Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Tools’

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.

Transitioning to Transitions 101

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

Transitions are the go-between, the white space surrounding dingbats and a way to get from here to there.

I realized in my quest to write about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I forgot about this writer’s tool.

There’s a reason for that – transitions are one of my least favorite things in my toolbox, though they are a necessity.

Readers notice the lack of transitions and quickly become annoyed if the story’s direction is unclear. The writing skips awkwardly along from one time or place to another, confusing readers as they try to figure out where exactly they are in the story.

They might think they and the point-of-view character 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, or a change in scene, which can be indicated with dingbats, asterisks or extra space. The break in scene ideally cuts 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. She may see a type of flower or a ceramic vase that triggers recollections of some event from her past.

The recalling of past events in the present through flashback interrupts the flow of narrative.

Changing the tense – such as present to past or past to past perfect – is a way to enter and exit out of the flashback.

Using sensory impressions is another way to invoke a memory, such as Proust’s tea, or to return the character to the present moment, such as the howl of a coffee grinder.

Or dialogue can cause the character to come back to the scene at hand, though she might ask, “What? What are you talking about?”

DIY Writing Retreats

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 18, 2012 at 11:00 am

In the home improvement realm, being a do-it-yourselfer is par the course.

Writers can do the same, but they won’t need to shop at home improvement stores, buy how-to books or draft complicated plans.

All they need is a little bit of time and a simple plan.

Writers wanting to participate in a writing retreat – the ultimate, prestigious way to get some writing done – can blueprint the cheaper home version.

They don’t need mountain cabins, peaceful lakes or fancy hotels.

For a mini-retreat, all writers need is a quiet place where their work will not be interrupted.

Ideally, set aside a full day or a weekend for this retreat.

Pick a spot to write, free of distractions and the normal routines, such as a coffee shop, mall, library, community part, hotel lobby or bookstore.

Commit a certain amount of time to writing, such as three hours, but allow for 10-minute breaks every hour, or whatever meets your needs. Take a lunch break and return for another writing session.

Set a goal for what you want to achieve by the end of the retreat, such as writing a certain number of chapters in your novel, writing a couple of short stories or working on some other writing project.

Take a portable writing kit, so you have your tools on hand, such as a dictionary and thesaurus, books on the craft, notebooks, journals, pens and music.

And remember to clock in how many hours of work you accomplished, your word count and any other measures of achievement. Compare what you achieved with your regular writing session.

This self-assessment will determine if your DIY retreat (except the cost of coffee or lunch) was productive.