Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Tips’

A Handy (and Fun!) Reference Book for Writing and Editing

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services poses with the proof of her book, “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.”

Becoming pro at writing takes time and experience, but for those gaps in knowledge, it’s great to have a bookshelf (virtual or real) of reference books.

I consolidated many of the writing tricks and tips I learned over the years in my new release, “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication.” The book comes out in Kindle and print on Lucky 7/7, or July 7, 2020.

From the Reviewers

I sought reviews for the book and got some great responses, including one from a reader who said the tips “are clear, compelling and practical.” “They truly provide a map to move steadily forward in the writing journey,” the reader said, adding that the journey also can be discouraging.

I can attest to that discouragement. I’m trying to get traditionally published and have had some interest but not a final yes, while self-publishing requires the same amount of time, dedication and patience. There is as large a learning curve as there is to learning how to write and edit in a clear, crisp and compelling style that gets reader buy-in and builds a fan base.

Another reviewer said, “In this concise and practical book, this successful writer uses her insight and skill to encourage, support and guide fellow writers through their creative process.”

And Now for the Tips

In nine quick-to-read chapters, I offer tips for getting started writing, what’s involved in the writing process, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and editing best practices, plus ways to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I wrap up with a dozen reasons for loving writing.

The final chapter, “Loving Writing (Because It’s Essential!),” is my favorite. An excerpt from the chapter sums up why writing is a great practice.

It’s a way to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, going places, and doing things you might not do otherwise.

And, most importantly, it’s interesting to find out what you created after spending a few minutes or hours on a novel scene, short story, or essay. It’s the ultimate process of discovery.

To learn about these and other tips and find out about the essentials to writing and editing, visit Amazon to get a print or Kindle version of 50 Tips for First-Time Authors.

Thanks for checking out my favorite tips from the hundreds I’ve learned and collected over the years!

Author Website Gets a ‘Wardrobe Makeover’

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2020 at 11:00 am

Every so often, websites need an update, or viewers will think they are a little sleepy and outdated!

Websites are like wardrobes—they need to be changed every so often to be fashionable and up-to-date.

That’s what I did with my author website that describes my writing projects and author story. I tossed out the old—especially the photos of younger albeit heavier me before I started my daily one-hour running and weight-lifting regimen—and brought in the new. I have fewer photos, fewer tabs and a whole new look.

Originally, I created my website in 2010 when I read a Writer’s Digest article stating that aspiring authors should have a platform that includes a blog and a website, so I started both.

Out with the Old, In with the New …

My first website had a banner with a cutout photo of me up top and the tabs on the side—an outdated look, though everything was in shades of blue, even my outfit, which was kind of nice. The tabs included About Me, which had three sub-tabs of Profile, Photos and Questions (an old version of FAQs), News and Writing, also with sub-tabs, and my Blog. Very unwieldy and a bit busy.

The new website is neater and cleaner with three of my top book projects featured on the home page and six tabs for the About Me, Publications, Readings, FAQs, Blog and Contact Me pages.

Blog Relaunch

The Blog tab sends visitors to the Shell’s Writing Ink blog I started in June 2010, that of https://shelleywidhalm.wordpress.com. I will continue in a similar vein with my new and improved blog, offering fast and fun writing and editing tips and glimpses into the life of a writer. But what will be different is the offering of samples of my novels, short stories and poetry. That way visitors can delve into my writing style and see what kind of characters, settings and storylines I like to create.

As I did in the past, I will aim to blog on a weekly basis, though I do skip here and there.

Honestly, blogging sometimes feels like a chore—maybe because writing isn’t always magical and easy. But I love sharing what I’ve learned from attending writing workshops, reading writers magazines, being part of writers groups and engaging in conversations about writing.

Newsletter Addition

I also will encourage visitors to join my newsletter list for even more writing and editing tips.

Why share? Because it’s good to do (and something we learned in kindergarten), and writing about writing is a way of self-teaching. It’s a way to see what fits, what works and what needs to go—be it recycled, reused or repurposed. Writing is a way to get in all the colors, be fashionable and try out the new trends.

In other words, writing is … yep, fun!

50 Tips for Writing and Editing (plus, a book for sale!)

In Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on June 22, 2020 at 11:00 am

The image appears on the cover of the soon-to-be-released “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.

Writing has a bit of mystique to it, since it’s something we all do, but it also has what I like to call the Gold Star Effect.

Writing is essential to work, life and business, but …

What Exactly is Good Writing?

Good writing tells a story, inspires change and is layered in purpose and in meaning, causing readers to ponder, think and act.

Good writing is structurally sound with clear, concise content and, if fiction, a fully fleshed-out story.

Good writing also looks impeccable on the page, free of errors in grammar, mechanics, syntax, punctuation and spelling.

But to get that place of good writing, or the Gold Star Effect, work is involved, along with discipline, motivation, practice and, of course, revision.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years, first as a journalist, then as a freelance writer and editor, but also as an aspiring author. I have plans to self-publish two novels and am trying to get agents for two other novels. I also have two I shelved, because they just didn’t work out.

50 Tips for First-Time Authors

Through all of this writing work and experience, I’ve gathered my top tips for writing, editing and doing the work of both.

I share my tips in “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication,” which will be published on Kindle and in print on Lucky 7/7, or July 7, 2020.

In my booklet, I cover tips for getting started writing, what’s involved in the writing process, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and editing best practices, plus ways to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I wrap up with a dozen reasons for loving writing.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

A writing list is a great way to get motivated and stay on task, turning a desire to write into the action of writing.

It provides a few rules to live by that make writing a routine and, over time, a habit without too much planning, thinking or agonizing about it.

It’s a way to show up for the writing, finding that once you get started, you have something to say, a short story to write in a sitting or two, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

To find even more tips, visit Amazon for a pre-order to have the book ready to go on Lucky 7/7.

Thanks for checking out years of tips made concise in nine chapters. These tips have the Gold Star Effect in that they rose to the top from the hundreds of tips I’ve learned and collected!

(Note: I must admit the idea of self-publishing seemed intimidating, so I attended webinars, workshops and seminars and read two books on the subject. Two particularly useful tools are Gundi Gabrielle’s “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: Publish a Bestseller in the Next 30 Days!!” and Richard N. Williams’ “Self Publish Your Novel Made Easy.”)

Achieving Work-Life Balance in Writing (especially during a crisis)

In Work-Life Balance, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Spaces, Writing Spots, Writing Tips on May 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

 

05-2020 WorkLifeBalance

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works at home on the couch using a portable lap desk to add variety to her stuck-at-home approach to work-life balance.

During the pandemic crisis, are you stuck indoors without a lot of variety to your office space? Did you use to enjoy mixing working at home with your other favorite writing places?

I don’t like sitting, and I don’t like being in front of a computer—at least for long periods of time. I also don’t like the same sitting spot for hours on end.

So I came up with a COVID desk survival plan. I had to since 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 (or, I used to, now that social time is on Zoom).

Work-Life Writing Balance

How do you achieve balance when you work life and your other life both involve computers?

  • First of all, find several writing spots in the house, such as the desk with the hopefully ergonomic chair, plus the couch with a portable lap desk. (I got mine at Barnes & Noble back in the day when you could physically go into stores.)
  • Set aside certain times for your writing routine, but don’t guilt yourself if you don’t write. I aim for three one-hour sessions a week—but during COVID, I’ve had time to write or edit about 10 hours a week. (I’ve gained extra time from not driving and social distancing).
  • Vary where you write, such as the office, living room and kitchen 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. (You have to use some imagination here, since we’re all stuck inside, but I do have the option of going out on my patio, and I pretend it’s the park!)
  • Take breaks every few minutes to stretch, or take a mini-walk for a mind refresher. Join a writers group, such as Northern Colorado Writers, and join in on the Zoom tea chats or coffee breaks to get that actual break.
  • Make sure you have free time to do whatever you want that gets you away 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 to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a job, even if you’re not working because of the shutdown.

Fair Play in Writing

And remember, it may not be so much of a balance but a matter of sharing the space of work with the space of the rest of life. I like to call it work-life fair play.

From Crappy to Great Writing (a sample of the difference editing makes)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 3, 2020 at 11:00 am

RedPens8

Do you ever read a book and wish you could take out your red pens and start marking up all the errors? I did just that with one page from a self-published book on self-publishing.

 

Sometimes writers just want to get their book out and start earning money, and readers love the content.

But readers who notice grammar, mechanics and the like will get caught up in the errors. And if there are too many of them, the writer loses authority. Especially if the writer is self-published.

Writers planning to self-publish or find an agent are advised to hire an editor to not only fix the errors, but to notice things that we, as writers, skip over knowing what we’ve written and believing it all makes sense.

Errors on the Page

I just read a great book about self-publishing, because I’m planning to put a couple of my books on the market. The content of “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: The Proven 4-Week Formula to go from Zero to Bestseller as a first-time Author!,” by Gundi Gabrielle, is great, and I got the tools I need, including how to launch a new book, get great reviews and please Amazon to get even more readers. I learned the steps of submitting a book on Kindle Direct Publishing and what to expect along the way.

In other words, I give this book a great review, because the content is well-organized without over explaining or skipping over anything. But I just got a little tripped up on the grammatical errors—the writer said to hire an editor as part of the self-publishing path, but maybe her editor focused on overall content and not the details.

A Before and After Sample

Here’s a sample of before and after of what good editing can bring to the page (also see above):

BEFORE: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all your social media, friends, family, colleagues, mailing list, forums, Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—Do it!—And spread the excitement!!

You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week can also be very powerful as are daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

AFTER: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish it again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, and links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all of your social media accounts; with friends, family, and colleagues; on your mailing list and forums; in your Facebook groups; in your Reddit threads; and on Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—do it!—and spread the excitement!

You can also add a press release and schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. (Or it can read as: You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, post blogs, upload podcasts, and make appearances on local TV stations.) Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week also can be very powerful as well as daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

Great Sentence Structure

The main issue with this page is that the verb tenses and nouns do not align and are inconsistent in the lists presented in the last two paragraphs. Also, one exclamation mark suffices. Otherwise, the writer looks like they are in high school, doing things like putting hearts in place of the dots over the letter “i.” However, the content here is well-informed and obviously well-researched. It just needs a tweak or two.

Are Editors (Really) Necessary?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 1, 2020 at 8:39 pm

Notebook2

Do writers need to hire an editor to bring out the red pen? Or is better to get a self-published book out to market?

Do writers really need editors? Do they really want all that red ink and those corrections?

A self-published author I encountered at a class on self-publishing during Fort Collins Startup Week said he would never hire an editor. He said in his presentation to an audience of about 25 aspiring authors that he had several readers of his first story and got feedback and was able to publish his book for under $25 (now it’s about $125 with the cost of an ISBN). He also said he was able to make a profit right away.

Editing and Voice

I believe he has a point, but also hiring an editor gives that professional outside perspective to both improve the writing but also the storytelling.

The author said he does his own editing and artwork and looks at writing differently, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it.

“Writers need to find their own voice,” he said.

I held up my hand and explained how I had good and bad experiences with editors. As a journalist, I worked with editors who changed my lead and my voice, inserting in their own voice, and that I did not consider them to be good editors. I reflected on “the importance of not changing the voice of the author as you are editing a manuscript.”

I also mentioned that editing happens at several levels from structural, or the overall content looking at things like flow and transitions, to the line level, or reading each line for errors in grammar, spelling and mechanics, plus things like word echoes. Both are important.

Why Hire an Editor?

Here are a few other reasons why hiring an editor can be a good idea:

  • Editors are trained to notice the small errors readers may detect but that are hard to find if you aren’t looking for them, such as a comma where there should be a period or the ’re words, such as they’re and you’re vs. their/there and your.
  • Editors memorize style guides and know how to look up things and which sources to use.
  • Editors understand grammar down to the fine details (I see it like the Periodic Table of Elements combined with a dictionary with the rules clearly visible and meaningful).
  • Editors are keen readers. Their minds are constantly editing all day long (which also can be annoying, since it’s a game but also makes reading more chore-like).
  • Editors understand voice and how word choice effects the sound and meaning of language, plus they know how to turn analytic writing into something that’s more conversational or vice versa.

Why Self-Publish?

Lastly, to bring on an editor is a choice. What’s more important is that writers write and look at their creations as something worthy of publishing. It can be a solo project, or there can be a team that includes a graphic designer for the cover and internal layout, an illustrator for the images and, of course, the editor to perfect the overall content.

It’s an investment to hire an editor or any other professional, and as the author/speaker mentioned, it’s more important to get the work out in front of an audience. The audience is the reader, and sometimes they want the story. Now!

Top 7 Blogging Tips for 2020

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Why Blog?, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on January 12, 2020 at 11:00 am

01-2020 OpenSign

Blogging is a great way to let potential readers know that you are OPEN for business and have great content to offer them.

Does blogging lead to anything or is it like holding up a one-inch sign trying to get noticed among the much bigger, flashier signs?

Blogs, just like self-published books, have become the modern business card for business owners, writers and entrepreneurs who want to get their ideas and written content to readers, customers and clients.

For those who see writing as a chore or a time sucker, is starting or continuing a blog such a good idea? Are blogs necessary to promote your writing, your project, your newest product or your business? Or do they keep you away from what you really want to do?

Blogs and other written content get favor from Search Engine Optimization, which give businesses, nonprofits and individuals higher online rankings, especially for recent content.

There are other advantages too. Blogs help with marketing, branding and creating a platform. They demonstrate expertise and authority in a niche—readers over time will value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, your values and what you see as important. They also create relationships and convert readers to customers, resulting in engagement and a following.

Top 7 Blogging Tips

To get your blog noticed and to get that engagement from readers, here are a few things you can do to improve your blog in the New Year.

  • Post on a regular basis at the same time and on the same day. Optimal is once a week and not randomly with gaps in time and too many different topics.
  • Write short- or medium-length blogs, instead of long blogs that become similar to articles or white papers. Short blogs are about 200 to 400 words, medium-sized blogs, 500 to 700 words, and article-type blogs, 1,000 words are more.
  • Create blogs that educate, inform or entertain and not just to fill space for that SEO. Blogs produced through content mills are produced for clicks and provide little meaning and value and only are about quantity.
  • Write toward your target market. Think about whom you are you writing to, what voice you want to use to reach them and what it is you want to say.
  • Figure out what you want to say. You can talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. You can show your process of creation or give a behind-the-scenes look in your business. And you can talk about your life as a business owner, writer or artist.
  • Include photos or images to make the blogs more appealing. If a photo idea doesn’t seem readily apparent, find a theme to go with your blog, such as a landscape feature or type of sign (I’ve used Open signs to let readers know the client is ready for business).
  • Promote the blog on social media at least three times, preferably every other day.

The Advantages of Blogs

Blogs have many advantages. They can bring traffic to your website and hopefully into your writing platform. They build relationships with readers through regular connection. And they separate you from the competition.

Lastly, make your writing or what you have to offer look personal and inviting. Blogs are that great and flashy Open sign.

Top 7 Writing Tips for 2020

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

1219 ToDoLists

To Do lists are a great way to compile top tips, such as for writing.

Do you like To Do lists? I find them to be necessary, but there’s another type of list that I adore—top 5, 7 or 10 lists.

Top lists are great to post on the fridge or keep in a special file, acting as motivation and inspiration triggers, while chore lists are reminders of what still needs to be done.

My top 7 list is gathered from my notes about writing advice and tidbits collected from magazine articles and books, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. The list is a useful resource for those times when I feel stuck or don’t want to write. It’s also a great tool to know what to look for when hiring a writer.

The tips provide a few ideas for how to make writing a routine and, with the investment of effort and time, a habit. Once a habit, writing feels like a necessity without thinking or agonizing about it. Soon, you’ll eagerly show up for writing (and editing), finding that once you get started, the words will come, even if it’s slow at first. The momentum will pick up and the process will become rewarding, as does the result.

Top 7 Writing Tips

  • Don’t wait for inspiration, but create it. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Find a place to write, but don’t make it an absolute. A coffee shop or a home office may be ideal, but be sure to set aside time to be there only for writing and not distractions (which serve as excuses to not write).
  • Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, plan writing sessions for a set amount of time, such as one hour, or until a certain word count is reached, such as 500 or 1,000 words.
  • Accept that you are not in total control of your writing. 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 and then revise in a couple of rounds for overall structure, followed by proofreading at the line level.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard and focus on the process instead of the results to make it more fun and enjoyable.
  • Read and to analyze what you read, identifying what works and what doesn’t work and why. Apply what you learn to your own writing.

Make Writing a Habit

As the New Year starts, add to the list additional ways to find the time, motivation and inspiration to sit down and do the work of writing. Soon, it won’t feel like work and will be a habit. What a great way to welcome the year of 2020!

 

Fast and Fun Tips for Fitting in Blogging

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Fast and Fun Tips, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on December 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

DucksFall2 10-2019

Fitting in blogging into a busy schedule is similar to ducks finding a small circle of water within a snow-covered lagoon.

The holidays are full of busyness, but if blogs are a key marketing tool for your business, how can you fit it in?

If you don’t hire out the blogs, which for greatest impact, should be posted every week or at least once month, how can you find the time and space to write them?

In other words, think about The What and The Where, or the act of writing and the physical place to do it that feels the most inspiring and comfortable. But this comfort shouldn’t limit you to writing only when you have the time and can be in that exact spot.

Instead, sneak in writing in small increments and think of writing spots as being anywhere you can sit or stand. Realize that the setting doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does the writing or the tools—use a eyebrow pencil and a napkin or scrap of paper if need be. And carry a notebook wherever you go, since inspiration can hit at unplanned and awkward moments.

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 like having background noise to stimulate you as you work?
  • Do you want to write in solitude or be around other people?
  • Do you like working outside, in an office or in a cozy small space?
  • Do you want your things around you set up in a special way to serve as a source of inspiration or comfort?
  • 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, a patio or even a bar.

Once you find the right spot, make that your writing office or special place to engage in and write your blogs. But also think of that writing spot as wherever you have an idea or a spark of a great phrase.

 

Fast and Fun Tips for Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on August 4, 2019 at 5:00 pm

DucksSummer14b 2019

A duckling snuggles against Mom in July at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo. Good writing helps keep the words tight and comfortable for the reader.

Writing is not easy, even for a writer, but there are some fast and fun tips for writing that you won’t learn in English class.

Forget the five paragraphs and the introductory and concluding sentences. Go for the essential details and tell your story clearly, concisely and simply. Get in the needed transitions, or those sentences that tie together two seemingly disparate ideas, and forget the tangents.

To avoid veering off subject, figure out what you want to say or write first and identify the message from your rough notes. Otherwise, you’ll lose the reader in your word clutter.

The Fast Tips

There are three things you should do in any piece of writing.

First, identify that main message. What is it exactly that you want readers to take away from your blog, article or social media content? What ideas, perspectives or emotions are you trying to convey?

Second, figure out your audience. Are your aiming to reach high-end coffee connoisseurs or do they prefer a casual outing? Write in that tone? Do you want some humor? Do you want to be casual? Or is being serious more fitting?

And lastly, peg your structure. Do you want to tell an anecdote up front and then tell a story? Do you see a beginning, middle and end to what you have to say? Do you want to segment the content into topics or create a list?

The Fun Tips

Here are some tips writers know but may not want to share (it’s what sets them apart and makes their writing great).

  • Be concise and say what you want to say in one sentence, not three. In other words, know how much information is enough and what’s relevant. Cut the rest.
  • Avoid writing in abstractions and using words that convey only the big ideas. Don’t generalize but be specific in what you want to say.
  • Avoid using jargon and unnecessary and fanciful words. Don’t embellish your language just to sound good.
  • Write in the active voice to keep the writing brief and in the present, so that it feels current and relevant.

Once you achieve quick and dirty writing and put in the time and energy to practice, you’ll be able to fit in writing between the busy hours of running a business. Or you can hire some to do it for you and know that they’ve got the clean writing that brings in customers and clients.