Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

Loving Writing, But What About Editing?

In Editing, Improving Your Work, Novel editing, Revising on October 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Editing is best done in several rounds.

In my personal work, I love to write—short stories, novels, poems, articles and, of course, blogs.

But I know, too, that part of writing is editing. I love editing the work of others, but when it comes to my own work, it’s mostly a chore. The first editing round isn’t so bad if I haven’t seen the manuscript for months, but by the 12th edit, I’m a bit sick of my work. So, how do I get over this?

First, I realize that a rough draft is rough and, for most writers, needs to be edited at the overall structural level for how the material is organized and then at the line level for the details. If I don’t edit, I have a messy manuscript stuck in a drawer or Word file.

Structural Editing

Structural editing looks at how the material or story is presented beginning to end and at what occurs in the middle. Are transitions used to seamlessly move from one idea to the next? Are the ideas fully developed with the right amount of detail presented? Is the manuscript readable, or does it feel choppy or go off on tangents? How do the ideas in the sentences flow to the next paragraph so that everything makes sense?

Additional edits help tighten up the writing, get rid of errors and fix any mechanical, syntax or grammatical issues at the line level.

The first two rounds may require one or more passes—typically one for blogs and articles, but short stories and novels often need more to tighten up the writing and balance action with character, so that everything in the storyline keeps moving at optimal pacing.

Three Rounds of Editing

Editing, to be most effective, needs at least three rounds: structural, line level and lastly, proofreading. Proofreading is a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read.

Line level editing and proofreading require a careful, slow read, word by word, paying close attention to every aspect of the sentence, including what is inside it and the punctuation at the end.

Here are some other random things to look for while editing:

  • Identify areas that need more detail or to be cut because of overwriting.
  • Look for dropped ideas or elements that don’t carry through but should.
  • Make sure descriptions are consistent and accurate.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can and vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Look for repetitions in ideas or ways of expression.
  • Check facts, name spellings and any numbers that are used.

Lastly, make sure the content is to a specific audience in a specific voice and style. Consistency is the key to good, clear writing.

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

Unexpected poem”gift”

In Poetic Inspirations, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Inspiration on January 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

Though I am on a break from blogging to give my one-handed typing a rest (following a surgery on my left hand), I have to post this poem.

I interviewed a musician for a features article for my day job at a Colorado newspaper and a couple days later was in a local coffee shop eavesdropping on an impromptu jam session. Nine friends played guitars, a mandolin and a ukulele and the music got into my fingers, causing me to feel out a poem.

Here it is:

The making of stars

The warrior poem came in on the beat of the drums

all of it colliding like butterfly wings

a ripple of air through my heart

I hear it, I hear it

the hey—

let the voices

let all of them come

hey, hey—

the rising star on the stage of a field and

the other smaller stars in a coffee


let it come

where is the music

I hear it call

me out of my skin, magical arising


Hey, hey—

can I reach the sky

what are fingers on a guitar

and the wings of the butterfly

but ways to—

hey, hey—

touch blue into the falling

of loving night and day.


Stars are out all the time.

Hey, hey stars just don’t belong

to the sky.


Poem Inspiration

In Poets' Booth, Writing Poetry, Writing Processes on May 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

Typically, I write poems on scraps of paper or on my laptop—but when I tried typing a poem on a typewriter, I felt halted and also inspired by the process.

I attended a People’s Market earlier this month in downtown Loveland, an artisan fair of white tents and booths around the Foote Lagoon, a geese-filled pond with the city’s civic center as the backdrop.

One of the booths featured the Poets’ Stop with an open mic and games to spark poem creation. The games included a set of word tiles that can be arranged into a few words or one word to give a starting place to write, blank paper to leave or take a poem, and paper in the typewriter to manually type up the verses.

“You should write a poem,” one of the poets, who I know from poetry open mics, said to me as I was gathering material for a news photograph (i.e. for my day job). I figured I could sneak in a poem while on the clock, so I sat down at a foldout table in front of one of the two typewriters there.

My fingers felt stiff and awkward on the keys, unable to glide from letter to letter, because I had to press down each one. I had to think about the letters of the words I wrote, when normally there is little connection. I’m not conscious of the keyboard or placement of the letters, something that’s become automatic from practice.

This disconnection slowed my thinking and creation process as I thought about each line and each letter in the lines and what I wanted to type next.

As I typed, I had to move the bar to move the type to the next line, pulling me, for a few seconds, out of the poem and into the sounds of the geese and rumble of conversation. I entered and re-entered the poem, as if I was going over multiple speed bumps, chopping up the flow.

After I wrote the poem, the poet asked me if I would read it, and I did, finding it difficult to see the faded letters from not pressing hard enough on the keys. She said she liked it for showing how typing it made me reflective on the process of writing a poem.

Here is what I wrote:

I am unmoored by the

s tiff fore ign type writer

my thought s slowed by the mistakes of ke ys

that require pushing

hard like the book bind perfection in

grammar my fingers become insecure in the one hand

movement of this falling apart peom

the tool new but old in story

as I miss letters, slow paces,

no poem here. no. stop.

back to my comfort I returnn.

back to my comfort I returnn.

Getting ideas for writing

In Freewriting, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

After finishing my big three revision projects—I revised three novels alternating among them—I am at a loss.

I have ideas for short stories and a novel, but, to say the least, I am not feeling inspired. So what do I do?

Get it. Get going. Get writing.

Inspiration can come from books, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature. It is a feeling of motivation mixed with passion to do the thing you love.

One way to get to that place of inspiration and desire to write is to freewrite without parameters, the internal editor or specific goals.

Another is to amplify your awareness of what’s around you by invoking the senses—those of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell—focusing on each one to describe an object, time or place. Give description to the things around you as you see them or as they are happening.

Writing lets thoughts, feelings, experiences and responses unfold, so that what isn’t immediately apparent becomes real and evident when it’s put into words. It’s like mixing together ingredients from a recipe that assembled together become something consumable, instead of being stuck in their little boxes, bottles, jars and spice racks.

Writing mixes together words into meaning to give what’s inside definition, direction and solidity. The process of writing is a way to discover what you want, could or have to say.

To find inspiration to make that discovery, here are a few prompts:

• For dialog, do some eavesdropping and listen in on the conversations around you. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches. Use a snippet of conversation and the gestures and facial expressions you observe to start a dialog between your characters.
• Visit a public garden, go to the mountains or sit on a city bench and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky, using all of the senses.
• Randomly read a line from a book or look up a word in dictionary to use as a launching point to begin writing.
• Recall a childhood place or a memory from your more recent past and describe it.
• Read a poem and use the mood it creates to start writing. Maybe pick out an odd word or phrase, reword it and use it to invoke word play.
• Look in newspapers and magazines for story, word or idea prompts.
• Write about an old object. What does it make you think about and what emotions does it evoke?
• Write about something you lost and want back, and then imagine what you would do to get it back or how you’d react having it once again in your possession.
• Write about what you regret and the emotions associated with that regret.
• Write about what makes you the angriest or happiest.
• Write about a compelling person in your life, starting with physical description working your way to the characteristics, motivations and personality of that person.
• Go to a public place—a coffee shop, bar, restaurant or mall—and take notes on the physical surroundings, such as the furnishings, lighting levels (bright in stores and low in some bars) and atmosphere or mood. How does the setting make you feel? Comfortable or edgy? Overwhelmed or energetic?

Whatever prompt you select, realize that writing is about exploration and trying out new and old recipes to get to that place of passion.

Where do you find ideas for stories and poems?

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 25, 2014 at 11:00 am

Like many writers, I get ideas for stories and poems at very inconvenient times.

Ideas come to me when I’m at the gym or out walking, running or doing something where I’m not actively thinking. I carry paper and pen wherever I go, but what about those inconvenient places, like the shower or in bed—because if you’re like me, there’s no getting up after the lights go off.

The obvious solution is getting more notebooks to put in more places: I have mine in my purse, my workbag, my desk, the living room, the kitchen, the car and wherever else I go. Plus, there’s plenty of napkins, paper scraps and that Memo function on my smart phone in case I don’t have ready access to paper.

Despite all my paper hot spots, the problem I encounter is the (mistaken?) belief that I will remember my idea, the idea isn’t that interesting and worth writing down, or the idea is one I’ve had before and, of course, I’ll recall later on.

But, as experience shows, this approach doesn’t work. I lose the idea and get mad at myself for being too lazy to take one or two minutes to write it down. The idea gets lost in a story cloud, that mental space where imagination can be accessed but not in precise words. It takes pen, pencil or a keyboard to discover the details of the idea.

Finding, capturing and writing down an idea starts with recognition: this thought isn’t mind filler but something that can become a story. There’s enough of a plot or setting to work with, or there’s an interesting character. It could be a snippet of a dialog. The way someone looks or talks. How the air feels or the sunset looks. It could be the inside of a bar, a restaurant, a mall.

There are lists of inspirations for getting story ideas, but the story cloud is inspiration that comes without trying. It is part of the mental processing of the interior and exterior environment.

For instance, I wanted to go to a fancy art show but didn’t have an expensive ticket or my reporter’s notebook, so I wasn’t “invited.” Instead, I was hanging out with my boyfriend and mind-created a couple arguing the merits of art show window shopping or staying home and watching a movie like they do every Saturday night. This idea went into my purse notebook before I could say, “There’s not enough tension.”

Making excuses for not jotting down an idea causes it to be lost or to change, even if slightly, to become something different the next time it comes to you. It’s the process of writing the ideas down that gives them form and shape, so that next time you think about the same thing, it’s already there “captured.” It’s the beginning of the writing process.

Benefits of Writing Prompts (+ Examples)

In Prompts, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Discipline on May 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

Writing prompts are an effective way to spark your writing session and to get you in the mood for writing.

Prompts can help you establish a writing routine if you do them at a set time or day of the week.

You can make up your own and keep them in your writing space or in a notebook. You can find them anywhere or everywhere, such as outside on a walk, in a coffee shop or browsing through a book, looking for a sentence or two that strikes you.

Write for 5 or 10 minutes, or for a set time that works for you. Go for longer if the idea is unfinished and you don’t want to stop.

Use the senses as you write.

Describe something in your immediate environment.

But don’t force creativity. Just write and see what happens.

Here are a few prompts I’ve developed and compiled from my writing materials:

• Randomly read a line from a book or look up a word in dictionary.
• Pretend you’re a waitress and use the order pad to write a different type of story. Or try using the form of a grocery list.
• Recall a childhood place and describe it.
• Grab a snippet of conversation and use it to start a dialogue between characters.
• Read a poem and use the mood it creates to start writing.
• Write about an old object. What does it make you think about and what emotions does it evoke?
• Walk down the aisles of a toy store and see what happens.
• Write about something you lost and want back, and then imagine what you would do if you had it back.
• Write about your secret wish (mine is to be a full-time novelist married to the hottest man on the planet).
• Read a couple of horoscopes and the weather report together.
• Write about a bad gift you gave or received.
• Read a billboard and start writing based on the corny or cute saying.
• Write about a new pair of shoes. (I had to include shoes, of course!)

Feel inspired, yet? If not, see what Zoey the Cute Dachshund has to say about writing prompts.

See Zoey’s blog at

Getting Inspired by Interns

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm on June 30, 2013 at 11:00 am

Shelley gathers notes at an annual toy show while working as a reporter. (Photo by Steve Stoner)

Shelley gathers notes at an annual toy show while working as a reporter. (Photo by Steve Stoner)

I moonlight as a poet and writer, but during my day job I work as a reporter, writing features articles

My problem is I experience the occasional burnout or writer’s block.

I get burned out because news writing involves a great deal of brainwork.

There’s critical thinking, numbers analysis, writing, explaining, putting difficult concepts into simpler terms and organizing notes into something logical and readable that follows the structure of news or features stories.

The burnout comes when I can’t think of how to be creative or tell the story or figure out what to do with my notes.

So I look to the interns in our office.


They are excited about the fact they are in the newsroom. They are eager to cover each and every story they are assigned. And they want to work, and for free.

If I’m feeling a little tired from the daily grind, I pretend I’m an intern with that same level of enthusiasm. I get to cover this or that, how lucky for me!

I pretend I have not experienced the fire or the event I’ve covered a million times.

What is different that I have not seen, heard or felt before? Is there a new way of looking at the story’s setting, a detail I hadn’t noticed before or a question I didn’t think to ask? Is there some angle I haven’t covered, or a story I haven’t told because it wasn’t immediately apparent?

Telling myself this is new, as it is for interns, opens my vision so that I notice and experience things in a different way.

I become curious and questioning, explorative and wondering.

In other words, I become a fully engaged reporter, loving the process of interviewing, researching, learning, reporting and writing.

Where to Get Story Ideas

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on October 28, 2012 at 11:00 am

Finding story ideas can be as easy as searching for a penny on the sidewalk.

Just spend a little time looking and there’s bound to be one, shiny and heads up or dull and dirty, heads down.

Story ideas can come from what you observe in the exterior world, or start internally, building outward.

As I mentioned last week, story ideas can be gleaned from human nature, watching how people behave and interact with one another, and from the natural world, such as weather events or natural disasters.

The human interactions can give an idea for a character, whereas the natural world could provide a setting, invoking the question of how a character would, for example, respond in a flash food or a forest fire.

This week, I’ll focus on finding stories from the inside out.

Go somewhere – a coffee shop, bar, restaurant or mall – and take notes on the furnishings, lighting levels (bright in stores and low in some bars) and atmosphere or mood of the place. How does the setting make you feel? Comfortable or edgy? Overwhelmed or energetic? Think about why and use this as a starting point for character development.

Or write out a negative emotion, transforming hurts, frustrations and fears into creative expression. What did you come up with? Is this the start of a story or notes on a character’s identity?

Here are some other ways to look inside for writing sparks:

  • Write about struggles in your life and what you learned from them.
  • Write for revenge or to prove someone wrong, not to blaspheme that person on paper, but because writing well is the best way to get back at someone. If you want to write about a hurtful situation caused by another person (let’s      call her the B), then change a few details so the B and her friends can’t      identify the source of your inspiration.
  • Write about an issue you care about through the perspective of a character you  develop, hopefully not with your exact traits to avoid turning preachy.

Here are a few more ideas for finding stories:

Look in newspapers and magazines for story sparks.

Eavesdrop on the conversations around you and pick out an interesting line or exchange.

Think of a first line. Or start with a list or an image.

Journal or freewrite.

And there’s doing some another creative exercise, such as drawing or knitting, to get into a creative mood.

Whatever method you pick, realize that writing is about exploration, a treasure hunt that leads you to that brilliant idea if you stick with it.

Sources of Writing Inspiration

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on October 21, 2012 at 11:00 am

If you’re bored with or tired of writing, or don’t know what to write, how do you get started?

There are multitudinous ways to find inspiration, or that little push to ignite your pen, or laptop, or whatever tool you use.

But if you wait for inspiration, you’ll never write.

Or almost never.

With me, a snippet of a certain song, the twang of leaves caterwauling down the street or a brush of sunset colors over the mountains excite the imagination. I write the first line and the next, almost as if I were diving into a poem or a description to capture that brief feeling.

These small moments, however, prove unreliable, so I turn to my tools of searching out the initial spark or toe bounce for the word dive.

Inspiration can come from books, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature.

With books, a description or the way something is phrased can give you a starting point. How could you describe the setting or character differently from the writer? What words would you use that he or she didn’t? Take this description and turn it into a basis for a scene or character identity.

Music of all genres also can be inspiring, both through the moods the songs evoke and the words, beats and melodies they express. I don’t know how but certain songs of Enja’s compel me to write poetry – I like the lyrical style and repetitive phrasing, making it easy for me to get lost in my own writing while being observant of the music’s rhythm.

To find inspiration from human nature, try hanging out where people like to congregate and do some eavesdropping. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches.

As for finding inspiration in nature, sit next to a flower bed and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky, using all of the senses. 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.

While you stage your inspiration, amplify your awareness of what’s around you, using all of the senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell – when making observations. Describe things around you as you see them or as they are happening. Or make a list of descriptive words, and then play around with the individual words to see if maybe a poem will result.

Writing often can show you that you have more to say about a topic than you realized, releasing you from that feeling of being stuck. Instead of waiting for inspiration to give you something to write, write to discover what you have to say.