Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Motivation’

Top 10 writing tips

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing Tips on October 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

Nature can be an inspiration for writing, such as this baby rabbit at the library.

Nature can be an inspiration for writing, such as this baby rabbit at the library.

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. Granted, I’ve felt a flutter of an idea only to tamp it down, because I was busy, tired or overwhelmed. I didn’t want to write.

And then there have been times when I made myself write and produced terrible work, forcing out each word, deleting, starting over or focusing on anything that provides distraction instead of getting out the words.

But these are the exceptions.

So, too, are those occasions when I start and stop just as suddenly. I tried and then didn’t try, giving up too easily.

For example, earlier this week, I wrote for 15 minutes because I felt inspired and then stopped at 200 words, because I did enough, right? I didn’t feel like writing. I made up an excuse, because I wanted to work on editing my novel—for me, editing is work and effort, so what I want to do when it’s time to revise is be finished.

I don’t want to do the work. I want to have the work done.

But to write 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. Write for two hours or 1,000 words, reasonable goals I’ve heard from other writers.
  • Get rid of distractions and the inner critic, which can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or 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 the senses when making observations and creating scenes.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that, with fiction and poetry, 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 unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the story down, then fine tune it with details, nuances and deepening of the plot, character and setting. 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.

Work-life balance (or write-write balance)

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 4, 2015 at 11:00 am


I don’t like sitting, and I don’t like being in front of a computer—at least for long periods of time.

But I used to not even think about my tools of writing. They were just there for me to use—and replace every so often when they got old and nonfunctional.

I write for a living, and I write for fun with the goal to make the writing I want to do—writing novels—full time. It’s a lot of writing, as a result, but I try to balance it with daily exercise—running and lifting weights—and doing social things.

Balance, how do you achieve it when you work life and dream life both involve computers?

  • First of all, make sure you read.
  • Set aside certain times for writing, but don’t guilt yourself if you don’t write.
  • Vary where you write, such as at home, a park, a restaurant or a coffee shop and find something stimulating in that environment to think about or absorb—such as the grinding of the coffee beans or the way the air feels as time shifts from high noon into the afternoon.
  • Take breaks every few minutes to stretch, or take a mini-walk for a mind refresher.
  • Make sure you have free time to do whatever you want that gives you a break from the routine, particularly if it doesn’t involve writing.
  • Try writing in a notebook if computers are your normal tool, or vice versa. The switch may cause you to see and write differently—handwriting slows you down, while typing causes you to lose the pen-hand connection and get lost in the writer’s world.
  • Find a new interest or hobby, or even forge a new friendship, to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write when you don’t feel like it.

So, for me, congratulations are in order—I turned my feeling like not writing into a blog, and now I’m motivated to return to my other projects—a novel to edit and another novel that I’m a third way in.

It’s the writer’s life, a constant need for discipline, motivation and encouragement (even if it’s from the self to the self).

(See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s take on this subject at

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.

Writing Resolutions

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on January 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

I love the hoopla surrounding New Year’s Eve, the countdown to midnight, the noisemakers and the playing of Auld Lang Syne – all of it a boisterous farewell to a year, whether a personal success or not.

New Year’s Day is a more serious day, at least for those of us who feel obligated to make those annual resolutions.

It took me four tries to go to the gym, but in the middle of 2012 (not on Jan. 2), I started going twice a week, and by early 2013 amped my effort to every other day of weight lifting. I was motivated because I started seeing results – fewer body inches and smaller clothing sizes.

It took me three tries to do NaNoWriMo. I said I’d do it, but then came up with avoidance excuses until 2013, when I wrote 51,000 words in November. I told enough writer friends, posted it on Facebook and blogged about it that I felt obligated. Once I started, I was motivated because my daily efforts resulted in the words I needed to reach my goal.

And it took my two tries – it would be convenient if I could think of something – but I have to diverge.

I found I was never good at following through on New Year’s resolutions, at least those that required me to change a behavior immediately on Jan. 1. Change takes time and adjustment, motivation and discipline.

This year, I’m taking a new approach to annual goal setting, thanks to advice I got from an interview I conducted last month with Joan C. King, a writer, coach and speaker who works in the field of neuroscience.

King recommends coming up with a theme or idea for the year, such as finding ways to make things easier, doing things to be more expansive or choosing a state of mind of joy, calm or curiosity.

In 2012, I wrote out a writing contract outlining my year-end goals with smaller monthly/weekly progress goals. I asked two questions for my check-in progress report: Are my weekly and monthly goals being met? And do any adjustments need to be made?

The problem was I filed away the contract and didn’t look at it all year. I should have printed it out, laminated it and put it in my laptop sleeve.

That’s what I’ll be doing for my 2014 contract. Taking King’s advice, I will carry out my writing goals around the theme of joy. That way when I sit down to write, edit or do the other work of the writing life, I won’t think of it as work. I will look for ways to make writing joyful, changing how I approach writing to keep it fun, interesting and challenging.

Thinking of joy, not goals, makes me want to start in on my list of five: writing another novel, editing my current novels, conducting research for my memoir, writing and publishing my short stories, and finding a literary agent all seem exciting to me now.

The NaNoWriMo Challenge

In 52: A Writer's Life, NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

For the first time, I am taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Every year I come up with multiple reasons why I don’t want to participate, such as: I work; I’m tired; I’m not disciplined enough to write daily; and, best of all, I’m already in the middle of a novel.

This year I am not writing a novel, because of the pleasure of procrastination and the excuse that I’m editing another novel. I’ve convinced myself that I can only work on one major writing project at a time.

Hardly true, considering that as a reporter, I don’t write one article, then go onto the next, but write several articles at once – otherwise, I’d be given one of those pretty pink slips.

Throwing all excuses and insecurities aside, I am committed to write by the end of this month a young adult, coming-of-age novel that I’ve been pondering for months.

I’m participating in the annual novel writing project that brings together writers worldwide who aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That is 1,666 words a day, totally doable, because when I write I aim for 1,000 to 2,000 words.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to do fast writing, not actually to write something perfect. You can write a crappy first draft and just let go, expelling the cranky editor, procrastinator and creative excuse maker.

So far, I’ve written 6,017 words, but 3,249 words were from an outline and short story starter I wrote last month.

Each Sunday, I will check in and let you know about the process of daily writing, as well as give tips on daily dedication, motivation and inspiration.

So, here’s to NaNoWriMo!

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.

A Writer’s Toolbox

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

Every writer’s toolbox has different tools, but the most essential is the desire to write.

Learning about the elements of writing – storytelling, story structure and word usage – is similar to using an instruction manual to fix a car.

Diagnosing the problem, looking at a chart pointing out the parts of the car and reading about the necessary steps doesn’t mean the problem will be solved. The missing element could be the desire to do the work, or the confidence and skill to complete it so the car runs.

Writing requires work, and to do that work, there needs to be motivation, discipline and, I believe, a love for some or several aspects of creating or the final creation. Do you love words, individually or how they sound in sentences? Do you love telling stories? Do you love solving story problems? Do you want to make readers feel? Do you want to feel?

Or maybe you like to see your name in print? Or to have finished something?

Writers need spark, just like cars need spark plugs to fire the ignition. For me that spark is a passion for words and getting lost in the story or poem I’m writing, so that what comes out feels like dancing and breathing and living, while I lose awareness of my physical self.

Like cars that need gas in the tank, writers need the space and time to be present for writing. If the tank drops toward the E, writers need to ride out their writer’s block or frustration with the knowledge that these emotions are not permanent.

I find that I get frustrated having so little time for writing.

The result is I save up words, emotions and ideas like money in the bank for when I do get to hang out with my laptop. I let go of my editor and inner critic, plus any negative emotions I have, because now it’s time for my date with QWERTY.

I schedule my writing time, not to specific days but to two to three times a week. I log in the hours I write, so I can see that, like an odometer marking the miles, I am making progress toward a goal. I get excited about every 5,000 words I finish in a novel’s rough draft.

All of this is my fuel for not giving up when I am unpublished with a burning, driving, raging yawp to get my words out into the world. I want my words to be heard, read and even sung.

I don’t necessarily have a map with every step plotted out, but what I do have is a giant imagination, a spark of creativity without which I would fade and a passion for this art I cannot stop loving.

See Zoey the dachshund’s interpretation of toolboxes at

The Motivation Struggle

In Frustration, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 11, 2011 at 7:00 am

Motivation is like an oil slick – pretty on the surface, but it can catch you off guard if not taken seriously.

As a writer, I constantly struggle with finding and sustaining my motivation unless I’m involved in a project. When I’m writing a novel or working on a short story, I follow a schedule and get my butt in the chair, and I write.

I don’t churn the excuses, at least when I have a direction and a goal that are integral to being motivated.

When I don’t have that direction, I get lost in my desire to write without control of where, when, how and what. I may have a general objective of wanting to write, but it’s not enough. I let life get in the way, like my 9-to-5 job, sleeping, eating, reading and seeing friends.

I am not smart enough to think 15 minutes is enough to create.

I want a block of time that is two hours or more, believing that like a runner setting her pace, I can’t sprint through words. Plus, I don’t want to be tired or hungry, and I believe that my house has to be clean. Excuses, I know.

To recharge my motivation batteries, so to speak, I try the following:

  • Set a schedule and, if I can’t carry out a writing session, readjust.
  • Mark down the hours I work to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished.
  • Notice what is around me that I find inspiring, such as how leaves sound on pavement or the touch of winter air on the skin.
  • Try to find spaces of time and place during the day that can be used for writing, even if it is a line or two.
  • Don’t be afraid to write, and don’t allow for excuses not to write.

Even though I know these things, I sometimes let a bad mood, being tired or working long hours become a roadblock.

I forget that I have to make writing a daily dose that without which I notice my energy slip away. I need that goal in front of my face as a constant reminder that there is a reason I write: I love to do it. I know this to be true when I am writing, not when I am thinking about it, avoiding it or wondering when I can do it.

The Frustration-Motivation Question

In Artists, Frustration, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 4, 2011 at 7:00 am

The opposite of motivation, I believe, is frustration.  

As a writer (I wrote a couple of novels and hundreds of poems), I find it frustrating that I keep writing and writing and am not published, but I can’t fathom the idea of stopping. I am motivated to write, but on the flip side of that, I’m frustrated that what I write gets sucked into a big vacuum of “whatever.”

I’m not trying to engage in self pity.

Instead, I want to explore the word’s meaning. Frustration is the result of encountering obstacles to a goal or a project. It can be a feeling of being stuck, of not getting anywhere no matter what you try to do – a feeling that left unresolved can crystallize into anger.

Motivation, on the other hand, is the desire to do something and the drive to carry out a goal. It is what causes you to act.

How can you turn frustration into motivation?

First, remember your original goal or what you want to accomplish.

Keep track of the steps you take toward that goal, taking credit for each accomplishment.

And realize that setbacks will happen.

I can write all of this off the top of my head, but I still let frustration come into my day.

For instance, I have to work a regular job and can’t spend the time I want to, when I want to and how I want on my art. I want to pick up my bags and travel all over, gathering experiences to craft into words.

But if I stop to think about it, my desires are unrealistic. It’s expecting life on a silver platter.

Artists have to earn their place; otherwise, how will they encounter the angst they need to produce the beauty that lifts off the wing of its opposite, that of pain? If artists are given it all, how can they be motivated to explore the depths of difficulty instead of riding through the easy?

Frustration, I think, keeps me propelled onward as I write out my soul in the hope that someone somewhere will listen. Motivation does the same thing, so that I have to fight to keep both emotions in balance.

I need the frustration, or the dark, to experience the lighter, happier side of motivation – it’s like dancing, singing, living and being free just because I have words to take me there.

Creative Motivation

In Artists, Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 20, 2011 at 7:00 am

I don’t wake up with it every day but I want it to get me through until I return to bed.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out why it ebbs and flows and can’t be a reliable constant.

I wonder why I have to keep reminding myself of it.

It’s called motivation.

Motivation is the desire to do something, the drive to carry out a goal.

For example with work, my motivation is that I want to get paid, I want to do a good job and I want to learn and better my writing skills as a reporter at my hometown newspaper.

But at the same time, I want to write my novel and live the novelist’s life.

Herein is the contradiction: when I’m in the midst of a writing project, I don’t want to leave it do practical things. And when I get caught up in practicality and the hey-ho march to the mines, I convince myself I’m too tired for my passions.

What exactly is motivation?

I looked up the term, as well as the phrase “artists and motivation,” and found a few definitions.

Motivation is the process that initiates and guides goal-oriented behavior. It is what causes you to act.

Motivation, which can be intrinsic or extrinsic, has three components, that of:

* Activation, or the decision to initiate a behavior.

* Persistence, the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist.

* And intensity, or the degree of concentration.

Like a kick starter, I have to remind myself of my goals and think of the eventual rewards whenever I find that I’m tiredly crossing off items from my list of have-to-dos.

If I’m bored, I have to remember that I have constructed my life and that even though I’m not doing something at the moment, my life isn’t meaningless. I have inserted it with future goals, present friends and past lessons. I have goals and friends and things I want to do.

Here’s some other advise I try to follow:

* State goals in a journal or tape them up on the fridge.

* Plan out the steps to take to reach those goals.

* Forgive yourself if you get sidetracked or frustrated. Like with trying to lose weight, if you binge, you shouldn’t stop the diet and call yourself a failure but continue on the next day.

* Get active by doing something physical or social.

* Dream.

* Plan.

* Retain the commitment.

And remember your passion, the reason you are chasing your dream in the first place.