Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Advice’

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.

 

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What is it Like to be a Writer? (or random musings on the writing life)

In The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration on August 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I like writing both on paper and on the laptop or whatever is available when I feel inspired.

I sometimes get asked how I write as if it is a mysterious thing—it is and isn’t depending on if I’m forcing it or feeling inspired.

I’m also asked, “Can you write for me or tell me how?” I hear about ideas or plot summaries of long writing projects but also about the desire to not do the actual writing. “Could you take the project on?” I get asked.

Maybe, as a ghostwriter.

But then the research, writing and editing comes from someone else. It’s me writing as Other. The writing is not so mysterious, because it’s work, like writing a news article or a blog.

Writing as Mystery

It’s not that magical immersion into the process of writing where I lose the world and feel like I’m watching a movie, not feeling the keyboard under my fingers. For me, it’s writing as the Self and not the Other, but also a letting go of the self in the process.

To do this Self and Self-less Writing, I engage in multiple approaches to get toward poetry, short stories and novels. I look for inspiration, such as in books, poems, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature, as I blogged about earlier this month in “Finding Writing Fascination (and Inspiration!).”

I rely on discipline, tracking when and how long I write and tallying my hours each week and month. I make myself write at least one to two times a week, though more often is more preferable for a regular routine. And I set up write-ins where I meet with other writers and chat and write, because that’s why we’re there providing even more discipline.

I calculate the number of words I write per hour, especially when I do speed writing, a form of freewriting where the aim is to write fast without worrying about grammar and content but keeping the focus on staying with and in the writing.

Getting Immersed in Writing

The Self and Self-less writing is an ultra-focused immersion in the process, keeping your hands on the laptop without thinking too hard or letting the editor take over. This kind of writing results in surprises as the characters seem to do their own thing and the plot unravels as if combining your unconscious mind with what needs to happen next. Connections occur from where you started to where you are at now in the storyline as the tension builds toward the final, satisfying ending.

For me, I get absorbed in the writing and love doing it, but then I hear a noise or I think a thought outside of my story, and I have to come back to the real world. In other words, I enter writing, and it’s fun; I come back to the real world, and it’s a struggle.

Upon my return, I blink a couple of times and look at the last few sentences I had written. It’s often difficult to go back into the story, as if I have to dive in. But if I do, I return to that mysterious, magical world of something beyond the writer where the creation happens.

Writing Nonfiction

When I write nonfiction, I don’t leave as such and get lost in another world, but I do get focused. I’ve done my research and have a rough outline in my head, or, in the case of an article, know how to structure it, so it’s writing out of routine. I weave together the pieces, making it tight with the overall structure and give it flow with the right transitions. I let one sentence lead to the next toward the final The End.

The magic, then, with fiction and nonfiction is to let go and let it happen with you as an ever present Self but also being and remaining Self-less, not letting the You get in the way of the Words that want to get created.

Really, A Poem a Day?

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on August 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

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The poem-a-day challenge is something to mentally schedule to get inspired to write.

Starting in September, I’m going to take on the challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days.

I’m not original in this idea—I attended a poetry workshop Saturday, Aug. 5, presented by Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, where I learned about her 30-day poem challenge that has since extended to more than 10 years.

That’s at least 3,650 poems—and I thought I was clever for being like Emily Dickinson and writing 1,000 poems since my childhood. I began my effort in elementary school with “poems” on pink paper covered in drawn hearts before I moved on to napkins, laptops and paper bits.

“All day long, I’m available to poems,” said Wahtola Trommer, Colorado’s Western Slope Poet Laureate and author of “Even Now: Poems & Drawings,” “Holding Three Things at Once” and “If You Listen.”

Wahtola Trommer spoke at a 2 ½-hour workshop, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat,” giving poetry advice and offering prompts at the Loveland Public Library in Loveland, Colorado.

“I found her presence—in person and in her poems—both open and passionate, and I was delighted with her calling her workshop a ‘playshop,’” said Veronica Patterson, a Loveland poet who helped organize the workshop through the Regional Poets based in Loveland. “Play is so essential to freeing our imaginations.”

 

The Daily Poet

To become a daily poet, Wahtola Trommer had to do two things: lower her standards and realize that writer’s block isn’t something she could afford. Thinking each poem had to be good got in her way, so she had to let some poems go.

“They’re not all precious to me,” Wahtola Trommer said. “I think poetry is practice.”

Wahtola Trommer took on the challenge with two friends, who agreed to read, send and receive each other’s poems but not make any comments, because then it became work, she said. She and her friends reached their one-month goal and extended it to three, but then her friends dropped out. She continued … and continued.

Why? Wahtola Trommer had “rigorous willingness,” or the radical availability to show up for poems. She has four rules for writing poetry:

  • She will write.
  • What she writes doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be true, both to the poem and to the writing.
  • She will not know the ending, because then there will be no surprises. If she does, she will get out before things get serious or the poem can offer up its lessons. The best approach she has found is to write past the known ending. “The poem knows more than you do,” she said.
  • She will share her poems.

Loveland poet Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Regional Poets, took Wahtola Trommer’s advice to heart.

“I found her saying that a poem does not have to have an answer and probably should not to be the best thing I came away with,” Kincanon said. “Also, I am writing a poem a day, and that is really challenging and keeps me active in writing.”

Poetry as Process

Poetry is a process and a way to engage with curiosity, discovery and meeting the world anew, Wahtola Trommer said. She recommends using the senses to access the world and paying attention to the small details. To do this, she suggests trying metaphor, which helps the poet make connections, since poetry is the language of connection and a bridge to the world.

Metaphor, a poetic device comparing one thing to another, can be used for any two things, because anything can relate to anything else.

“Start with a question and allow the metaphors to teach you, though the poem may not come up with an answer,” Wahtola Trommer said.

Poems also have opposition and tension. They are “in stress,” in the process of pressing on the poet the things of the world, and “in-scape,” presenting the aliveness of those things, such as through landscapes or escapes.

Writing Prompts

After Wahtola Trommer gave her presentation, she had the workshop attendees write poems from three prompts. In the first, she told everyone to take out a sheet of paper for a poem game: write a partial statement, followed by “is like,” fold over the paper and pass it around the table, continuing down the page. I said things like, “Baby ducklings in a lake in July are like …” “Going to a bar on Monday is like …” and “Eating a dandelion for breakfast is like …”

We got a different sheet back from the one we started with and chose one of the prompts. I chose “Driving a bicycle on I-25 is like …”

Our other two prompts were beginning a poem with the statement, “I thought I was a …” (I said “princess,” because I was back in my childhood on my red trike …), and writing a list poem. Again, I went with the princess theme and let the poem lead me to writing about a poet, an accountant and a singer, all who want things they don’t have.

I left the workshop with three poems and encouragement, plus a goal: 30 poems in 30 days. Maybe I’ll continue if I find my own rigorous willingness to show up, do the work and let go.

 

Finding Writing Fascination (and Inspiration!)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

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The mother duck takes her eight ducklings through the waters of the lagoon in Loveland, Colorado.

I don’t know why, but I’m absolutely fascinated with the ducks at the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colorado.

This fascination reminds me of my fascination with writing. I have to visit the ducks—twice a day if I can, once on my way to the gym nearby and a second time when I’m taking my dog on a walk—just as I have to journal, write poems and stories, and do the more serious writing of blogs and articles.

I like watching the ducks speed race across the water to grab bugs out of the air, just as writing takes grabbing the moment and getting yourself going in that creation. Writing begins with inspiration (or with discipline and routine), giving you the needed motivation to start the process.

Inspiration can give you an idea you are compelled to put into words and shape into a poem, story or other form of writing. It can offer up a feeling or a desire to express something from within. It is that mental stimulation you need to feel or do something creative.

To get started, inspiration can come from books, poems, music, the natural and manmade worlds, and human nature. I purposely look for inspiration if I’m stuck in a writing project, or I let the writing happen as I rush to get to pen and paper or my bright blue laptop.

Here are Ways to Find Inspiration:

  • Read a beautiful description in a book or a poem, thinking about how the language is used to capture a moment or a story. What are the details of the description, and what does it make you think about? What words did the writer choose, and what words would you choose? Take the description and turn it into a basis for a story, a scene or a detailing of character.
  • Listen to a song to feel the mood it evokes and notice the words, beats and melodies it expresses. What does the music make you think about? What images or pictures come to mind? Try to translate the rhythm of the music into your own writing, turning the sounds into a mix of your words and the words of the song.
  • Visit nature, such as sitting next to a flower bed or by a body of water, and describe what you see, the weather and the look of the sky. 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. Let the unfamiliar experience give you new words or ways of getting at description. Is there something you hadn’t noticed before in this new place? Is there a detail you could delve into further to flesh out what you want to say?
  • Hang out where people like to congregate and do some eavesdropping. Try coffee shops, restaurants, malls, lounges, airport terminals and beaches and pick up snippets of conversation. Does something you hear give you an idea for a story or a description? Is there a phrase or a way of speaking that strikes you that you can capture in a character’s voice or use to evoke mood in a poem or story?

Be Sure to Use All of the Senses:

While you stage your inspiration, amplify your awareness of what’s around you, using all of the senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell—to make your observations. Describe things as you experience them or as they are happening. Or make a list of descriptive words you can pick up from your environment, and then play around with the individual words to see what kinds of sentences and paragraphs can result.

Instead of agonizing over each word and waiting for the perfect moment, release your mind and let the writing be a sort of discovery process. You discover what you want to say as you write.

That’s why I like visiting the lagoon and discovering the changes in the ducks. I watch them as puffball ducklings eat all day long to become teen ducks and then adult ducks, and I love watching them snap, grab, squeak and squawk. They snap up their necks to grab bugs. They snap at babies that enter their territories, even if they have teens and the ducklings are tiny. And they snap at their own to keep them in line.

This snappiness is protective and a matter of survival, but it also is a way to grab what you want and need. It’s part of a writer’s own survival kit.

 

Is Blogging Fun or Just Like Homework?

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Writing, Writing Advice on July 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Blogging has some comparisons to homework, but it can also be fun and entertaining.

Blogging is like homework.

It’s good for you, and if you’re a writer, business owner, nonprofit leader or have something to say, it’s what you should do.

Blogging is the large-sized business card with ever-changing content. Blogging makes you the expert on whatever topic you choose—and you should stick to something specific; otherwise, readers lose interest or get confused about your point. I blog about writing and editing tips, and this month I’ve been blogging about blogging.

Blogging and Homework

Here’s how blogging is like homework—even for me when I love writing and could write all day long. I have to make time for it every week or double up and do a couple at a time, and I have to make sure I have something interesting to say. Plus, I have to sit down and do the work.

  • Blogs should follow a schedule. Weekly is best, but monthly is okay. Inconsistent blogging causes you to lose readers and get lower rankings from the search engines.
  • Blogs should be a certain length. Just like those five-paragraph essays, blogs should be 300 to 500 words if they’re short, 500 to 700 words if they’re medium or optimal length, and up to 1,000 words for the longer ones. Unlike essays, the paragraphs are short—usually one to three sentences—and there are lots of bullet points and subheads within the content.
  • Blogs, just like essays, need to be written to a specific audience. The content, for optimal appeal, should be authentic, fresh original, updated and useful.
  • Blogs and essays both have a theme, or a main topic or idea that is supported by the details of the rest of the content.
  • Blogs also can be like fiction class and tell a story with some plot, setting and character elements, or they can be like a news article and bring in quotes from outside sources.
  • Blogs can be a thesis statement, year-end school project or portfolio, demonstrating competence in a topic and the building up of content. There’s something tangible to show for your work.

Blogging to Get Attention

In my English classes, I found that essays, creative pieces and other types of writing stood out when I wrote as myself and showed my personality, when I did my research and when I knew my subject matter. The easiest essays to write were the ones about topics I already liked, or even learned to like.

Blogging and doing it on a regular basis whether I wanted to or not made me a better writer. After six years of it, I find blogging to be something I enjoy and can do quickly, especially when I’ve written about the topic before. If I do research, it takes more time, but then I learn something new.

And when I write about familiar topics, I see old things in new ways, putting together concepts and ideas in a way I hadn’t thought about before.

For instance, when I started this blog, I very much felt like it was homework, but then the idea of comparing it to writing essays—a big part of my homework as an English major—I saw blogs from a slightly different, English-major vantage point.

And that, dear reader, was quite fun.

Finding Time & Space to Write/Blog

In Writing Advice, Writing Spaces on June 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund, a lapdog, offers a great companion for writing on the laptop!

What if you don’t have enough time for writing or blogging?

Part of writing process deals with the “what” and the “where.”

The “what” is doing the actual writing and the “where” is the physical place you, the blogger, feel most comfortable sitting down and creating the content. But this comfort shouldn’t limit you to writing only when you can show up to do the work.

Make writing more entertaining by sneaking it in and knowing where to find a few good spots. Don’t let the excuse of not having the space or a short amount of time prevent you from starting. Realize where you write doesn’t have to be perfect and that you can make do just so you can write, even if it’s not at a desk or table.

Start by carrying a notebook wherever you go, except maybe the gym or the swimming pool. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or even awkward moments, such as when you’re out with friends or in a public, non-coffee shop place where pulling out a napkin or scrap of paper isn’t the norm. But do it anyway.

Finding a Writing Spot

To find a good writing spot, ask yourself a few questions, making sure you’re ready to write. For instance:

  • Do you need quiet or activity around you?
  • Do you need background noise—such as conversations, music, doors opening and closing and the sounds of food or drinks being made?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or cozy? Do you like working outside or in a small room, such as a closet converted into an office?
  • Do you need bright lights or sunshine, or do you need cloudy weather and low lighting?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people?
  • Do you want your things around you set up in a special way?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, the mall or a porch, deck or patio as long as the weather is warm and the wind isn’t blowing.

Once you find a spot you consider inspiring, yet comfortable, make that your go-to, your office, your special place to engage in and do your blogging writing. It will then become that room of your own.

The Alchemy of the NCW Writers Conference

In Northern Colorado Writers, Writing, Writing Conferences on May 8, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Going to a writers conference like the one put on annually by the Northern Colorado Writers takes a bit of alchemy.

Start with the golden booklet given to the 130 attendees of the conference, called “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing,” and get out the test tubes for the two-day conference that was May 5-6 at the Fort Collins Marriott.

Flip to the schedule to the 32 sessions, each lasting one hour, on various writing techniques with titles like “Plotting with Your Pants Down: How to Effectively Outline Your Novel” and “The Loaded Exchange: Writing Tension-Packed Dialog.”

Other sessions mixed in the marketing and publishing side of writing, as well as providing advice for writing in different genres, such as mystery writing, screenwriting and writing personal essays. There also was a roundtable critique session with about 10 different agents and editors and a pitch session with agents to pitch your novel or nonfiction project.

“It was a great lineup of presenters, agents and editors,” said Kerrie Flanagan, creative team member for the conference and one of the presenters on self-publishing and magazine writing. “It’s important for writers to connect with other writers and professionals in the industry, because writing is such a lonely endeavor. It’s nice to connect with others who are passionate about it. It provides inspiration, motivation and community resources.”

The Jerry Eckert Scholarship

I went to the conference with a student I mentor about writing, Abii Franke, a 10th grader at a Northern Colorado high school. We attended for free as winners of the Jerry Eckert Scholarship. I submitted a 500-word essay, “The Writing Lives of Two Starfish,” about meeting with Abii once a week through the Thompson School District 3E Learning program, Explore, Engage, Expand, a customized approach to education that matches students with mentors in their subjects of interest.

The late Jerry Eckert, author and a longtime NCW member, supported volunteerism and had a love for writing, so my volunteer work seemed like a fit.

“The essay is very tight, and it’s something Jerry Eckert and his family care about, which is mentoring,” said April Moore, director of NCW, who recognized Abii and me during the banquet dinner on May 5. “It brings tears to my eyes, knowing how much Jerry would appreciate it.”

I encouraged Abii to get business cards made, and she did, stating that she’s a writer and artist, and she handed those out to the presenters and other writers. She pitched her young adult novel to an agent and got a request for a partial, which involves sending part of the manuscript with “NCW Conference” in the email subject line for special attention to separate it out from the email slush pile. I got two requests for partials and talked to another agent during dinner, and she said I could send her my work, too.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed learning all the nuances in writing,” Abii said. “All the presentations were really good, because each of the presenters had their own unique take on writing. I think I can use some of the tips that the presenters shared to improve my writing even more.”

Here are a few writing and publishing tips and quotes from the conference that a writing alchemist might find golden:

  • “If you’re a writer, you are in business. You will have to market your book and yourself. There’s no way around it,” author J.C. Lynne, “Social Media & Marketing: Navigating the Event Horizon.”
  • Writers should expect to have failures—failed novels, projects and efforts—in the path toward publication. “That’s why I’m here. I get to be a failed novelist and successful at the same time,” author Chuck Wendig, keynote speaker during the banquet.
  • “Write ‘The End’ on your draft even if you’re not there … or at a certain word count. And then let your work breathe,” literary manager Whitney Davis, “Reworking Your Rewrites: Demystifying the Editing Process.”
  • In a first draft, write for story. Don’t worry. Don’t stop to polish, and don’t hold back. Edit later, revising first for plot and character and then polishing the language at the line level. “Almost everything that comes into my box has potential,” literary agent Jennifer March Soloway, “Preparing Your YA Novel for Submission: Polishing Your Opening Pages.”
  • Editors today are looking for the total package: good, talented writers who are informed about the market, have a platform and are consistent and prolific in their writing. They need to: know the market, follow the guidelines, and be timely, author and magazine editor Jessica Strawser, “How to be a Writer Editors Love.”

Here are some of the things attendees said about the conference. The conference helped them get connected and pick up writing tidbits:

  • “It’s always similar information, but there’s always going to be details from the presenters that aren’t at other conferences. This one I find they’re pretty engaging with their audience, and I like that it’s smaller ,” Ochoa Cisneros, poet, Loveland.
  • “The thing I wanted most was to connect with other writers and get some advice of where to go in my writing journey. … I found what I was looking for: community and direction,” Alicia Aringdale, urban fantasy writer, Loveland.
  • “I came looking for inspiration and practical tools to use for my writing. And I found both of those things. Now, I have a direction and the inspiration to keep going,” Renate Hancock, poet and short story writer, Buena Vista.
  • “I really got a good sense of how the process works of finding an agent, and I got a lot of inspiration. I just have gotten an amazing chance to talk to people who feel the same way I do and have the same problems I do in writing. It’s very affirming.”Jocelyn Bolster, contemporary young adult writer, Pinewood Springs.
  • “They kept it pretty small, but that was one of the things that jumped out to me, a lot of familiar faces and reputable names,” Paul Dail, horror writer, Cedar City, Utah.

As a final thought, author Carrie Visintainer said in the closing remarks, “Ignite Your Creativity, “Inspiration is out there knocking on doors, and you can choose to answer it or not.”

This blog also appeared at http://www.shellsinkservices.com/the-alchemy-of-the-ncw-writers-conference/.

Novels vs. novellas

In Writing, Writing Novellas, Writing Novels, Writing Processes, Writing Short Stories on May 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

I wrote a short story I intended to be a short story, but then I thought when it kept going on and on, it might be a long short story.

Now, at 15,000 words, it’s anything but.

Nor, is it a novella.

That means I’ll have to cut a few thousand words or add a few scenes and more words, develop the characters more deeply and add to the plot strands.

So, what makes for a novella and is it a viable option for storytelling?

Novellas are typically 20,000 to 50,000 words or 17,500 to 40,000 words, depending on the definition you find.

Comparatively, novels can be 50,000 to 90,000 words (or more), or an average of 80,000 words, and short stories can range up to 10,000 words (though I’ve seen some literary journals accept longer short stories).

A novella, intended to be consumed in a single sitting, typically has fewer conflicts than a novel but is more complicated with more scenes than a short story. There is more time to develop those conflicts and the characters engaged in or instigating the conflicts.

The conflicts are part of one storyline, instead of part of several subplots which can be developed in longer works but are difficult to fit into the framework of a short book. There also is typically one point of view, though there is space for more details and description than in a short story.

And the setting can be varied that unlike a short story is best confined to one time and one place or a couple at most.

In essence, a novella is a shortened novel or a very long short story that isn’t here or there, but there are a few that have had success, like Edith Wharton’s “A Lost Lady.”

As for mine, I will review what I’ve written and see if it fits the arc of a complete story, or if I stopped early because I’d set my mind to writing a short story and had just gotten carried away.

On to editing and revising and reconsidering the next step for my short story-novella-novel, or whatever it will be.