Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Comparing Blogging with Poetry Readings

In Blogging, National Poetry Month, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on April 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I am reading some of my poems during a previous poetry reading at the Loveland Museum/Gallery.

Listening to and writing poetry doesn’t seem to fit into the fast-paced business world of SEO, key words and tracking analytics.

A poem has rhythm, pacing and structure, while blogs and business writing aim for a certain voice, objective and spin, all to capture attention. A poem exists on the page, the lines and spacing giving it shape, while blogs use optimized headlines, bullet points and short written content to provide the structure.

Another way to put it is a poem is quiet, existing in a book or chapbook or even on a piece of paper. A blog is loud and out there trying to get clicks.

Capturing the Audience

Both capture audiences, but in different ways.

A poem wants readers and to give expression to the internal, to memory and to observation.

A blog wants followers and to increase numbers to build toward marketing a business or attracting advertising to further promote the blog.

Like blogs, poems can become loud when they are given physical voice, such as in a poetry reading or poetry slam.

I’ll be reading two of my poems this week in two separate readings, both a part of National Poetry Month in April. National Poetry Month is an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

Two Poetry Readings

The first reading is “For Spacious Skies, celebrating early American poetry,” on Thursday, April 20, at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. I will read a poem in the style of Edward Taylor, colonial America’s foremost poet and a minister and physician. I wrote two poems after studying Taylor’s biography, a few of his poems and his approach to writing, including his tone, voice and word usage.

I’m trying to decide which of the two poems to pick for the invited poetry reading, where local poets selected an American colonist and wrote a response, such as in the same style or using similar subjects. One of my poems is more fun in tone and takes place in the kitchen, while the other is serious and reflective.

The second reading I plan to attend is Poudre River Public Library District’s Fifth Annual Battle of the Bards on Friday, April 21. The 10 finalists of the poetry contest will be reading their poems at the Harmony Library, and the first- to third-place winners will be announced. My poem that was selected, “Flower Centers,” compares various emotional states to different types of flowers.

A Final Thought

To further compare poems with blogs, I wanted to add a couple of notes:

Poems have titles on top (sometimes) and lines of text that aren’t necessarily aligned with the right margin.

Blogs have headlines scattered throughout and lots of the previously mentioned bullet points.

I’ve yet to see a poem with a bullet point:

Roses are red

  • Violets are blue.
  • Sugar is sweet …

I hope to see you at the readings.

Flash Fiction and Speed Dating

In Flash Fiction, Writing, Writing Processes on April 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

Shell+ZoeyFlash fiction is like speed dating—it’s storytelling that is quick and to the point.

Speed writing is short and descriptive, while being deceptively complex in its tightness.

It’s a micro or mini version of a short story, though the length varies depending on the publication. It can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words or even 1,500 words, while short stories are defined as 1,000 to 10,000 words.

An ultra short story, flash fiction is a style of fiction of extreme brevity with a definable plot pared down to the core of the story. It’s called micro-fiction, micro-story, skinny fiction, fast fiction, furious fiction, postcard fiction, short short, short short story and sudden fiction. It’s part poetry and part narrative.

To successfully write flash fiction, avoid fragmented storytelling. Tell a complete story with the traditional format of beginning, middle and end, making every word essential, without the extras. Retain the elements of storytelling, because otherwise it will become a snippet of a moment of a larger story or an episode without a theme or story.

I find that it’s best to write flash fiction in one sitting with one idea for a character or plot and work from there. Ask if there’s a point to the story, but don’t get too focused on theme. And write when you are in your own emotional moment, getting words out without worrying about word count.

Begin at the moment of conflict when most of the action is nearly complete, avoiding any kind of introduction or back story. Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the telling of the story. Focus on powerful images. And end with an emotional impact.

Once the piece is finished, here are some tricks to tighten and polish the work:

  • Get rid of adjectives and adverbs.
  • Get rid of unnecessary sentences and descriptions.
  • Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the story.

And remember, what’s left out is just as important. Be concise. Keep the essential details. Cut the rest.

(Note: My flash fiction piece, “Points for Senior Citizens,” has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming FLASH!, the second anthology in a series of collections of 100 short-short stories. The anthology is a Kickstarter project at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1727584460/flash-fiction-anthology?ref=user_menu)

How to Deal with Writer’s Block

In Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on April 2, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Keeping a journal or two is a way to add discipline to your writing routine and to get past writer’s block.

When writer’s block occurs, does that mean you’re no longer motivated to write, or is it that you want to write but can’t access the words?

I find writer’s block to be trying and a chore and more difficult to deal with than having the words pour out, even though a writing session where I’m blocked lasts a few minutes and a productive session can last two to three hours.

What Causes Writer’s Block?

Is it fear, laziness or lots of excuses? Or is it not having anything new to think about or ways to describe things? Is it a matter of being stuck at the place you’re at as a writer, not knowing where to go next?

Writer’s block is a state of insecurity where the mind plays tricks on you. When it occurs, you tell yourself you can’t get started writing, you have nothing to write or you need inspiration to write, but the motivation is lacking. It’s a way to avoid digging too deep, especially if there is pain to be faced, such as anger, hurt, sadness or frustration, though facing the pain can help you discover the truth about yourself and your experiences.

Writer’s block is like hitting the snooze button, a way to avoid waking up to what’s really there that, with some work, can come to the surface.

How Do You Combat Writer’s Block?

Realize that writing requires organization skills, time management, discipline and motivation. Keep a routine and don’t wait for the muse or some form of inspiration to begin writing. Inspiration can occur as you start writing, losing yourself in the process instead of worrying about the outcome.

To beat writer’s block, here are a few ways to get engaged in the process of writing:

  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, scheduling a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Treat writing like a job and clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • Find a special writing spot, such as a coffee shop, the park during the warmer months or a place where there’s lots of activity or no activity.
  • Stick to a schedule, but allow breaks, so that writing remains fun.
  • Write a writing action plan or 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.

Other Advice

While working on a writing project, end mid-chapter or mid-paragraph, or jot down a few notes to start the next chapter to avoid facing the blank page the next time you write.

Write continuously, marking any places where additional research is needed or cause a sticking point, so that you don’t get sidetracked.

And write one word after the next, even if you don’t like what you produce, because at least you are writing. Once you get started, it’s easier to keep going. And it’s easier to come back to it again the next day with the words already there, offering an anchor for your next spilling out of sentences, paragraphs and hopefully stories.

Getting Yourself to Write

In Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on March 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Getting past writer’s block is like a dog trying to walk on the snow.

Writing can be a struggle for writers of all levels, from beginning to professional.

The struggle has a dreaded name: writer’s block.

Writer’s block refers to not being able to write while facing the blank page or the middle of a project. It can be a matter of losing the inspiration or motivation to write, or not having the time and space.

Maybe the writer wants to write but does not know what to say or how to say it. Or the writer does not have anything new to think about or ways to describe things.

Or, could it be a matter of the writer not knowing where to go next?

Every time I face writer’s block, I engage in a little bit of B.S., my form of freewriting where I don’t care about anything but putting one word after another, placing speed above content.

I quickly think of a setting, situation or character and start writing, not caring about what I’m saying, aiming for quantity, not quality. The quality comes later when I get started and realize I have something to write about, can scrap the beginning bits and edit the rest.

Here are ways to get yourself to write:

  • Make up a writing prompt or use an existing prompt, which can be found online or by visiting my blog about ideas for writing prompts at https://shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/benefits-of-writing-prompts-examples/. Prompts can serve as a freewriting, block-freeing exercise.
  • Go to the dictionary and pick a word, using that as your starting point.
  • Try to write as many words as you can in 10 or 15 minutes, or even in an hour. Experienced writers can write 1,000 or more words in an hour—though what they write likely will need editing.
  • For fiction writers, start with a setting or a situation. Or develop a character identify and think about what that character would do in a certain odd, unwanted or awkward situation.
  • For nonfiction writers, think of a topic you want to learn more about and look up three ideas about it. Relate your personal experience or knowledge to that topic and aim to write 500 to 700 words, the typical length for a blog.

Why freewrite and use prompts?

The idea of freewriting and using prompts is to let go of the editor self and just start writing, not thinking too hard about the words and sentences and whether or not they are written correctly and make sense.

Freewriting allows for free association as you let the mind go, letting subconscious material arise to the surface. It’s a way to get ideas for a blog, article, short story or a novel you’re already working on. It’s a way to think of new ways to describe things and new approaches to what you’re already working on.

It’s process, then product.

What you write is rough, and then with the editing and revision process, you give it shape. You cut and paste and rework until you get what you want, seeing that you have something to write, say and do.

Finding Subject Matter for Weekly Blogging

In Blogging, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on March 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

SHELLEYWIDHALMpicI have the honor of being a guest blogger this week on the Loveland Business Development Center’s website. To see the blog, visit https://lovelandbusiness.com/finding-subject-matter-for-weekly-blogging/.

Or check it out here:

Blogging about the same subject for years is reaching into a bottomless well.

That’s because content is continuously being generated with different approaches. But how do you, as a blogger and writer, create content that is interesting for you to write and compelling enough to get followers and clicks?

I began blogging on a weekly basis in 2012 at WordPress as Shell’s Ink about the writing and editing process and the writer’s life. When I first started, I methodically explained the elements of a fiction manuscript, such as plot, character, setting, dialog and storytelling. I blogged about finding ideas to write about, the inspiration and motivation to do the work and the habits of successful writers from setting aside time each week to write to making sure to revise the work—a rough draft is not a final, readable draft.

To generate ideas for the blogs:

  • I keep a running list of ideas by browsing through articles clipped from writing magazines and thumbing through my books on writing.
  • I ask other writers what they want to learn about writing and editing and respond with a blog.
  • I pay attention to the topics brought up in my writers group and book club, such as how to combine different point of views in the same scene.
  • I consider what I need to learn about writing and editing to improve my own work and write about it.
  • I look on bookseller websites to see what’s trending in literature and write about the topic—such as why young adult fiction is gaining ground in the publishing industry.
  • I review old blogs and recycle some of the content to come up with another blog from a different angle.
  • I guest blog on my friends’ and co-writers’ blogs and post those blogs on my site.

Here’s how else to find subject matter:

  • Read other blogs about the same topics you’re writing about and put your own spin on the material.
  • Carry a notebook with you and write down ideas as they come to you, because they will once you state that you want to write.
  • Read a snippet of a news article or a dictionary definition and apply it to your blog topic.
  • Eavesdrop and use the bits of conversation for a blog, first doing a little more research (this is very entertaining, but be sure to pretend you’re busy and into your own stuff, head down, fingers on the laptop).
  • Take another blogging topic and use that angle to write about your topic.

Also realize:

  • Blogging is best done once a week with content at 500 to 700 words about the same subject matter, but veering off topic every few blogs can bring in other readers, too.
  • Breaks from blogging are acceptable; feel confident your followers won’t give up on you.

For example, I blogged regularly over the past five years, but took a break during a surgery to my hand in early 2016 and again in early 2017. I didn’t lose any followers but seemed to get more clicks in February and March when I came back on line.

I took the break this year to launch my writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services, and also have a blog on that website. That blog is more business-oriented with advice on writing and editing for those who may not love writing but want to give it a try and to explain what I do as a professional.

I started with my top 10 tips for writing and then for editing. To continue generating the content, I’ll keep digging into that well of ideas to make sure I have content that is fresh, engaging and interesting.

Top 10 Editing Tips

In Editing, Revising, Writing on March 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Editing helps you get your (geese) ducks in a row!

I’ve learned to not mention red when I talk about editing.

No, it doesn’t have to do with blood—it has to do with the dreaded red pen used by teachers of the past to mark up student papers with ink.

I’ve adjusted my color wheel and now use blue ink, keeping my red pens hidden in a secret spot—OK, not so secret, since they are in a pencil holder with my other pens in red, black, blue, green and yes—purple!—ink.

If you noticed the topic of my blog, “Top 10 Editing Tips,” you’d see I need some editing work. If I were to follow the title and write properly, I’d edit out everything I’ve just written because I’m OFF TOPIC.

Last week, I mentioned how every writer I meet has their top tips for writing to provide discipline and inspiration. Not many writers go around talking about their top editing tips, because that’s not as fun or sexy. Editing is the hard work of the writing process, because it takes time and precision.

Lucky for me, I’m an editing nerd. I like, no actually LOVE, to fix sentences and paragraphs, looking at grammar, punctuation and mechanics and the entire document for the structure and intended messaging.

Here are a few of my editing rules:

 

  • Editing once isn’t enough—editing takes several reads to catch errors, because not every error can be noticed the first time around.
  • Editing is best done by at least two people, bringing more perspectives to the project and additional ways to find or notice the mistakes.
  • Editing is best in layers. Do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

And here are seven things to look for while editing:

 

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

Writing without editing is a rough draft, work that’s incomplete, a thought that has an … after it. It needs that editing step, or a few rounds of making marks, to make it crisp, clear and concise. Each time you edit, you get closer to the core and essential components of what you want to say.

Top 10 Writing Tips

In Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on February 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

Every writer I meet has their top tips for writing and the rules they live by to make sure they write, both in the sense of discipline and inspiration.

Writing takes both, because there has to be a little bit of the spark, as well as the willingness to show up and do the work. There are times, I’ve had ideas but put them on hold, because I was busy, tired or overwhelmed. I didn’t want to write.

But there also have been times when I made myself write, finding that once I got started, I had something to say. I got to work and got results, even though, at first, I wasn’t sure I had something to say.

Writing requires work and lots of it, so:

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to 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 by serving as excuses to not write or to invite in writer’s block.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because the more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Have more awareness, using all of the senses when making observations.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • 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 perfection on the first try. As you write, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down, then revise and revise again.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard.
  • Focus on the process instead of the results. Enjoy that process.
  • And, last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

 

 

Shell’s Ink Spot launch

In Editing, Loving Writing, Writing, Writing Discipline on February 19, 2017 at 11:00 pm

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I reconfigured and launched my blog about writing and editing at my new website, http://www.shellsinkservices.com, on Valentine’s Day, which is fitting because I love writing and editing.

Here’s my initial blog at Shell’s Ink Spot:

Writing can be intimidating, especially figuring out where to start. Facing the blank page is something writers agonize over, because it beacons with, “Here I am. Write right here.”

The same goes with editing, especially when associated with the red pen. I’d considered making my tagline for Shell’s Ink Services “With a Flair of Red Ink,” but my family and friends, including one with marketing expertise, said to get rid of the red. Red is associated with love and passion (Happy Valentine’s Day!), but also with graded papers filled with things needed correcting.

Here at Shell’s Ink Services, I focus on writing and editing, because, though I face that blank page too many times to count, I love to write and I love to fix sentences. I’m taking that love to my Ink Spot. I’ll blog once a week on Mondays about writing and editing with practical tips but also reflect on the struggles associated with creating and perfecting content.

I’ve blogged for half a dozen years about the writing process and the writing life. My blog, shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com, is written from the vantage point of being a fiction writer to an audience consisting of other writers. But here, I’m writing from another perspective—I’m a new business owner writing my first blog, and I face a similar blank page. How do I fit all of my thoughts about writing and editing, plus owning a writing and editing business, into 300 to 500 words?

The best place to start is at the beginning. Writing happens in stages, such as freewriting, or writing whatever comes to mind, drafting, writing, editing and rewriting, followed by polishing. I can help writers figure out what they want to say and help them organize the content. What they say needs to have a clear message and voice and a good structure, cohesiveness and flow from the beginning to the end. The result is content that is “Crisp, Clear, Concise,” as stated in my tagline.

After the content is written comes the editing process that includes feedback from another writer or editor for a new perspective. Editing happens at both the line level, or each line of text for spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics, and the structural level, or what the entire piece looks like.

The editing is where I take out my pen, but I use blue or green ink, or the computer direct to copy. On that note, I’ve reached 400 words, and my blank page is gone, filled with ink.

Writing (and daring) to move

In Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on January 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

I am honored to be in the spotlight this week in Jennifer Tracy’s Inspire blog on her Linkedin page at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shelley-writes-how-she-moved-jennifer-tracy-gray-.

Tracy is a motivational speaker who encourages getting out of ruts and getting moving. I found her message to be inspiring.

 

Shelley Writes How She was Moved…

Published on January 3, 2017

 

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Shelley Widhalm, left, intently listens to a Dare You to Move program Dec. 30, 2016, presented by Jennifer Tracy.

When I think about writing, I think it’s what I love most.

But sometimes I hate it. I face writer’s block, burnout, a lack of ideas, or a feeling of being stuck in a story or a character, not knowing how to pull it all together to get moving again.

In other words, I get insecure, and then I feel lost because writing is my anchor.

Since my sixth-grade year, I’ve known that writing is my passion, but in the last couple of years, I’ve realized that I’m not living up to that passion.

I’ve written six novels, dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems, and I write two blogs. Most of my work is unpublished. I’m aiming for traditional publication of my last two revised novels, both literary and character-driven, one young adult and the second adult. I’ve considered self-publishing, but will try the traditional route for now.

That’s not where I’ve got the lack. I’m querying agents, and I’ve compiled all the background materials. I’m also sending off my short stories and poems.

What I’m not doing is being courageous, the 100 percent, full-throttle kind.

I’m accepting, or making due with, my small dose of courage, but not the kind that’s allowing me to blare to the world that I have a great body of work. Even writing this makes me feel scared. I’m supposed to put on a brave front, right?

We all are.

I met Jennifer Tracy, a speaker and mentor, through my daytime writing job that serves as a way to expand my nonfiction writing and editing skills.

Jennifer’s business, Jennifer Tracy-Inspire, focuses on being courageous, overcoming adversity, making positive changes, having resiliency and becoming self-aware.

On her website, she has this quote, “Be inspired to change your life, regardless of where you are or what’s happened to you.” She says, “Look inward and find personal growth,” “Find courage to never give up,” “Discover power in self-awareness” and “Replace excuses with empowerment.”

When we met for coffee in June, I was amazed at her story and how she overcame a traumatic incident to rebuild her life, finding her own passions in the process. To me, she seemed happy and settled. She’d found her place in the world.

I sat across from her, keeping it all in, or most of it as I hinted to her about reeling from my own trauma. Trauma disrupts and causes a sense of loss that brings up those big life questions. It harms, hurts, dislodges, breaks, interrupts, and causes you to stagger. Who the heck am I? Who are you, world out there? Why did this happen to me?

What do I love?

Do I love?

Am I lovable?

What, why, how, who, where? Why? Why? Why?

I smiled at her. And I’ve been smiling as the tears slip through. I always thought I had it together, because I’ve always had my passion anchor.

After our meeting, I wrote in my journal: “I felt intrigued and a little more healed after talking with her. She said she’s learned a lot from her trauma and came up with self-talk methods, including a series of questions, all with the aim of being positive. What she said was so thoughtful and based on a lot of life experiences that it was hard to take it all in. I wish I could remember it all.”

I walked away from our talk—and wanting to meet her again—feeling like I need to let go, continue looking inward, and think about being positive, live being positive and bat away the negative.

I need to continue the slow hope and progression of finding and living out my passion.

And I need to be confident that I’ve written, love to write and am a writer no matter what happens in the world out there.

–Shelley Widhalm/ Shell’s Ink Services

Happy New (Writing) Year

In Blogging, Reflections on Writing, Writing on January 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I still keep a paper planner!

What I love about a new year first and foremost is getting a new (paper) planner. Yep, I’m old-fashioned. I still use paper to keep track of my life.

A new year presents a time to make resolutions and set goals and a time to review the past year’s accomplishments and not-quite-there-yets.

To review my writing life, I’d like to point to a few highlights:

  • I’ve written a couple of novels, a few short stories and dozens of poems, and I’m in the process of looking for a literary agent.
  • I’m launching a freelance writing and editing business, Shell’s Ink Services, on a more serious level, going after work instead of doing my day job and putting it on the back burner.
  • I blogged nearly every week through the year and have been blogging since 2011. My focus is on dispensing advice on all aspects of writing from structure to the elements of fiction, like plot, character, setting and dialog, and the editing and revision process. I also write about my life as a writer and what inspires and motivates me to write, along with some of my disappointments and frustrations.

I love my blog, but I feel like I may need to change direction. I’m not getting very many Likes—blogging is very competitive, and I don’t market my blog. I simply write to see what happens, but that’s not a very good business plan.

The result: I don’t win any popularity contests.

Despite this, there is a ROI: I learn about writing on a deeper level by explaining the elements from several vantage points. “Teach to learn” is the motto, and that definitely works in the case of keeping a regular blog. I also love the discipline of feeling obligated to write about writing every week. It keeps writing on my mind.

I want to continue my blog but will take it in a new direction in 2017. What that direction is I still haven’t decided, though I’m a big planner and like to be disciplined and organized. That’s why I have to have my paper planner with me wherever I go.

I may take a month off—January—as I figure this out.

In the meantime, I would love feedback from my readers! What would you like to see? What should stay? What should go?

Happy New 2017!