Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Shelley Widhalm’

The Writing Puppy Challenge (or getting yourself to write during the holidays

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on December 10, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund opens her presents every Christmas and wants more!

Every year, I write a Christmas letter, and every year, I wrap Christmas presents or put them in gift bags with fancy ribbon.

For the first task, I go it alone, but for the second, I have a little helper.

My helper is my miniature dachshund Zoey, who will be nine years on Dec. 20—I got her when she was nine weeks. She grabs at the wrapping paper and shreds it with her teeth, so after a couple of years of this, I came up with a plan—distraction. I gave her vet-approved rawhide that she could chew, while I wrapped presents, including hers of more rawhide, treats, toys and re-gifted teddy bears (she has too many!)

Distraction, especially if it becomes a daily occurrence, doesn’t help with retaining a writing routine. During the holidays, there are the holiday parties and dinners, family get-togethers, shopping, writing Christmas letters and other time-filling activities. Without balance, discipline and a plan, these activities can become a distraction from the main goal—keeping the writing momentum going.

Writing Routines

Here are a few ways to be disciplined in writing no matter the time of year:

  • Buy a planner or use a phone app for 2018 and schedule specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished and add up the hours every week or month and compare them over time.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes in between other activities, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Write a writing action plan with 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 (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

The Writing Reward

Writing can be a reward once you get started as you mark progress toward your goals and reach those accomplishments, while also being able to engage in holiday fun. I like to see how many hours I spent on writing my novels, writing poetry and revising my work over the course of a year. I can tell when I’ve gotten distracted, and this year, I put in fewer hours, spending a great deal of time building my business.

But this holiday, I’m getting back on track and returning to my original goal of writing at least two times a week and fitting in writing whenever I can. That, to me, is a great present, just as is Zoey in her cute Christmas shirt with a bow in her ears!

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Poetry Bandwagon + Poetry Reading = Poetry Fun!

In Poem a Day Challenge, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing Poetry on December 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Writing/finding a poem is just like getting a coffee shop gift card for Christmas. Oh, the joy!

I fell off the Poem-A-Day Challenge bandwagon and want to get back on, so I made a deal with myself—two daily poems until I catch up. To do so will take 14 days of double poem dipping.

The Poem-A-Day Challenge is something I undertook Sept. 1 to write a poem a day, and for the first month-and-a-half, I did a good job—I wrote poems every day, but then I made excuses—I’m too busy, I’m not inspired, I don’t want to turn my laptop back on, or I don’t want to take out paper and pen (because then I’ll have to do double work of writing the poem and then typing it up).

As I get back on the wagon with my poetry, I have to come up with some new poems about winter. Though I love Christmas, as you can see by my joy over gifts and coffee shop gift cards, I am not so fond of January and after the Happy New Year when it’s bitter cold with overachieving snow piles.

The poems will be for a poetry reading, “Seasonal Poetry: A Winter’s Night,” on Dec. 17 with the tagline “in celebration of the winter solstice, where poets will celebrate the darks and lights of winter.” The reading, which celebrates the winter solstice, will be 1-3 p.m. at the Loveland Museum/Gallery, 503 N. Lincoln Ave., presented by The Regional Poets.

I have a tiny collection of poems about winter, mainly about barren tree branches and leaves scuttling along all broken and stuff, but they won’t work. I need to write about the theme.

To wait for inspiration to write the poems is unreliable—and for me, poems arrive very infrequently if I sit around and think, “Come here, Poems!”

Alternatively, showing up for daily poem writing results in a few bad poems and even more good ones. As part of the daily poem challenge, I’ve written a lot of haikus, because they’re short. At first, I thought I was “cheating,” but now see that I’ve improved in a couple of ways. I can write them quickly and count the syllables as I do so—it’s harder than it seems the whole-5-7-5 formula.

Here are a few tricks I use to be show up for poetry:

  • Use the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture thoughts, ideas, feelings and observations.
  • Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
  • Avoid using clichés, generalities and vague concepts, like love or war.
  • Avoid overusing trite words, such as hearts and tears, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • Be specific in descriptions.

Once the poem is written, cut excess words, such as “and,” “the” and extra descriptors. Give the poem a title that fits with the message that also is intriguing and draws in the reader.

And write another poem. Keep the momentum going.

Thankfulness Pause

In Being Thankful, Gratitude, Reflections on Writing, Thanksgiving, Writing on November 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Giving thanks is easy when it’s good things, like puppies and perfect grades, scores or assignments.

But it’s a little harder if the result is a skipping heart that over time might break. I was laid off a year ago, and I thought I wouldn’t be grateful about that—who wants to lose their job and face fear of losing more?

I was laid off Nov. 1, 2016, from a reporting position at a daily Colorado newspaper, and I felt a little bitter about Thanksgiving a year later. I thought about how during Thanksgiving 2016, I felt shaky, scared, alone and like little bombs would go off as even more could go wrong. I remember going on a run one November morning just before the holiday and wondering if the sidewalk would crack or a falling branch would hit me—this after the clutch blew on my car just after I got laid off and had a big dental bill.

Liking analogies (I’m a writer!), I thought I’d been kicked off the ship into the big ocean without a compass. Or, I was kicked out of the nest—a fledging without wings. Or, more recently, I was kicked out of the nice comfy house—a housecat that’s gone feral.

But I like being a little wild, I like to fly, and I like to be lost, because what’s happened is I found a long list of thankfulness. I went from a 9-5 pattern of expectations and routine to a constant state of learning, of trying harder than I thought I could, of reinventing, of creating, of finding new ways of writing, of digging into myself, yes, I can do this, I can. I really can! I had to learn how to ghostwrite, be a technical writer, write for different publications in different styles, and edit anything from short stories to sermons to novels from the line to the structural levels. I constantly became uncomfortable. I had to try, try, try.

My heart, it wanted to break. “Give up. It’s too hard,” it beat into my sighs.

But I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. I had to fly. I wanted my wings. I wanted to chase mice and words and have writing as my world.

And then ironically, I forgot about thinking about writing and my layoff on Thanksgiving 2017. I visited my mother for the Thanksgiving noon meal at her assisted living home, and my brother and his wife joined in. We had the traditional holiday fare, and like last year, the volunteer director of activities asked the 75 people in the dining area to find the leaf-shaped paper cutouts on our tables to write what we are thankful for.

My first one was easy, and the same as last year, “Zoey my dog.”

Next, I put, “My apartment in downtown,” something similar to what I wrote last year. The new things on my list included “Coffee!” “My family and friends,” and, here’s the key, “My BUSINESS,” with “business” in caps. That said it all, the layoff and the kick outs were worth the eventual ROI—except I didn’t save a cutout for “Writing.” Ironic, because I love to write and am thankful for it, and I had put it, along with reading, on last year’s list.

Even so, I ended the day realizing that what seems like a negative, something that’s heartbreaking and scary, can turn to the good. It’s how you cut it out and shape it—I have a new perspective that I couldn’t have in my 9-5 sameness—what happens outside doesn’t matter to how I treat my wings.

Because despite the things I cannot control, I can and will fly even if my wings aren’t ready yet. I’ll get there. It takes a paper cutout leaf with a new word, “HOPE.”

Being Thankful for Writing

In Being Thankful, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on November 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Thanksgiving is a time for showing gratitude. What are you thankful for?

Giving thanks is a given for Thanksgiving, and the way my family and I said thank you added fun and creativity to last year’s holiday.

My brother and I had visited our mother at her assisted living place for the noon meal. Before the staff served the traditional fare of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and cranberries, the volunteer director of activities told the 50 or so people in the room to find their tags next to the silverware and write what they were thankful for.

My first one was easy because it was about my dog, Zoey. I wrote “My dog, Zoey,” and my mom said, “I knew you’d write that one.”

Next, I put my apartment, because I love it and where I live, feeling like it’s the first place that’s a perfect fit and so me. I also love books, and I love writing and the fact that I love to write, but my list could go on.

The important thing I saw from the activity is to take a moment to reflect—not just on Thanksgiving but every day. Here are a few reasons I’m thankful for writing.

Writing is a Way:

  • To be creative.
  • To play around with words and language.
  • To improve your understanding of words and how to be concise with language and how to effectively get the message across.
  • To have a hobby (or a job) that can result in a physical product.
  • To figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • To express yourself, using your intelligence and creative mind at the same time.
  • To make connections with text, memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • To tell stories and disappear into another world, where you don’t see the page and can’t tell that you’re writing.

What is the End Result?

It’s interesting to see what you create after spending a few minutes or hours on a story or essay. It’s a process of discovery that also can give you a sense of accomplishment after completing the project, meeting a word or time goal or reaching the final page of that first or 12th draft.

What are you thankful for? What parts of writing make you grateful that you love to write?

This blog is reprinted from my monthly Shell’s Ink Newsletter, where I provide, fun, useful and inspiring tips about writing and editing. Sign up here. or at http://shellsinkservices.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=16ad8aefe047fb117d01164c2&id=098e54aecf

Keys to Writing Discipline

In The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation on November 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Writing can be many things: a profession, a hobby, a necessity, a companion to reading.

But whatever form it takes in your life, it requires discipline.

Writing can feel like a friend, or not so much a friend, especially during the infamous, dreaded writer’s block.

So, here are a few tools to survive writing (and keep it fun):

  • Develop a writing routine, but not so strict that you can’t take breaks. (I like to write one to two times a week, or every day when I take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November to write 50,000 words in a month.)
  • Keep track of when and how long you write, such as in a spreadsheet, so that you know you’re committed and are making progress.
  • Vary your writing by trying something new, like writing a personal essay or taking on a setting or type of character that you normally wouldn’t choose.
  • Share your writing with friends who also write and will give you compliments, like “Great job!” while also giving you some constructive feedback. They can be your coaches and cheerleaders.

And, lastly, congratulate yourself when you write.

But don’t berate yourself when you experience writer’s block. It’s natural and may mean you have something to work out with a character, plot strand or other element of the story. Or, it may be you need to gather up more experiences to have something to write about.

Get those experiences. Eavesdrop. Observe. Hang out in unfamiliar places to gather up dialog bits, new descriptions and different ways of observing.

Lastly, eat some chocolate. Or drink some caffeine. Pair your writing routine with your favorite treat, so that when you write, you get your treat!

 

Finding Work-Life Balance with Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on November 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Balancing writing with the rest of life is important to avoid too much time in front of the computer and to gather experiences for even more writing.

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?

Finding the Work-Life Balance:

  • 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.

One Final Note:

Lastly, realize it’s the writer’s life, that constant need for discipline, motivation and encouragement. Make sure to get out to the 3D, real world to gather those experiences that are much needed for the writing life.

 

Why Exactly is Editing Important?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Once the writing is done, it’s time to take out the red pen!

Editing is part of the writing process, or most definitely should be, even for emails.

Too many errors, and expert status is lowered, and writers look careless, as if they do not know what they’re doing. It gives the message that it’s OK, because everyone else is doing it, so why not join in? There isn’t enough time, or it’s not necessary. It’s just a rough draft, but it needs to be sent off anyway.

If it’s fiction, it won’t get a read if there are too many glaring errors, despite the content. Or if it’s self-published, the writing looks amateurish, making it hard to trust the story and stay on the page—errors cause the eye to stop and notice them instead of the plot, characters and setting.

Editing and a review process are important for all writers, no matter the skill level, because no one can write anything great and perfect the first time. In the least, there could be a typo or a missed word.

Before editing, set aside the writing (unless it’s an email or communication that needs to be immediately sent off) for a day or hire a third party to review the work.

Here are a few reasons why editing is important:

  • To ensure what you wrote matches what you intended to say and that your message gets across.
  • To ensure what you wrote is what you meant to write, instead of what is actually there, such as saying “their,” instead of “there.” It’s harder to see your own mistakes.
  • To tighten up what you wrote, so that there are not repetitions of material or awkward transitions between ideas or paragraphs.
  • To add missing information or to correct factual errors.
  • To make sure the flow of thoughts and ideas is logical and that there is a good structure to how the material is presented.
  • To make sure everything is understandable with the right amount of detail, but not too much detail that attention is lost.

Hiring an editor to do that editing:

Writers can start off by doing a round of their own editing to fix anything they find before hiring an editor. Manuscripts with lots of errors or sloppy writing take longer to edit and, if the editor charges by the hour, cost more.

Or, hire the editor right away, but realize that editing is best done in at least two rounds, one for general editing and a second for proofreading to catch additional errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics.

Longer manuscripts generally go through multiple stages of editing, including structural or developmental editing that looks at the entire manuscript, line editing at each individual line of text and then final proofreading to check for any missed errors.

Editing from an outside perspective can be more objective—writers get stuck in their own writing and love it because it’s their work.

The readers, too, will appreciate the editing, showing them that what they’re reading is worth their time and energy. An error won’t make them start asking questions about the meaning, the content or the writer.

 

Editing 101: The Multiple Forms of Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Editing is not a simple, one-step process, especially if the goal is to achieve clean, compelling writing that keeps readers wanting to read to the end.

Editing involves multiple layers from revising the overall structure of the manuscript to slow reading and evaluating at the individual line level. Editing has multiple names for those layers from the big picture of the rough draft to the small picture of proofreading of the nearly clean copy.

The Positive of Editing

When it comes to my own work, I wish I could read it once and think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and go on to more writing. But I know, too, that what I write is a rough draft and not close to the final product.

I find slight comfort in the fact that editing can be similar to writing as sentences, paragraphs and new ideas are added or removed to get to the core of the topic or story, so that there isn’t anything extra or boring or any mistakes detracting from the message.

Editing fiction can add a layer of entertainment with new scenes, sections of dialog or character qualities. For nonfiction, layering in details or inserting additional quotes can bring in more complexity, as long as the addition is tied smoothly to what comes before and after.

Levels of Editing

Here are a few different types of editing from the big picture down to the small detail, along with the tasks of each type:

  • Structural or Substantive Editing: Reorganize the manuscript for content or structure; make sure there are transitions between ideas; and clarify any areas of confusion or lack of data or a missing scene.
  • Stylistic Editing: Clarify meaning; eliminate jargon or awkward word usages; make sure the writer’s voice is consistent throughout; and make sure the entire text and the language within reads cleanly and smoothly.
  • Copy Editing: Edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; make sure details and descriptions are consistent; and make sure the use of language and mechanics are consistent.
  • Fact Checking: Check for accuracy of facts by checking various original sources.
  • Proofreading: Read proofs of edited manuscript or give edited copy a final read-through for errors not caught in previous editing rounds.

Error-Free

The aim of the multiple layers of editing is to achieve clean copy that reads smoothly without too many extraneous details or detracting thoughts, ideas or information. By editing in layers, the idea is to catch all or most errors. This is difficult to do if you’re trying to understand the overall content at a quicker reading pace, while also reading slowly at the line level. The two levels of reading need to be separated into different steps.

Reading in layers allows for different attention levels to the text, so that all of the pieces come together in something that is interesting, readable and compelling from the first line to the end.

Fast Ways to Edit Fiction (or somewhat)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing Advice on October 15, 2017 at 4:54 pm

To be fast and efficient in editing a short story or novel, it’s helpful to have a checklist and a plan.

The checklist helps avoid overlapping tasks, while also moving through them with speed and careful thought. The seemingly contradictory notions fit together when taking the short and long views.

Editing involves hours of work, but the work can expand if the edits aren’t broken up into parts and instead are carried out start to finish over and over again (the long view). Editing is better off in layers, focused on one step at a time (the short view).

First Editing Round

As a first step, read the entire manuscript through, looking for inconsistencies, areas where the story doesn’t flow or diverges unnecessarily and areas where boredom is the result.

When I edit my own work, if I question needing something, I cut and dump—and put the goners into my Cuts File (because I have trouble letting go). I read for overall plot to make sure things make sense and check for any inconsistencies in character, setting or action development.

Additional Editing

Here are things to look for in each editing pass, or grouped together if it makes sense:

  • Ask if the opening scene grabs the reader.
  • Cut any unnecessary scenes and strengthen weak ones. Make sure the scenes have a clear objective for the character and further the conflict, or opposition, to the objective to keep the action moving.
  • Look for any elements that are incomplete or not carried through, such as a dropped idea, a scene that ends too soon or a character that disappears without explanation.
  • Make sure the plot threads come together. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Are conflict and tension sustained throughout the telling? Does the story build with tension at the end of each chapter?
  • Make sure the characters are realistic with good and bad features and that they are distinguishable from one another. Are they fully fleshed out with personalities, backgrounds and unique physical characteristics? Does the reader care about these characters?
  • Ask if the dialogue is realistic and if the characters speak in ways that are distinguishable from one another. Look for consistency, accuracy and any repetitions in their identities, backgrounds and behaviors.
  • Remove any unnecessary back story, especially in the first 50 pages where action is needed to hook the reader, and make sure character histories are not provided too early in the story.
  • Make sure the pacing is compelling and right for the telling of the story.

A Final Thought

Remember, each time you edit, you get closer to the core of the story and the essential components, like a taut rubber band. The story becomes tighter, keeping the reader tense, on edge and ready to keep moving through the story.

Loving Writing, But What About Editing?

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

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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.