Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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.

Poems Can Be About Anything (a workshop with poet Pattiann Rogers)

In National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry Advice, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on April 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

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The Regional Poets present Castle Rock poet Pattiann Rogers in a special reading and workshop April 5-6 at the Loveland Museum, “The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills.” Rogers gives local poets advice to help them improve their craft.

A poem can be about anything, from something mundane like soda crackers to something a bit bigger like the stars.

“That’s what’s fun about it. Nobody can say, ‘That’s not right,’” said Castle Rock, Colo., poet Pattiann Rogers, author of 14 poetry books, including her latest, “Quickening Fields.”

Rogers presented a 2 ½-hour workshop April 6 about poetry techniques and ways of entering the poem as part of the Regional Poets’ effort to bring state and national poets to Loveland, Colo. The four poets, including Veronica Patterson, Lynn Kincanon, Lorrie Wolfe and Caroline Orman, organize biannual readings, followed by a workshop the next day, in April and August.

National Poetry Month

The April reading and workshop coincide with National Poetry Month, a celebration of poetry organized by the Academy of American Poets with daily suggestions for reading, writing and engaging with poetry. The idea is to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

“Part of what she brings in is the stir, chaos and grandeur of what’s going on around us,” said Patterson, Loveland’s poet laureate, about Rogers, a nature and environmental poet. “The clarification and magnification of being is what Pattiann Rogers does with all of her work.”

Rogers’ reading and workshop, “National Poetry Month Brings Pattiann Rogers to Loveland: The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills,” made engaging with poetry fun, interesting and accessible.

“You have that freedom. That’s what drew me to poetry,” Rogers said, adding that even with fixed forms, there is freedom as long as you entice and engage with the readers. “Poetry is communication. You have to give your readers something to call them back to the poem, to engage with it.”

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Poetry Discipline

The freedom, however, requires discipline, Rogers said

“Because of the freedom, you have to discipline yourself in different ways, so you have a piece of music,” Rogers said. “When you are writing without a fixed form, you have to pay attention to accented or unaccented syllables and will it be one with your subject? You have to make the judgment yourself if you’re not writing with a fixed form to guide you.”

Rogers presented four poetry prompts for the 35 poets attending the workshop and gave them a handout with advice on titling a poem and figuring out where and how to make line and stanza breaks. She said she taught workshops for years and found students had trouble with the title.

“It can totally make a poem,” Rogers said, explaining that readers will read the title, the poem and the title again. “It can tell something important that you can’t work into the poem.”

Titles and Breaks

Rogers suggested the title shouldn’t just announce the subject but add something to the poem, indicate another level of meaning and stimulate the reader’s curiosity.

“You have to offer your readers something to pay them back for their attention and time,” Rogers said.

As for line breaks, Rogers suggested ending on a strong word in sound and meaning and in a way that enhances the poem’s tone.

“What’s it going to look like on the page? You have to have a reason for breaking the line. Where is it that you want a pause or a word to be emphasized?” Rogers said.

Stanza breaks establish “a space of silence within a poem” and can be used to set the poem’s pace, Rogers said.

“You never quit learning about craft,” Rogers said. “You make your own decisions. That’s part of the freedom.”

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.

Loving Writing on Valentine’s Day

In Loving Writing, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration on February 10, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Dachshund makes for a cute valentine!

Does writing fit with a romantic holiday like Valentine’s Day? The day is all about declaring your love for someone, but why not for a hobby or a passion?

As you check the aisles in the grocery store filled with pink and red from Valentine’s cards and heart-shaped candy to teddy bears holding stuffed hearts, do you think of a red notebook? Do you want to set aside maybe even just a half-hour for writing—or do you need to, ensuring the blog, article or short story meets deadline?

Do you see writing as a gift? This gift giving and exchange of cards developed out of Saint Valentines. A number of Saints called Valentine are honored on Feb. 14, a day that became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages in England. Traditionally, lovers exchanged handwritten notes and later commercial cards when they became available in the mid-19th century.

On the surface, greeting cards and the notes in valentines all involve the quick correspondence about friendship and romance. Communicating through writing has a universal appeal (think notes passed around at school before texting, texting, Facebook messages, emails, letters and cards). What’s written can be reread, saved and kept as a memento (even texts, if you copy them into a notebook or journal) and serves as physical proof that someone is thinking about you.

Writers do the same thing, compiling poems, short stories, manuscripts, ideas for writing and processes for doing the writing. They become collectors of the written word, saving their work toward the day they will be published. Or they simply write out of a passion and because it’s their hobby.

They do it because of love. For me, my love is writing, and a close second is editing.

Here are a few things to love about writing:

  • Writing is a way to figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • It’s a way to be creative.
  • It’s a way to play around with words and language.
  • It’s a way to improve your understanding of words and how to be concise with language and how to effectively get message across.
  • It’s a way to express yourself, using your intelligent and creative minds at the same time.
  • It’s a way to make connections with text, memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • It’s a way to tell stories and disappear into another world, where you don’t see the page and can’t tell you’re writing.
  • It’s a way to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, going places and doing things you might not do otherwise.
  • And it’s interesting to find out what it is you created after spending a few minutes or hours on a story or essay. It’s a process of discovery.

Writing is the perfect match:

Lastly, writing gives you a sense of accomplishment after completing a story, meeting a word or time goal and finishing a novel or other large project.

In essence, it’s reciprocal, just like love, because you give your words and you get back a product, starting in rough draft form. But as you get to know each other even more, you develop a relationship, turning something rough into your perfect match.