Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Tips’

Blogs Key to Telling a Writer’s Story

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on March 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

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A flower assortment from a downtown Loveland, Colo., flower shop decorates the counter of a local coffee shop, demonstrating that a touch of color makes customers want to stay longer. The same thing happens with readers and good writing.

Blogging is a great way to tell your story, but how to get that message across takes some knowledge about your readers.

What is it that they want to see in your blog? It’s like a storefront but instead of opening the door, it takes a click.

They want to discover the latest news about your writing career. They want to know about your projects and get behind-the-scene peeks into your working processes and inspirations and motivations. They want to learn how you find and tell a story. And they want to know what’s up next, a short story or a full novel, and if they can support you in any way.

Blog ROI

Blogs are pervasive, but they also can have a ROI by helping writers look personal and inviting. Writers demonstrate that they want more than sales but connections. Likewise, blogs demonstrate expertise but in quick, direct messages.

Blog posts don’t need to be long with 500 to 700 words optimal. A blog that is 300 to 400 words is considered short, while a blog 1,000 or more words is long and article length.

Blogs crafted with a focus on the audience and what they care about will get more attention than SEO-centered blogs written solely to build a platform. They are not about clicks and quits—the audience sees the content is valueless and moves on. The audience stays for the quality, just like they do when they find a writer they love and can’t get enough of, visiting their websites, signing up for their newsletters and rushing to Amazon or the bookstore for a new release.

Click and Stay

To get a click and stay, here are some things to consider.

  • Identify your target readers, or who you want to write to, avoiding writing to everybody, therefore to nobody.
  • Figure out what your readers want to learn about your writing career and projects and then create the content, instead of writing whatever comes to mind.
  • Demonstrate your expertise on a subject related to writing or your projects.
  • Regularly talk about your main subject, but add some variety to keep up the interest.
  • Be specific, give examples and avoid going off topic into tangents.
  • Tell your story with details and descriptions, so that the audience can picture what you have to say.

Schedule It In

Make your blog routine, so your readers know what to expect and can mark it on their calendars. Make sure to post according to a schedule, such as once a week or even monthly, and on the same day. Sporadic blogging, especially every few months, shows a lack of commitment to the blog—plus, it’s unpredictable for the audience.

On a personal note, I aim for once a week, but when I get busy, I find that I end up skipping. But I always come back to it, not wanting to give up something I started in 2011.

 

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Why Businesses, Writers Need a Regular Blog

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

GeeseSummer9 2016

Blogging is a way to separate you from the crowd, just like the ducklings huddled together eventually will go out on their own.

Everyone seems to have a blog from writers to business owners, but are they a necessity?

With more than 150 million blogs in existence, it seems like a key way to promote what you have to offer to your readers, customers and clients. Google certainly likes blogs and other written content for Search Engine Optimization and higher online rankings.

Beyond SEO

But blogging goes beyond simple SEO. A blog is part of branding, an aspect of creating a platform and a form of marketing.

Consistent, quality blogging creates an image and demonstrates expertise and authority in a niche. It gets readers to turn to you, because, over time, they begin to value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, plus your values and what you see as most important. It’s a way to connect in the fast-pace world of social media that feels a little more personal.

Blogs should educate, inform and entertain and not be solely written for SEO purposes. Content-mill produced blogs are written to get clicks—what’s created is SEO-stuffed with little meaning and value. They only are about quantity, not quality.

Quality Blogs

Alternatively, writing regular quality blogs create relationships, build audiences and convert readers to fans, clients and customers. They result in engagement and a following.

Research shows that blogs should be posted once a week on the same day of the week, and not randomly, especially with big gaps of time and a lack of focus in topic. To create quality blogs, think about your target market. Who are you writing to? What voice do you want to use to reach them? What is it you want to say?

Blogs are a way to talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. It’s a way to show your process of creation. It’s a way to show what attracts fans to your business or what you have to offer and why you are the best pick.

Blogging Advantages

Here are some advantages of blogging. Blogs can:

  • Put you in front of your customers, serving a similar purpose as an ad or marketing materials.
  • Bring traffic to your website.
  • Nurture and build a relationship with your audience through regular connection.
  • Separate you from your competition.

Blogs also can be used to tell your story and to make your business, platform or website look personal and inviting. The good news is they don’t have to be written by you—you can hire a ghostwriter to get great quality and a consistent approach that brings readers back wanting more.

Why Blogging is Important in 2019 (a blogging checklist)

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Goals, Blogging Tips on February 17, 2019 at 6:00 pm

GeeseSummer3 2016

Blogging keeps you on the edge of things!

It seems like everyone should be blogging from business owners to writers to anyone who wants to get their writing to readers, customers and clients.

If writing seems painful, or there isn’t enough time, should you start or continue a blog? Is it authentic to blog just because it’s popular? Are blogs essential to promoting your writing, your project or your business? Or do they keep you away from what you really want to do?

Google favors blogs and other written content for Search Engine Optimization to give businesses, nonprofits and individuals higher online rankings, especially for recent content.

Blogging as Branding

But blogging goes beyond simple SEO. It’s part of branding. It’s an aspect of creating a platform. And it’s a form of marketing.

Consistent, quality blogging creates an image. It demonstrates expertise and authority in a niche. And it gets readers to turn to you, because, over time, they begin to value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, your values and what you see as important. Blogs also create relationships and convert readers to customers, resulting in engagement and a following.

Research shows that blogs should be posted once a week on the same day of the week, and not randomly, especially with big gaps of time and a mishmash of topics. Medium-sized blogs generally are 500 to 700 words, while article-type blogs are 1,000 words are more.

Blogs should educate and entertain and not be space fillers vying for that SEO. Content-mill produced blogs are written only to get clicks—what’s created is SEO-stuffed with little meaning and value. They only are about quantity. Think about your target market. Who are you writing to? What voice do you want to use to reach them? What is it you want to say?

Blogs are a way to talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. It’s a way to show your process of creation. It’s a way to show what attracts customers specifically to your business. And it shows why you are the best to offer what you offer.

Blogging Advantages

Here are some other advantages of blogging. Blogs can:

  • Put you in front of your customers, serving a similar purpose as an ad or marketing materials.
  • Bring traffic to your website.
  • Nurture and build a relationship with your audience through regular connection.
  • Separate you from your competition.

Blogs also can be used to tell your story and to make your business look personal and inviting. They’re not just about what’s for sale.

Use a List to Make Writing a Habit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 27, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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The 10 geese at a local lagoon represent the top 10 writing tips to get you inspired for writing in 2019!

Lists are everywhere for a trip to the store, errands and business tasks, but do you have a list for writing?

Even if you are not a writer, these tips can help you get started. Or if you already love the process, do you have your own top 10 writing tips?

Why a Writing List?

My list helps me get motivated and stay on task, turning the desire to write into the action of writing. If I don’t keep resorting to it, I let other things fill my planner. It’s easy to do, and despite tracking how many hours I spend on writing each week, I come up with excuses for not writing.

It seems ironic—don’t do what you desire though you desire it.

The idea of a list is to turn desire into a habit, something that can be carried out through 2019. My list is compiled from writing advice I gathered from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences.

The advice includes a few rules to live by to 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 writing, finding that once you got started, you have something to say, a poem to write, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

Top 10 Writing Tips

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three or 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.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because it could take awhile to arrive. Also, 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 perfect 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.
  • Last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

Writing lists are a great way to pinpoint the best advice and serve as a source of motivation to find the time, discipline and inspiration to do the hard work of sitting down to write. With that list in hand, it’s a great time to make writing a habit in 2019!

Coffee and Writing and How They Relate

In Espresso, National Coffee Day, National Espresso Day, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on November 11, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services compares coffee to writing in honor of National Espresso Day on Nov. 23.

I’m addicted to fancy coffee because there are so many aspects to the experience.

A bit of sweet with the bitter of espresso, the heady smell of freshly ground espresso beans and the smooth texture give coffee that appeal of wanting more.

The well-known National Coffee Day was Sept. 29, but National Espresso Day is Nov. 23, created by PartyExcuses.com, “365 days—thousands of excuses.”

My excuse, I have to admit, is to tie coffee to writing.

Espresso is an Italian-style dark, rich brew pressed out for a smooth finish. It’s the base ingredient in café lattes (my favorite is an iced caramel latte, summer or winter), cappuccinos and macchiatos.

Espresso and Writing

To celebrate Espresso Day, have a shot of espresso to mark its invention around the 1900s and pick up your pen, no excuses, to start describing the world around you, helped by the extra alertness from the caffeine.

It’s a matter of wanting more, such as two or three shots of espresso in the small latte. That’s like adding description to plain writing to make the process fun with the key ingredients of observing, absorbing and noticing details. Use the senses to observe and then choose words carefully to absorb, making sure every word has a purpose to move the writing along.

Achieving great writing is similar to using fresh beans in espresso—if they’re old, the taste is bitter. Descriptions that are trite, cliché-ridden and lacking detail can suffice but won’t give the reader that buzz that heightens the experience of drinking and reading.

To get more technical (but still keeping it fun), 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. For example, “the caramel sauce drizzled in a wavy path down the whipped cream” is more descriptive than “whip with caramel.”

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “extra skinny, extra hot, light foam, light whip latte with extra caramel.” Just say you’re picky.

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 without caffeine.”
  • 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. Coffee and coffee cup are general nouns, as opposed to a pumpkin spice latte and an orange mug with leaves on it.

Description is what fills the pages of a story or gives a poem form. Without it, the action falls flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this. Or the poetic devices would be readily apparent without that wonder of captured memory and observation.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.

Transitions in Seasons (and How it Relates to Writing)

In Transitions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on October 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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The table centerpiece is a perfect way to transition into fall with fresh-picked apples mixed with the colors of autumn.

The change from summer to fall or fall to winter is more gradual than the calendar indicates.

In Colorado, there’s often an afterthought of heat in late fall or an early snow before summer ends. The change occurs like sliding down a hill with some going back up until the season feels like, yep, it’s fall, or yes, time for the winter jackets.

An abrupt change in season can be compared to writing without transition—it’s hot and then it’s cold without anything in between.

Transitions in Story

Transitions are essential to keep the direction of the storyline clear, instead of skipping without explanation from one time or place to another, confusing readers as they try to figure out where exactly they are in the story. For instance, they might think they are in a coffee shop and suddenly they are in some memory about traveling to another country.

Transitions serve as a bridge that signals a shift in the story, such as a change in time, place, mood, tone or point of view. They mark a scene break, ideally at the moment of heightened suspense, causing the reader to want to know what happens next.

The point-of-view character’s physical environment, or what’s happening around her, can transition into her internal thoughts, memories or reflections. The character may see an object or hear something that triggers recollections of some event from her past. The recalling of past events in the present through flashback interrupts the flow of narrative. The tense can be changed—such as present to past or past to past perfect—to indicate her entry into or exiting out of the memory or flashback. Sensory impressions can be used to take the character out of the memory and return the character to the present moment. Or dialogue can cause the character to come back to the present, though she might ask, “What? What are you talking about?”

Transitions as Roadmap

Transitions serve as that roadmap, or weather guide, keeping the reader within the story world, so that moving between time and place seems natural without suddenly needing to change clothes or pull out the umbrella, wondering what to do next.

I prefer my summer to spill into fall, winter to be short and spring to arrive quickly. But I appreciate all four seasons because sameness would not give that excitement of change, or transition!

How to Train Your Writing (and Your Puppy)

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on August 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Zoey the Dachshund demonstrates Up as one of her obedience tricks.

Improving writing skills and training a puppy have some similarities.

I got Zoey, a long-haired miniature dachshund, nine years ago when she was nine weeks old. I started writing when I was eight or nine—short stories and cute poems—becoming serious about it in college.

With both, I had to train my puppy and I had to train my writing. Neither came naturally to me, so I had to become a student to learn the essentials and then become more proficient with practice.

Training Writing, Training a Puppy

I found that to do either well requires research, experience and knowledge—and, of course, patience. I read about a dozen books about dog training, dog behavior and the dachshund breed, and with writing, I read close to 50 books about the writing process and various elements of writing, along with two monthly magazines.

I took Zoey to puppy kindergarten and through intermediate training to provide her with skills in basic obedience. She received a certificate and had her photo taken with a mini-dog graduation cap.

To make sure there isn’t slide, we practice those skills on a daily basis—commands like sit, down, stay, shake and come and walking on a leash. We, however, haven’t got past the treat effect—Zoey expects and requires a treat for each skill she demonstrates. For her shakes, she rapidly waves her paw as she tries to be patient. I touch it and give her what she wants.

We go on walks, and I learned that I shouldn’t pull her on her leash but patiently wait for her to understand what I want through treats and praises. I praise her when she walks and wait her out when she sniffs. I praise her when we return to walking. She gets a treat when we get home.

She especially likes it when people want to stop and give her attention—dogs are social animals and need to have comfort and routine.

How to Improve Writing, Dog Behavior

Here are a few things I learned about maintaining good behavior in a dog (and how it relates to writing):

  • Provide at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to keep the dog healthy and to release energy that when unused can result in poor behaviors (write at least once a week to keep up the routine and practice of writing; more if there is time).
  • Do obedience training to improve the dog’s mental stamina and prowess (do writing prompts, even for five minutes, to stimulate the mind and promote larger pieces of writing).
  • Do obedience training on a consistent basis to turn a dog’s good behaviors into a habit (write on a consistent basis, such as once a week, to turn that practice into a habit).
  • Offer regular playtimes, so the dog can build a relationship with you and also have fun (think of writing as a hobby and something that is for after work or playtime).
  • Pet the dog through belly rubs, head patting and massages to create an emotional bond (think of your writing as a relationship between you and your words).
  • Set the same time every night for bedtime, so that dogs have an expectation of when to settle down (write at the same time and in the same place to create an expectation that now is the time to write, even if the writing may not seem good or out of flow, or at least at first).

These are just a few ways to provide a pattern to let the dog (and your writing self) know what to expect, thereby establishing a good routine to follow. The result is a well-trained dog and a well-trained writer, eager to get to the work and fun of both.

Writing with a Bang (even during holidays/vacations)

In Vacations, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on July 1, 2018 at 5:00 pm

BuschGardensShorebirds1 06-2018

This is called bun chasing. Check out the shorebird at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Fla., with the bun on the run.

Getting back to writing or blogging can be a bit difficult if it’s sunny out and you’ve just been on vacation—add in that Independence Day is quickly approaching, giving you another reason to let your brain keep on being on holiday.

Yep, I’ve got the holiday/vacation motivation and discipline problem.

First off, I returned to a pile of work, a tad tired from riding the rollercoasters at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens during my early June visit to Clearwater, Fla. I had so much fun, six days into my trip, when I went to Howard Beach and collected a few seashells, I came home to a big long afternoon nap.

Writing Reality

Two days later, I had to re-shift to reality, though I had a load of memories to use for my writing. I have a couple of favorites, including seeing a shorebird grab a hamburger bun at Busch Gardens and run about, but not able to take a bite for all the other birds ensuing in a hungry chase. I also loved riding the Manta at SeaWorld and feeling like I was flying, twirling in loops and going upside down. (I must have a thing for birds.)

As I got back to my work routine, I thought about how I lost track of what I love—writing though it oftentimes feels like work.

Writing requires time, energy, thought, discipline, motivation and desire. Writing isn’t always easy even for a writer, while being on vacation or holiday is easy. Just relax, have fun, and go places. One of my friends kindly reminded me that the other place you visit becomes mundane once it is your every day. I’d put some magic around Florida, thinking I’d been in heaven with all the fun. Writing seemed not so heaven-like, requiring sitting in a chair and not running about. But from my vacation, I collected new images and new ways of seeing, and thus, describing things. I had something to compare the old with the new.

Writing Return

I figured if I want to write, I have to sit in a chair and treat it seriously. Here’s a few ways to get back to writing (without it being too much like work):

  • Identify your goal or what you want to accomplish.
  • Develop a writing routine, setting aside time each day or week to help you reach the goal.
  • Find a special place to do your writing, so that it gives you inspiration and comfort.
  • Keep track of the time you dedicate to writing, demonstrating your work toward your goal.
  • Take credit for each accomplishment toward the goal.
  • Don’t allow for excuses, at least most of the time, while also realizing that setbacks will happen.
  • Forgive yourself if you get sidetracked or frustrated.

And as you engage in writing, remember to keep the commitment and to keep going, no matter what. For those who like writing, writing is fun (and, if treated right, it can feel like vacation!).

SeaWorld1 06-2018

Shelley Widhalm poses by the Manta ride at SeaWorld, which feels like flying.

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.

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.