Following Maps in Barcelona

I packed a hard-sided journal – 8.5 by 6 to Spain.  Since the size was so accommodating, I glued, taped and stuffed everything I came across that was interesting or evocative.   The larger notebook even accommodated a city map and the full brochure for Casa Batllo  (mom climbed to the very top using the stairs even though many panicked bystanders kept gesturing to the antique elevator).Journal with Barcelona Map

I love illustrated maps.  I know they are not to scale but they are tremendously handy and immediate. I gratefully accept them at the hotel reception desk and allow the receptionist to mark up the directions in blue ink.   As handy and easy and as direct as Google maps are, they are difficult to annotate, cut and paste – save.  Not as fun.

Map in hand, it’s now permissible to get lost. The hotel is circled, here.  The cathedral or castle or department store is circled there.  How you get from here to there is entirely up to you. Yes I know that’s also a metaphor for life.

Since my mother and I made it to the cathedral in record time, I set her down in the shade close to where we were to join the rest of the tour group and  brandishing the not-to-scale map  I wandered as far as I could for as long as I could and still be back at the meeting time (there are many meeting times on a tour, and always, always be on time,).   The sound of Spanish guitars followed me like a soundtrack as I explored the stone-lined narrow streets.  I found the musicians playing in an almost empty courtyard, the acoustics of which were fantastic.     Naturally, I bought their home-made  CDs.  I bought both the red and yellow one.   I stored the CD’s into the back of the notebook and made a note on the map.  That was all I could write in the time allotted.  But it was enough.

There are a couple museums in Madrid. Since I am allergic to following guides through museums like a Celiac is allergic to baguettes,  I would like to personally thank Grand Circle Tour for not insisting that a group of 45 tourists, stay together for four hours as we all shuffle through the Prado admiring enormous dark paintings by El Greco.  This particular afternoon, we were on our own to tour a collection of three museums anyway we wanted.

Our guide, who by Madrid was wise to my habit of wandering, handed me a map marked with a clear highlighted line.  You are going HERE and meeting the group at this TIME.  Mom and I gathered up two other fellow tourists and headed off. 

Mom and I began the museum shuffle at the  Thyssen, which displays many Impressionists and those influenced by same.    

I have visited museums and galleries with my mother since I was old enough to stand still for a lecture on Monet.  If you recoil in horror at the very thought of a museum visit, here is how to make it easier.

  • Don’t walk through the galleries together.  Seriously.  Schedule to meet anyone and everyone at the entrance.
  • For no more than two hours. 
  • After three hours in any museum, your ears will start to bleed, particularly if you are new at this.
  • Don’t feel obligated to like anything.
  • See the most famous paintings in the place, make a note, or if you must, take a photo for proof and if you do not fall in love, or even understand the damn thing, move on.

I am lucky because my mother is very good with time and very good finding the entrance of any building. 

Which left me alone,  cheerfully wandering through the Thyssen enjoying the art in no particular order.  On the third floor, I encountered a woman methodically photographing each painting.  Every painting.  Step, snap, step, snap.  I tend to not take photos of artwork, preferring to buy two or three postcards of my favorites and gluing them into my notebook.  But here she was, cataloging exactly what she was seeing – Step. By. Step.

She paid no attention to me at all, affording me a moment to observe her and wonder about how to see art, how to see the world and the idea of a camera between you and reality, if you will.

I wrote a poem about it.  It was not very good.

It is a short walk from the Thyssen to the Prado. It’s a longer stroll to the Sofia where Picasso’s Guernica is displayed. Mom and the ladies agreed that they couldn’t possibly all the way down that (to me enticing)  that tree-lined sidewalk to the  Sofia.  The  Prado would be enough for them (average age – 80, at least they knew their limits).  Reluctant to abandon them,  I missed, Guernica expressing my dismay by marking the museum on my map with a sad face. 

I scribbled a neutral face next to the Prado.   While Mom and the ladies wandered through the beautiful museum in, I hope, complete ecstasy,  I found that after about seven El Grecos and just as many  Goyas, pausing before The Third of May  1808    because it was famous, I was done. With forty-five minutes left, I escaped to the cafe, bought a cup of tea and created this poem. Which is better than the one about photographing art.

In The Prado

In The Prado

I live
He smiled
on the second floorMadrid map

On the Calle Canaletto de Gracio
Rolling the R relishing
The feel of the name between his lips

She shifted her bag
Squirted another measure of
Hand sanitizer

I live in the US on 5 45th St
Not pronouncing the long E
It took too long

His Greco eyes slowed her
She took his hand – forgetting
To clean

Come I can make for you
An afternoon that will last
Till the death of summer

(Included in Unmasked – Women Write about Sex and Intimacy After Fifty.  Marcia Meier and Kathleen Barry, Editors)

We didn’t realize that after  five o’clock, entrance to the museum was free. As we walked out, we saw an entry line that seemed to stretch to the Sofia.  (which was closed by now).  Since it was only 5:00 and it was Spain, we loathed to just haul off to dinner (a disadvantage of eating with a large group – early meals, so the restaurant can get the unwieldy crowd in and out before the civilized dinning hour). 

The four of us stopped at a cafe the card of which I did not grab.  But we  enjoyed a glass of rose and watched the traffic and people.   Such a lovely way to live!  Only after the wine was finished did we meander towards the yellow highlighted line to our early dinner.  We were late.  We were not sorry in the least.

I made a happy face on the map.

Fast Notes in a Slow Journal – Spain and Portugal

Spain – with my mother,  as usual. My travels are not the ideal. I’m not going to list the best restaurants in Madrid, nor the most interesting Gaudi houses in Barcelona.  I will tell you how to journal while you are there.   

I travel with tour groups, because I often travel with my mother, who is inching into the elderly column, as in, if you need help boarding early, children or the elderly, please step to the front of the line.  We do.  No one argues.

It is not an ideal way to travel. It’s not romantic or adventurous (well, sometimes it’s adventurous).  But traveling with mom does allow me the luxury of visiting beautiful foreign ports I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to see.


Taken by the author with her iPhone

For creatives, traveling in a pack or with a high maintenance partner can be downright aggravating.    I am often distracted by the requirements of a large group shuffling from here to there, the required transportation (the damn buses, which have been re-branded as “coaches”  do not be fooled) and of course, my mother who I do not leave alone for more than a minute or two at a time.  Because that’s my job – care for her.  Instead of craning my neck to see the carvings on The Sagrada Familia I’m watching the steps so she doesn’t trip.

On many trips, I even shared a room with her.  Just sit with that for a minute,  sharing a room with your elderly mother for two weeks.  Watch this space for the St. Petersburg visit.

Where then, do I retreat for a little privacy?  My journal of course.  Like all journals, it serves as a space for rants, impressions, more rants and way to capture my experiences without the need or requirement to share or explain, it is where I can go for my own time.

It is indispensable.

Which is why I have a journal for every trip.  Journal Page for Spain 

I am sharing my experiences with travel and journaling because I cannot be the only woman in the world who is the ad hoc partner for an elderly woman hell-bent on traveling the world before she dies.

One recent trip was to Spain and Portugal.  Mom booked a Grand Circle Tour which translates to busses and many slowly moving travelers exiting and entering said busses.  As inauthentic as a tour experience is supposed to be,  I am more than happy with the service, accommodations, and guides provided by GCT as well as Overseas Adventure Travel (we take more OAT tours as a rule).  A  (good)  tour eliminates the conversation about where to stay, deletes the backseat debate on which highway will lead us safely out of downtown, or not.  And tour guides are handy arbitrators of what, exactly, is the point of any and all public art.   Having driven through Ireland with mom’s help, eliminating that particular activity has its benefits. 

Reviewing the journals, I noticed how happy I was to get my own seat on the god damn bus so I could have some privacy.  I was also delighted we stayed in a small apartment in Madeira so I could sit in my own separate living room (and write about how happy I was).  And I cherished the few hours exploring Barcelona after mom went to bed.

The page featured here is less about being fabulously creative, and about just making due.    

I write on both an iPad (or laptop depending on the trip) as well as a paper-based journal (during our trip to France, this was a critical feature).  The advantage of a paper-based journal is, interestingly, the immediacy. Grab a map, grab a beer coaster and make quick notes either while waiting in line for the single toilet, or while bumping along in the bus, or in the restaurant while your mother finishes her beer.  A paper journal can be faster than typing on your phone.  It can be more friendly than keeping your head down scrolling through recent photos (save that for the bus ride).   

What surprised and delighted me with Spain was the number of poems I created, all the result of grabbing time and making sure I always had the materials. 

One afternoon we all dutifully trooped through a resort town on the coast of Portugal.  We were guided to a restaurant famous for their chicken.  But the chicken wasn’t inspirational, the toilet was.   

The cafe in Carcais:
Its famous chicken
single toilet
long line

an Aussie girl
shrugs off a lumpy  backpack
surreptitiously brushes the sand
from her legs

She is slender and tan
filling her bikini top will transitory youth.
She eyes the single sink
Naked longing in her blue eyes.
She can’t wash her feet
with all of us watching
She tells me this is
The closest free bathroom
To her camp

She not only pees
But devotes long minutes to the
tricky business
Of striping a wet swimsuit over salty skin
She is practiced, but not fast

The ladies  sigh as she emerges
Wearing the  floaty tied dyed dress
We all saw waving like victory flags
outside every truck stop in Spain.

This is month six
She with her almost fiancé
Is heading to France next – maybe
By train as a treat.

the  third class train cabin
Hot, crowded, sink so small
You can’t fit your hands, let alone
Sandy feet.

She edges past women who carry maps
Itineraries, guides, requests for air conditioning
I watch her return to her story
sand,  salt , sun

I remember the sand and the salt
Washing in a car park sink
More energy than cash
Fueled by only love and stories

I assure my elderly mother
This is a Western toilet.


Do you travel with a journal? Do you want to?  Subscribe and read and see how I did it, where I went and all the frustrations and discoveries that journaling added to my travels.

Try a Plotting Bootcamp

Why Boot Camp?  CS Lakin explained that boot camp is different from a workshop because a boot camp has more rules, an expectation of production and it fosters comrades among the participants.  If you are looking for progress in your novel, in this case, plotting out your novel scene by scene, Bootcamp may be a fit for you.

Susanne uses two of her books; The 12 Key Pillars of  Novel Construction along with  Layer Your Novel as the basis for the camp activities.  The goal is to work on the scenes and plot points of your book and after three days of intensive work, walk away with a book almost fully plotted along with a plan of attack (if you will). 

Harmony Lodge in Nevada City

  A good workshop /boot camp lasts two to four days.  To lure writers, workshops, like conferences, are held in beautiful locations like the Redwood Writers Conference, held in Sonoma and like this most recent Bootcamp held in South Lake Tahoe. Most workshops are held in event centers or hotels that are close to nature and/or good restaurants to take a break.  Ideally, you have your own room and bath. 

A workshop leader will offer pre-information so you know what to expect and what to write.  You need to write, you need to follow along with the ideas and the goals just so everyone is organized and literally on the same page.

Harmony Lodge, Nevada City

Writers are expected to bring their work and share.  Sharing is key –  and beneficial. A workshop offers three day, twenty-four-hour access to a critic group. For three days these fellow writers are at your disposal with little else to distract them, or you.  You can work out plot points and scenes with a group that is not only interested but also are deeply into their own work and are sensitive to your efforts.

You can talk writing morning, noon and night.  It’s heady stuff, the intensity and fellowship is energizing and illuminating.  Every participant at the South Lake Tahoe loved the work, love the process, and in the end, loved each other.

If meeting strangers freaks you out, an intimate setting like this may not be for you.  A conference with structured classes (like the con

But if you need or want help with your novel, and want feedback right at the beginning so you don’t launch into the wrong direction and waste your time – Bootcamp may be the perfect investment.

Want to try it out?  Susanne is offering another Plotting Madness Bootcamp at Harmony Lodge, about
five miles outside of Nevada City, CA.  Nevada City-Grass Valley is a Designated Cultural Area packed with arts, performances, theater, music and yes, many, many bars.  It’s one of the most inspirational places you can write in.

I will be on staff to help with your book.

Travel Journaling Will Save You Money

Souvenir.  The impulse to buy something to remember an experience. Or the impulse to buy something because in the moment, that key chain, purse or rock, seems like an excellent idea. Or the impulse to buy what everyone else is buying. Or impulse triggered by abundance – a market filled with painted pottery, a store packed with Hawaiian shirts.  Because it’s there.  Because you cannot get that particular item in the States. Or because you’ve been pestered so consistently it’s worth the money to get rid of the vendor.

Souvenir, in French, means to remember.  On most swept and tended grave markers,  the carved word souvenir is surrounded by candles, flowers, often a favorite toy.

It seems ironic.

Will we be remembered for ourselves or our stuff?  Or are the toys and photos for the living, a gesture to the dead, a shrine, a collection of precious memory triggers.

Of course, all our collected items are precious.  Necessary.  Dusty.

For me, I want it all. But I can’t carry it all, and I can’t just write it all down because doesn’t replace shopping (let’s be clear on that) but journaling has most definitely helped me shop.     

I do reconnaissance work before even boarding a plane.  I read the guide books and ask questions while I’m still in my small house:  What do I need? What do I want, and what will fit in the house?

The next question is, can I satisfy these needs easily, cheerfully and locally and then claim them as trip souvenirs?  Friends of mine scoured Thailand for the perfect garden Buddha, shipped their find to their home in Marin at great expense only to find its twin in a garden shop around the corner.  Can you get an Italian painted vase in San Francisco?

These are good questions to record before you are caught up in the moment or backed into a rug factory holding a glass of hot tea in one hand as you fish out your Visa with the other.   Did a friend suggest the perfect item?  Do you collect certain items?  We used to collect masks until we ran out of wall space.  My mother has created a tiny universe filled with miniature houses and boats she had collected from all over the world – key word – miniature.  After admiring our Indian rug, a friend commented that collecting spoons seemed like a good hobby.

Once you have the Buddha, the rug, and some random spoons, did you discover wonderful must have things that are exclusive to your destination?  The only way to know is to shop ahead.Medieval Japanese Armor

I make a list in my journal of what I have in mind, what I can’t find in my hometown and what would be interesting to possess.   And don’t worry, I am always prepared to pay the price for falling in love. Not that all my love is requited.  We fell in love with a full set of Medieval Armor we spotted at the market in Kyoto on the morning we were leaving the country and didn’t even have enough yen to get back to the hotel let along pay cash for a priceless antique.  We had to leave it where we found it.

Years later we discovered a full set of Medieval Japanese armor on display in Nevada City, which again, just goes to show.

Create a list of what you are interested in, like beautiful bangles from India.  Research the availability, and the cost.  It helps to know the price of what you want, more or less, so you have a place from which to bargain.

Here is where the journal comes in, record what you want and what is a good price and what you are willing to pay.   This will give you a general, very loose, creative kind of budget.  It isn’t necessary to constantly reference your shopping list.  Just writing it down creates consciousness as well as creating the magic of intention.  Additionally, knowledge is power, if you know the price of silk scarves at home, then you’ll better recognize a bargain in Laos.  If you know, really, that you cannot access books by local authors and poets through Amazon, then there will be no guilt shopping the local book stall.

My husband enjoys reminding me that any “bargain” purchased on a trip really costs the price of the trip.  I just as consistency ignore his observation. What I haven’t ignored is the dire need for an internationally understood gesture that says –    I love what you are offering, small boy following us up from the Ganges and dogging us for the last two miles, but I have no more room in my suitcase and your cheap item at 300 rupees actually will cost $25.00 in increased baggage fees.

What can you collect if you have enough stuff?   (Until we moved to a small house – specifically so we could travel more –  I didn’t think there was a such a thing as too much stuff. There is.)

You collect impressions.  Keep shopping. It’s fun, tactile and part of a travel experience.  Touch things, admire things. Now that you have the list of what you want, and how much it should cost, list all the beautiful things you’d buy if neither money nor space  was a consideration.

  • I would buy five hundred bracelets in Jaipur.
  • I would buy ten kimonos just for the feel of the heavy silk.
  • I would buy an enormous purple and red Murano Chandelier.
  • I would buy a room size inlaid red lacquer screen in Vietnam.   
  • I would buy a ten foot long  inlaid marble dining table from Agra
  • I would buy three drawer hand crafted wood dresser  from Hakone
  • I would buy dozens of paintings from that elderly artist in that small town in central China.
  • I would buy Medieval armor.
  • A 68 pound stone head of Green man.
  • The 69 pound stone carving of Tutankhamen.
  • That really big, really yellow vase from Provence.
  • Wine, I would buy a lot of wine

You get the idea.  Write about all the wonderful stuff.  Write about how a full set of armor from Britain would astonish your friends.  Write about it as the bus pulls away from the souk.     

Write about what you would love  to own while your fellow travelers negotiate prices and call in to clear their Visa (on tours there is always a lag at the larger shops while people, possibly not you, are purchasing.  Use the time to write in your journal.)

If you are very fortunate, and I have been fortunate a couple times, you will be traveling with a true shopper. This woman carries an extra suitcase and holds a black belt in bargains.  She is shopping for the holidays, she is shopping for friends and she is wonderful to watch.  Buy her a drink at the end of the day and ask to see her finds.   Take photos, touch, exclaim.  You will get a vicarious thrill and she will get to share with someone who is really interested.   

Describe both her and her stuff for a later story or poem.  Capture the exchange.  And in the end, come home with exactly what you want, exactly what you need: the perfect souvenir.

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.


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.


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

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

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


  • 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

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.   

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


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 

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.   


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.


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

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.