Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Shelley Widhalm’

Coffee and Writing and How They Relate

In Espresso, National Coffee Day, National Espresso Day, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on November 11, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services compares coffee to writing in honor of National Espresso Day on Nov. 23.

I’m addicted to fancy coffee because there are so many aspects to the experience.

A bit of sweet with the bitter of espresso, the heady smell of freshly ground espresso beans and the smooth texture give coffee that appeal of wanting more.

The well-known National Coffee Day was Sept. 29, but National Espresso Day is Nov. 23, created by PartyExcuses.com, “365 days—thousands of excuses.”

My excuse, I have to admit, is to tie coffee to writing.

Espresso is an Italian-style dark, rich brew pressed out for a smooth finish. It’s the base ingredient in café lattes (my favorite is an iced caramel latte, summer or winter), cappuccinos and macchiatos.

Espresso and Writing

To celebrate Espresso Day, have a shot of espresso to mark its invention around the 1900s and pick up your pen, no excuses, to start describing the world around you, helped by the extra alertness from the caffeine.

It’s a matter of wanting more, such as two or three shots of espresso in the small latte. That’s like adding description to plain writing to make the process fun with the key ingredients of observing, absorbing and noticing details. Use the senses to observe and then choose words carefully to absorb, making sure every word has a purpose to move the writing along.

Achieving great writing is similar to using fresh beans in espresso—if they’re old, the taste is bitter. Descriptions that are trite, cliché-ridden and lacking detail can suffice but won’t give the reader that buzz that heightens the experience of drinking and reading.

To get more technical (but still keeping it fun), verbs are a key component of description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. For example, “the caramel sauce drizzled in a wavy path down the whipped cream” is more descriptive than “whip with caramel.”

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “extra skinny, extra hot, light foam, light whip latte with extra caramel.” Just say you’re picky.

What to Avoid in Description

There are a few other things to avoid in descriptions, such as:

  • Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. For example, saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours without caffeine.”
  • Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
  • Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Coffee and coffee cup are general nouns, as opposed to a pumpkin spice latte and an orange mug with leaves on it.

Description is what fills the pages of a story or gives a poem form. Without it, the action falls flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this. Or the poetic devices would be readily apparent without that wonder of captured memory and observation.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.

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Art for Art’s Sake, Not for Free

In Artists, Dying of Exposure, Harrison Hand, Loveland Artists Collective, Writing on October 28, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Artist and author Harrison Hand of Loveland poses by one of his books in one of his Facebook photos.

Artists can love what they do, but they shouldn’t be doing it for free—or they might die of exposure.

“The shark is who’s going to take advantage of you and eat you versus those who will carry you,” said Harrison Hand of Loveland, Colo., an artist, illustrator and filmmaker who owns Harrison Hand Studios. “We have to shift how we get discovered and how we get marketed.”

Hand gave a presentation, “Dying of Exposure: the problem of working for free and how to fix it,” at the Oct. 22 Loveland Artists Collective monthly meeting on ways artists can profitability market and price their work. The Artists Collective brings together visual, performing and literary artists to discuss topics related to the arts and meets at various locations, including Artworks Loveland, an art studio and gallery in downtown Loveland, where Hand spoke.

Artists who do not have a large marketing budget may resort to low-cost gorilla marketing to get their work in view of the public, but what Hand calls sharks can come in, promising, “Give me this, and I’ll promote you.”

Sharks and Dolphins

Sharks can take on various forms, offering payment in forms of exposure when artists need to earn a living. They may want artists’ stuff for free. They may be two-headed flees/fleas who take your stuff and flee or put your stuff in a flea market setting surrounded by stuff sold from elsewhere, causing you to drown from the false exposure. Or they may be the friends and family types who expect you to work for free and come up with an excuse to take what you make.

Instead, artists need to identify the win-win marketing dolphins in their midst in the sea of sharks that can carry them to paying customers,

“Dolphins are going in the same direction as you to carry you to the customer,” Hand said. “Sharks take you where they want to go. Dolphins take you where you want to go.”

Dolphins get excited about what you do and tell everyone, or they make it easier for you to get discovered. Dolphins who are artists may cross-promote each other’s work, something artists can do by connecting and sharing what they like.

“You want to find those key people who talk you up and promote you,” Hand said.

If artists do decide to charge below their normal rates, they can mention what they normally charge and say they will do it for less and expect something in return, Hand said. Or they can state their rate and suggest other sources, such as students who may charge less, he said.

“Don’t devalue your time because you love doing it,” Hand said.

Working for Free?

Hand turned the rest of the discussion over to the 30-plus artists and writers in the audience. They suggested when requests for free work are sought to possibly set aside a couple of charitable projects a year and once that is met to roll over requests to the next year on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“I try to, in the nicest way possible, explain first of all, there are ways to ask artists for their art,” said Sheron Buchele Rowland, fiber artist and metalsmith and organizer of the Artists Collective. “It’s symbiotic. We’re carrying each other forward.”

Some of the artists questioned how much they should charge for their work—it’s based on materials, market and time spent both on the work and developing the skills to do it, Hand said.

“What we do is unique. We all have a unique vision to show the world,” Hand said. “What I do is a skill just like what you do is skill.”

The Artists Collective provides education and networking opportunities for artists and aims to activate the arts to promote their success.

“We are about community. We are about networking,” Buchele Rowland said. “That community is really critical because we spend so much time in our studios by ourselves.”

Saying Goodbye to a Car (with a little bit about writing)

In Car Repairs, Cars, New Cars, Writing, Writing and Cars on October 21, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services had to get new wheels in early October after she said goodbye to her 16-year-old car that took her all over the country and got her nearly 170,000 miles.

For months, I knew we’d be parting ways, my car of 16 years that took me nearly 170,000 miles in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Nebraska and my home state of Colorado. I knew that after replacing the clutch, fixing the brakes, getting yet another set of tires and having 2,000 misfires in the engine, plus a window that wouldn’t go up or down and a front end duck taped together, all within two years, this day would come.

The Repairs

My heart pounded as I heard the verdict on the cost of repairs. I couldn’t keep fixing what’s broken and return my car to clean newness. I called a towing company to have it taken from the car shop to my apartment. I’d driven it the day before, and it went thumpity-thump down the road, the “Check Engine” light flashing as it went slower and slower until it was a matter of … where do I stop? I parked, went to a meeting and a co-freelancer helped me drive the car to the shop.

At 2:15 p.m. on Sept. 28, my car arrived on the bed of a tow truck, which lowered it into its parking space. I looked at the white truck and my car, back and forth, thinking, do not cry. I got my key and sat inside my car, and I cried. I didn’t think I would, because I’d been saying “I hate you” for breaking down.

Memories flashed through of our times together, my cranberry red Saturn, my first brand new car when I thought I was fancy and on the top of my game. I had a job as a features writer at The Washington Times. I was going to work at The Washington Post or The New York Times. I was going to be a published author. I would have an expansive wardrobe and fill my passport to overflowing.

The Adventures

My car and I went to the beach and to the mountains. We went on wine tours. We went shopping. We got separated in big parking lots. We listened to audio books and the radio. She, my Cranberry Red, listened to me talk on the phone before that became a no-no, and she heard me go through the gamut of emotions. She was there out my apartment window wherever I lived, my constant.

I sat in her passenger seat, thinking, I won’t be driving you anymore. This is it. This is goodbye. My heart beat a little faster. I couldn’t catch my breath. I wanted to have my car to go places. To be. Not this. Not this soon.

I got laid off in 2008 from The Washington Times, and my car and I moved back to Colorado. I got laid off in 2016, and we thought it wasn’t fair, two layoffs in less than a decade, but it was the recession and then post-recession. Cranberry Red started to age, and she needed lots of assistance to keep going. I gave her what she wanted, peeling out hundreds and hundreds of dollars for her care.

The Goodbye

I felt like she’d become part of me, my car. And then I thought about all of the things I’m going to be. I’m not giving up.

I am going to be a traditionally published author, no matter the effort that it takes, because I will have the heart and the new wheels and the love of family and friends to let me know that I can go forward. I will keep writing and loving writing. Because over the last month, I had wanted to quit my business and my writing and then my car quit, and I figured, no, not both of us.

One of us has to carry on the torch of the Cranberry.

Transitions in Seasons (and How it Relates to Writing)

In Transitions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on October 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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The table centerpiece is a perfect way to transition into fall with fresh-picked apples mixed with the colors of autumn.

The change from summer to fall or fall to winter is more gradual than the calendar indicates.

In Colorado, there’s often an afterthought of heat in late fall or an early snow before summer ends. The change occurs like sliding down a hill with some going back up until the season feels like, yep, it’s fall, or yes, time for the winter jackets.

An abrupt change in season can be compared to writing without transition—it’s hot and then it’s cold without anything in between.

Transitions in Story

Transitions are essential to keep the direction of the storyline clear, instead of skipping without explanation from one time or place to another, confusing readers as they try to figure out where exactly they are in the story. For instance, they might think they are in a coffee shop and suddenly they are in some memory about traveling to another country.

Transitions serve as a bridge that signals a shift in the story, such as a change in time, place, mood, tone or point of view. They mark a scene break, ideally at the moment of heightened suspense, causing the reader to want to know what happens next.

The point-of-view character’s physical environment, or what’s happening around her, can transition into her internal thoughts, memories or reflections. The character may see an object or hear something that triggers recollections of some event from her past. The recalling of past events in the present through flashback interrupts the flow of narrative. The tense can be changed—such as present to past or past to past perfect—to indicate her entry into or exiting out of the memory or flashback. Sensory impressions can be used to take the character out of the memory and return the character to the present moment. Or dialogue can cause the character to come back to the present, though she might ask, “What? What are you talking about?”

Transitions as Roadmap

Transitions serve as that roadmap, or weather guide, keeping the reader within the story world, so that moving between time and place seems natural without suddenly needing to change clothes or pull out the umbrella, wondering what to do next.

I prefer my summer to spill into fall, winter to be short and spring to arrive quickly. But I appreciate all four seasons because sameness would not give that excitement of change, or transition!

The Work (and Poetry) of an Assisted Living Facility

In Community Poets, Poetry Readings, Writing Poetry on October 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm reads some of her poetry at the “Good Work” poetry reading Sept. 23 at the Loveland Museum in Loveland, Colo.

Every time I visit my mother at her assisted living facility, I walk down the halls, feeling wonder at the corkboards filled with cutout magazine pages.

One of the residents, Deloros, considers it her job to fill the white walls with images of wildlife, birds, historic ruins and travel—and sometimes people at work. She cuts out the images, tapes them to construction paper and highlights the text, turning routine magazine articles into art, education and entertainment.

Deloros says she needs to finish her work before lunch as I stop to talk and let her pet my dog, Zoey, a long-haired miniature dachshund. I commiserate, because I know I would want the same thing in my retirement years—some sense of work and purpose. She tells me it helps her get up and going with her day.

“Some feel lost until they have work,” is a line from a poem that perfectly fits our weekly encounters.

Good Work! Poetry Reading

The poem is about life at an assisted living facility and one of 15 that poets read Sept. 23 at the seasonal poetry reading hosted by the Community Poets in Loveland, Colo.

The poetry reading, “Good Work!—A Post-Labor Day Celebration,” featured an open mike and the reading of poems focused on the autumnal equinox, work and going back to school. The poems were on subjects as varied as working in a mailroom, doing a long list of random jobs, going to a job interview, questioning choosing college over steady work, disliking repetitive factory tasks and seeing the act of pushing a pencil across the page as heavy work. My poems were about doing dishes and taking the trash to the trash room.

“It’s easy to get lost in your career,” was a line from one of the poems, and I related.

I find that working too much pushes out real life and fun if the hours become too many—and then I realize I need to work less to be a little more balanced. I wonder what I will do when I retire and how I’ll fill my days. Will I think I have to work, just like Deloros does? Will I be writing my novels and journaling because I believe it’s incredibly important? Will I be published and have “my work” continue bringing in money? Or will the work be something that gets me up to be doing something, anything, just as long as I keep busy?

One of the poems was about Bud, whose job is listening to stories—and it turns out Bud is a dog. Zoey’s jobs involve going on walks, doing tricks and offering comfort to her human companions and those she passes by, like Deloros. She stops to visit Deloros and listens to her stories about her work, wiggling her body at the excitement of being included. I always smile, fascinated by the Deloros’s artwork and the love she gives Zoey.

Taking Poetry Notes

During the poetry reading, I didn’t take very careful notes. I scribbled on tiny yellow and orange piece of papers with poems on them, writing on the back sides of “The Real Work,” by Wendell Berry and two copies of a poem by Gary Snyder, “Hay for Horses.” I forgot my work of being a journalist, absorbed in being a poet and a listener of poetry, marveling at the beauty of the lines and images the poets presented. In other words, I forgot to work.

“It was so much creativity and beauty and heart and soul put into versions of work,” said Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Community Poets, adding that the poets sharing their work was “a community gift.”

The Community Poets, a group of local poets and organizations that organizes poetry readings and workshops in Loveland, will hold the next seasonal reading Dec. 16 on Frosty Nights and the Pleasures of Winter, inspired by the poetry of Robert Frost, at the Loveland Museum. The poetry readings are held every season, and the workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

 

Anthony Doerr enlightens readers about “All the Light We Cannot See”

In All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, Loveland Loves to Read, Reading on September 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr, right, signs copies of his books at the Loveland Loves to Read author talk Sept. 24 in Loveland, Colo. With him is Carol Morganti, member of the Loveland Loves to Read Committee, who hands over copies of books for signing.

Boise, Idaho, author Anthony Doerr starts with the eyes of a housefly to describe his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.”

Flies have two compound eyes, each made up of 3,000 to 6,000 simple eyes, enabling them to see elements of light invisible to the human eye.

Doerr presented an image of a fly’s eye during a slideshow he gave as part of his author talk Sept. 24 for the 15th annual Loveland Loves to Read event, presented by the Friends of the Loveland Public Library Foundation at the Roberta Price Auditorium in Loveland, Colo. His 2014 novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a year after publication, as well as the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

“I’m sure you’ve heard Loveland loves artists … we’re here to tell you Loveland loves readers and writers as well,” said Peg Isaakson, chairwoman of the Loveland Loves to Read committee to introduce “An Evening with Anthony Doerr.” “The art of painting a story or documentary involves using words well, and that’s what we’re here to celebrate.”

The Story’s Inspiration

Doerr talked about his inspiration for the novel, the unseen light waves that make up technology. This includes the radio power serving as the center of the story of a blind French girl and a German orphan in occupied France during World War II.

“I want my reader to re-see things we take for granted or no longer see,” Doerr said.

Doerr began his presentation with his childhood, saying he was a dilettante or dabbler with many interests but no real commitment to any one thing. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up but it was often based on his current reading. By the time he was in college, he treated it like an “all-you-can-eat buffet college course catalog,” not wanting to declare a major before having to pick something—for him, it was history.

“Sometimes we get stuck in our own lives, and we forget our own perceptions,” Doerr said as he presented close-up images of his fascinations that included blood cells, Velcro, flecks of salt and pepper, a banana and the eye of housefly at 1,000 times magnification. As he dabbled in multiple subjects, he recorded things he found to be interesting, allowing him to see ordinary things in extraordinary ways, he said.

Doerr threw out some extraordinary facts, such as the most common form of communication is light and that 80 percent of deep sea animals create their own light. He wondered about other things, too, such as “why snow crystals bother to be so beautiful” and why only some memories remain intact and others are lost.

The Structure of the Story

Doerr built his novels and short stories and developed the identities of his characters around the facts he collected, relating what he learned through story to help the reader enjoy his sense of awe. “About Grace,” his first novel published in 2004, relayed his fascination with snow, while “All the Light We Cannot See” focuses on his love of the many aspects of light and how light is perceived.

“I had a sense she could see things he could not,” Doerr said, referring to Marie-Laure and Werner.

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For “All the Light We Cannot See,” Doerr started with his title and on a book tour in France in 2005 tumbled on his setting—and then he had to do more research for a year on the place and time of war, getting yet another college education, he said. Once he began to write, sometimes he’d make it only three sentences before he’d have to stop and do more research.

An Old Story Becomes ‘New’

Doerr took an old story and oft-written subject and made it new, shaping the story’s structure to mimic a labyrinth.

“I want it to feel like a labyrinth, where the reader feels their way through it,” Doerr said.

He spent a decade solving the puzzle of the structure, which employs the use of short chapters and alternating storylines, and how best to relay the history, His approach to writing was reflective of how he hopped around in his many interests, with the book taking its initial shape out of chronology before he strung it back together into a sense of order for the reader, he said.

“Sometimes it’s good for the mind to make things no matter how well they’re received. For me it’s almost a prayer,” Doerr said. “It’s good for the mind, the soul and the people around you.”

Work and Poetry (a reading)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry, Writing Poetry on September 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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The ducks at the local lagoon, no matter the season, is one of my favorite topics to write about when I engage in poetry.

Poems about autumn and work go together with the autumnal equinox and Labor Day falling in the same month.

The Community Poets will host a poetry reading, “Good Work!—A Post-Labor Day Celebration,” on Sept. 23 at the Loveland Museum in Loveland, Colo., and I’ve been invited to be one of the 10 readers. The Community Poets, a group of local poets and organizations that organizes poetry readings and workshops in Loveland, gives seasonal readings, but this one will have a twist by bringing in that thing we all have to do.

Work.

“Work has so many meanings,” said Lorrie Wolfe, a member of the Community Poets president of the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado. “It’s how we build our lives, spend our days and fulfill our dreams. We will reflect on the shortening days, the autumnal equinox and heading back to school.”

The Poetry Reading

To prepare for the reading, I scoured through my poems over the last year—I started the Poem-A-Day Challenge on Sept, 1, 2017, that encourages the writing of a poem a day—and found dozens of poems about work, making it hard to select two or three.

My topics include working at a grocery store, doing dishes, taking out the trash and getting pink slips, but nothing about writing articles for newspapers—my main career, maybe because I’d be writing about writing. I also found several poems about fall, which is helpful for the reading’s secondary theme of autumn. Among my fall poems were a few about ducks at a nearby lagoon but observed all year round, probably because I run by there every day as part of my daily run.

The benefit of daily poetry is generating enough poems about topics for a variety of readings and to have enough for a book or two. In my own work, I saw half a dozen common themes for chapbooks, just within a year.

For those who want to try a poem, there are no hard rules except for the forms, because free verse allows for a looser structure. Poems, at the most basic level, have rhythm and pacing without excess words, such as “and,” “the,” adverbs and filler descriptions. They are shaped by lines, spaces and word breaks.

Writing Poetry

To begin writing poetry, and this may sound repetitive, just write. To wait for inspiration to cull a poem is unreliable.

Do not expect all poems to be good—I have plenty of bad and OK poems in my daily collection, but each one has a line or two or even a rhythm that makes me think, “Oh, I have something here.”

To write a poem, here a few tricks I use.

  • 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, give it a title that fits but also is intriguing and draws in the reader. And then read it out loud, possibly before an audience.

That’s the aim of the Community Poets, to give poets voice. The group includes the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado; the Friends of the Loveland Public Library; The Writing Lab; the DazBogian Poets; and several community sponsors.

The poetry readings are held every season, and the workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

Prepping for Poetry’s Arrival

In Poetry, Poetry Workshops, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on August 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Waiting for the poem to arrive is like waiting for a butterfly to land and stay still.

Writing poetry is all about form and discipline, or is there more to it, such as invitation, invocation and imagination?

After attending Loveland poet Bhanu Kapil’s workshop earlier this month on “Writing the Poem Before It Arrives” at the Loveland Public Library, I realized I’d been leaving out an important aspect of my poetry practice.

I write a poem a day. I write poems when I feel inspired. And I write poems to practice form from short haikus to odes and the occasional sonnet.

But I never thought about prewriting poetry, engaging in exercises of the imagination to set the stage for a poem’s arrival.

“You’re receiving whatever comes. This is your writing. This is for the poem,” said Kapil, who decided to become a poet in 2003 and now works as a part-time instructor at the Naropa University and Goodard College’s low-residency MFA program. She is the author of several full-length poetry/prose collections, including “The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers,” “Schizophrene” and “Ban en Banlieue.”

Poetry Meditation

Kapil began the 2 ½-hour workshop with a meditation and exercise. She asked that the lights be turned out in the library’s community room and the 30 or so poets close their eyes and imagine that it’s nighttime in the middle of the daytime.

“We’re in a space with other poets who have a desire to write, a feeling to write before (the poem) arrives,” Kapil said. “Make contact with your imagination. Shift time with your body. Make contact with the notebook life.”

Kapil asked the poets to imagine changing their time and location to that of a sea cave, while still keeping their eyes closed. To get there, she had them visualize being somewhere in the plains and grabbing the desire to write and tucking it somewhere, while also noticing the sounds, feel and shape of things and the birds, vegetation and flowers in the environment. She mentally took the poets into a sea cave, and then had them open their eyes, draw a circle with what they thought about placed inside the circle, and then write a poem. The result is what has arrived, she said.

“It’s a connection with a near image and something you’ve been carrying with your writing,” Kapil said.

I drew a lopsided circle that ended up looking like a clock with a swing flying from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and my flip-flops flying off with ocean waves at the bottom lifting off at 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. At 8:30 a.m. is my sun with my notebook at 10 a.m. and a bird in flight that also looks like a cross at 11:30 a.m.

I wrote a poem that starts off: “Jump onto swings/ lose flip-flops/ ready to go to the sea’s edge/ no time clocks or check in …”

After writing, we traded poems with a writing partner. Mine said that all off my images are off the hour, the way childhood play is. The last lines of my poem are about letting go of the sea cave to fly on my swing, “my feet reaching to that sun.”

Poetry Pilgrimage

Kapil had the poets engage in a second exercise, but I had to go to work, doing the opposite of my fun, childhood play. She called it the “Completely Imaginary Experience in the Library,” the idea of bringing together fragments or pieces of notes and ideas into poetic form.

One way to do so is by taking a pilgrimage in your own environment—Kapil has 12 questions she travels the world with and keeps asking and answering. She asked the poets to find a book in the library and use lines from the book to respond to one of the 12 questions.

“Ask a question and let your hand drift to a book,” Kapil said. “The poem you write is a response to one of the questions. Include one word or fragment from your notes. And also attend to that message from the book you open. You really have to commit, and then integrate it that way. Write toward that line.”

The poem that comes cannot be entirely controlled but comes out of the process, Kapil said.

“It’s something that wants to be written,” she said.

The workshop and a reading the evening before were sponsored by a number of poetry groups known as the Community Poets, including the Columbine Poets of Colorado, Northern Colorado Chapter; the Friends of the Loveland Public Library; The Writing Lab; the DazBogian Poets; and several community sponsors. The workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

“For her, there’s a whole ritual doorway into the place from which we write from,” said Veronica Patterson, Loveland poet and a member of the Community Poets. “She was describing it from the sea cave, where she writes, which I loved. It’s not writing from the surface, but how to get to a deeper place in ourselves.”

How to Train Your Writing (and Your Puppy)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Zoey the Dachshund demonstrates Up as one of her obedience tricks.

Improving writing skills and training a puppy have some similarities.

I got Zoey, a long-haired miniature dachshund, nine years ago when she was nine weeks old. I started writing when I was eight or nine—short stories and cute poems—becoming serious about it in college.

With both, I had to train my puppy and I had to train my writing. Neither came naturally to me, so I had to become a student to learn the essentials and then become more proficient with practice.

Training Writing, Training a Puppy

I found that to do either well requires research, experience and knowledge—and, of course, patience. I read about a dozen books about dog training, dog behavior and the dachshund breed, and with writing, I read close to 50 books about the writing process and various elements of writing, along with two monthly magazines.

I took Zoey to puppy kindergarten and through intermediate training to provide her with skills in basic obedience. She received a certificate and had her photo taken with a mini-dog graduation cap.

To make sure there isn’t slide, we practice those skills on a daily basis—commands like sit, down, stay, shake and come and walking on a leash. We, however, haven’t got past the treat effect—Zoey expects and requires a treat for each skill she demonstrates. For her shakes, she rapidly waves her paw as she tries to be patient. I touch it and give her what she wants.

We go on walks, and I learned that I shouldn’t pull her on her leash but patiently wait for her to understand what I want through treats and praises. I praise her when she walks and wait her out when she sniffs. I praise her when we return to walking. She gets a treat when we get home.

She especially likes it when people want to stop and give her attention—dogs are social animals and need to have comfort and routine.

How to Improve Writing, Dog Behavior

Here are a few things I learned about maintaining good behavior in a dog (and how it relates to writing):

  • Provide at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to keep the dog healthy and to release energy that when unused can result in poor behaviors (write at least once a week to keep up the routine and practice of writing; more if there is time).
  • Do obedience training to improve the dog’s mental stamina and prowess (do writing prompts, even for five minutes, to stimulate the mind and promote larger pieces of writing).
  • Do obedience training on a consistent basis to turn a dog’s good behaviors into a habit (write on a consistent basis, such as once a week, to turn that practice into a habit).
  • Offer regular playtimes, so the dog can build a relationship with you and also have fun (think of writing as a hobby and something that is for after work or playtime).
  • Pet the dog through belly rubs, head patting and massages to create an emotional bond (think of your writing as a relationship between you and your words).
  • Set the same time every night for bedtime, so that dogs have an expectation of when to settle down (write at the same time and in the same place to create an expectation that now is the time to write, even if the writing may not seem good or out of flow, or at least at first).

These are just a few ways to provide a pattern to let the dog (and your writing self) know what to expect, thereby establishing a good routine to follow. The result is a well-trained dog and a well-trained writer, eager to get to the work and fun of both.

How Writing Groups Improve Writing (and make it fun)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Groups, Writing Motivation on July 22, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Birthday(WithSarah)2 04-2016

Shelley Widhalm’s write-in group gets together once a week to write, but also celebrates birthdays to add fun to the writing venture.

A big part of writing discipline is showing up. You already may have picked a favorite spot and best time of day for optimal energy.

Accountability can add to that discipline, while also making it fun, both from setting up a date and time to meet but also wanting to have some work to show at that meeting.

Writers gather in four typical ways: writing groups to critique each other’s work, write-ins to work on individual projects at a set time, writing planning or accountability groups to check on each member’s progress on writing plans and projects, and writing partners to share the experience of writing.

I’ve belonged to all four types and find that each has its benefits.

Right now, I’m part of a planning group that meets monthly, and we talk about our accomplishments, what we’re working on, what we plan to work on over the next month and any obstacles we face.

The few times I didn’t make much progress on my novel revision, I realized I wanted to return to the next meeting with something to report. I also saw that at each meeting, which began in late 2017, I had the same excuse: not enough time or energy for writing and too many time wasters keeping me from it.

Takeaways for writing accountability groups:

  • Have writing goals to give you something to move toward, but don’t make them unreasonable. Remember you can try again tomorrow.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments, even if they seem small to you. (I kept up with my daily poem challenge, worked on my novel revision and wrote a short story.)
  • Look at what you’re achieving versus what you’re not achieving, while having compassion for yourself.

I also am a member of a weekly write-in that I joined two years ago. Currently, we have three members, and we meet at a local coffee shop and work on our personal writing projects. We talk for a little bit about our work and writing lives and do a couple of social things, such as going out for each other’s birthdays, and then focus on writing.

I’ve also met one-on-one with other writers and like the experience of sharing a writing table and find the experience to be similar but in a smaller format.

Takeaways for write-in groups (or one-on-one meetings):

  • Work on your personal writing projects, not work, because then you did not set the boundary with work and gift yourself with that time.
  • Realize that showing up for writing for two hours a week (or whatever you choose) adds to an accumulation of words and material over several months. You make progress toward your goal.

I’ve also belonged to several writing critique groups, which have varied in format. We either exchange a section of our work ahead of time and bring our revision suggestions to the meeting or revise on the spot. We then discuss our suggestions, going around the table for each critique.

Takeaways for writing critique groups:

  • You can get a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written, since each writer will notice different things.
  • You get a better understanding of what works and doesn’t work, both at the sentence level and at the level of the overall story structure or in the storytelling.
  • With the help of other writers, you can identify weak areas in plot and character development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing, setting, logistics or dialog.
  • If you choose to read the work aloud, you can notice grammar mistakes and missing words that you might not notice with silent reading.
  • You improve editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.
  • You can brainstorm plot or other elements within your story to help improve your writing.
  • You can deepen your knowledge of writing and writing techniques, because each writer has a different understanding of and experiences with the same writing concepts.

With all of these groups, I’ve worked hard to keep to a writing schedule, wanting a project to work on and to demonstrate I’m making progress on that project. I want to be a writer after all, not wishing I were a writer. That means I have to show up and be accountable, both to myself and to my fellow writers—and, of course, to my projects!