Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

The Writing Puppy Challenge (or getting yourself to write during the holidays

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on December 10, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund opens her presents every Christmas and wants more!

Every year, I write a Christmas letter, and every year, I wrap Christmas presents or put them in gift bags with fancy ribbon.

For the first task, I go it alone, but for the second, I have a little helper.

My helper is my miniature dachshund Zoey, who will be nine years on Dec. 20—I got her when she was nine weeks. She grabs at the wrapping paper and shreds it with her teeth, so after a couple of years of this, I came up with a plan—distraction. I gave her vet-approved rawhide that she could chew, while I wrapped presents, including hers of more rawhide, treats, toys and re-gifted teddy bears (she has too many!)

Distraction, especially if it becomes a daily occurrence, doesn’t help with retaining a writing routine. During the holidays, there are the holiday parties and dinners, family get-togethers, shopping, writing Christmas letters and other time-filling activities. Without balance, discipline and a plan, these activities can become a distraction from the main goal—keeping the writing momentum going.

Writing Routines

Here are a few ways to be disciplined in writing no matter the time of year:

  • Buy a planner or use a phone app for 2018 and schedule specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished and add up the hours every week or month and compare them over time.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes in between other activities, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Write a writing action plan with 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 (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

The Writing Reward

Writing can be a reward once you get started as you mark progress toward your goals and reach those accomplishments, while also being able to engage in holiday fun. I like to see how many hours I spent on writing my novels, writing poetry and revising my work over the course of a year. I can tell when I’ve gotten distracted, and this year, I put in fewer hours, spending a great deal of time building my business.

But this holiday, I’m getting back on track and returning to my original goal of writing at least two times a week and fitting in writing whenever I can. That, to me, is a great present, just as is Zoey in her cute Christmas shirt with a bow in her ears!

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Thankfulness Pause

In Being Thankful, Gratitude, Reflections on Writing, Thanksgiving, Writing on November 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Giving thanks is easy when it’s good things, like puppies and perfect grades, scores or assignments.

But it’s a little harder if the result is a skipping heart that over time might break. I was laid off a year ago, and I thought I wouldn’t be grateful about that—who wants to lose their job and face fear of losing more?

I was laid off Nov. 1, 2016, from a reporting position at a daily Colorado newspaper, and I felt a little bitter about Thanksgiving a year later. I thought about how during Thanksgiving 2016, I felt shaky, scared, alone and like little bombs would go off as even more could go wrong. I remember going on a run one November morning just before the holiday and wondering if the sidewalk would crack or a falling branch would hit me—this after the clutch blew on my car just after I got laid off and had a big dental bill.

Liking analogies (I’m a writer!), I thought I’d been kicked off the ship into the big ocean without a compass. Or, I was kicked out of the nest—a fledging without wings. Or, more recently, I was kicked out of the nice comfy house—a housecat that’s gone feral.

But I like being a little wild, I like to fly, and I like to be lost, because what’s happened is I found a long list of thankfulness. I went from a 9-5 pattern of expectations and routine to a constant state of learning, of trying harder than I thought I could, of reinventing, of creating, of finding new ways of writing, of digging into myself, yes, I can do this, I can. I really can! I had to learn how to ghostwrite, be a technical writer, write for different publications in different styles, and edit anything from short stories to sermons to novels from the line to the structural levels. I constantly became uncomfortable. I had to try, try, try.

My heart, it wanted to break. “Give up. It’s too hard,” it beat into my sighs.

But I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. I had to fly. I wanted my wings. I wanted to chase mice and words and have writing as my world.

And then ironically, I forgot about thinking about writing and my layoff on Thanksgiving 2017. I visited my mother for the Thanksgiving noon meal at her assisted living home, and my brother and his wife joined in. We had the traditional holiday fare, and like last year, the volunteer director of activities asked the 75 people in the dining area to find the leaf-shaped paper cutouts on our tables to write what we are thankful for.

My first one was easy, and the same as last year, “Zoey my dog.”

Next, I put, “My apartment in downtown,” something similar to what I wrote last year. The new things on my list included “Coffee!” “My family and friends,” and, here’s the key, “My BUSINESS,” with “business” in caps. That said it all, the layoff and the kick outs were worth the eventual ROI—except I didn’t save a cutout for “Writing.” Ironic, because I love to write and am thankful for it, and I had put it, along with reading, on last year’s list.

Even so, I ended the day realizing that what seems like a negative, something that’s heartbreaking and scary, can turn to the good. It’s how you cut it out and shape it—I have a new perspective that I couldn’t have in my 9-5 sameness—what happens outside doesn’t matter to how I treat my wings.

Because despite the things I cannot control, I can and will fly even if my wings aren’t ready yet. I’ll get there. It takes a paper cutout leaf with a new word, “HOPE.”

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!

 

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.

 

Why Exactly is Editing Important?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Once the writing is done, it’s time to take out the red pen!

Editing is part of the writing process, or most definitely should be, even for emails.

Too many errors, and expert status is lowered, and writers look careless, as if they do not know what they’re doing. It gives the message that it’s OK, because everyone else is doing it, so why not join in? There isn’t enough time, or it’s not necessary. It’s just a rough draft, but it needs to be sent off anyway.

If it’s fiction, it won’t get a read if there are too many glaring errors, despite the content. Or if it’s self-published, the writing looks amateurish, making it hard to trust the story and stay on the page—errors cause the eye to stop and notice them instead of the plot, characters and setting.

Editing and a review process are important for all writers, no matter the skill level, because no one can write anything great and perfect the first time. In the least, there could be a typo or a missed word.

Before editing, set aside the writing (unless it’s an email or communication that needs to be immediately sent off) for a day or hire a third party to review the work.

Here are a few reasons why editing is important:

  • To ensure what you wrote matches what you intended to say and that your message gets across.
  • To ensure what you wrote is what you meant to write, instead of what is actually there, such as saying “their,” instead of “there.” It’s harder to see your own mistakes.
  • To tighten up what you wrote, so that there are not repetitions of material or awkward transitions between ideas or paragraphs.
  • To add missing information or to correct factual errors.
  • To make sure the flow of thoughts and ideas is logical and that there is a good structure to how the material is presented.
  • To make sure everything is understandable with the right amount of detail, but not too much detail that attention is lost.

Hiring an editor to do that editing:

Writers can start off by doing a round of their own editing to fix anything they find before hiring an editor. Manuscripts with lots of errors or sloppy writing take longer to edit and, if the editor charges by the hour, cost more.

Or, hire the editor right away, but realize that editing is best done in at least two rounds, one for general editing and a second for proofreading to catch additional errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics.

Longer manuscripts generally go through multiple stages of editing, including structural or developmental editing that looks at the entire manuscript, line editing at each individual line of text and then final proofreading to check for any missed errors.

Editing from an outside perspective can be more objective—writers get stuck in their own writing and love it because it’s their work.

The readers, too, will appreciate the editing, showing them that what they’re reading is worth their time and energy. An error won’t make them start asking questions about the meaning, the content or the writer.

 

Editing 101: The Multiple Forms of Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Editing is not a simple, one-step process, especially if the goal is to achieve clean, compelling writing that keeps readers wanting to read to the end.

Editing involves multiple layers from revising the overall structure of the manuscript to slow reading and evaluating at the individual line level. Editing has multiple names for those layers from the big picture of the rough draft to the small picture of proofreading of the nearly clean copy.

The Positive of Editing

When it comes to my own work, I wish I could read it once and think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and go on to more writing. But I know, too, that what I write is a rough draft and not close to the final product.

I find slight comfort in the fact that editing can be similar to writing as sentences, paragraphs and new ideas are added or removed to get to the core of the topic or story, so that there isn’t anything extra or boring or any mistakes detracting from the message.

Editing fiction can add a layer of entertainment with new scenes, sections of dialog or character qualities. For nonfiction, layering in details or inserting additional quotes can bring in more complexity, as long as the addition is tied smoothly to what comes before and after.

Levels of Editing

Here are a few different types of editing from the big picture down to the small detail, along with the tasks of each type:

  • Structural or Substantive Editing: Reorganize the manuscript for content or structure; make sure there are transitions between ideas; and clarify any areas of confusion or lack of data or a missing scene.
  • Stylistic Editing: Clarify meaning; eliminate jargon or awkward word usages; make sure the writer’s voice is consistent throughout; and make sure the entire text and the language within reads cleanly and smoothly.
  • Copy Editing: Edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; make sure details and descriptions are consistent; and make sure the use of language and mechanics are consistent.
  • Fact Checking: Check for accuracy of facts by checking various original sources.
  • Proofreading: Read proofs of edited manuscript or give edited copy a final read-through for errors not caught in previous editing rounds.

Error-Free

The aim of the multiple layers of editing is to achieve clean copy that reads smoothly without too many extraneous details or detracting thoughts, ideas or information. By editing in layers, the idea is to catch all or most errors. This is difficult to do if you’re trying to understand the overall content at a quicker reading pace, while also reading slowly at the line level. The two levels of reading need to be separated into different steps.

Reading in layers allows for different attention levels to the text, so that all of the pieces come together in something that is interesting, readable and compelling from the first line to the end.

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.

Am I a Lazy Poet? (daily poem challenge a little too revealing)

In Poem a Day Challenge, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on September 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Writing a poem a day, instead of waiting for magical inspiration to swoop in, showed me I’m kind of a lazy but also a good writer.

I’m lazy because I don’t want to write a poem a day.

I’m good because that’s how I have to think about myself (it’s my career and my passion)—plus, there are a couple of gems within my daily poetic forcedness. I found if I wasn’t too tired (I often procrastinated until the end of the day) and let the poem take over, I lost the words I typed and fell into the images, hanging on as I wondered, “What’s next?”

Poem A Day Challenge

Yep, I took on the daily poetry challenge to write a poem a day for one month, which I started Sept. 1 for the month of September. I’m going to continue the challenge in October, but I also know, at this point, I can’t commit to more than 30 days at a time. To see a vast endlessness of a daily poem requirement is a bit daunting—that would mean 365 poems in a year and writing a poem Every. Single. Day.

Instead, I have to shrink my view of the daily writing commitment into something I can mentally handle before I can turn it into a habit. It remains a chore some days, instead of something to look forward to, excited at what will happen.

So far, I’ve met the challenge, or mostly, in that each day has its poem, though I skipped a day or even two days three or four times and had to backtrack to fill in the poem slots.

Some days I wrote poems because I had to show up, writing bad poetry just to fill in the blanks. Other times I had things to get out, whatever I had stored up in my poetic soul, awaiting inspiration. I had a spot for the words in waiting and was surprised at the layers of thoughts I have about things.

I wrote a few poems with similar titles—what’s going on in my head, really? And a few about the same subjects. I tried on new subjects. I started a few with “The poem goes here,” because that’s how I have my fill-in-the-blanks set up with the title in bold and the typing in normal font. I called one “Poem Date,” and another “My poem asked me on a date.”

I wrote a few haikus thinking poems with 5-7-5 syllables could be whipped out, and I could get to bed. I also wrote about writing about poetry. I called one of the poems, “Lazy Poet.”

 

Poem Examples

Here a few examples of my bad poems, or semi-okay poems—I’m not even sure. I wrote them sleepy.

Showing Up, written Sept. 7:

To be honest,

I didn’t show up today.

I wrote today’s poem tomorrow

When tomorrow became today.

I skipped.

Not rope,

Not class,

Not even hope.

I just didn’t write a poem.

I was too tired.

I didn’t feel poetic

Or soulful

Or helpful.

I went to bed.

 

Two Haikus

Missed Date, written Sept. 9

I missed my date with

Poems called Haiku and Lune, Can’t

Find my Cameo.

 

Too Hard, written Sept. 20

Writing a poem

day, too hard like counting syl-

lables: need short words.

Finding Hope in the Poem A Day Challenge

In Poetry, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on September 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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The Poem a Day Challenge provides a simple method to accumulate a large number of poems.

Writing a poem a day sounds easy.

Just sit down and make up rhymes, rhythms and line breaks—and fill the page, because a poem is just a few words.

Right?

But for me, it isn’t that simple.

During the month of September, I’m taking on the Poem A Day Challenge, an idea I learned about from Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. Ten years ago, she decided to write a poem a day for one month but extended her effort to a daily, lifelong practice, so far producing more than 3,650 poems.

Wahtola Trommer, Colorado’s Western Slope Poet Laureate, gave a 2 ½-hour workshop, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat,” in early August that included poetry advice and writing prompts at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado.

Not Good, But True

Wahtola Trommer said her poems don’t have to be good but do have to be true. For the challenge, she lowered her standards in order to produce a large volume of writing, seeing her poetry as practice.

“You get in your own way thinking it has to be good,” she said.

So far, I’ve written 18 poems and have 12 to go—or thousands if I make writing poetry a daily habit. I, too, lowered my standards, but unlike Wahtola Trommer, I didn’t let any of them go. They all ended up in my long poem file where poems unfold chronologically as I write them, waiting for me to organize and put them into collections for chapbooks—something on my projects list that I keep avoiding.

Share the Poems

In other words, the poems are that practice because they haven’t become product. I haven’t followed through with Wahtola Trommer’s great, yet simple advice: share the poems.

But I will—soon.

I’ve learned that writing daily is a way to get past the fear of rejection that comes with putting work out there, because within the not-so-great poems, there will be those good ones. Produce a lot to find the good poems through being available to them and what they have to say.