Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Tips’

Comparing Coffee and Writing

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

Blog-Coffee-Writing

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.

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Top 10 Tips for Writing Poetry

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Poetry, Writing Tips on January 28, 2018 at 6:00 pm

PoetryAnthology2 2016

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services reads her poetry during a poetry reading in November 2016 to launch “Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology.”

Poetry is an art and a discipline that ranges from whatever goes to the very specifics of form and use of language.

It can take many shapes from free verse that is open in structure to a fixed form that follows specific rules to the semi-fixed form of prose poems. The fixed forms include sonnets, sestinas, villanelles or haikus that have specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. Prose poems combine poetry and prose through a block of text written in poetic language.

Free verse poetry doesn’t have a specific meter or syllable count or a consistent rhythm and sound. This form is open but still engages one or more of the poetic devices that add musicality to the words.

Some of the poetic devices include alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds. There also is onomatopoeia, or words that imitate the sounds they stand for, such as hiss, buzz or squawk, and slant rhyme, the similar sound of two words that are nearly identical.

Poems, no matter the form they take, are about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. They have tempo, rhythm, color, sound and movement as they capture an experience, thought, idea or observation.

To Write a Poem, Here are Some Things to Think About

  • Think of the intent of the poem and what it is you want to express.
  • Use the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture your thoughts, ideas, feelings and observations.
  • Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
  • Decide if you want your poem to be lyrical or narrative. A lyrical poem is a snapshot or a fixed moment of time; it is a poem of a single image, thought or emotion. A narrative poem tells a story and has a plot with beginning, middle and end.
  • Avoid using clichés, generalities and vague concepts, like love, hope and war.
  • Avoid overusing trite words, such as tears and heart, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • Avoid overuse of the words “and,” “that” and “the,” which often are not needed. Cut unnecessary words to tighten the poem’s language.
  • To get to the concrete, describe the specifics, such as how a sunflower lowers its seed-filled head to show change from day to night.
  • Once the poem is written, reread it to cut excess words to get to the heart of the poem.
  • Explore what your poem is really saying and look for ideas that can be further explored. Your subconscious may have made connections your conscious mind doesn’t readily see. This can happen as you surrender to the writing and the beauty that comes out of the unfolding of words.

One Final Thought About Poetry

Poetry, no matter its form, shape or the devices it uses, becomes art as it uses language to create something of beauty, and its craft through the employment of those devices to make that beauty.

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.

 

Why Exactly is Editing Important?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Once the writing is done, it’s time to take out the red pen!

Editing is part of the writing process, or most definitely should be, even for emails.

Too many errors, and expert status is lowered, and writers look careless, as if they do not know what they’re doing. It gives the message that it’s OK, because everyone else is doing it, so why not join in? There isn’t enough time, or it’s not necessary. It’s just a rough draft, but it needs to be sent off anyway.

If it’s fiction, it won’t get a read if there are too many glaring errors, despite the content. Or if it’s self-published, the writing looks amateurish, making it hard to trust the story and stay on the page—errors cause the eye to stop and notice them instead of the plot, characters and setting.

Editing and a review process are important for all writers, no matter the skill level, because no one can write anything great and perfect the first time. In the least, there could be a typo or a missed word.

Before editing, set aside the writing (unless it’s an email or communication that needs to be immediately sent off) for a day or hire a third party to review the work.

Here are a few reasons why editing is important:

  • To ensure what you wrote matches what you intended to say and that your message gets across.
  • To ensure what you wrote is what you meant to write, instead of what is actually there, such as saying “their,” instead of “there.” It’s harder to see your own mistakes.
  • To tighten up what you wrote, so that there are not repetitions of material or awkward transitions between ideas or paragraphs.
  • To add missing information or to correct factual errors.
  • To make sure the flow of thoughts and ideas is logical and that there is a good structure to how the material is presented.
  • To make sure everything is understandable with the right amount of detail, but not too much detail that attention is lost.

Hiring an editor to do that editing:

Writers can start off by doing a round of their own editing to fix anything they find before hiring an editor. Manuscripts with lots of errors or sloppy writing take longer to edit and, if the editor charges by the hour, cost more.

Or, hire the editor right away, but realize that editing is best done in at least two rounds, one for general editing and a second for proofreading to catch additional errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics.

Longer manuscripts generally go through multiple stages of editing, including structural or developmental editing that looks at the entire manuscript, line editing at each individual line of text and then final proofreading to check for any missed errors.

Editing from an outside perspective can be more objective—writers get stuck in their own writing and love it because it’s their work.

The readers, too, will appreciate the editing, showing them that what they’re reading is worth their time and energy. An error won’t make them start asking questions about the meaning, the content or the writer.

 

Editing 101: The Multiple Forms of Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Editing is not a simple, one-step process, especially if the goal is to achieve clean, compelling writing that keeps readers wanting to read to the end.

Editing involves multiple layers from revising the overall structure of the manuscript to slow reading and evaluating at the individual line level. Editing has multiple names for those layers from the big picture of the rough draft to the small picture of proofreading of the nearly clean copy.

The Positive of Editing

When it comes to my own work, I wish I could read it once and think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and go on to more writing. But I know, too, that what I write is a rough draft and not close to the final product.

I find slight comfort in the fact that editing can be similar to writing as sentences, paragraphs and new ideas are added or removed to get to the core of the topic or story, so that there isn’t anything extra or boring or any mistakes detracting from the message.

Editing fiction can add a layer of entertainment with new scenes, sections of dialog or character qualities. For nonfiction, layering in details or inserting additional quotes can bring in more complexity, as long as the addition is tied smoothly to what comes before and after.

Levels of Editing

Here are a few different types of editing from the big picture down to the small detail, along with the tasks of each type:

  • Structural or Substantive Editing: Reorganize the manuscript for content or structure; make sure there are transitions between ideas; and clarify any areas of confusion or lack of data or a missing scene.
  • Stylistic Editing: Clarify meaning; eliminate jargon or awkward word usages; make sure the writer’s voice is consistent throughout; and make sure the entire text and the language within reads cleanly and smoothly.
  • Copy Editing: Edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; make sure details and descriptions are consistent; and make sure the use of language and mechanics are consistent.
  • Fact Checking: Check for accuracy of facts by checking various original sources.
  • Proofreading: Read proofs of edited manuscript or give edited copy a final read-through for errors not caught in previous editing rounds.

Error-Free

The aim of the multiple layers of editing is to achieve clean copy that reads smoothly without too many extraneous details or detracting thoughts, ideas or information. By editing in layers, the idea is to catch all or most errors. This is difficult to do if you’re trying to understand the overall content at a quicker reading pace, while also reading slowly at the line level. The two levels of reading need to be separated into different steps.

Reading in layers allows for different attention levels to the text, so that all of the pieces come together in something that is interesting, readable and compelling from the first line to the end.

The Social Media Side of Writing

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writers Conferences, Writing, Writing Tips on May 14, 2017 at 11:00 am

Going to a conference or networking event is the three-dimensional side of social media.

How? Attendees are trying to get likes, fans and friends, and they’re trying to build an audience.

I attended the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Fort Collins earlier this month to pick up tips on writing, editing and publishing but found myself drawn to a couple of the social media and marketing sessions.

The conference, carrying the tagline “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing,” offered 32 one-hour sessions over two days taught by agents, editors and authors on the craft and business side of writing. More than 130 writers and authors attended the conference May 5-6.

“The small size makes it a very welcoming conference, and the people that come to this conference want to see everyone succeed,” said Kerrie Flanagan, creative team member for the conference and one of the presenters on self-publishing and magazine writing.

Some of the sessions focused on elements of writing, like plotting, developing a hero character and writing sex scenes. Other sessions gave tips on the various forms of writing, such as screenplays, personal essays and flash fiction, which are really short stories.

Social Media and Marketing

I attended a session on “Social Media & Marketing: Navigating the Event Horizon,” presented by author J.C. Lynne.

Lynne recommended writers develop a platform to increase visibility and accessibility to actual, potential and future readers and to make it authentic.

“Authentic platforms take time and are about quality relationships,” Lynne said. “You’re fooling yourself if you think you won’t have to market your book, no matter if you’re traditionally, independently or self-published. … Even big publishers aren’t willing to spend money on marketing.”

A platform demonstrates a writers’ expertise, while also serving as virtual word-of-mouth to grow an audience. It can include things like a website, regular blogs and social media channels, such as GoodReads, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Putting content on the various outlets lets readers get to know and interact with the writer and keep up to date with the writer’s activities, involvements and publications.

“People don’t go to book signings anymore,” Lynne said.

More Marketing Tips

Other sessions included a guide to creating marketing materials, building an author website and the differences among e-publishing, print-on-demand and other self-publishing options.

I attended writer and editor Jessica Strawser’s session on “How to Be a Writer Editors Love,” where I picked up additional tips on marketing and social media.

“Editors today are looking for the total package: good, talented writers informed about the market,” said Strawser, Writer Digest Magazine editorial director.

Editors look for writers with platforms and who are consistent and prolific in their work, Strawser said.

“Editors like to work with writers who are savvy about the industry,” she said.

Strawser recommended writers build their platforms through websites, social media channels and local networks to build a larger base and collect more followers. A local network can be expanded by sending emails to acquaintances or people met through networking events and by asking them out to coffee.

“It will happen organically,” Strawser said.

Fiction Writing Tips (that make writing fun)

In Outlining a Novel, Writing Goals, Writing Processes on April 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

ZoeyLollipop

Outlining a novel can be as fun as a dog with a lollipop by taking the right approach.

There are two ways to write fiction: write and see what happens, or do an outline and plan what you write.

The planning involves coming up with a plot outline, character identities and the backstory, or what occurred before the story begins. In the very least, writers need a premise, the basic concept of what the story is about, or what the characters undergo as a result of what happens in the story. It’s the underlying idea or the foundation that supports the entire plot.

8-Point Narrative Arc

To do that planning, I like using Nigel Watt’s 8-point narrative arc, as explained in his book, “Writing a Novel.”

The 8 points are Stasis-Trigger-The Quest-Surprise-Critical Choice-Climax-Reversal-Resolution. The main characters experience something that upset the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads to the story’s climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis.

In three plot points, it’s the inciting incident, rising arc and falling action.

Outlining a Novel

To outline, here are a few things to think about:

  • First, think about what your basic premise or idea is for the story. What will be your hook? How will you introduce your main character or characters? What will be the inciting incident?
  • Identify a few of the big plot moments and what character actions or settings could complicate them. What does the character want and what plot complications stand in her way from getting that one thing?
  • Think through characters and plotlines to see if you can sustain both to the end of the story.
  • Consider the point of view, and think about the character’s back story.
  • Find a setting that cannot be separated from the plot and eliminate any extraneous settings.

Just a Suggestion

Finally, think of the outline as a suggestion that can be changed as you figure out what your story actually is about. Writing is a process and not a final product until the story is written and edited. Even with that outline, there’s that element of seeing what happens until you get to the story you love and want to share.

Top 10 writing tips

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing Tips on October 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

Nature can be an inspiration for writing, such as this baby rabbit at the library.

Nature can be an inspiration for writing, such as this baby rabbit at the library.

Every writer I meet has their top tips for writing and the rules they live by to make sure they write, both in the sense of discipline and inspiration.

Writing takes both, because there has to be a little bit of the spark, as well as the willingness to show up and do the work. Granted, I’ve felt a flutter of an idea only to tamp it down, because I was busy, tired or overwhelmed. I didn’t want to write.

And then there have been times when I made myself write and produced terrible work, forcing out each word, deleting, starting over or focusing on anything that provides distraction instead of getting out the words.

But these are the exceptions.

So, too, are those occasions when I start and stop just as suddenly. I tried and then didn’t try, giving up too easily.

For example, earlier this week, I wrote for 15 minutes because I felt inspired and then stopped at 200 words, because I did enough, right? I didn’t feel like writing. I made up an excuse, because I wanted to work on editing my novel—for me, editing is work and effort, so what I want to do when it’s time to revise is be finished.

I don’t want to do the work. I want to have the work done.

But to write requires work and lots of it, so:

  • 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. Write for two hours or 1,000 words, reasonable goals I’ve heard from other writers.
  • Get rid of distractions and the inner critic, which can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or 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.
  • Have more awareness, using all the senses when making observations and creating scenes.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that, with fiction and poetry, 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 unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the story down, then fine tune it with details, nuances and deepening of the plot, character and setting. 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 During the Holidays

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Fitting in writing when you’re busy, such as during the holidays, takes discipline, motivation and a willingness to write at odd times.

I find myself caught up in the excitement of attending holiday parties, spending time with family and friends, and eating lots of food. So to get serious about writing, I have to treat it like a job.

Here are some ways to get writing and keep going:

  • Buy a planner (even in old-fashioned paper form) and a new calendar to mark out goals for the year and schedule in specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write; i.e. keep office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Stick to a schedule, but allow for risk and freedom and for imagination and play, so that writing remains fun.
  • Write a writing action plan or goals for the year and check in every few weeks to mark your progress.
  • Take a writer’s retreat, even if it’s in your hometown, setting aside a weekend to focus on writing (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

Writing can be a reward once you get started as you see what you’ve accomplished from getting words down, while also being able to engage in the holiday fun.

Top 12 Writing Tips

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

With the year drawing to a close, this is a good time to reflect on the best writing advice to get motivated and inspired to do the hard work of sitting down to write.

I’ve collected notes about writing habits and the process of writing from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops I’ve attended and my own personal experience.

Here are my top 12 writing tips:

  • Write as much as you can, but not necessarily every day, especially if writing isn’t your full-time job. Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week for two hours or until you reach 1,000 words.
  • Get rid of distractions in your life while you’re writing, and don’t invite in the critic. Both can keep you from writing by serving as excuses to not write or to invite in writer’s block.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration. It can come to you when you’re already working. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Have more awareness, using all the senses when making observations to add detail to your scenes. Take notes when something strikes you to use later on in your descriptions of the setting or in dialog.
  • Write when you’re not writing by describing what you see, hear and feel as a running mental description. Write down whatever seems compelling.
  • Figure out what is most essential, most loved for you to write about. Write about what interests you, what you want to learn about and, of course, what you know.
  • Cherish silence even in noisy environments to let the words come.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that, with fiction and poetry, 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, let the story unfold because it isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the story down, then fine tune it with details, nuances and deepening of the plot, character and setting. 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.