Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Top 7 Blogging Tips for 2020

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Why Blog?, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on January 12, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Blogging is a great way to let potential readers know that you are OPEN for business and have great content to offer them.

Does blogging lead to anything or is it like holding up a one-inch sign trying to get noticed among the much bigger, flashier signs?

Blogs, just like self-published books, have become the modern business card for business owners, writers and entrepreneurs who want to get their ideas and written content to readers, customers and clients.

For those who see writing as a chore or a time sucker, is starting or continuing a blog such a good idea? Are blogs necessary to promote your writing, your project, your newest product or your business? Or do they keep you away from what you really want to do?

Blogs and other written content get favor from Search Engine Optimization, which give businesses, nonprofits and individuals higher online rankings, especially for recent content.

There are other advantages too. Blogs help with marketing, branding and creating a platform. They demonstrate expertise and authority in a niche—readers over time will value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, your values and what you see as important. They also create relationships and convert readers to customers, resulting in engagement and a following.

Top 7 Blogging Tips

To get your blog noticed and to get that engagement from readers, here are a few things you can do to improve your blog in the New Year.

  • Post on a regular basis at the same time and on the same day. Optimal is once a week and not randomly with gaps in time and too many different topics.
  • Write short- or medium-length blogs, instead of long blogs that become similar to articles or white papers. Short blogs are about 200 to 400 words, medium-sized blogs, 500 to 700 words, and article-type blogs, 1,000 words are more.
  • Create blogs that educate, inform or entertain and not just to fill space for that SEO. Blogs produced through content mills are produced for clicks and provide little meaning and value and only are about quantity.
  • Write toward your target market. Think about whom you are you writing to, what voice you want to use to reach them and what it is you want to say.
  • Figure out what you want to say. You can talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. You can show your process of creation or give a behind-the-scenes look in your business. And you can talk about your life as a business owner, writer or artist.
  • Include photos or images to make the blogs more appealing. If a photo idea doesn’t seem readily apparent, find a theme to go with your blog, such as a landscape feature or type of sign (I’ve used Open signs to let readers know the client is ready for business).
  • Promote the blog on social media at least three times, preferably every other day.

The Advantages of Blogs

Blogs have many advantages. They can bring traffic to your website and hopefully into your writing platform. They build relationships with readers through regular connection. And they separate you from the competition.

Lastly, make your writing or what you have to offer look personal and inviting. Blogs are that great and flashy Open sign.

Top 7 Writing Tips for 2020

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

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To Do lists are a great way to compile top tips, such as for writing.

Do you like To Do lists? I find them to be necessary, but there’s another type of list that I adore—top 5, 7 or 10 lists.

Top lists are great to post on the fridge or keep in a special file, acting as motivation and inspiration triggers, while chore lists are reminders of what still needs to be done.

My top 7 list is gathered from my notes about writing advice and tidbits collected from magazine articles and books, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. The list is a useful resource for those times when I feel stuck or don’t want to write. It’s also a great tool to know what to look for when hiring a writer.

The tips provide a few ideas for how to make writing a routine and, with the investment of effort and time, a habit. Once a habit, writing feels like a necessity without thinking or agonizing about it. Soon, you’ll eagerly show up for writing (and editing), finding that once you get started, the words will come, even if it’s slow at first. The momentum will pick up and the process will become rewarding, as does the result.

Top 7 Writing Tips

  • Don’t wait for inspiration, but create it. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Find a place to write, but don’t make it an absolute. A coffee shop or a home office may be ideal, but be sure to set aside time to be there only for writing and not distractions (which serve as excuses to not write).
  • Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, plan writing sessions for a set amount of time, such as one hour, or until a certain word count is reached, such as 500 or 1,000 words.
  • Accept that you are not in total control of your writing. 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 and then revise in a couple of rounds for overall structure, followed by proofreading at the line level.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard and focus on the process instead of the results to make it more fun and enjoyable.
  • Read and to analyze what you read, identifying what works and what doesn’t work and why. Apply what you learn to your own writing.

Make Writing a Habit

As the New Year starts, add to the list additional ways to find the time, motivation and inspiration to sit down and do the work of writing. Soon, it won’t feel like work and will be a habit. What a great way to welcome the year of 2020!

 

Making New Year’s Resolutions Fun

In Goal Setting, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals on December 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

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The Christmas tree is reflected in a storefront window, overlapping a coffee tree at the Coffee Tree coffee shop in downtown Loveland, Colo. It’s sparkly and fun, just like New Year’s resolutions should be to make them easier to carry out.

New Year’s Eve is sparkly, bubbly, colorful and fun—and then there’s the countdown.

For me, Jan. 1 is both a letdown and an exciting time. First, the holidays are over, presents are unwrapped, and it seems like a long time to Valentine’s Day (and lots of candy) and even longer to spring.

January is my least favorite month (short days, too much snow) until I remember it’s the month for … Resolutions! I love goal setting because of the whole self-improvement thing, but it’s also a way to accomplish something and to have an excuse for self-reward.

What are your resolutions for 2020? The usual of exercising more, eating less, finding a new job, increasing your reading or learning a new skill or hobby?

A Writing Tangent

My resolutions are around writing—to publish a couple of my novels, to write a short story a month and to do more professional writing. I also want to improve my blog so it’s fun and exciting. This is how I originally started this blog:

Writing is essential to a business to market its products and services, build brands and reach customers.

But is it necessarily something that you want to do?

Sure, that’s all right, but it’s not fun. Why? Because you can read those sentences pretty much anywhere, maybe with a word change or two. As a note, I just went on a tangent off the subject of resolutions, which typically doesn’t make for good writing. Professional writing needs to be straight like an arrow, moving from point to point with enough details while avoiding overwriting.

So back to the point of making and keeping resolutions. Statistics show that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through with their plans. Being part of that group can be exciting and also rewarding by the end of the year.

For those who want to make writing a goal for 2020, for example, can set a schedule for writing, such as a half-hour a day or two times a week. They can find a place to do the writing. And they can reward themselves for accomplishing the goal to continue the momentum.

Focusing on Resolutions

For resolutions in general, here are a few good steps to take:

  • Pick a resolution that makes you feel excited and is something you want to do. Don’t pick something that you think is good for you, like exercising an hour a day when 15 minutes is better to get used to it.
  • Opt for one to three resolutions instead of a long list of everything you ever wanted to accomplish in life. Lists are difficult to manage (I made a 30-item to-do list, and it took four months to get through it). Plus, being selective can help you focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Break the resolutions into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month.
  • Be specific in your goals, such as planning to blog once a week, posting it on the same day to be consistent and build traction.
  • Identify your most productive time of day to work and fit your goals into that time frame, even if it is for a half-hour for three or four days a week. A lot can be accomplished in small chunks.
  • Place a written statement of your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Seeing the resolutions will be a reminder, and even if you are busy at that moment, you can visualize how you will carry them out.
  • Create a checklist of accomplishments toward your goals, marking the time you put in each week. This is a way to make sure you’re meeting your goals and figuring out if any adjustments need to be made.

Working on your resolutions is a reward for moving toward self improvement. Reward yourself every quarter or for certain accomplishments. Soon, the resolution will become routine and eventually a habit. And once a habit, it will be something that will get noticed.

Merry Christmas (with Reflections on Joy)

In Finding Joy, Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Goals on December 22, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Holiday decorations add color and joy to the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colo.

Christmas can be a season of joy or not so much depending on your personal story and outlook on holidays in general.

First off, there’s the over-commercialization and the religious aspects. There also can be stress, anxiety and fatigue from a change in routine. I think of it as another month of the year with lots of red and green, repetitive (and beautiful) Christmas music, and a time to practice contentedness.

The Joy Bubble

That contentedness comes from acceptance and a bubble—I accept what is, I try for what I want, and I have a bubble around me to protect me from negative emotions. I feel them, of course, and then let them go. I also encounter crap (from not-so-nice people and things not working out just how I want) that I absorb being highly sensitive, but then I have to move on.

However, I haven’t fully learned the turn-the-other-cheek lesson, though as a non-confrontational person, I say things in my usual sweet voice (but my thoughts are not so nice). I want to work on my thoughts and brush off the negative and quickly move on.

Why am I going into all of this? Well, I committed to a weekly blog (and skipped a few weeks this year) and can’t seem to focus on writing. I just talked with a friend who brought up the holidays depression bit, and I told him about my bubble and how I go out in nature every day (I’m a runner and photographer) and take joy in that.

The Joy Choice

Joy, really, is a choice (for those of us who aren’t in the midst of awful life situations)—but if life is okay enough with bills paid, a job, friends, family and everything in place, it can be practiced on a daily basis (or at least for the most part). I chose joy because I don’t like being down. It’s too stressful, and it makes me tired. It takes more energy being sad and angry than going about, thinking, “Whatever.”

In my practice of joy this year, I even liked to learn snow. I used to say I hate snow, but then I realized how pretty it is stuck all sparkly like to the trees. We got two-plus feet of it here in Colorado just before Thanksgiving, and it’s still hanging about. Joy.

I also learned to like having a business—it’s kind of hard, at least for me as a dreamy artist type. I go to the Loveland Business Development Center and am advised to make my blog about promoting my writing and editing. I really doubt I did that here.

Writing for Joy

But here goes—the holidays are a busy time of year (wonderful or sad, however you look at them), but the need to market doesn’t go away just because it’s December. In fact, blogs, articles and edited content need to be kept up to pace, so that when it’s Jan. 1 and resolution time, the getting-behind-feeling won’t be there, and it will be time to start anew with new goals.

The thing about goals is that meeting them, even halfway, is a way to feel joy. I know, because I’m still in business after three years (I thought that would never happen), I came up with a plan to publish my novels, and I’m improving as a writer because I do it all the time. All. The. Time.

I love writing. I found my love. How can I not be joyful with a big love like that?

Happy Thanksgiving! (and the Gratitude Tree)

In Being Thankful, Gratitude, Gratitude Tree, Loving Writing, Thanksgiving, Writing on November 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

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

What traditions get you excited when it comes to Thanksgiving? Of course, there’s the food and with my family … the Gratitude Tree.

My brother, his wife, my mother and I eat the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole lunch at her assisted living center, and then we usually get coffee after. But our tradition became extra special three years ago.

The activities director came up with the idea of leaving leaves or other fall-shaped cutouts on the tables and asked the residents (there’s about 75) to write down one or more things that make them feel grateful. Once they have something, they then place the cutouts on fake Christmas trees or centerpieces, depending on the year. I call whatever it is the Gratitude Tree.

Each year, I put my dog and coffee, but this year, I think I need to be more creative.

What should I say? My business? My writing? Reading? My fairly new car? My dog (yes, I already mentioned her—she’s a 12-pound miniature dachshund named Zoey)? My brother? My parents? My friends? Poetry? Nature?

I could go on and on.

It’s important to show gratitude daily, and health professionals often recommend gratitude journals to make it a regular practice. Plus, writing down something helps put it to memory.

I’m grateful for my dozens of journals and notepads, because I love to write however and wherever I go. I guess my top gratitude would be #writing. What’s yours? What makes you feel thankful?

Anyway, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving with family, friends, joy and gratitude!

A RISE-ing Taste of Authorship

In Anthology, Northern Colorado Writers, On Being a Writer, Quiet Refusal, RISE, RISE An Anthology of Change, Writing on November 10, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services holds up a copy of Northern Colorado Writers’ 2019 anthology, “RISE,” featuring her short story “Quiet Refusal,” during the book launch party Nov. 8 at Gilded Goat Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo. (Photo by Genese Carsrud)

Have you glimpsed your longtime dream and realized you still have work to do? Lots of work.

I did just that when I attended the launch party Nov. 8 at a Fort Collins, Colo., brewery for the publication of Northern Colorado Writers’ anthology, “RISE, An Anthology of Change,” released Oct. 8 by Northern Colorado Writers, LLC. The anthology features short fiction, narrative nonfiction/ memoir, and poetry from more than 35 writers, and it is up for the 2020 Colorado Book Awards.

The Launch Party

The party was at the Gilded Goat Brewing Co., and I walked in to the buzz of Friday night fun, went upstairs and saw a few fellow writer friends. We exchanged copies of our books to sign, and a couple of clever writers had bookmarks and their own marketing materials to go along with NCW’s stickers promoting the book.

Readers, too, sought signatures, going around the room looking for name badges stating “Writer” or “Editor.” I had “Fiction” on mine. It was my first time signing a book, and it was pretty exciting.

My brother, Brian Widhalm, his wife, Kim, and their friends, Shane and Genese Carsrud, and Shane’s mother, Sherri Carsrud, also came, showing their support. Sherri bought a copy, and we took turns getting photos of us holding up the book.

I put the event on Facebook and immediately got lots of Likes. I realized maybe a few people are interested in my writing, so I figured, umm, maybe I should self-publish, alongside my attempts to get traditionally published. Writers are advised to separate out their work, so anything self-published isn’t something to pitch to agents, unless the book hits the best seller list, then the rules change.

Quiet Refusal

My short story appears on p. 90 and is called “Quiet Refusal.” In 2,500 words, it gives voice to a 93-year-old woman named Christina Walker who stutters following a stroke and can’t get her words out. She believes her children refuse to listen to her need not to be sent to an assisted living facility, and she makes every effort to make them hear.

The book I’m considering self-publishing is a novel I wrote a few years ago about an old man and a young woman who also have trouble being heard and end up saving each other through their uncanny friendship.

If I do self-publish, I’ll have to promote, promote, promote! And also do more of what I love, writing! There’s where the dream comes in—I’ve wanted to be a traditionally published author since second grade and have been working on it since (off and on), publishing short stories, submitting my novels to agent and not giving up.

Anyway, here’s to “RISE” and to dreams!

Where to Get Copies

Copies of “RISE” are available on Amazon .

Short story ‘Quiet Refusal’ publishes in ‘RISE’

In Northern Colorado Writers, Quiet Refusal, RISE, RISE An Anthology of Change, Short Fiction, Short Stories, Writing, Writing Short Stories on November 3, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Shelley Widhalm’s short story “Quiet Refusal” is one of the featured creative works in Northern Colorado Writers’ new anthology, “RISE.”

Northern Colorado Writers will celebrate Nov. 8 the launch of its new anthology “RISE, An Anthology of Change” at the local Gilded Goat Brewing Co.

My short story, “Quiet Refusal,” was among the short fiction, narrative nonfiction/ memoir, and poetry selected via juried entries for the anthology—more than 35 writers have their work featured.

My work is a 2,500-word story about a 93-year-old woman named Christina Walker who believes her children refuse to listen to her need not to be sent to an assisted living facility.

It starts with these words: “I absolutely refuse to move into that assisted living place. I’ve been around too long to have people tell me what to do with my life, especially my own children. I raised them to have manners, and here I am lying in this nursing home with my muscles not obeying my mind, my mouth swallowing my words, and my brain not letting them come together into sentences. I keep telling the nurses where I want to go—just the one word I can get out—pronouncing the “h” with a long, stuttering sound, so my house becomes h-ho-ome.”

Short Story Inspiration

I wrote the story because my mother lives in an assisted living facility, so I have familiarity with the setting, but also because the character came to me full of a big personality but without much of a voice, as she struggles to get out her words.

I visit my mom every other week and feel my heart break a little as I watch seniors with dementia struggle to find their rooms and those with health conditions shuffle as they walk. I usually bring along my dog, Zoey, a 12-pound, long-haired miniature dachshund, and I get stopped for requests to pet her. It’s almost like she’s a therapy dog as the residents smile and tell stories about their own pets.

I’m rambling, yes, but the main point is, please join me and the other writers as we celebrate this new publication. The book is up for the 2020 Colorado Book Awards, and royalties from its sale will help support a new RISE scholarship for aspiring writers to be able to attend the annual NCW conference for free.

“I’m so excited to share this book with, well, everyone in the wide world,” said Amy Rivers, director of NCW, in a letter to the authors about the publication. “It’s full of really inspiring and entertaining pieces.”

Launch Party Details

The 2019 RISE! Anthology Launch Party/ Holiday Celebration will be 6-9 p.m. at the Gilded Goat, 3500 S. College Ave., No. 194, in Fort Collins, Colo. There will be food, drinks and merriment, along with books for sale at a special event rate and authors available to sign their works. The event is free.

Fast and Fun Tips for Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on August 4, 2019 at 5:00 pm

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A duckling snuggles against Mom in July at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo. Good writing helps keep the words tight and comfortable for the reader.

Writing is not easy, even for a writer, but there are some fast and fun tips for writing that you won’t learn in English class.

Forget the five paragraphs and the introductory and concluding sentences. Go for the essential details and tell your story clearly, concisely and simply. Get in the needed transitions, or those sentences that tie together two seemingly disparate ideas, and forget the tangents.

To avoid veering off subject, figure out what you want to say or write first and identify the message from your rough notes. Otherwise, you’ll lose the reader in your word clutter.

The Fast Tips

There are three things you should do in any piece of writing.

First, identify that main message. What is it exactly that you want readers to take away from your blog, article or social media content? What ideas, perspectives or emotions are you trying to convey?

Second, figure out your audience. Are your aiming to reach high-end coffee connoisseurs or do they prefer a casual outing? Write in that tone? Do you want some humor? Do you want to be casual? Or is being serious more fitting?

And lastly, peg your structure. Do you want to tell an anecdote up front and then tell a story? Do you see a beginning, middle and end to what you have to say? Do you want to segment the content into topics or create a list?

The Fun Tips

Here are some tips writers know but may not want to share (it’s what sets them apart and makes their writing great).

  • Be concise and say what you want to say in one sentence, not three. In other words, know how much information is enough and what’s relevant. Cut the rest.
  • Avoid writing in abstractions and using words that convey only the big ideas. Don’t generalize but be specific in what you want to say.
  • Avoid using jargon and unnecessary and fanciful words. Don’t embellish your language just to sound good.
  • Write in the active voice to keep the writing brief and in the present, so that it feels current and relevant.

Once you achieve quick and dirty writing and put in the time and energy to practice, you’ll be able to fit in writing between the busy hours of running a business. Or you can hire some to do it for you and know that they’ve got the clean writing that brings in customers and clients.

 

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.

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.