Archives for August 2017

Journaling – the New Selfie

Travel journaling is like one long, continuous selfie.

And like wielding a camera, your journaling can be reflexive or reflective.

There is usually a large crowd before popular paintings like the Mona Lisa or Night Watch.  Tourists used to just tour and observe but now it looks like the kind of mob the figures in the painting are charged to prevent.  Tourists block the view as they hold up phones and pose. Selfie sticks block the perfect view.  No one leaves as more and more people push towards the painting.

  Three steps away are a wealth of lesser known  Rembrandts.  Take a picture with one of those faces Night Watch - Amsterdamsince you yourself may be just as lesser known.  Write about how that feels.  Describe the crowd. Describe how you may or may not purchase a postcard of the Night Watch particularly when you know that just down the street stands a life-size sculpture of the Night Watch. There, a person can stand in the middle of the moving men and take better, more interesting selfies.  Or take additional notes.  Or do nothing more than admire it.

One could argue that journaling is, even more, self-absorbed than selfies.  Many of us don’t even share what we write.  Even though sharing is caring.

Sharing is also annoying.

But if you are a millennial you have always, always been in the picture. You were always in the foreground of every family photo and video.  I am rather grateful during the bulk of the boy’s childhood, we consistently forgot we owned a video camera and defaulted to being in the moment in real time.  I don’t know if it worked, but their selfie count is a fraction of their peers.  For which we are grateful.   

To continue the generational idea.  If you are a Xer, or trailing Boomer (those who don’t remember the Vietnam war) you were not raised to be the center of attention at all, in fact, your parents often forgot to pick you up from school.   We of this generation do two things – never forget to pick up our children and often avoid being photographed.  We are not happy with evidence of all the pasta and wine we consumed in Florence.

But journaling!  You can make snarky comments, you can scribble a sketch of the bachelorette party riding the bus, the bride wearing a tiara in the shape of a tiny penis (for her sake, not to scale).  You can take notes describing a young women photographing her friend dressed in a stunning red gown dramatically contrasting against the blinding white marble of the Taj Mahal.  UNESCO as back drop.

The good news is that the selfie boom has increased the general appearance of tourists.  Because everyone is in the picture, everyone looks better. Young women  stagger through national parks in high heels,   refresh their lipstick for the Eiffel Tower climb and lacquer their hair against the fog at the Cliffs of Mohr.   

My mother has expanded on the childhood mandate that she should be seen and not heard and is now both.   I have hundreds of photos of her in the foreground and beautiful places like  Croatia in the background.  But she doesn’t take her own photos, I do.  I am her photographer.  I’m so busy with her that there is no time for me. An old story, an established metaphor.

Between mom and all the adorable children bludgeoning surrounding tourists with selfie sticks,  there are enough portraits in the world. But there isn’t enough time.

You may be like me. When I travel, I want to see as much as I can in the time allowed.   I do not want to waste an hour or more of every morning wrestling with my hair,  complaining about the hair drying speed, unearthing a cute new outfit and ironing it, and applying make up because we are taking a picture over breakfast this morning. Forget me, there is so much to see, so much to capture and record.  I already know what I look like.   

To travel is to be busy.  To travel is to look like you look, not create that idealized version of yourself.   To travel is to make a pact with your fellow travelers that every day is a bad hair day and every day we get a free appearance pass.  My husband and I spent a spontaneous weekend in Chicago (not paid for by United, we were on our own for that 48-hour  layover) with no luggage. Chicago was fascinating, beautiful, exciting and by advanced agreement, all the photos are of Chicago, none of me.

I want to look out.  I want to write and remember, not how I look, but how I felt, what I saw and what others look like.

The journal is your selfie, you narcissistic, opinionated, nasty, wondrous, selfie.  Smaller than the additional luggage needed for costume changes, faster than full makeup very morning of a trip, and while I wield my journal, I hardly ever smack a fellow tourist over the head.

Editor, Editors Everywhere


Don't Write LIke We TalkThis blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

Editor, like Publisher, has become a broader category than it once was in the past.  It used to be that the editor/writer relationship looked like a scene out of Spider-Man.  The Editor in charge wants a photo of Spiderman, and Peter Parker better get one or be fired.

Editors have evolved.

The best way to think of an editor is a good editor will prevent you from inadvertently upsetting your reader.

I was discussing the books of a very popular writer with another   NaNoWriMo writer who had just read the most recent publication.  My friend complained that some of the simplest continuity in the book failed. (And this is an author that attracts massive advances and has a phalanx of editors).   The sin is not the inconsistency itself, in this book the heroine runs out of butter in one paragraph, makes a big deal about not having any butter, then uses copious amounts of butter on the very next page.  As readers, we were not really concerned that the butter in question seemed to magically appear in the refrigerator, although that would be handy in real life, our complaint was that such a careless oversight succeeded in wrenching the reader (my friend) out of the literary fictional world and out on the cold street, now conscious she was holding a book of paper or electronic bits exclaiming, I thought she was OUT of butter!

You the author have a responsibility to maintain your contract with the reader.  The reader promises to suspend disbelief and you promise to not suddenly jerk them back to reality before they are ready.  The editor helps maintain this contract, because he or she is a reader, they can catch situations and discrepancies that you cannot see.  Don’t yell at them, be grateful.

An ACQUIRING EDITOR buys the book from an agent or author. When you attend conferences and talk with editors, you are most likely speaking with an acquiring editor.  Acquiring editors come in various shapes and sizes.  Blog editors are acquiring editors.  We are editors in the sense that we vet potential guests.

To be guest blogger, to see your work published in an anthology.  To become part of a publishing house collection, you are working directly with that acquiring editor.

Study the periodical, and /or develop a relationship with the blog editor, if you want to write for Newbie Writers, be nice to Damien and listen to the pod casts so you have an idea of what we’re about.  The more you know, the better you can tailor your work to what the editor wants and needs, the better your chances.

Always query an editor with your idea and don’t attach anything, attachments make editors break out into hives and that’s not an auspicious start to your relationship.   Queries should give the editor a complete picture of what your blog, article or idea is about. Include what they ask for. Don’t send anything they don’t ask to see.

DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR.  This editor helps the author, if needed, with plot, structure, pacing, and writing style.  Coaches (like me) are essentially developmental editors.  We help with the structure of your book.  We walk you through the process of creating the book.

We will also help you polish the work before submitting your book to a publisher or agent.

Content and development editors are big picture experts with degrees in literature and/or creative writing.  They will find structural challenges in your story but likely they will not find typos, for that you need to hire a copy editor.

Copy editors are emergency response teams. These fearless editors are the people who can spot a typo at fifty paces and know how to resurrect a sentence.  You only need these experts in an emergency.  And the last round of edits for your book often seems like an emergency.

You will either get an assigned copy editor through your publisher (and this is not a suggestion) or you will hire a copy editor to save you from yourself before you publish your book yourself.

If you hire a freelance copy editor, find out what they usually look for, and add in what you want them to find.  Do you need to make sure the plot hangs together? Or do you just want to make sure the heroine’s eye color doesn’t change between chapter 2 and chapter 46.

Be specific, the more you want to be checked, the more expensive the work will be.  Which makes sense.

If you are assigned an editor by your publisher, he or she will check for grammar, punctuation, spelling and typos, all the usual stuff.  They will also make sure the book fits the publisher’s editorial style.

This where authors and editors come to blows.

You’ve heard authors say phrases like – editorial hell. Authors will lament that they are arguing with their editor.  They will claim that their editor knows nothing.  Or post on social media to not bother them, they are working on their damn edits for their book.   

When the edits for Future Girls (Eternal Press) were finally, finally, finally returned, I figured I would spend at least two or three weeks in editorial hell with the manuscript.

It wasn’t that bad.

And I credit a relatively easy final editing session to my Beta readers.  Making the edits the readers suggested before sending the manuscript to the publisher made all the difference.

But nothing is ever perfect. I still had work to do.

My book – Future Girls had to follow the editorial style that (the then)   Eternal Press books had to follow.  I was no different.

According to the editor, or in this case, the style guide she employed: “No beginning sentences with “And,” “Or,” or “But”.  Sigh. I start sentences with “And” all the time. And I because I start sentences with “and” I don’t penalize my students for doing the same. It was a tick I had learned to ignore.  So it was a foreign thing to hunt down those ands and change them all.  Pain in the ass.  (Running a search and replace for the word and is not an activity I recommend). But I did it.

“Em dashes. Our formatting program recognizes a double dash as an em-dash with no space before or after. Also, no spaces before or after an ellipsis.”  So I hunted down the damn spaces.  Picky picky.  But that’s the hell part.  Some authors, sorry, often new authors, will argue that they don’t want to change a single one of their sentences because it is part of their art – their style – their message.  That is silly.  Once you delivered your novel to a publisher, it’s now part of that publisher’s collection – they are responsible for the look and feel of their own products.  You can go along with this, or you can, like Virginia Woolf who never allowed anyone to edit her work – publish it yourself.

You’ll still need at least a copy editor.

Mark Twain suggested that every time you use “very” in a sentence, just change it to “damn” and the editor will subsequently remove all the damns and your sentences will be in good shape.

Editors are wonderful and important members of your team.  Be kind to your editor, keep him or her around.  I was thrilled when the editor of Future Girls came out of retirement to edit Future Gold.  She already knew the story; she knew my style – the editing went well.  I also attribute that to changing all the sentences starting with AND before I sent her the manuscript.

I can be taught.


Rewrite the end.

Have you ever been dissatisfied with the ending of a book?  Take the end, or the last chapter, and rewrite it.  This is of course, how fan fiction is created, but you don’t need to post it or do anything with it.  Just create an alternative ending and work from there.  You may well begin another story!

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

Injury Free Photo Sharing – What to do when no one wants to see your travel photos

My journal is the only space that patiently listens to every detail of my travels.  Every. Detail.  I need my journal because no one else cares.  Not my family, not my friends and not my traveling companions.  Especially not my travel companions.

It is reasonable then, to reach out to acquaintances and distant relatives who have not traveled with me and share all that I know and experienced.

But they too.

Do. Not. Care.

Unless your best friend has just returned from the same country. Unless your children just lost their phones, unless you want your dinner guests to leave early, you are sharing SOL.

That’s okay.

My Great Aunt and Uncle and Grandparents lived in our town.  Both couples traveled after their retired.   The two couples did not travel together, they didn’t like each other very well, they had nothing in common really.  Except for travel, the method of which they disagreed, and photos. Both couples took many, many photos.  On film.  To make slides.

To share.

When my great aunt and uncle returned from their incredible safari in Africa, we were treated to 5 carousels of slides documenting every step of the trip: the lions, the tigers, the elephants, the lions.  Not to be outdone, my grandparents showed us 6 and a half carousels of slides (each carousel holds 100 slides).  I exaggerate, the personal land speed record for slide shows to narcoleptic children is 700 slides.  My father exited these marathons uttering a single word: edit.

My brother and I would squint at the photo of the 47th  lion and wonder, is that the same lion? Is there an official lion supported by the Nairobi government that poses for the bus loads of tourists?  Because she LOOKS like the same lion we saw at our Great Aunt’s house last Sunday.  That even looks like the same tree.

After a safari in India, I find the idea of a  single, well fed, paid off lion, very easy to believe.

Arrowhead, tiger in India

Arrowhead, a well-compensated tiger.

But that’s another story. This story is about editing and sharing.    Not since those epic nights has anyone shared their photos with me and  I have not shared with them.  “Want to see slides of our trip?” is my trigger phrase.

Back to you.

Let’s say you retired early, and you finally get to travel.  And that is more than fantastic, it’s amazing. You are suddenly footloose and free and now can’t get the song out of your head.  You and your loved one can embark on one long honeymoon.  You can even travel off season to save money, or shoulder season to save money but have some sun. You don’t need to travel in August when northern Europe empties into the South.  You circumvent the crowds, you dodge the heat, you miss the lines,  you are the queen of all your survey.

Of course you are excited. And it’s only natural   you want to share

But your enthusiasm will be met with rather blank stares.

You want to talk about Paris but your friends are all hot to discuss their latest dental work.

Or all they want is for your to reinforce their own prejudice.  When I returned from India, the only question was – what about all the poverty?  Well, I replied, it’s not like Flint Michigan, where it’s all so depressing and dark that you want to kill yourself.  It’s more like happy, dirty, there is a pig rooting around in the garbage, but he’s a fat pig, poverty.  Completely different.  The woman with the question did not believe me and returned to her rant based on what she learned watching  Slum Dog Millionaire.

Or you want to share how emotional it was to again stand in awe before Matisse – The Dessert: Harmony in Red, a  painting you first saw when it was on loan in Venice back in the 80s and you happened to BE in Venice in the 80s. The painting was amazing then, and it was fantastic now.  And the white nights of St Petersburg!  Your husband’s second cousin instead asks about the food on the flight and doesn’t wait for the answer before being lured away by the bacon wrapped bacon.

  Here’s what I do.

I put together a collection of highlights from the latest trip on my phone. I label it favorites or highlights –  favorites help, mark the best photos with hearts and categorize them that way.

When someone who knows a little more about travel than your husband’s second cousin, and really does ask  to see photos (everyone says they want to see your photos, they don’t mean it, they are being polite)  hand them the phone, let them scroll through at their own pace, keep talking about something else.

If the viewer is paying attention, they will pause at a photo, show you the phone screen and say, what the hell is that?

You will answer, they will return to scrolling.

How to you describe all that fabulous stuff? All that wonder and joy? How do you keep up with the pace of their swiping?

From your journals pick a couple of stories. Tell the stories while your new best friend scrolls and in about 15 minutes you’ll be all finished with both the stories and their tolerance for viewing photos that don’t feature them.

If you are on Social, post on Instagram and connect that account to Facebook, post a couple of times during the trip so friends can say, oh yeah, I saw your trip on Facebook. Now you can tell them about the amazing lion who has been draped on this tree branch since 1972.   

Share with me –  Join our Facebook group – Travel/Write and we will listen to your story.  And look at your photos.

Got My Period


This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

After a breakneck presentation to authors on how to stay calm and deliver a great presentation to agents. My friend Betsy Fasbinder (guest as well) commented to me that I needed to talk more like I wrote.  Stop at those periods, she said.  Take a breath at those commas.

Take a breath?  I had only half an hour to deliver all the information these newbie authors needed and I wanted them to have everything!  I wanted them to present themselves and their projects so clearly and well that they would walk out of Pitch O Rama, the event we coordinated for authors, with an agent’s card and a promise to review their manuscript.Don't Write LIke We Talk

Of course, Betsy was right.

That pause, that comma and period was invented for breathless people like me to help us when we speak.

After all, that’s what they were invented to do.

Early Latin texts were written with all the letters jammed together with no breaks between. Just evenly spaced letters filling the page, and elegantwallpaperr certainly, difficult to read, most assuredly.  So as priests started to read, it was necessary to create some kind of symbol to help them with pauses and stops.  Writers haven’t looked back.

The comma allows the reader to break for just a nanosecond, and that helps embed the meaning of the sentence even better into their tiny brains.  Periods allow everyone to take a breath.  My trouble is I’m a fast talker, one deep breath and I can belt out two or three paragraphs talking much faster than my poor audience can listen.  I need to or three periods at the end of each sentence to get the point across to me.  Stop.  Take a breath.

The best way to think of a period is to re-name it like the Australians.  Full Stop.  It sounds like reading a telegram out loud.  Full Stop.  But that period has some drama in it.  The sentence is done; the act has been accomplished.  The question: to be or not to be.  Full stop.  There’s a lot to consider in that one statement.  Let it stand.  Move on.

If I can learn to do this, so can you.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

To Tour or not to Tour, that is the Troubling Question

Everyone likes to dis tours. Tours were for lesser, less adventurous, less intelligent tourists.  We were travelers armed with AAA maps and   Fodor’s $5.00-$10.00- $50.00-Never Mind, a Day.    

Tours were for those who didn’t know what they were doing, or why.  Tours were restrictive, crowded, uninspiring and boring.  Tours diluted the foreign experience by isolating you with your own kind on a big bus. Tour food was bland and catered to the lowest common taste bud.

We do not tour.  My mother didn’t even tour with her mother – apparently travel by enormous cruise ship that empties a thousand American’ tourists into port experiences catering to Americans tourists fresh off the cruise boat is completely different.   

Tours were out.  Until my mother lost both her favorite travel companion, my father as well as her travel bete noire, her mother. Until she wanted to travel to Egypt.

At the time – about 15 years ago, a woman could not comfortably travel

Luxor, Egypt


through Egypt without the protection and the organization of a tour.  It was a scary first time for both of us.  Not Egypt, the damn tour.   

We chose  Overseas Adventure Travel, I don’t even remember why except the price was probably right for what we got.  It always is.

Mom still brought maps and ideas but we did not pack   Fodor’s Egypt on $100 a Day.  Instead we clutched a copy of our pre-determined schedule and hoped we could endure the experience of bus rides that were necessary if you wanted to see the Valley of the Kings.    

There were a couple of features of a tour that dramatically differed from doing it yourself

Before-  Landing

Back in the day when we did it ourselves, we landed in London. My parents gathered the luggage, yelled at my brother and I to not wander around Heathrow and with much debate shuffled us all towards the car rental parking lot.   Because we are driving in London.  I remember my dad experimenting with the left hand gear shift while telling us he didn’t care if we were hungry.  Mom found the dot on a complicated London A to Z map and announced it shouldn’t be long.

I don’t remember being particularly terrified.  I should have been.   A car in London is a terrible idea. Clearly, we survived.

After –  Landing

We disembark in Cairo.  The airport is crowded and disorienting.  Streets even more so.  I keep an eye on mom so she doesn’t wander off searching for a restroom. Instead of dragging to three successive information booths to learn where to pick up a car that may or may not be a good idea, we are greeted by a professional guide holding an easy to recognize sign.

The guide escorts mom to the restroom.

The guide fetches the rest of our luggage, she walks us to a waiting bus. The bus driver already knows the route to our hotel.  In fact, the hotel is already taken care of, which is an ordinary thing on paper at home, it is a bloody miracle on your first day in a foreign country.

So when you descend the  switch back single lane road out of the mountains and down to the planes of Thermopylae in a big bus praying to whatever god strikes your fancy (in Greece there are still many to choose from: worship Mary if someone you loved did not survive the road down to Thermopylae, St Christopher if you did)  you can take comfort that your husband is not driving and your mother is not helping

Before – Getting Around

Even with Siri, even with GPS, even with a map, you can become terribly lost.  Or worse.  A best friend was guiding the rental car up in the hill towns in Spain and the GPS voice told him to turn left, and he did, and the car got stuck between the two narrow stone walls.  Trashed the car.   

Yes, if you drive or take the train, you can control the journey.  Take the road less traveled (which may or may not end up deep in sugar cane field), turn at the sign promising a castle (it did, it was amazing), and enjoy the day meandering up and down lush green hills.  You can also spend the day on a highway with unmarked exits, with your partner bringing up old grievances at the exact time the GPS delivered crucial directions.

After – Getting Around

On a tour there is limited opportunity to get lost.  However, if you are traveling on a time budget, it is worth the money to get where you want to go and back as efficiently as possible so you can spend the maximum time viewing the thing you came to see.  The bonus of the bus and of not having to worry about navigating the roads  is you can write about the monuments and experiences immediately after viewing them. And you don’t need to tell anyone where to go, either physically or metaphorically.

Before – Sleeping

You may already know to book a hotel room for the first night of your trip. You already know that the mind-set for such a hotel and first night is that it will be the most expensive hotel and dinner of the whole trip because you had no time to explore the area  and figure out the cheaper options.  As long as you can get to the hotel – from the air terminal, to a water taxi, to the dock, dragging the luggage over the cobblestones and discovering the right hotel a second before a storm. As long as you do that, you’ll be good.

After the first comfortable night, each day of the trip is spent either finding the right hotel, or finding the hotel  or AirB & B you reserved but doesn’t seem to be located at the published address.  Again, with our maps and phones, it’s not as difficult as it used to be.  But the search, discovery, moving the luggage, all the  pieces, chew up sightseeing  time.

After – Sleeping

Flam, Norway

From the Flam Railway

Tours often book far more beautiful and well-located hotels than you could afford on your own.   We know.  We tried.  We priced a trip to Norway a la carte so to speak and the cost was prohibitive.  We gave up and booked the same countries (Norway, Finland, Denmark and st. Petersburg)  with Grand Circle Tours (which is different from an OAT and I will discuss that if you’d like). With the tour, we enjoyed five star hotels, a cruise that offered caviar for breakfast and the perfect ride on the Flam Railway   We had more time to enjoy – in this case – the stunning fjords and views and less time worrying about where we’d sleep that night.

Don’t care about hotels?

Wait a few years, you will.

Travelers have always hired guides. How else can you know what you are seeing?  How else can you get around in the best, and for many of us, most efficient manner possible?

I took comfort that if Herodotus, one of the first travel writers, needed a guide in Egypt (who by the way, told his Greek tourist that the hieroglyphs on the top of the pyramids were a list of foods, which Herodotus dutifully wrote down.  It wasn’t true, but even in 550 BC no one could read hieroglyphs), then we could too. And so can you.

Have a story about travel and writing?   Join us on Facebook –  Travel/Write, I also post on Pinterest, follow the Travel/Write board.

Get a pen and a plane ticket and write!