Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Discipline’

Outfitting the Writer’s Tool Kit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on August 30, 2020 at 11:00 am

My writer’s tool kit includes my bookshelf of writing reference books, which help spark the passion engine.

Every writer’s tool kit has different tools, but the most essential is the desire to write. It’s what keeps the passion engine going.

Learning about the elements of writing—storytelling, story structure and word usage—is similar to using an instruction manual to fix a car without the wrenches, pliers and other tools.

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

The Work of Writing

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

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

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

Setting Aside Writing Time

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

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

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

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

The Writing Fuel

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

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

Keys to Writing Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, lastly, congratulate yourself when you write.

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

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

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

 

Finding a Good Writing Space

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Spaces on February 23, 2014 at 11:00 am

One of my characters in my literary fiction novel “Fire Painter” works in a coffee shop, something I haven’t yet put on my resume.

I do most of my writing in coffee shops, so through observation and my own restaurant experience, I can write about the job of a barista. In other words, I spend more time than I should with a cooling mug or paper cup of coffee as I draft and edit short stories and chapters for my novels.

Why has this writing space become sacred, almost like the routines athletes might do before performing? Does it stimulate or is it overly familiar as if taking the same streets every day to get to work or the grocery store?

If I leave my day-job newsroom cubicle, I don’t automatically sink into writing articles, using my notes and imagination to come up with interesting leads and transitions. Instead, I’m more aware of my surroundings because the noises, smells and colors redirect my attention outward.

I approach my personal writing space in nearly the same way by turning public places into fancy wall-less cubicles with large windows, pretty, colorful décor and bright interior lighting. I sit at the same tables at my favorite local coffee shop or the couple of Starbucks within five minutes of driving.

While I know that I spend too much money on expensive coffee, I desire escaping the quiet of my apartment to provoke new ways of imagining. In my apartment, nothing changes around me, so I feel an exterior boredom.

I need sound and movement, so that I can glance up and see the baristas gossiping or a man still dressed in business attire reading a book, looking inquisitive. I hear the grind of the espresso machine, cell phones beeping and the rhythm of conversation as it dips and rises.

It’s like reading, I can pay attention to the exterior world or get lost in my own, and when I need a break, pause and look around.

What is your writing space like? Do you go to the same places every time? Or do you need variety? Do you have a ritual that you engage in before you sit down with pen and paper or in front of a laptop?

Establishing a writing space presents routine, comfort and familiarity, while also being stimulating if it is the right fit for you.

(Check out how Zoey the Cute Dachshund describes “A Dog’s Space” at zoeyspaw.wordpress.com)

Loving, Hating NaNoWriMo

In 52: A Writer's Life, NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

I’m having a love-hate relationship with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate in the annual novel writing challenge during the month of November to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or an average of 1,666 words a day.

The love part is I’m doing it, while the hate part is I have to do it. I told my family and friends about my challenge goal, plus announced it on Facebook and in my blog. I don’t want to report at the end of the month that “Oh yeah, I just didn’t feel like writing after all.”

On the first day of the challenge on Friday, Nov. 1, I had a bit of a head start with a 3,250-word short story that I plan to expand into a 60,000- to 70,000-word young adult novel, a genre I haven’t tried before.

The first three days went perfectly, when I wrote 1,300 words the first day and another 1,300 words the second day, followed by 2,500 on day 3.

I turned off the self-editor and simply wrote, knowing I had a goal of 1,666 words, even if I didn’t reach it initially. I got absorbed in telling the story, developing my characters and carrying along the plot I briefly had sketched out, thinking, “This is a really good book that I’m writing.”

On Day 4 I had excuses for not writing: 1 million errands to do, a day with my mom and a birthday dinner with my brother; plus, I felt too tired to open up my laptop after a dozen hours of constant moving.

Day 5 was better. I wrote 1,800 words, feeling the vibe of my continual writing flow. There wasn’t any time lapse between writing episodes (like a few days or weeks filled with excuses, as is my normal routine), so I had my plot, characters and setting forefront in my mind. I wrote fast in two hours and felt quite proud.

And then on Day 6, I wondered if what I was writing actually was crap. Did I really understand how a 15-year-old thinks, and did I know how being a teenager has changed over the years? Why was I working in a genre I hadn’t studied seriously enough, only reading a few young adult books and being a reporter in schools, but only occasionally?

I still wrote anyway, because I had 1,666 words to write. I wrote 1,800 because I wanted to finish the scene I somehow had developed. I closed my computer, hoping that what I wrote wasn’t really awful.

I kept on writing through the rest of the week, logging in a total of 17,348 words for days 1-9. I figured I had started, so I wasn’t going to stop because of a few insecurities.

After one week and a couple of days, I get the purpose of NaNoWriMo. It’s about discipline and just doing it, not worrying about the final draft when it’s a rough draft with lots of potential. Writing daily, or nearly every day, allows the story to unfold more organically, one scene leading to the next as you let the subconscious and your speedy fingers take over.

Because it’s all about the numbers after all. And, of course, the words.