Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Improving Writing’

Achieving Focus in Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on October 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

Being a writer can be lonely and frustrating, requiring solitude for the physical act of writing, and motivation, inspiration and discipline for the mental aspects.

When writing is the main part of a job that pays the bills, there’s no room for not being in the mood to write, because there’s the looming deadline.

As a reporter, I write in a noisy newsroom, though the writing act remains solitary. What differs is the adrenaline that pushes the writing and forces discipline and focus. I may spend an extra five minutes to come up with the lead, but after that, I mentally organize the article and write according to the inverted pyramid of placing the most important information on top with a quote high up.

It helps that I’ve done this hundreds of times and so, even though the subject and quotes may vary, I speed through my highlighted notes to assemble a story, followed by editing to make sure it flows, has a good structure and says what I intended.

I try to apply this same “stress” to my personal writing, even if I’m not accountable to anyone except myself. I often face a blank screen for my blogs or a short story I want to write, so without thinking too hard, I grab words or a visual image. Just go, I think. The clock is ticking.

My start might be rough, just like the squealing of tires as I rush off from the green light, but then I become absorbed in what I’m doing.

This absorption is a matter of focus, which, according to the thesaurus, is to draw toward a center, attract, converge and convene. The process of writing is a way to draw you into your mind, where your subconscious can be at play and you can experiment with ideas not fully formed by trying out various ways to express them on paper (or the screen).

Through the process, you are focusing to make an image clear, bring it out or give details.

By being focused, you enter into the writing, bringing your mind and body wholly there.

Writing focuses thoughts and ideas, while setting a schedule focuses you into the process. It’s a good idea to create a schedule with small chunks of time set aside dedicated solely to writing.

And then give deadlines for the projects you want to finish of one session, a week or however long you think you need.

And then acknowledge those accomplishments; just like seeing an article in print, this will give validity to your own writing.

Reading to Write Better

In 52 Writing Topics, Reading, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

In my chase of 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I am pausing on reading as a type of prewriting.

At least this is what I tell myself. I am a bibliophile addicted to reading and have to read at least every other day. I can go without reading for one day, but not two in a row.

I can give up caffeine easier than books, and when I do – usually when I’m sick in bed or trying to be healthier – I get the withdrawal headaches. I don’t get headaches when I don’t read, but I’ll start plotting how I can get my next reading fix.

Like caffeine giving energy, reading is essential to becoming a better writer. It is a way to experience different styles, or ways of using language through word choice, sentence structure and description.

The words are absorbed like anything wet into something dry, expanding the dry object so that it has more heft. So will your vocabulary, giving you more options in how you describe the people, places and things of your fictional, or nonfictional, world.

Another aspect of reading toward writing is thinking about what you read. This can be done by analyzing the different elements of how the story is put together, looking at the plot, characters, setting and dialogue and the author’s voice.

Here are some possible questions to ask while reading:

* Does the plot maintain your interest? Are there transitions or does the storyline feel choppy and lack transitions?

* Are the major characters realistic? Do the minor characters serve a role in the story without drawing too much attention to their identities?

* Does the description of the setting make you feel like you’re there or do you trip over the words, because it’s too flowery and long?

* Is the dialogue how people talk without everything spelled out but with underlying meaning and an unspoken understanding between the characters?

At first, I used to read just for pleasure, but now I engage in reading analytically, asking what I like about the story elements. If I don’t like a book, I don’t just put it down. I ask why and try to identify if it is the style I dislike, or if it something about the storyline or the character development.

As a final note, I think to become a better writer, read on a regular basis. Take your book with you wherever you go.

* See Zoey my dog’s blog on reading at Zoey’s Paw.