Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Advice’

How to Write during Vacation (and still make it fun)

In Staying Motivated, Vacations, Writing, Writing Advice on June 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Ducklings swim at a Northern Colorado lagoon, which is a drop in size compared with the ocean. The ocean makes a great travel spot and a place to fit in some writing, while keeping vacation fun.

Going on a summer vacation is all about fun and taking a timeout from routine.

But for writers, bloggers and those who need to post a weekly or monthly blog or article, can the serious work of writing be included in a travel itinerary to make the break still exciting?

Yes, in small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work.

To accomplish this, plan a time for writing, but do just a little bit at each sitting, and then congratulate yourself for accomplishing something practical without it being too painful.

If travel plans are overbooked, write ahead and schedule the blog online, or turn in the article early before deadline. And then don’t open the laptop or notebook unless there is free time, or inspiration or motivation gives a reason to write—and let it become all about the moment and not an obligation.

Writing Opportunities

For those who like creative writing, think of your vacation as an opportunity to delve into travel writing. Collect notes and quick descriptions of the places you’re visiting to use for future projects—the details can serve as a referral source for settings, plot details and character profiles. Or try writing a poem in free verse without counting syllables or lines. Write a few sense impressions and cut out filler words, like “a,” “an” and “the,” to create the shape and feel of a poem.

Make the work, whether notes, a poem or a full story, a small endeavor to still allow for downtime, created in snippets between the fun moments. Vacations are about relaxing and not working, as my mother told me. She said I always have some personal project, or work—and back in college, schoolwork—that I have to do. She reminded me to have fun during my weeklong trip to Florida with my brother and his wife—we’re heading to SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens and some other amusement parks (but not the big one), plus the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and, of course, the ocean.

I told my mother I wanted to do some writing—I plan to write a couple of short stories, keep up my daily poem challenge and edit my novel (just a tiny bit). She said to not work too hard, and I promised to not spend more than one to two hours every other day on writing.

I figured I can do both—achieve concentrated and quick writing, like flash mobs that appear suddenly and are gone, and still enjoy the vacation cheer. I’ll think of it as mini moments of work with a reward.

Ways to Write Effectively

Here are a few tips for quick, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting at the airport or for transit to get into the mindset that you will do some writing over the next few days.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or just before going to bed) and treat yourself to the rest of the fun vacation schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list. (I’ll put it in the timesheet that I keep for work.)
  • Break it up into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work.

On a Personal Note

I plan to write about the ocean and the different animals and sea creatures I don’t encounter in Colorado. I love watching the ducks and geese at the lagoon a half-mile from my house, especially the ducklings, but the venue is quite a bit smaller—I run around it four times for a mile, and, of course, I can see the other side.

Basically, I plan to write as if it’s a hobby and also a tiny part-time (and fun) assignment, while sitting on a beach blanket, exploring new things to put in my notebook.

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The Long Climb (to Publishing Success)

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writing, Writing Advice on May 27, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Writing and trying to get published can be like climbing a sheer ice cliff.

That’s the takeaway I got from Fort Collins, Colo., author Jim Davidson’s closing speech May 5 during the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing” at the Fort Collins Marriott.

Davidson told the back story of his memoir, “The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival,” published in 2011, which he co-authored with investigative journalist Kevin Vaughan. He wanted to encourage the more than 100 writers who attended the two-day conference to persevere in order to reach their goals of writing and publication.

“By challenging yourself, you’ll find a better version of you,” Davidson said.

At the Ledge

“The Ledge” tells Davidson’s story of surviving being trapped 80 feet inside a glacial crevasse. In 1992, Davidson and his best friend, Mike Price, stood atop Washington’s Mount Rainier at the end of their climb when a cave-in dropped them onto a narrow frozen shelf of crumbling ice and snow in a pitch-black ice wall.

Price died in the tragedy, and Davidson had to fight to escape, coming up with an immediate tactical plan and using his few tools to slowly climb out to sunlight.

Davidson didn’t give up climbing despite the setback. He is a high-altitude climber and expedition leader for more than 35 years who scaled mountains worldwide, including Mount Everest and peaks on five continents. He survived earthquakes and avalanches on Mount Everest in 2015 and helped conduct multiple rescues of climbers. Previously, he worked as an environmental geologist and science writer with 40 publication credits.

“When things go wrong, how will you respond?” Davidson asked the other writers at the conference.

Finding Resilience

Davidson defined resilience as bouncing back from challenges and learning from mishaps. Normal reactions can include fear, doubt, dread, inaction, insecurity, anxiety and exhaustion when change occurs but may not be what is wanted or desired, he said.

“Plain old-fashioned perseverance … is a slow grinding process,” Davidson said. “It’s tiring, and you may have doubts.”

Davidson said personal resilience occurs through accepting that change occurs and doing something about it. It’s embracing the challenges, persevering through uncertainties, redefining the self and coming up with new techniques.

Davidson’s book from the accident in 1992 to publication took 19 years. He met Vaughn, a writer for the former “Rocky Mountain News,” at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in 2007, and Vaughn wanted to do a news series about him, which later became a book project.

Davidson provided an outline of his writing experiences: from 1992 to 1995, he’d journaled and did some early writing. From 1996 to 2002, he made no progress. From 2003 to 2007, he spoke about his experiences. And from 2008 to 2011, he worked with Vaughan on the book.

Becoming Stronger

Davidson learned how to take a horrible life event and turn it around. He became stronger and instead of PTSD, he experience PTG, or post-traumatic growth.

“It doesn’t make the trauma go away,” Davidson said, adding that he still struggles with the “mess and the meaning.”

Davidson forged a new reality out of what had happened to him and distilled it down into a few lessons.

“Try to help somebody else learn from your experience,” Davidson said.

I definitely did learn from Davidson’s experience, walking away from his speech motivated to climb to my publication goal, no matter what it takes. I’d hate to give up now. I, too, have had my almost 19 years.

I wrote my first novel in 2000 and have since written a few. I’ve written a hundred short stories. I’ve had a few publications but not the big climb of traditional publishing. I’m still working on that goal keeping resilience and perseverance in mind.

 

Conferences Offer Writing Crash Course

In NCW Writers Conference, Writing Advice, Writing Conferences on May 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Kerrie Flanagan, a member of the Northern Colorado Writers Creative Conference Team for the 2018 conference, left, gives writing advice May 4 during the two-day event.

Going to a writing conference is like taking a semester class in college, but cheaper and faster.

I attended the 13th annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference “Much Ado About Writing” May 4-5 to pitch my young adult novel and to get quick writing tips. The conference was set up classroom style at the Fort Collins Marriott with one-hour workshops taught by agents, editors and industry professionals on various aspects of writing. The topics included the elements of writing, different genres from young adult to memoir, self-editing, traditional and self-publishing, and platform-building and social media.

“Number one, write,” said Kerrie Flanagan, a member of the NCW Creative Conference Team. “Just Write. To be a writer, you must write.”

Top 10 Writing Tips

Flanagan and the team talked about the top 10 writing tips during the banquet dinner May 4 that included studying the craft, honoring the writing and killing the darlings, those bits of writing that might be pretty or interesting but do not move the plot along. The team dressed in high collars and used “thy” and “though” to add a Shakespearean flair to their tips in line with the conference theme.

I collected hundreds of writing tips from the workshops I attended on writing a memoir, writing a book proposal, worldbuilding, and writing and selling short stories and personal essays. This time, I chose topics for my future projects of writing a memoir and some personal essays; plus, I want to sell some of my short stories.

The First Day: To Pitch and Tell the Story

After pitching my novel, the first session I attended focused on “How to Write a Captivating Memoir,” presented by Kristen Moeller, a literary agent at Waterside Productions and author of three books. Moeller explained how to structure a nonfiction story and decide what to include and let go.

“Everyone has a meaningful story to tell. Not everyone has a story or voice that sells,” Moeller said.

Moeller advised:

  • Writing it all out, but don’t include every single detail beginning to end in the final draft.
  • Identifying the narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end with something at stake for the narrator that opens up the question of what’s next? The reader has to wonder if the narrator will be OK.
  • Including fiction elements, such as scene and dialog, while also showing not telling.
  • Creating a character for the self with a distinct narrative voice.

The Second Day: Prepping and Publishing

The next day of the conference, I attended four sessions, the first on “Five Steps to Publishing Success: Get Your Short Stories and Essays Published in Magazines,” presented by Windy Lynn Harris, author of “Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays.” She gave tips on strategizing publishing in magazines and sending work to the right editors in the right way.

Personal essays are the most saleable thing writers can write because of the large market, Harris said. Essays typically are something reported or a first-person account of a life event with a narrative arc and a takeaway for the reader, she said.

“If it’s well-written, you can find the right place for it,” Harris said.

Harris advised:

  • Submitting to at least five publications, starting with the largest, most desired markets.
  • Realizing that getting several rejections is to be expected, but after 30 or so, go back to the piece to identify the issues.
  • Making a spreadsheet of submissions that lists publication details and dates and the acceptances and rejections.

More Sessions

My next session was on “Writing the Nonfiction Book Proposal,” presented by Stacy Testa, a literary agent with Writers House, on the basic components of a book proposal. The proposal gives an overview of the project showing there is demand for it and a fresh idea.

“Keep it simple to the point,” Testa said. “Who will read your book? Be specific. The more potential readers, the better.”

Testa pointed to a few issues with proposals, including:

  • The-need-to-see-more problem, where there is not enough material for a full book with depth and breadth of topic.
  • The platform problem with too small of a following.
  • The niche problem with too small of an audience.

The other sessions I attended were on “Two Kinds of Worldbuilding and Why You Need Both,” presented by literary agent Angie Hodapp with the Nelson Literary Agency, and “How Editors Decide What (and Whom) to Publish,” presented by editor Bruce Bortz, founder of Bancroft Press.

“It’s hard to sell your own product, but figure out what makes it special,” Bortz said.

I walked away from the conference motivated to return to my projects with a clearer sense of direction and an excitement for what’s next.

Comparing Coffee and Writing

In Description, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on February 18, 2018 at 8:00 am

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Coffee and writing are two loves that go well together.

I hate when I order a fancy coffee drink and the cup gets bathed in the overflow.

But I love that my drink has a flavor, an appearance and a texture inside the cup and that observing those details gets rid of the annoyance.

Observing, absorbing and noticing details are essential to writing, giving a caffeinated thrill to the development of plot, character and dialog. Describing the details is essential to storytelling instead of hurrying the story along through the action of the plot.

Why Description is Important

Description brings to life what happens along the storyline.

To provide that description, use the senses and choose words carefully, making sure every word has a purpose. That purpose can be establishing setting, developing character or moving the plot forward.

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. The river spit onto the rocks is more descriptive than the bubbling river.

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “blue-eyed, blonde-haired, tongue-tied girl.”

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.”
  • 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. Tree and bird are general nouns, as opposed to a birch oak or maple and a cardinal or robin.

A Final Thought on Description

Description is what fills the pages of a story. Without it, action would fall flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.

Top 10 Tips for Writing

In Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on January 14, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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A new year is a great time to think about your writing plans and goals.

Lists are a great way to get motivated and to turn desires into habits—and to get motivated to write, I resort to my top 10.

Over the years, I’ve collected notes about writing processes and habits from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. I find these notes to be helpful, especially at those times when I feel discouraged, unwilling or stuck.

From these notes, I’ve generated my top 10 tips for writing and rules to live by to make writing a routine and, over time, a habit that I do without thinking or agonizing about it. I don’t want to have ideas and put them on hold because I’m busy, tired or overwhelmed. Instead, I want to show up for writing, finding that once I got started, I have something to say, a poem to write, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress. It can be sticky or rough at first, but once I write, it seems easier to continue and I’m glad I put in the effort.

Top 10 Writing Tips

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, make it a goal to write for two hours or 1,000 words in a session.
  • Get rid of distractions and the inner critic, which can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or to invite in writer’s block.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because the more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Figure out what is most essential for you to write about. Write about what interests you, what you want to learn about and, of course, what you already know.
  • Have more awareness, using all of the senses when making observations to add details to your descriptions. Take notes for later use.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that you’re not in total control of it. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down, then revise and revise again.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard.
  • Focus on the process instead of the results. Enjoy that process.
  • And, last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

Writing in the New Year!

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on the best writing advice to find the time, discipline and inspiration to do the hard work of sitting down to write. It’s a great time to make writing a habit through the year of 2018!

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.

 

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.