Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing’ 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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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.

 

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!

Happy Writing New Year! (and setting writing resolutions)

In National Novel Writing Month, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on December 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund poses by a 2019 planner, a good place to start planning out writing resolutions for the New Year.

I have a bit of writing guilt, and every year, I try to come up with spectacular, amazing resolutions and a plan to make writing my main goal.

And then I slip up, slip behind and see the goal slip away.

I find, instead, that the other resolutions are easier.

In 2019, I plan to run a faster mile—I’ve already cut off a minute during my last two runs, but that’s because I run slow and with the downtime of the holidays have more energy.

I plan to eat healthier by foregoing samples at the grocery store (where I work weekends) and cookies at home.

And I plan to continue learning how to knit and returning to my hobby of drawing.

As for my main resolution, it’s a longstanding one. Since second grade, I have wanted to be a famous novelist but in 2018 did not work in a way to achieve that. I wrote in other ways. I wrote for work. I wrote a weekly blog. I wrote in my daily journal. I wrote poetry.

But I need to do my real passion type of writing … writing novels. So for 2019, I have a new planner and new plan for an old goal.

Writing Resolutions for 2019

My New Year’s resolution is to make my writing more of a priority, instead of fitting it in when I have time, just like I did last year. I had the same goal for 2018 and blogged about it then, too.

Over the year, I achieved revising one but not two of my novels. I kept up with the daily poem challenge though had a few times of playing catch-up. And I wrote short stories—I wrote three and 10 in 2017, so not an improvement. I also said I’d start drafting a new novel—I didn’t.

For 2019, I’m scaling back my resolutions so that they are achievable and I feel like I can carry them out with accountability. I plan to revise the second novel, keep up with the daily poetry and write six short stories. I also plan to pitch my revised first novel.

What are your writing resolutions for 2019? Do you want to join a writers’ group, write a novel or a few short stories, or participate in NaNoWriMo, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November? Or if writing is something you don’t like to do and would like to try, how about starting with a class or one-day workshop or meeting up with a writing friend to get some tips?

Keeping to a resolution can be difficult, shown by the statistic that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through.

Sticking to Your Resolutions

Here are a few ways to stick to your writing (and other) resolutions:

  • Pick a resolution that you want to do, instead of something you think is good for you or everyone else is doing (like writing novels when writing short stories is your preference).
  • Pick up to three resolutions instead of a long list that will be difficult to manage or even remember. That way you can focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Visualize how you will carry out these goals.
  • Break the goals into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month. If writing is one of your goals, start out with 500 words or a half-hour and build from there.
  • Be specific, such as planning to write two days a week for one hour each time, or to write 2,000 words three times a week.
  • Figure out your most productive time of day to work and fit your goal into that timeframe, even if it is for a half-hour. A lot can be accomplished accumulatively.
  • Check in every so often to make sure you’re meeting your goals and ask if any adjustments need to be made.

As you work on your resolutions, reward yourself as your efforts lead toward results that are tangible and measurable. Writing consistently week after week takes some adjustment, motivation and discipline. But then it will become habit and easier for 2020!

Merry Christmas (and Happy Birthday to Zoey!)

In Holiday Traditions, Holidays, Merry Christmas!, Writing, Writing Discipline on December 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund opens her presents during Christmas 2017, while wearing her special Christmas shirt.

Five days before Christmas, Zoey, a dachshund with attitude and cuteness, turned 10. I got her at nine weeks, so we’ve been together 9 years and 10 months.

This year, I gave her two rawhide treats, one in the morning while I worked from home and the second in the evening. I save the presents for Christmas Day, when I wrap up some treats, a new toy and a few of her old doggie bears and other toys in tissue paper, and she rips it all up to see what’s inside. She even goes for the plastic, wanting to get to something to eat.

Favorite Christmas Story

What’s your favorite Christmas story? My brother said his in-laws have a tradition of writing down their most meaningful memory of the year and sharing it over dinner, and then his mother-in-law puts the memories in a book.

Mine is going to my mother’s assisted living place and seeing all the decorations from mini-trees on the tables to walls covered with cutout stockings and reindeer, plus the changing lights on the Christmas tree in the foyer. When I was a child, my family and I used to open up stocking gifts on Christmas Eve and presents under the tree on Christmas Day. The stockings were lined up in a row on the coffee table, and the tree had gifted and handmade ornaments from elementary and middle school.

How to Celebrate

Now, my brother, his wife and I visit my father for a weekend around his birthday, which is on Dec. 11, to celebrate both it and Christmas. We go see the Christmas lights in his small eastern Colorado town, taking 20 minutes to cover the entire town limits. On Christmas Day, my mother, my brother, his wife and I mainly trade gift cards and an occasional present. After eating the noon meal, we talk for a bit and then engage in gift giving. Zoey gets her gifts last, and we laugh as she hurriedly bites off the tissue paper, wiggling her tail at the attention,

Here are a few photos of my family holiday traditions, with a lot of the focus on cute Zoey. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and happy holidays and happy however you cherish your traditions. Happy New 2019!

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services opens a gift from her family during Christmas 2017.

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Sisters-in-law Kim Widhalm, left, and Shelley Widhalm post after opening presents during Christmas 2017.

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Zoey gets busy chewing her rawhide after opening her presents during Christmas 2017.

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!

Keeping on Task with Writing During the Holidays

In Habits, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on December 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services holds up one of her gifts during Christmas 2017, celebrated at a local Starbucks with her family, after spending an hour that morning at another coffee shop doing some writing.

The holidays are about fancy parties, good food and fun get-togethers, but they also can be about writing and keeping up that routine.

Each year, I have to make a conscious effort to fit in writing on my holiday to-do list. Beside my usual work and life activities, I need to set aside time for writing my annual Christmas letter and shopping for presents, along with extra holiday socializing. With a busier calendar, I still need to retain focus on my main goal, which is writing. Without that focus, along with some discipline and a plan, the additional activities can become a distraction.

That’s why setting a routine, especially during a busy time of the year, is extra important.

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 2019 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 writing office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you have 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).

Writing Results

Once writing is routine and you mark your progress toward your goals, you can see how you are reaching those accomplishments, while also being able to engage in holiday fun.

Over the course of a year, I like to calculate how many hours I spent on writing my novels, writing poetry and revising my work, along with the time I dedicated to writing each month. I can tell when I’ve gotten distracted and for how long, not putting in those important hours and minutes that can add up to a significant amount, especially in a year’s time.

This holiday, I plan to stay on track and keep to my original goal of writing at least two times a week and fitting in writing whenever I can. That way I can get in more writing for my year-end tally!