

My excuse, I have to admit, is to tie coffee to writing.

Espresso is an Italian-style dark, rich brew pressed out for a smooth finish. It’s the base ingredient in café lattes (my favorite is an iced caramel latte, summer or winter), cappuccinos and macchiatos.

Espresso and Writing

To celebrate Espresso Day, have a shot of espresso to mark its invention around the 1900s and pick up your pen, no excuses, to start describing the world around you, helped by the extra alertness from the caffeine.

It’s a matter of wanting more, such as two or three shots of espresso in the small latte. That’s like adding description to plain writing to make the process fun with the key ingredients of observing, absorbing and noticing details. Use the senses to observe and then choose words carefully to absorb, making sure every word has a purpose to move the writing along.

Achieving great writing is similar to using fresh beans in espresso—if they’re old, the taste is bitter. Descriptions that are trite, cliché-ridden and lacking detail can suffice but won’t give the reader that buzz that heightens the experience of drinking and reading.

To get more technical (but still keeping it fun), verbs are a key component of description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. For example, “the caramel sauce drizzled in a wavy path down the whipped cream” is more descriptive than “whip with caramel.”

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “extra skinny, extra hot, light foam, light whip latte with extra caramel.” Just say you’re picky.

What to Avoid in Description

There are a few other things to avoid in descriptions, such as:

  • Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. For example, saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours without caffeine.”
  • Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
  • Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Coffee and coffee cup are general nouns, as opposed to a pumpkin spice latte and an orange mug with leaves on it.

Description is what fills the pages of a story or gives a poem form. Without it, the action falls flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this. Or the poetic devices would be readily apparent without that wonder of captured memory and observation.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.

Transitions in Seasons (and How it Relates to Writing)

In Transitions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on October 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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The table centerpiece is a perfect way to transition into fall with fresh-picked apples mixed with the colors of autumn.

The change from summer to fall or fall to winter is more gradual than the calendar indicates.

In Colorado, there’s often an afterthought of heat in late fall or an early snow before summer ends. The change occurs like sliding down a hill with some going back up until the season feels like, yep, it’s fall, or yes, time for the winter jackets.

An abrupt change in season can be compared to writing without transition—it’s hot and then it’s cold without anything in between.

Transitions in Story

Transitions are essential to keep the direction of the storyline clear, instead of skipping without explanation from one time or place to another, confusing readers as they try to figure out where exactly they are in the story. For instance, they might think they are in a coffee shop and suddenly they are in some memory about traveling to another country.

Transitions serve as a bridge that signals a shift in the story, such as a change in time, place, mood, tone or point of view. They mark a scene break, ideally at the moment of heightened suspense, causing the reader to want to know what happens next.

The point-of-view character’s physical environment, or what’s happening around her, can transition into her internal thoughts, memories or reflections. The character may see an object or hear something that triggers recollections of some event from her past. The recalling of past events in the present through flashback interrupts the flow of narrative. The tense can be changed—such as present to past or past to past perfect—to indicate her entry into or exiting out of the memory or flashback. Sensory impressions can be used to take the character out of the memory and return the character to the present moment. Or dialogue can cause the character to come back to the present, though she might ask, “What? What are you talking about?”

Transitions as Roadmap

Transitions serve as that roadmap, or weather guide, keeping the reader within the story world, so that moving between time and place seems natural without suddenly needing to change clothes or pull out the umbrella, wondering what to do next.

I prefer my summer to spill into fall, winter to be short and spring to arrive quickly. But I appreciate all four seasons because sameness would not give that excitement of change, or transition!

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.