Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Fires and Masks: I Can’t Breathe

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2020 at 11:00 am

Multiple fires across the state darken the skies in downtown Loveland, Colo., making for an eerie atmosphere.

As ash falls out of the sky, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop struggling to write my blog.

The sky is spooky, haunted and surreal as leaves shimmer gold against a smoke blanket. Ash coats sidewalks in small, blowing piles of destruction, and pieces of pinecones curl like oversized eyelashes.

It’s nine days before Halloween, and I feel anything but eidolic, only thinking about fun and candy.

Like everyone else, I’m trying to sort through the tragedies of 2020, how they all seem to focus on breath. First, the masks that cover our faces, then “I can’t breathe” leading to the BLM movement, followed by fires across the West that significantly lower our air quality.

Trifecta of Breathing

I can’t breathe as my heart breaks at how the sky literally feels like its falling, but in little white  and black pieces of life destroyed.

I can’t breathe as I run—I’ve moved inside and run in a gym, my mask in place.

I can’t breathe as I shame myself for my pivot from writing to editing. I’m not getting work fast enough. I might fail. And on it goes.

I started my writing and editing business nearly four years ago because I lost my reporting job at the local newspaper. When I got the pink slip at my journalism job, I gasped. Not me. I was told my position had been cut. I was laid off.

I couldn’t find a job. I started a business and gasped for breath as I tried to understand how to be a solopreneur. I read books. I met with consultants at the Loveland Business Development Center. And I called my brother, who owns a business, asking tons of questions.

After a couple of years, finally I felt grounded. My numbers were growing. It looked like I could quit my side gig job. And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. I lost two-thirds of my business, and over the months, built it up to half of a loss.

As we got shut inside, I increased my hours at my essential services gig job (just by 4 to 24 a week). I became more engaged in writing and editing my novels. I got obsessed with Zoom webinars on writing and editing.

Fires Recolor the Sky

And then the fires came. I didn’t want to write. I stopped blogging, thinking it felt like a chore. And then I missed it, just like I miss Colorado’s blue skies I took for granted until two months ago.

Each day, I wonder what color the sky will be. I wonder how it will feel to breathe again without thinking of facial coverings and falling ash.

I wonder if I’ll cough, if my chest will feel tight.

I don’t wonder about love and passion. I love writing, and I love editing, my breath givers.

What are yours? What do you love that is helping you through these hard times? What are three of your passions? What are three of your skills? What are three ways that you can reach out to others?

What makes you feel like you can breathe again?

Adjusting (albeit reluctantly) to COVID-19

In Adjust and Readjust, COVID-19, COVID-19 Response, Editing, Readjusting, Self-Isolation, Social Distancing, Writing on April 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works in the Murray’s Cheese Department at a Loveland, Colo., King Soopers store for her gig job. Here, she is handing out samples before Kroger temporarily discontinued food demonstrations and sampling in response to COVID-19.

At first I thought the media response to COVID-19 was an overreaction, and then as I read fake and real news, I changed my mind.

I also changed my patterns, though I had no choice with the March 26 executive order to stay-at-home issued in Colorado, where I live.

Not a Joke!

On April Fool’s Day, I went on a walk with my dog, Zoey, and I had a dream the night before—the word that came to mind as I walked in the nice sunshine was “readjust.” The night before, I cut and pasted my dream—I don’t recall the parts that I moved around, but I made changes, or adjustments, to the content. Changing my mind also was an adjustment as is editing—it adjusts a rough draft into polished writing.

On March 13, which was Friday the 13th, I significantly noticed the world was changing in response to coronavirus, though I’d already been reading the articles. That’s the day my gym closed for 13 days—now extended through the end of April. I cried and complained, because I couldn’t live without the gym, where I lifted heavy weights and ran.

Adjust and Readjust

But I adjusted, albeit slowly, and instead of running 30 minutes every other day amped it to 45 minutes a day with Saturdays off. I also brought out my weights set—don’t laugh!—of 5, 3 and 2 pounds, plus wrist weights of 1.5 pounds. I was in a lot of pain for one week—I have fibromyalgia and cope through daily exercise. I adjusted, at least physically, and saw my pain return to normal as I pretended I was at the gym and did the same exercises with tiny weights.

I also work at a grocery store for my gig job and literally felt shocked at the empty shelves starting in mid-March. The energy from the shoppers felt disjointed, chaotic and fearful. There was an increase in lack of manners, which then returned to caution and politeness with social distancing. And there was a scarcity in a weird list of things—yes, TP, but also potatoes, onions, bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, eggs, other paper products, and um, I don’t get this, bananas.

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The paper products aisle at a Loveland, Colo., King Soopers store is nearly empty March 13, which was Friday the 13th.

I began to store associate isolate, focusing on cleaning—I work in the cheese island—notice the word, “island.” That means I’m in a U-shaped section with tall counters and can focus on my task list, which I self-increased by adding the cleaning duties. I reacted out of fear of catching the virus, staying six feet away from customers, washing my hands for 20 seconds, avoiding touching my face and showering after work, plus separating my work clothes from my other things.

Avoid Self-Isolation

My other job is freelance writing and editing, and I used to work part of my day in a coffee shop. The state limited restaurants and coffee shops to to-go orders, so I isolated at home to do my work under the stay-at-home order. I thought I couldn’t live without a way to get out of the house and be in a busy, social environment, but I adjusted.

And now when it rains, I take out my inside running shoes, and I go for a run—inside. Yep, I make due.

Speaking of which, all the books that I have due at the library aren’t overdue, because, you guessed it, the library’s closed. But words haven’t been cut off—we still have ways to communicate—Zoom, email, text, the telephone. I even wave as I run by my neighbors from that six feet of distance.

Did I mention that I do editing? And that I have room in my schedule for one to two editing projects. I also do writing for individuals and businesses with the content adjusted perfectly to the message.

 

Keeping on Task with Writing During the Holidays

In Habits, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on December 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services holds up one of her gifts during Christmas 2017, celebrated at a local Starbucks with her family, after spending an hour that morning at another coffee shop doing some writing.

The holidays are about fancy parties, good food and fun get-togethers, but they also can be about writing and keeping up that routine.

Each year, I have to make a conscious effort to fit in writing on my holiday to-do list. Beside my usual work and life activities, I need to set aside time for writing my annual Christmas letter and shopping for presents, along with extra holiday socializing. With a busier calendar, I still need to retain focus on my main goal, which is writing. Without that focus, along with some discipline and a plan, the additional activities can become a distraction.

That’s why setting a routine, especially during a busy time of the year, is extra important.

Writing Routines

Here are a few ways to be disciplined in writing no matter the time of year:

  • Buy a planner or use a phone app for 2019 and schedule 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 writing office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you have accomplished and add up the hours every week or month and compare them over time.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes in between other activities, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Write a writing action plan with 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 Results

Once writing is routine and you mark your progress toward your goals, you can see how you are reaching those accomplishments, while also being able to engage in holiday fun.

Over the course of a year, I like to calculate how many hours I spent on writing my novels, writing poetry and revising my work, along with the time I dedicated to writing each month. I can tell when I’ve gotten distracted and for how long, not putting in those important hours and minutes that can add up to a significant amount, especially in a year’s time.

This holiday, I plan to stay on track and keep to my original goal of writing at least two times a week and fitting in writing whenever I can. That way I can get in more writing for my year-end tally!

Saying Goodbye to a Car (with a little bit about writing)

In Car Repairs, Cars, New Cars, Writing, Writing and Cars on October 21, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services had to get new wheels in early October after she said goodbye to her 16-year-old car that took her all over the country and got her nearly 170,000 miles.

For months, I knew we’d be parting ways, my car of 16 years that took me nearly 170,000 miles in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Nebraska and my home state of Colorado. I knew that after replacing the clutch, fixing the brakes, getting yet another set of tires and having 2,000 misfires in the engine, plus a window that wouldn’t go up or down and a front end duck taped together, all within two years, this day would come.

The Repairs

My heart pounded as I heard the verdict on the cost of repairs. I couldn’t keep fixing what’s broken and return my car to clean newness. I called a towing company to have it taken from the car shop to my apartment. I’d driven it the day before, and it went thumpity-thump down the road, the “Check Engine” light flashing as it went slower and slower until it was a matter of … where do I stop? I parked, went to a meeting and a co-freelancer helped me drive the car to the shop.

At 2:15 p.m. on Sept. 28, my car arrived on the bed of a tow truck, which lowered it into its parking space. I looked at the white truck and my car, back and forth, thinking, do not cry. I got my key and sat inside my car, and I cried. I didn’t think I would, because I’d been saying “I hate you” for breaking down.

Memories flashed through of our times together, my cranberry red Saturn, my first brand new car when I thought I was fancy and on the top of my game. I had a job as a features writer at The Washington Times. I was going to work at The Washington Post or The New York Times. I was going to be a published author. I would have an expansive wardrobe and fill my passport to overflowing.

The Adventures

My car and I went to the beach and to the mountains. We went on wine tours. We went shopping. We got separated in big parking lots. We listened to audio books and the radio. She, my Cranberry Red, listened to me talk on the phone before that became a no-no, and she heard me go through the gamut of emotions. She was there out my apartment window wherever I lived, my constant.

I sat in her passenger seat, thinking, I won’t be driving you anymore. This is it. This is goodbye. My heart beat a little faster. I couldn’t catch my breath. I wanted to have my car to go places. To be. Not this. Not this soon.

I got laid off in 2008 from The Washington Times, and my car and I moved back to Colorado. I got laid off in 2016, and we thought it wasn’t fair, two layoffs in less than a decade, but it was the recession and then post-recession. Cranberry Red started to age, and she needed lots of assistance to keep going. I gave her what she wanted, peeling out hundreds and hundreds of dollars for her care.

The Goodbye

I felt like she’d become part of me, my car. And then I thought about all of the things I’m going to be. I’m not giving up.

I am going to be a traditionally published author, no matter the effort that it takes, because I will have the heart and the new wheels and the love of family and friends to let me know that I can go forward. I will keep writing and loving writing. Because over the last month, I had wanted to quit my business and my writing and then my car quit, and I figured, no, not both of us.

One of us has to carry on the torch of the Cranberry.

Running and Writing (and getting inspired)

In Running, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on March 4, 2018 at 6:00 pm

Going for a run and sitting down for a writing session require the same grit.

The obvious reason is the discipline, showing up day after day to get fit and maybe lose weight or to sharpen skills.

Various writers approach that grit in different ways: by writing 1,000 words a day or for a certain length of time, going for writing sprints, setting writing goals and incrementally meeting them, and doing things like writing a short story a week or the rough draft of a novel in a month.

Writing the first few times may be crappy—for new writers, figuring out how to translate what’s learned about the elements of writing into structure or overwriting or underwriting a messy first draft. The first draft can be too much with too many details, repeated scenes, dialog that drags and too many characters not doing anything; or, it can be too little with scene jumps, jumps in logistics, a lack in transitions and underdeveloped plot, character, setting or dialog.

Running daily incrementally builds muscle, increases metabolism and improves lung capacity, while doing it here and there is nice, but won’t change the body in any noticeable way. I ran my way three sizes smaller and wrote my way into lots of copy, noticing how both become easier through time and practice.

The less obvious similarity between running and writing is that it can be a real pain to do both. I don’t always want to go for a run, particularly at the end of a long work day when I’m already tired. I feel like I don’t have any energy until I get into the third, fourth or fifth lap, and then muscle memory takes over. Oh yeah, this is how running works.

I don’t always want to write, particularly after coming off of a sprint, such as a National Novel Writing Month activity in April, July or November.

I have to force myself into the chair and say just write. It doesn’t matter the result, and then the looseness of freewriting without the annoying boundaries of the internal editor or the need to write something good fall away. Muscle memory takes over, and I count the laps and the words, getting somewhere just because I showed up.

It’s habit, discipline, practice and wanting to change shape—fit in body and fit in my writer’s hand—that gives me that running and writing grit.

Top 10 Tips for Writing

In Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on January 14, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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A new year is a great time to think about your writing plans and goals.

Lists are a great way to get motivated and to turn desires into habits—and to get motivated to write, I resort to my top 10.

Over the years, I’ve collected notes about writing processes and habits from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. I find these notes to be helpful, especially at those times when I feel discouraged, unwilling or stuck.

From these notes, I’ve generated my top 10 tips for writing and rules to live by to make writing a routine and, over time, a habit that I do without thinking or agonizing about it. I don’t want to have ideas and put them on hold because I’m busy, tired or overwhelmed. Instead, I want to show up for writing, finding that once I got started, I have something to say, a poem to write, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress. It can be sticky or rough at first, but once I write, it seems easier to continue and I’m glad I put in the effort.

Top 10 Writing Tips

  • 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. 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 by serving as excuses to not write or to 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.
  • 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 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, then 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 in the New Year!

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on the best writing advice to find the time, discipline and inspiration to do the hard work of sitting down to write. It’s a great time to make writing a habit through the year of 2018!

Writing in the New Year (to make it fun!)

In New Year's Resolutions, The Writing Life, Writing, Writing Advice on January 7, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund poses by a 2018 planner to welcome a new year of writing.

The best part of the New Year is the new planner and seeing all of the blank pages to fill in plans for the next 12 months.

This year, I got the same purple one as I did last year. I tried to go with another color, like pink, but the brand I like didn’t have the nice little silver bookmark, only in the purple and red versions. I don’t want red because it makes me think of fancy dinners and fast cars. I needed a serious color, so really I should have gotten black.

Writing Resolutions for 2018

As I look at my planner with 2018 in gold letters, I think about my resolutions and big plans to make my writing more of a priority, instead of fitting it in when I have time. I plan to work on some novel revisions, giving my young adult novel one final editing pass and one of my literary adult novels two passes, including one through my writers group. I plan to keep on the daily poem challenge. And I plan to continue writing short stories and start drafting a new novel for 2019.

What are your writing resolutions for 2018? To join a writers’ group and stick with it, to write a novel or a few short stories, or to participate in NaNoWriMo, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November? Or if writing is something you don’t like to do and would like to try, start with a class or one-day workshop or meet up with a writing friend to get some tips.

But keeping to a resolution can be difficult—according to the latest statistics, only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through. Research shows that the top resolutions are to lose weight, get organized and spend less money.

Sticking to Your Resolutions

Here are a few ways to stick to those resolutions:

  • Pick a resolution that you want to do, instead of something that is good for you or is something everyone else is doing (like writing novels when writing short stories is your preference).
  • Pick one, two or three resolutions instead of a long list that will be difficult to manage or even remember. That way you can focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Write down your goals and visualize what you want to accomplish and how you’ll do it. Put your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge.
  • Make a plan to carry out your goals with smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month. If writing is one of your goals, start out with 500 words or a half hour and build from there.
  • Be specific, such as planning to write two days a week for one hour each time, or to write 2,000 words three times a week. Set aside a certain time for writing or for your other goals.
  • Check in every so often to make sure you’re meeting your goals and ask if any adjustments need to be made.

As you work on your resolutions, reward yourself as your efforts lead toward tangible results. Writing consistently to make that progress takes some adjustment, motivation and discipline. But then it will become habit and easier for 2019!

Keys to Writing Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, lastly, congratulate yourself when you write.

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

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

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

 

Finding 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.