Writing On Your Blocks – Part Two on Writer’s Block

What we learned from our five year podcastThis 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. 

There is nothing more daunting than a work in progress.  Works in progress (sometimes called the WIP, as if we needed more acronyms) often knock at your door loaded with baggage:  Great expectations, Fame, Money, The Futility of It All.

Our  first impulse is to take  in the bags.  Drag them into the house.  Spend the afternoon unpacking all the cases and finding the correct places in which to store all the emotions and thoughts neatly away. Only after it’s all tidy do you think to converse with the visitor who delivered all  that luggage.   

Stop.  Don’t unpack.  Leave the bags at the door, let the Work in Progress inside.  Talk to him or her.  Ignore the bags.  Even if it starts to rain.  Leave  them.

What do you say to your WIP guest?  Nothing until you manage to think differently about the whole damn thing.  In other words – re frame the project.

Instead of sitting down before the big, blank glowing computer screen (and thinking, hey, I need a better screen photo for the background, where did I store that great sunset photo I took on our last vacation?  It should be in this iPhoto album . . .)

Instead of thinking, Okay, I am WRITING THE BOOK. RIGHT NOW. TODAY.

Instead, think:

For ten minutes I will organize my material.  Trick your monkey mind.  Unearth all the  speeches, presentations, sketches and ideas you’ve created over the years and place them into a brand new file on the desk top.  That’s it.  It’s a perfect, low impact way to start THE BOOK.

Tell the Muse you aren’t really writing, you are just sketching out a couple of  memories.   Memoirs can be difficult to start.  Maybe you have already begun yours with your birth date  and the weather.    After that portentous event, there wasn’t much to say about the first 12 years or so. Re think the approach. Start again simply by writing down random stories as they come to mind – one story a day.

Claim to your subconscious (and the flying monkeys of distraction) that you are simply recording a few impressions.

Transcribe that popular story you always tell your friends or audience – I start many of my non-fiction writers this way.  Are you working on your nonfiction work?  Either as a very expensive (and effective) business card or back of the room sales, what sells most business books are the examples and stories.  The best way to start a business or nonfiction book is to capture those stories first.  That’s all, just write down your favorite client examples and stories.

Outline two or three features critical to the overall project. What would you say if – say – you wrote a book?  It sounds twisted, but it works because it takes the pressure off.  Your Muse is more likely to help you out if you are just noodling around.

Convince your Muse that you are doing little more than just filling in some character motivation.  For fiction writers that dreaded middle, the word count between 50,000 and 80,000 can be overwhelming and induce serious blockage.  Instead of thinking, I’m dragging my sorry ass through the sloppy middle of this novel, think instead of telling the reader more about each character. Check in and make sure your favorite characters have been adequately described. Can the reader visualize them?  Can you?    Once you start describing your characters, they have a chance to speak, as well as move forward.  They may surprise you.

Reframing the activity can trick your brain and that monkey mind, into thinking you aren’t really doing anything amazing at all, just working a bit here, jotting down some ideas over there.  Nothing to see here, move on.

The less portentous the project, the easier it is to approach. And even a half hour of work in the face of paralysis is a win.

Breaking down that block can be as simple as naming the project something else. Something smaller. Work on what you can work on and continue to ignore what’s packed in all those bags of expectations.  Don’t focus on the outcome, or the imagined consequences or accolades the finished project will bring.  Stay with writing the next paragraph. You’ll get more done and as a result, will have conquered both boredom and the block.

Newbie

I don’t care what anyone says, writers’ block exists. Maybe we can focus that term down a bit. Writer’s block for the current story exists. As I write this, I am stuck on my medieval fantasy story. It sits on the virtual shelf for a few reasons out of my control, but one is also that I’m stuck. I can re-read the 20 odd thousand words and am happy with it, but I can get to the end of the half sentence I left and literally just shrug. One cannot explain why I am stuck where I am. Perhaps I need to sit and sort out another part of the story first and join the dots to make it convincing.

Also, my brain refuses to just write anything down. It needs to be correct in my head first before the words can flow.

There are many tasks/tips on how to break writers’ block and many involve writing something else, writing anything, but in the end, that is writing something else and not your story. Perhaps the best way to overcome it is to spend some time writing around your story, follow another character, or develop some back story. You can keep this in a separate folder later, but maybe, just maybe you’ll hit that connecting dot and run with your imagination until you hit the next block.

Or drink a lot. I know I do.

Prompt

Listen to your favorite song – take the lyrics and turn them into a 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

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Playing with Unhappy Blocks – What we Believe About Writer’s Block

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. 

There are some authors who do not believe in Writer’s Block and some do.  And most believe that if you believe in Writer’s Block the condition will immediately manifest in your life evidenced by the blank screen before you.

Writer’s block can be very real.  But there are ways to understand it and conquer it.  Because at Newbie Writers,  we are all about conquering fear. Advice for Writers

There are three categories of non-writing:  thinking about, blocked by it, unhappy about it.   Thinking is self-evident, you must spend time thinking about the writing in order for more ideas to emerge and insights to come to light. We aren’t discussing that here. We are talking about unhappiness and  blocks.

I came across the idea of unhappiness after reading the Seven steps on the Writer’s Path by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.    And if I could have hunted these two fine ladies down, I would have booked them as guests on the show. No luck.  Surprising there are some authors who don’t want to be found.

They write that the seven steps to writers block are:  Unhappiness, Wanting, Commitment, Wavering, Letting Go, Immersion, Fulfillment.

I will not belabor the points here; you can read the book yourself.  But I do want to point out that the authors cover something that is sometimes over looked and misunderstood:  unhappiness.  I think this unhappiness or restlessness is a critical step and key to the writing process.   I appreciate  Pickard and Lott for addressing it.

Newbie Writers interpret unhappiness as failure. Other writers and creatives consider this unhappiness as an inadequacy or worse, a sign they should quit creative work and take up insurance sales, just like their father told them to do.  I even lost a client because she wanted me to fix her unhappiness right now, rather than work through the steps that would have taken her from unhappiness with her creative project back to writing (or commitment if you like to follow your steps in chronological order).

“Unhappiness, to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”  And the even more interesting observation:  “Boredom is a dead giveaway to the probability that creative is lurking in your psyche.”

What does unhappiness look like?  You aren’t crying, you aren’t tearing your clothes and lamenting, tossing ash into the air and spilling your guts out during a book club meeting.

Unhappiness does often look like alcohol in inadvisable amounts.  Or chocolate in Ben & Jerry’s amounts, or the family size pizza for one.  But none of those options will really do the trick – sorry.

Unhappiness isn’t quite like Writer’s Block, although it can develop into a block fairly easily, which should be prevented at all possible. And unhappiness isn’t exactly the problem we have with our internal editor – those flying monkeys of our conscious mind.

Unhappiness, in the writing world, is closely associated with boredom.  You hate the book; you hate the project.  You hate your hero, he is boring and does nothing but fight in a pub all night and never steps out for  a breath of fresh air.  You are bored with your own mind –  that is why you are unhappy.

But the trough of despair doesn’t have to become a permanent, deep, rut.  It can be just a brief resting place.

So how to manage this?

Crawl  out of the trough, and jump right back onto the same path.

Step away from the project.

Boredom and unhappiness is your brain revving up, about to launch again, it’s closely aligned to creative  thinking.   Your brain, (I say this from experience) is on the verge of delivering a break through.  Your Muse is hovering, ready to descend.  It’s about to happen, which, ironically, is why you are so upset and yes, unhappy.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, for my Scandinavian family, it’s a contact sport, but knowing that will not help you here.  Don’t deny you are unhappy, admit it.  If you don’t, you will stare at that computer screen for hours, picking away at a plot you hate – one tiny letter at a time.  You will most certainly feel dry and used up. You most certainly feel like a failure.   

Walk away.  Like writer’s block, like the internal editor, unhappiness is best managed off the court.  Go find another creative outlet that is different – sometimes very different, then what you are trying to create.  Just the inattention will sometimes do the trick and reduce the unhappiness time and lead you to the solution.

So if you write, dance, sing, collage, paint.  If you dance, write your memoirs. If you paint, write poems.   Walk instead of write.  Sports are even good – run, kayak, play a game involving any number and shapes of balls. Do something that makes you happy again.  The release will not only make you feel immediately better, but when you show up to work the next day, you’ll be surprised to discover that the work you hated yesterday afternoon looks pretty okay in the morning light.  You forgive, you forget, you will write again.

Look at your unhappiness and restlessness as outwards manifestations of your inner turmoil. Once you see it and feel it, and after you indulge in an activity that takes you out of yourself, you will feel better.  After a few days consciously avoiding the page, you will be able to return and say what you really want to say – take your heroine where she really needs to go, and do it all faster and more easily.

Okay, that will help with unhappiness.  What about Writer’s Block?  Real?  Imagined?  Well, if you can’t write, if you are stuck, then it’s real.  More on Writer’s Block in the next blog.

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

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Finding the Right Wizard: Social Media Strategies for Authors

One of the most challenging projects writers face is promotion. How to describe our beautiful books?  How to break down the book into effective social media posts?  Why didn’t anyone mention this in the creative writing seminar?

I have a broom and a bucket, here are some ideas on how to defeat the witch and discover your own happy social media place for your book.

Here is how Frank L Baum may have initially  described his first book:

I wrote a book set in Kansas but it doesn’t stay there, a big tornado takes the heroine, Dorothy to the magical land of OZ.  No, you can’t find it on a map.  There, Dorothy meets a good witch and a bad witch, the good witch is very pretty.  From Munchkin land she must travel to the Emerald city, which isn’t really emerald, everyone just wears green glasses, anyway, she meets colorful characters along the way, a lion, tin man and scarecrow and they all have adventures as they travel to OZ where even though they reach Oz, and meet the Wizard of Oz, which is the title of the book, now they learn  they must kill the witch and so they have more adventures in order to kill the witch so Dorothy can go home.

Is the killing dramatic?Don't Write LIke We Talk

Oh very, Dorothy throws water on the witch.

Sound familiar?  We have spent all our time and energy creating the narrative and following our heroine through one adventure after the next and we have that nailed.  But now we’re asked to describe our platform to an agent and it’s a totally different mindset. And most of us would rather hold our breath while jogging through a  field of poison poppies.

Let’s say Frank attended a social media/platform seminar.  Here is what he learned to say:

The Wizard of Oz is about a plucky American girl who adventures through a foreign land. But despite its many temptations and colorful characters, she only wants to go home. This is perfect adventure for Depression era readers still reeling from the Great War.  Dorothy embodies the hopes and dreams that our young people will want to stay home and on our farms but does it without preaching.  For the kids, there are flying monkeys and witches.

Now here are some platform themes that can be used to promote the book and find the likely audience for the book:

  • Plucky American girls
  • Adventures in foreign lands
  • Importance of home
  •  Depression era readers wanting escape.
  • Flying monkeys and witches.

Take quotes from the book or the above meta-themes of the book and post them on three of the big five social media outlets (yeah, 3 out of 5, there is bound to be a couple of social media channels you don’t relate to, then don’t feed them, it’s okay) :

  • Facebook Page  – Specifically for the book (you can have many pages)
  • Linked In – your own account
  • Pinterest – boards dedicated to the book
  • Twitter – your own account
  • Instagram – your own account – but you can change the bio to reflect the book
  • Blog from your own web site – do this and drive all the other social outlets to your web site and/or the blog.  Alternate between this and your direct link to the book on Amazon.

Plucky  American Girls

  • Blogs interviewing plucky American Girls
  • Pins celebrating young heroines
  • Connect with plucky girl Instagram accounts
  • Tweet about female heroines
  • FB Group for American Girl heroines or adventurers

Adventures in Foreign lands

  • Pinterest on travel
  • Pinterest on fantasy places
  • Blog about fantasy places
  • FB group, adventures

Home

  • Celebrate home
  • Blog stories about families or children finding their home
  • Pinterest on home
  • Tweet about home stories
  • FB Page about the book, which can cycle all the above on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

This is perfect adventure for depression era readers still reeling from the Great War.

  • Pinterest – photos of happy military coming home
  • Tweets – Domestic pleasures:
  • Pinterest – boards on homes and comfort
  • Instagram – favorite home spots

For the kids, there are flying monkeys and witches.

  • Pinterest board on Witches
  • Pinterest board on monkeys, flying and otherwise
  • Blog about monkeys and or witches
  • FB posts with a contest for ugliest witch photo
  • Contest through FB on who has the scariest story

I recommend:

  • Blog twice a month
  • Instagram three to four times a week
  • FB three times a week (just for the book page, your personal account can be updated up to twice a day if your life is particularly interesting which mine is not which saves me a lot of FB time).
  • Pinterest – every blessed day,  or twice a week.
  • Twitter – five to six times a day
  • Goodreads –  every day depending on your tolerances

Some pundits will tell you that Pitching and Promoting your book is as easy as following the yellow brick road, but the effort often devolves into a fight to the death against flying monkeys.  It’s easier if you first deconstruct the book, identify the larger themes of the book and create social media posts from that effort – If you work up front to focus on who you want to reach, it will simplify your work times ten.

Do this, and maybe the flying monkeys will leave you alone.

 

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

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Upgrade your work to First Class – Travel Journaling as Memoir

Sponge Bob in AmsterdamLinda Joy Meyers founder of  the National Association of Memoir Writers, has this to say about memoir:

“Writing your story will change you! As you are writing your story, perhaps you already have experienced a shift in perspective about your life, your family, and the events you lived through.  Our stories carry a wisdom we didn’t know we had. Memoir makes its demands on us, pressing us for stories we’ve never written before, leading us to moments and memories as we drop into another time and place. To write a memoir means to wrestle with truth. We are the narrator and witness to the life we’ve lived. Writing a memoir means that we learn how to move through time as we draw upon writing craft to create a world the reader can relate to, a world that brings them into the magic of a story.”

What we create when we write during our travels is a memoir.  Sounds classier and more important than “just making notes about the Great Wall” doesn’t it?   Memoir, essentially, chronicles a short, specific period in your life, if you are lucky, that includes a recognizable narrative arch.  Like what happened during your dream trip to Italy or Iceland.

Memoir requires structure, discovery, and change. Coincidentally, this is often exactly what travel provides.  Travelers ask all the right questions that memoir needs:  who am I?  What to do I want?  Why am I here?  If the answers are:  I am the plus one, I want more gelato and I’m here because the hotel was free, so be it. That is your starting point.

A new place pulls us from our everyday and gives us foreign space, different food different directions, and different stories so our life is not only enhanced, but illuminated against a new sky.

The idea that no matter where you go, there you are, is right. But it’s also right that as soon as you go, as soon as you board the plane, something changes, and you are a little bit new, a little bit altered.

With that in mind, how do you approach your travel memoir?  Write about how  this new place affects the old you.  Do you relate to something, is there something about the light in the streets that remind you of something in the past? Very often, we can’t write about our home in South Dakota  until we start drinking tea in Beijing.

If a place reminds you of another place, why?  What is it about the place?  What appeals and what repels?

I want to think that travel changes me for the better.  One of the many benefits of travel is we are forced to face the world as just us.  We can’t use the  trappings and symbols of the big house to bestow influence, we can’t throw around our   job title to impress, we left behind our expensive clothes and precious jewelry to connote importance.    It’s just you.  Struggling in a different language, dissecting unusual food searching for onions (if you are my son).  It’s just  you and the world, unvarnished and real.

The experience of travel  can become  a path to discovery both externally and internally.  That too is the essence of writing memoir.  How wonderful to combine the two and create stories that even if never published (and most aren’t) instead enhances the trip experiences and in the process, nourishes your soul, something that will last for the rest of your life.   

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My life is so interesting . . . I should write a book

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a Don't Write LIke We Talkcompilation 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.   

My life is so interesting . . .

No, it’s not.

No one’s life is all that interesting, fortunately, we think our own lives are pretty fascinating but if you’ve ever listened to someone on their cell phone, you know that isn’t true at all.

So why write a memoir if we just decided you aren’t that interesting?  No one’s whole LIFE is interesting but you may have something that happened during your life that is true and has a story arc that would be worth sharing with readers and the public at large.

Or say you survived an interesting period of history in your area and you want to share that time with your children and grandchild.  That is a good reason to write.

What if you have family history to pass along?  Please do, but not through all the genealogical research, write up the information in narrative, story form, or no one, not even your favorite grandchild, will read it.  Oh, they will say they will read it, but after you are gone, how are you going to know?

We recorded an in-depth podcast – episode 45 –  with Linda Joy Meyers, the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and author of the Author: Power of Memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother http://memoriesandmemoirs.com   www.thepowerofmemoir.com 

Linda recounted the time she visited her great- grandmother and realized the only way to discover how history was lived, was to ask.

“Great grandmother was 80 and I was 8.  She remembered Custer’s last stand.  And how people baked bread and delivered each other’s  babies.  It blew my mind that she lived all this. It was that moment that I realized that everyone has a story inside of them.”

It took her many years to write her memoir and during the process she founded the National Association of Memoir Writers to help others write their memories.  Along with Linda, we offer up some of the concerns and solutions for newbie memoirists.

Does everyone need to die before you can write your memoir?  No, but it helps.

Do you change names and details?

Write the memoir using the right names, if anything, to keep it all straight.  Remember, the memoir needs to be true to your memory and your experience.  Most people change names to protect the guilty, that said, if you write a memoir about your family, no matter what you write, they all know who you are talking about. Damien pointed out that in his memoir, which is about his father, he didn’t change the names because, at the end of the day, his father’s name is still dad.

And sometimes family members want to be in the book and are deeply insulted if they are left out.  Don’t tell people early on you are writing a memoir, or they will start bugging you early on.  Keep it private for a while.

Write the book first, deal with the family in question, second.

If you have a committee standing around talking in your head, you will never get started You need to start!

Memoir by definition is a perception of what happened according to you.  The memories and repercussions belong to you alone. When writers worry about telling the truth, in the memoir world – the truth is your own point of view about what happened.  A sibling may remember the same incident differently.  If so, they can write their own damn book.

How do you even start a memoir?  Remember that a memoir a part of your life and experience, not your whole life – that’s autobiography, which can be more unwieldy and may lack a clear story arch.  You are telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Sometimes the easiest way to start your memoir and to get going is to consider not only the big events in your life but also the small, seemingly insignificant memories.

Why do we remember these at all?

Damien had some big memories that he began writing about, and they are very powerful.  But what about the smaller ones?  Here’s why I bring that up.  The small memories, add to your work and give depth to the memoir as well as give the reader a brief rest from the intensity of the stronger or more dramatic scenes.

I would also argue that these trivial memories are not as unimportant as they first seem as we write them down.

Why did we remember that particular Halloween?  Why did we forget the details of our prom, yet can recall, with spooky clarity, that campout?

Because as unimportant as they may seem, our remembered moments are revealing, and often we don’t understand how revealing until we begin writing about them.

Consider one of your clear even cherished memories?  Why do you remember it at all?   What is telling about that memory?  Why is it lodged so deeply in your brain, in your sense of smell, in your mental catalog of evocative sounds?

One reason we remember these moments is because they came before.  If you reflect back on big events of your life, you can often remember the day, the hour, the moment before just as clearly. So it becomes a two-part memory.  What you were doing before the divorce, the death, the accident.  You can recall those moments just before everything changed.

Call up the odd particulars of your childhood.

Toys and games from your childhood.  My favorite example of this is when we were kids, a popular game was Lawn darts.  Big, pointed darts we hurled at a target set on the grass.  Great fun, imagine when your little brother got in the way.

During my childhood, two plastic relief maps that hung in the hallway leading to my bedroom.    One was a map of the US, the other was a map of the world.  Stopped by often to trace our trip from California to South Dakota, fascinated that the black hills were these isolated little bumps in the center of essentially flat states.

I loved to examine the world map and imagine where I would go when I could finally grow up.

This is a small, isolated image, but one that can be used to launch a memoir, a short story or launch a whole novel.  Your memories and impressions can be used, stretched and manipulated into great fiction if you want.  And this may be another option as you explore your memories.

In all deference to Woolf, sometimes recalling calm, unimportant moments are exactly what we need to do in order to launch the bigger life changing moments.  The average can set the stage for the remarkable.

Some good memoir examples:

The Glass Castle: A Memoir  by  Jeannette Walls

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Don’t let’s go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

These are good because they do not over analysis or even editorialize their own story, they do not give away the ending, even though you know the author survived if only to write the book.

As a contrast, what books are not good examples of good memoir writing?

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey   

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

When you write about your past or childhood.  Avoid blame and editorializing.  Just write what happened and what you felt at the time, not thirty years later in hindsight.

First, you lose the immediacy of the narrative and scene if you write from a high perspective your work will become pedantic and dull.

Choose one scene, one time and experiment.   It took me a few tries and about 30,000 words before I realized I was REALLY BORING.  I mean, startling, elaborately, unbelievably boring.  I have a happy marriage and happy children and a mostly happy mother.  Really, my husband’s siblings are all lovely people.  See the problem? I have no problems.

Good memoir needs more than just happy all the time.  What was a difficult time for you? If you write about it will it help others?  Is your story strong enough to build a platform on?  If not, don’t panic, just makeup stuff.  That’s called fiction.   

Newbie

I’m not sure on memoirs for the everyday person. I certainly am against memoirs of famous people who are yet to reach their 30’s as I don’t need to be reminded about those talentless sods who win the life lottery.

If you are considering writing a memoir, have a look back on your life and take note of the events in your life that are truly different, or extraordinary. Pick one or two of these events and explore that for your memoir, not your whole life. We (Maybe more like I) don’t really when you were born and why you were upset because Daddy didn’t hug you enough. But what is interesting is that time you were sent off to war and what happened there, or perhaps the time your wife had a baby that was severely disabled and how your life changed, the lessons you learned.

Focus down your memoir and cover that. If it’s not enough for decent length book, then write it down and share it with your loved ones. Not the world.

Prompt 

Write your own Wikipedia entry.  Describe yourself, your career, or what you want your career to be. Who do you want to be?  Rock star, super star. Newbie Writers Wikipedia

Write your own

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

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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.

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Editor, Editors Everywhere

Warning

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.

Prompt

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

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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.

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Got My Period

Warning

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

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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

Luxor

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!

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