Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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.

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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.

Writing and Time Management (to get to that important writing space)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on September 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm

(Photo by Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Shelley Widhalm in her reporting days chases after a story during a county fair parade, while trying to multitask with her camera.

Considering that I consider myself a writer, I have let time dis-management get in the way of what I love.

Yes, I made up a word for my inefficiency at time management. I’m used to a 9-to-5’er, but starting a business and taking on a part-time bridge job (that’s fun because I get to wear a baseball cap, run around and be busy) has shown me that I’m not as skilled at using my time as I thought. In other words, too often I’ve exhausted myself and gotten overwhelmed, resulting in dreaded wasted time.

When time isn’t well managed, efficiency can be affected as well as how quickly work can be produced and the quality of that work. To feel more at ease and in control, I found a few ways to better manage my work day to free up space and time for my personal writing and to make the most of the writing and editing work I do for my business.

First, I learned I shouldn’t think of all of the tasks I have to do for the next day or week all at once. I tended to blow them up in my mind, thinking something that will take 10 minutes would take a half-hour or longer. I exaggerated, and then I worried, falsely believing that I’d never get it all done.

So, what I now do is break up what I have to do into small chunks, doing the most important things first, using lists to prioritize and get rid of any unnecessary things. With a boss, my tasks list was defined for me, but out on my own in the big world, I had to figure it out, get organized and develop systems. I had to get intimate with the time clock.

Time Management Tricks

Here are a few other things I’ve learned about time management:

  • Focus on one task at a time. Though multitasking sounds trendy and is touted as professional, the brain actually switches from like task to like task but can’t do both at the exact same time. The brain, however, can handle two dissimilar tasks at once, like listening to an audio book while driving. (Check out the “Mindfulness Pocketbook, Little Exercises for a Calmer Life,” by Gill Hasson).
  • Don’t squeeze too many tasks into the day, causing the time devoted to each one to become frayed or frantic.
  • Don’t procrastinate tasks, because with procrastination comes the guilt of needing to do the one thing but not doing it now, resulting in wasted thought time. Plus, the task can be broken into smaller chunks if there is a longer deadline.
  • Devote your entire attention to the task, ignoring email or other distractions.
  • Switch tasks when you get tired or thoughts seem to slow down and come back to it later with a fresh perspective, unless, of course, the deadline is immediate.
  • Mark down how long it takes to do each task—three months into my business, I started tracking how long I spent on everything, devoting a surprising half-hour ad day on email (I’d thought it was less). This helped me identify how long it took for each different task, especially to speed up the process.
  • Set a time limit for each task, but allow for some overage.
  • Don’t get caught up in too many details of the task, spending too much time on any one aspect. Be thorough and accurate, but don’t dwell or aim for 100 percent, absolute perfection.
  • Identify your most productive times of the day and set aside easier tasks or chores that are routine and do not require much thought. Be sure to do something on the weekends, even for an hour or two, to make for less work later.
  • Use waiting times, such as in an office or in line, as a time to do portable tasks, such as jotting down ideas or answering emails.

Fit in the Breaks

And lastly, take breaks, including between and during tasks. A short walk once an hour is ideal to stretch muscles and invigorate the mind and body to get ready for more work.

Some, or all, of these time management ideas can be used for writing. Be sure to set aside time every day or week for writing, so that it isn’t forgotten because of all of the tasks that have to be done. Have a place to write. Squeeze it in when waiting in those lines. Keep a notebook with you. And take pride when you do write, another task accomplished.

 

Causal vs. Effectual Writing (or finding structure in the process)

In Freewriting, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on September 3, 2017 at 11:00 am

(Photo by Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Shelley Widhalm imitates the pose of a Ben Franklin statue, ready with her notebook in case she’s inspired or motivated to write effectually.

Writing has multiple levels of structure from freewriting, where anything goes and the focus is speed, to highly scientific documents or how-to manuals.

Another way to look at this is to see writing as causal or as effectual, either having a rigid structure or coming out of inspiration, motivation and the moment. In other words, is writing something that strictly follows a formula or format, or can it be freer than that? Can writing be in that gray area, neither black nor white?

To answer this, I’m adopting two concepts from the business world, where causal and effectual thinking are two different approaches to starting a business.

The uncertainty of starting a business doesn’t produce the best outcomes with a traditional approach of developing a business plan, according to Cindy Skalicky, owner of On Point Communications, LLC, who gave a presentation in July at the Loveland Business Development Center, “Mastering the Model: A Closer Look at Effectuation, Lean Startup & Business Model Canvas.”

Causal vs. Effectual Thinking

Causal thinking with a specific goal in mind works when the business model, customers and products already are a given. Alternatively, effectual thinking starts with the business owner taking inventory of the self and the skills, education, experiences, training and aspirations related to a general idea of what to bring to the market, whether a product, service or invention. Effectual thinking is having a basic idea or leaning and an idea of a plan, but not everything outlined and specified.

With causal thinking, there already is knowledge about what works and doesn’t work, while effectual thinking is more of an exploration and immersion into the process; it’s planning versus letting the ideas unfold and develop along the way. Effectual thinking is good for uncertainty and not knowing the final outcome; it’s you, as the business owner or writer, in relation to your idea.

Effectual thinking is, to use another business concept, taking assets to action, starting with your identity and passions, such as your favorite classes, hobbies, lifestyle and what you already enjoy doing. It’s starting with your inside, or the assets you have, coupled with your outside, which is your network. The upside is putting those ideas into action, resulting in taking what you have to offer to get out the idea or product.

As such, causal writing begins with that plan or outline, or a predetermined structure, while effectual writing starts with the writer.

Causal Writing

Examples of causal, structured writing could include a press release, which must get the readers’ immediate attention while addressing the 5 W’s and H (who-what-where-when-why and how), or a classroom assignment of a five-paragraph essay that has to meet certain criteria to earn an A.

The journalist or student doesn’t ask, “Who am I? What do I know? What am I passionate about? Who do I know?” Instead, the editor or instructor hands over the assignment, and the staff or class has to turn in the assignment for a paycheck or grade.

At the same time, the journalist or student could find ways to personalize what they write, coming up with a creative lead or way of structuring the sentences to unfold the telling of story in a news or feature article and finding details they find interesting from their own backgrounds and perspectives when fleshing out an essay.

No two journalists or students will write the exact content, though there will be more similarities in the noticed details in hard news versus soft news and the more feature-like articles focused on storytelling and profiling individuals, places and events.

Effectual Writing

The assignment may begin as causal, but as writers find ways to personalize what they write, what they produce becomes a blend of causal and effectual writing.

A master’s thesis that follows a specific format also can be effectual, because graduate students choose their topics and approaches, while meeting the criteria for graduation. My thesis, interestingly enough, analyzed how literary theory can play out in the way journalists craft their stories based on their backgrounds, personalities and experiences, as well as their relationship with the editor, newspaper and other staff.

Writing may begin as causal—here’s your task or assignment—but, no matter what, ends up being effectual because of the revision process, requiring the writer to go through multiple iterations.

A lean startup business enables you to iterate and change the product for the better—you have your ideas from the effectual process and now you need to iterate them, building on feedback and measures of your success, while eliminating waste and mistakes through continuous small improvements. That’s what happens with revision—the elimination of error and continual improvement toward a better written piece that also makes you a better writer with that experience and effort.

 

Writing and Mindset (or being purposeful in “now” writing)

In Loving Writing, Mindset, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing and Mindset on August 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

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To get into writing, try mindset and thinking about the “now” of the moment.

Mindset, or giving purpose to your direction, is a term I hear in the business world, but it’s just as applicable to writing—so are other business terms like lean startup, actuation and effectual thinking.

Mindset, as defined in decision theory and general systems theory, is a set of assumptions, methods or notations held by an individual or group of people. It’s also indicative of worldview and a philosophy of life.

Mindset: In the “Now”

A writing friend of mine simplified the concept, explaining it as being present in the moment and appreciating the “now.” Being present to writing takes letting go of past “failures,” erasing the idea of being stuck, which is going back to the past, and immersing immediately and in the now of writing.

Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., defined growth versus fixed mindsets in “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” published in 2006. A fixed mindset sees abilities as fixed, while a growth mindset allows for abilities to be developed and growth to occur.

Seeing your abilities as changeable is motivating, while seeing them as talent that cannot be adjusted is self-limiting. The idea that writing is something that can be learned and improved upon gives that motivation to try—it’s a way to bypass excuses and writer’s block, because even if it’s painful to write, doing it moves it forward. It’s growth no matter how and when you write.

Effectual vs. Causal Thinking

In business theory, a similar growth mindset occurs with effectual thinking, as opposed to more traditional causal thinking.

Cindy Skalicky, owner of On Point Communications, LLC, gave a presentation July 25 at the Loveland Business Development Center, “Mastering the Model: A Closer Look at Effectuation, Lean Startup & Business Model Canvas.”

“With small businesses, there is so much uncertainty from the beginning that causal thinking won’t result in the best outcome,” Skalicky said. “Causal thinking is effective if you already know about your business model, customers, products and what works and doesn’t. Effectual thinking is the opposite. With that, you need to take inventory of the self, what you’re good at and what you’re trained to do.”

With effectual writing, you begin with where you’re at in a project or within your abilities. Alternatively, with causal writing, you have a plan or outline for the writing without allowing for character interruptions and plot diversions; you stick strictly to the plan.

To write effectually, you may plan but you also adjust.

Skalicky compared aspects of causal and effectual thinking, which have one similarity and differ in everything else. They both involve predictions made at the beginning. But with causal thinking, there’s a specific goal in mind, an execution plan is implemented and data is gathered from the existing market and competition. Effectual thinking is having a basic idea or leaning, an idea of a plan and looking to the self and customers for the data.

“Effectuation is about me in relation to my idea,” Skalicky said.

Effectuation in Writing

In the writing world, effectuation is you as writer in relation to your story. You look to the story for the plotlines, letting the scenes unfold as you write, while having a rough plan in the back of your mind. This is a mix of writing by outline or being a plotter, combined with pantsing writing, or writing by the seat of your pants and writing as you go.

Another business term, actuate, refers to putting things into action or setting them in motion. To actuate your writing, you set things in motion by creating character identities and placing them in situations where they begin to act and speak according to who they are but also within the circumstances of the novel’s plot. They act and react as the story unfolds, but you haven’t planned out every little nuance of their activities and behaviors.

Actuate also works in relation to you as the writer. You can think about what actions you take in the now that will carry forward your writing goals. If you skip writing for a long period of time, motion will be halted and your writing will be less purposeful. You’ll be out of the mindset of the now of writing.

Lean Writing

A lean startup business model allows you to iterate and change your product for the better through feedback, learning from mistakes and failures and continuous small improvements, Skalicky said.

The same thing happens with writing—if you let it. You write and as you get into the writing, the characters and plot strands create their own feedback loop, and you, as the writer, can take note of what to change in the plot as you go along, or at the end when the revision process occurs. The writing won’t be perfect the first time, so you build and measure and learn, and pivot and persevere as needed. The writing then becomes in the now as it moves forward and backward in that loop until the strands are tight, and what you have is a MVP, not a Minimal Viable Product but maximum and viable.

It’s purposeful writing allowing for a mindset that accepts both the now and the possibility for change. You’re getting your MVP to market fast, or you’re writing quickly to get it out and then you go back to improve and improve some more.

What is it Like to be a Writer? (or random musings on the writing life)

In The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration on August 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I like writing both on paper and on the laptop or whatever is available when I feel inspired.

I sometimes get asked how I write as if it is a mysterious thing—it is and isn’t depending on if I’m forcing it or feeling inspired.

I’m also asked, “Can you write for me or tell me how?” I hear about ideas or plot summaries of long writing projects but also about the desire to not do the actual writing. “Could you take the project on?” I get asked.

Maybe, as a ghostwriter.

But then the research, writing and editing comes from someone else. It’s me writing as Other. The writing is not so mysterious, because it’s work, like writing a news article or a blog.

Writing as Mystery

It’s not that magical immersion into the process of writing where I lose the world and feel like I’m watching a movie, not feeling the keyboard under my fingers. For me, it’s writing as the Self and not the Other, but also a letting go of the self in the process.

To do this Self and Self-less Writing, I engage in multiple approaches to get toward poetry, short stories and novels. I look for inspiration, such as in books, poems, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature, as I blogged about earlier this month in “Finding Writing Fascination (and Inspiration!).”

I rely on discipline, tracking when and how long I write and tallying my hours each week and month. I make myself write at least one to two times a week, though more often is more preferable for a regular routine. And I set up write-ins where I meet with other writers and chat and write, because that’s why we’re there providing even more discipline.

I calculate the number of words I write per hour, especially when I do speed writing, a form of freewriting where the aim is to write fast without worrying about grammar and content but keeping the focus on staying with and in the writing.

Getting Immersed in Writing

The Self and Self-less writing is an ultra-focused immersion in the process, keeping your hands on the laptop without thinking too hard or letting the editor take over. This kind of writing results in surprises as the characters seem to do their own thing and the plot unravels as if combining your unconscious mind with what needs to happen next. Connections occur from where you started to where you are at now in the storyline as the tension builds toward the final, satisfying ending.

For me, I get absorbed in the writing and love doing it, but then I hear a noise or I think a thought outside of my story, and I have to come back to the real world. In other words, I enter writing, and it’s fun; I come back to the real world, and it’s a struggle.

Upon my return, I blink a couple of times and look at the last few sentences I had written. It’s often difficult to go back into the story, as if I have to dive in. But if I do, I return to that mysterious, magical world of something beyond the writer where the creation happens.

Writing Nonfiction

When I write nonfiction, I don’t leave as such and get lost in another world, but I do get focused. I’ve done my research and have a rough outline in my head, or, in the case of an article, know how to structure it, so it’s writing out of routine. I weave together the pieces, making it tight with the overall structure and give it flow with the right transitions. I let one sentence lead to the next toward the final The End.

The magic, then, with fiction and nonfiction is to let go and let it happen with you as an ever present Self but also being and remaining Self-less, not letting the You get in the way of the Words that want to get created.

Really, A Poem a Day?

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on August 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

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The poem-a-day challenge is something to mentally schedule to get inspired to write.

Starting in September, I’m going to take on the challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days.

I’m not original in this idea—I attended a poetry workshop Saturday, Aug. 5, presented by Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, where I learned about her 30-day poem challenge that has since extended to more than 10 years.

That’s at least 3,650 poems—and I thought I was clever for being like Emily Dickinson and writing 1,000 poems since my childhood. I began my effort in elementary school with “poems” on pink paper covered in drawn hearts before I moved on to napkins, laptops and paper bits.

“All day long, I’m available to poems,” said Wahtola Trommer, Colorado’s Western Slope Poet Laureate and author of “Even Now: Poems & Drawings,” “Holding Three Things at Once” and “If You Listen.”

Wahtola Trommer spoke at a 2 ½-hour workshop, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat,” giving poetry advice and offering prompts at the Loveland Public Library in Loveland, Colorado.

“I found her presence—in person and in her poems—both open and passionate, and I was delighted with her calling her workshop a ‘playshop,’” said Veronica Patterson, a Loveland poet who helped organize the workshop through the Regional Poets based in Loveland. “Play is so essential to freeing our imaginations.”

 

The Daily Poet

To become a daily poet, Wahtola Trommer had to do two things: lower her standards and realize that writer’s block isn’t something she could afford. Thinking each poem had to be good got in her way, so she had to let some poems go.

“They’re not all precious to me,” Wahtola Trommer said. “I think poetry is practice.”

Wahtola Trommer took on the challenge with two friends, who agreed to read, send and receive each other’s poems but not make any comments, because then it became work, she said. She and her friends reached their one-month goal and extended it to three, but then her friends dropped out. She continued … and continued.

Why? Wahtola Trommer had “rigorous willingness,” or the radical availability to show up for poems. She has four rules for writing poetry:

  • She will write.
  • What she writes doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be true, both to the poem and to the writing.
  • She will not know the ending, because then there will be no surprises. If she does, she will get out before things get serious or the poem can offer up its lessons. The best approach she has found is to write past the known ending. “The poem knows more than you do,” she said.
  • She will share her poems.

Loveland poet Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Regional Poets, took Wahtola Trommer’s advice to heart.

“I found her saying that a poem does not have to have an answer and probably should not to be the best thing I came away with,” Kincanon said. “Also, I am writing a poem a day, and that is really challenging and keeps me active in writing.”

Poetry as Process

Poetry is a process and a way to engage with curiosity, discovery and meeting the world anew, Wahtola Trommer said. She recommends using the senses to access the world and paying attention to the small details. To do this, she suggests trying metaphor, which helps the poet make connections, since poetry is the language of connection and a bridge to the world.

Metaphor, a poetic device comparing one thing to another, can be used for any two things, because anything can relate to anything else.

“Start with a question and allow the metaphors to teach you, though the poem may not come up with an answer,” Wahtola Trommer said.

Poems also have opposition and tension. They are “in stress,” in the process of pressing on the poet the things of the world, and “in-scape,” presenting the aliveness of those things, such as through landscapes or escapes.

Writing Prompts

After Wahtola Trommer gave her presentation, she had the workshop attendees write poems from three prompts. In the first, she told everyone to take out a sheet of paper for a poem game: write a partial statement, followed by “is like,” fold over the paper and pass it around the table, continuing down the page. I said things like, “Baby ducklings in a lake in July are like …” “Going to a bar on Monday is like …” and “Eating a dandelion for breakfast is like …”

We got a different sheet back from the one we started with and chose one of the prompts. I chose “Driving a bicycle on I-25 is like …”

Our other two prompts were beginning a poem with the statement, “I thought I was a …” (I said “princess,” because I was back in my childhood on my red trike …), and writing a list poem. Again, I went with the princess theme and let the poem lead me to writing about a poet, an accountant and a singer, all who want things they don’t have.

I left the workshop with three poems and encouragement, plus a goal: 30 poems in 30 days. Maybe I’ll continue if I find my own rigorous willingness to show up, do the work and let go.

 

Finding Writing Fascination (and Inspiration!)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

GeeseSummer4 2016

The mother duck takes her eight ducklings through the waters of the lagoon in Loveland, Colorado.

I don’t know why, but I’m absolutely fascinated with the ducks at the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colorado.

This fascination reminds me of my fascination with writing. I have to visit the ducks—twice a day if I can, once on my way to the gym nearby and a second time when I’m taking my dog on a walk—just as I have to journal, write poems and stories, and do the more serious writing of blogs and articles.

I like watching the ducks speed race across the water to grab bugs out of the air, just as writing takes grabbing the moment and getting yourself going in that creation. Writing begins with inspiration (or with discipline and routine), giving you the needed motivation to start the process.

Inspiration can give you an idea you are compelled to put into words and shape into a poem, story or other form of writing. It can offer up a feeling or a desire to express something from within. It is that mental stimulation you need to feel or do something creative.

To get started, inspiration can come from books, poems, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature. I purposely look for inspiration if I’m stuck in a writing project, or I let the writing happen as I rush to get to pen and paper or my bright blue laptop.

Here are Ways to Find Inspiration:

  • Read a beautiful description in a book or a poem, thinking about how the language is used to capture a moment or a story. What are the details of the description, and what does it make you think about? What words did the writer choose, and what words would you choose? Take the description and turn it into a basis for a story, a scene or a detailing of character.
  • Listen to a song to feel the mood it evokes and notice the words, beats and melodies it expresses. What does the music make you think about? What images or pictures come to mind? Try to translate the rhythm of the music into your own writing, turning the sounds into a mix of your words and the words of the song.
  • Visit nature, such as sitting next to a flower bed or by a body of water, and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky. Try a mini-writing field trip in the mountains, an arboretum or public garden, or the city streetscape where there are benches, potted plants, trees and sidewalk gardens. Let the unfamiliar experience give you new words or ways of getting at description. Is there something you hadn’t noticed before in this new place? Is there a detail you could delve into further to flesh out what you want to say?
  • Hang out where people like to congregate and do some eavesdropping. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches and pick up snippets of conversation. Does something you hear give you an idea for a story or a description? Is there a phrase or a way of speaking that strikes you that you can capture in a character’s voice or use to evoke mood in a poem or story?

Be Sure to Use All of the Senses:

While you stage your inspiration, amplify your awareness of what’s around you, using all of the senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell—to make your observations. Describe things as you experience them or as they are happening. Or make a list of descriptive words you can pick up from your environment, and then play around with the individual words to see what kinds of sentences and paragraphs can result.

Instead of agonizing over each word and waiting for the perfect moment, release your mind and let the writing be a sort of discovery process. You discover what you want to say as you write.

That’s why I like visiting the lagoon and discovering the changes in the ducks. I watch them as puffball ducklings eat all day long to become teen ducks and then adult ducks, and I love watching them snap, grab, squeak and squawk. They snap up their necks to grab bugs. They snap at babies that enter their territories, even if they have teens and the ducklings are tiny. And they snap at their own to keep them in line.

This snappiness is protective and a matter of survival, but it also is a way to grab what you want and need. It’s part of a writer’s own survival kit.

 

Is Blogging Fun or Just Like Homework?

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Writing, Writing Advice on July 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Blogging has some comparisons to homework, but it can also be fun and entertaining.

Blogging is like homework.

It’s good for you, and if you’re a writer, business owner, nonprofit leader or have something to say, it’s what you should do.

Blogging is the large-sized business card with ever-changing content. Blogging makes you the expert on whatever topic you choose—and you should stick to something specific; otherwise, readers lose interest or get confused about your point. I blog about writing and editing tips, and this month I’ve been blogging about blogging.

Blogging and Homework

Here’s how blogging is like homework—even for me when I love writing and could write all day long. I have to make time for it every week or double up and do a couple at a time, and I have to make sure I have something interesting to say. Plus, I have to sit down and do the work.

  • Blogs should follow a schedule. Weekly is best, but monthly is okay. Inconsistent blogging causes you to lose readers and get lower rankings from the search engines.
  • Blogs should be a certain length. Just like those five-paragraph essays, blogs should be 300 to 500 words if they’re short, 500 to 700 words if they’re medium or optimal length, and up to 1,000 words for the longer ones. Unlike essays, the paragraphs are short—usually one to three sentences—and there are lots of bullet points and subheads within the content.
  • Blogs, just like essays, need to be written to a specific audience. The content, for optimal appeal, should be authentic, fresh original, updated and useful.
  • Blogs and essays both have a theme, or a main topic or idea that is supported by the details of the rest of the content.
  • Blogs also can be like fiction class and tell a story with some plot, setting and character elements, or they can be like a news article and bring in quotes from outside sources.
  • Blogs can be a thesis statement, year-end school project or portfolio, demonstrating competence in a topic and the building up of content. There’s something tangible to show for your work.

Blogging to Get Attention

In my English classes, I found that essays, creative pieces and other types of writing stood out when I wrote as myself and showed my personality, when I did my research and when I knew my subject matter. The easiest essays to write were the ones about topics I already liked, or even learned to like.

Blogging and doing it on a regular basis whether I wanted to or not made me a better writer. After six years of it, I find blogging to be something I enjoy and can do quickly, especially when I’ve written about the topic before. If I do research, it takes more time, but then I learn something new.

And when I write about familiar topics, I see old things in new ways, putting together concepts and ideas in a way I hadn’t thought about before.

For instance, when I started this blog, I very much felt like it was homework, but then the idea of comparing it to writing essays—a big part of my homework as an English major—I saw blogs from a slightly different, English-major vantage point.

And that, dear reader, was quite fun.