Grinning Gargoyles and the Sensitive Artist

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.

Oscar Wilde

When Poetry goes GargoyleWhat if you wrote a beautiful poem and you feel strongly that this is the truth. It is the truth because it reflects exactly  what you felt at the time. It is the truth because it welled up from the very depths of your soul.

What if there was just one tiny catch.

The beautiful poem is one enormous, looming, unattractive, grinning cliche. A gargoyle perched on the edge of the cathedral, it’s soul-less purpose to channel rain and stream it out as  unfiltered liquid drenching unfortunate pedestrians below.

Most early writers don’t realize they’ve written a bad poem or a derivative novel.  And that’s okay, as long as the artist in question is willing to fix their work and channel all that creative flow back into making the work stronger.  But some aren’t.  Some remain gargoyles.

I’ve recently encountered two writers who embody this particular kind of gargoyle – the sensitive artist.

The teen who knows everything.

The poet who knows even more.

When we start writing, it’s all new.  Ah, this is love, this is hate, this is marvelous.  We write it down, it’s new and perfect.  But  maybe we don’t realize our brilliant metaphor, our story, has been done before.  Likely since Homer heard about it in an Athens cafe.

So where does that leave the artist, or rather, the emerging artist?

I would argue that great writers are always figuring out, learning, and improving their craft. What Was missing with my two emerging artists was the confidence that a person can be a great artist, yet still (always) benefit from feedback.

Also,  there is no such thing as a completely original thought. Get over it.  But there is such thing as your voice, your unique view of the world.  Your choice of words.  Just do a quick check to see exactly who went before you, be they bad, great or gargoyle.

For the whole fabulous article   

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Freebird, no wait, Freewrite

The Freewrite ships this month (March)

I heard about it from a friend who brought me the information about the Freewrite from CES.

The Freewrite I am fascinated by these products.  The Freewrite is a light typewriter with a handle (the portable typewriter I took to college also had a handle, and doubled as a resistance weights every time I hauled it onto a desk).  But it’s not all about the handle.  This new, new writing miracle also provides a  long battery life and “seamless cloud backups”  According to the postcard on my desk,  the key board has old fashion typewriter action.  But best of all “ this new product provides a minimalist, distraction free environment to help you write “now” and edit later.”

“Get back to the simplicity of writing without losing the benefits of modern technology.”

This is not the first word processor of it’s kind. I owned an AlphaSmart for a couple of years as an inexpensive alternative to my heavy lap top.  It worked pretty well on overseas trips, until I needed a lap top to keep up with my consulting work.   Oh, and my husband informed me that at 7:00 AM, the Alphasmart  key board was noisy.

There is another favorite in this category, The Pomera DM100, but apparently you must be gentle when using the key board.

I have broken keyboards, gentle is not my middle name.

The large, overriding feature of these  light typewriters is  they offer  a distraction free writing environment, or as   Mashable’s   Christina Warren and Karissa Bell  commented, more “pretentious hipster nonsense.”

Which is what is so darn interesting.  Why are we so distracted?  Why can’t we just write?

There are many laptop programs and apps available  that help with distraction free writing.  Timers, blocks, screens, all in the service of “distraction” free writing.  As if the refrigerator wasn’t doing its job.

Distraction free writing has its place.  I used to work at a beach cabin on the west coast: no wifi, no signals of any kind, include cell service.  Drove my friends nuts.  But I loved it.   It had the advantage of blocking all my distractions along with providing a spectacular view. That was distracting.

The advantage of working all connected is the ability to search for a word exactly when you need it.  You can also quickly confirm a place, historical note or name.

Here is the disadvantage:  It’s never quick.

Like I said in the research blog – research is fun, and often like falling into a rabbit hole.  And you want to write for heaven’s sake.

Enter, new machines for that very activity.

It’s like a Fit Bit for your word count:  Specific, new, expensive, hip(ster).

If you invest in one of these lovely machines I absolutely believe you will write more.  I also believe that the last blank pages of an old college notebook will also provide distraction free writing.  I also believe that, in a pinch, the back of a Costco receipt provides plenty of space for most poems due to it’s unavoidable length.

But in Freewrite’s defense, typing is the best way we have to keep up with our thoughts.  The words  travel directly from our brain to an editable  document. 

Go distraction free and double your word count, is what Freewrite promises.

Or drive to the coast.

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The Fun of Fake Research and How to Avoid It

We know what we believe and no pile of facts or expert opinions will propel us out of our comfortable Lazy-Boy of certitude.

But we are missing one of the greatest joys of writing: research.research in times of Fake News

Even if you disagree with every fact you uncover, research is fun, researching for a book or article can become the project itself, every bit as agreeable as an afternoon spent on Pinterest.

Oh look, puppies!

I teach a class on critical thinking and writing so much of my rant about research and the veracity there in, is to prevent students from  quoting urban legends or common wisdom, or FOX news.  Yes, you say, still seated comfortably, perhaps pulling a beer from the cooler embedded into the chair arm, but research is just for academics, I write fiction, no need to research, it’s my world building against yours.

That was BG.  Before Google.  In the happy past, women knew their place, white men made a living wage tightening wing nuts and  fiction writers used to be more or less exempt from research, it was our world after all, get over it.  But like the wing-nut tightening business, the industry changed.     

Everyone can look up everything.  Which means that you, the author, need to be more diligent with your facts and claims and yes, do more research, which will lead to the problem stated above, the more you love the research, the fewer words will end up in your final book.

So we have two challenges:  You need to do research, but  the research will quickly take on a life of its own through no fault of yours (puppies).

What to do?

  1. Haul yourself out of the recliner.
  2. Limit the research to three credible sources.
  3. Look for consensus and then just write from there.

Credible?  How the heck can I know what is credible?

Ask a couple of questions about the site, or journal, or white paper you’ve just encountered on your digging search:

Commercial or Academic? 

Is the information you found   just advertising copy?  Double check against another site to be sure.    

Links to corroborating sites.

Look for links to other sites – often academic and legitimate sites cheerfully link to more information or to deeper sources.  Flow the links from  one site to the next to next.

For an academic paper your goal is to find the original sources, kind of like finding the source of the Amazon.  Sometimes it feels like it takes that long as well but it’s worth it, just to be very clear.

Can you find the original article? ( I’m looking at you Huffington Post.)

Dig deep and find the original article or journal rather than just believing, and quoting, the first time you see the comment.   

Yes, you can start with Wikipedia

Believe it or not, as much as academic denigrate Wikipedia  Wikipedia isn’t a bad way to start  your research.  Just don’t end there.  Ever.  Yet, the OED was essentially crowd sourced, and Wikipedia is gaining legitimacy.  However, I’m still a fan of digging deeper.

Contact the author.

Is there an email?  Can you contact the author of the web site or journal article?  Can you ask them a direct question about what you need to know?  Probably. Give it a try. You know yourself that you love to be considered an expert in your field, give that compliment to another author, they may respond with   great information.   

Or did the author of the web site post  a selfie  wearing a colander covered in tin foil? A professional tip: don’t reference that site.

If you are writing  fiction, you may want to write the novel first, then research only what you need to research. That will help narrow your search and allow you time to actually write, rather than  just research as fun as it is.

Oh, and did you know you can create pin boards that track your research, discuss your work in progress and are all about your book?   Sorry.  Now you’ll never get that book started . . . But aren’t the puppies cute?  Make a Pinterest board.

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The (rocky, pot holed, traffic prone) Road to Publication

The Road To PublicationI am quite good at helping clients achieve their dream of publishing.  I have helped launch strong, successful writing careers which I follow with great satisfaction and even delight.

My own publishing story is different.

Maybe I should hire myself.

My publishing journey is not a three hour trip skimming over the smooth interstate of luck in a BMW convertible . My journey, so far, traverses over a a barely discernible track  through burned and denuded prairies.  My journey is more like riding in the back of a used Chevy through the Bonneiville flats with no AC while clutching a sticky Slurpee meant to last until Salt Lake City, but doesn’t.

If you want to feel better about your own rocky trip to publication, here is mine. Don’t compare, just know you aren’t alone.

The brief version of my trip so far: 

Two books, Future Girls and Future Run, were accepted by a local (to me) publisher Eternal Press.

Eternal Press then  sold to Caliburn Press (not local).

Caliburn Press’s publisher appeared on Newbie Writers Podcast.  Nice man, sincerely interested in doing the best he can by his authors.

Two more Future Girls books were accepted by the acquisition editor at Caliburn Press.

A year later – nothing.   

The books were not edited.  The books already published and purchased were not promoted. In fact the published books were no longer even available on Amazon.  It was like death.

Finally, the publisher offered to all the authors that he was willing to sell back our rights should we want to.

I wanted to.

Now I had four books with no where to go.

I sent off the descriptions to an agent, who respectfully declined.

I sent off the proposals to a service, Publishers Agents and Films.  For a fee they submit a proposal to a set number of publishers (I asked for publishers).

That is the current new route for Future Girls.

While I was waiting around for the hand off from publisher to publisher for one set of books,  I wrote a book with my podcast partner, Damien – Don’t Write Like We Talk.

This too was accepted for a new (some would say overly ambitious) imprint of Caliburn Press,  we were thrilled and even walked through a set of edits.

Yes, you guessed it because you already had looked up the destination on Google Maps.  Nothing happened.  We went no where.  Fast.

I bought back the rights to that manuscript as well.

What to do?

Agent?  Publisher?  It’s a writing book with a rather unique slant, where would it fit?

I stumbled upon a micro grant program called Awesome.  One of the grant chapters originated in Adelaide, home to my podcast partner.  I applied to the $1,000  grant program to pay for a book cover design, interior design and publication (ISBN, a small print run, Facebook and Pinterest ads). 

I just applied yesterday.

Some authors are lucky.  They take a hike, knock out a first draft, sell it to  Hollywood for tens of thousands and hit the book tour circuit delivering advice on how to write a best selling book. Their path is clear and free of axle bending potholes (shout out to Petaluma, CA).

I find publishing looks less like the Bat-mobile and more like the car  in Beverly Hillbillies.

This is the middle of the saga for a series of books and a single how-to book.  The process involved many hours of writing the books, managing the 217 episodes of the podcast, managing what seemed a dream collaboration that then disappeared.  Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Don’t feel bad if your first effort wasn’t greeted with a parade and a band.  If everyone you mentioned your project to said – meh -.  I’m here to tell you it just takes another try, a different angle, pursing another opportunity that is different than what you initially thought you wanted.  Take the detour, take the alternative route away from the traffic.

I know it works for my clients.  I’m working on taking my own advice and will let you know if the alternative route leads to if not my intended destination, at least a comfortable rest stop.

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How to Write A Book – the Rough Draft

I love rough drafts.  I love how spiky they are, all edges and splinters.  Nasty and messy. Rough. Catching on wisps of idea, snagging emotions, ripping off assumptions like over due band-aids.Rough draft

All smacked down like blobs of paint that once swirled and smeared,  start creating the background, or the foreground

You don’t know, you just laid down wild thoughts and random adjectives.

This is the best of times.  This is the most fun you will have with your novel.  The rest of it is just work.

Revel in the rough draft, the rocks and cliffs, the hiking outdoors where the only destination is the hike – the journey.

Enjoy outfitting yourself for the journey.  The stuff of writing is so fun and compelling – a new lap top, a new iPad,  a new notebook, colored pens, a huge calendar to track word counts, a huge paper covering the study wall with your book’s time line.  Classes, conference.  The announcement- I am working on a book – carries  all the status ( or incomprehension) of “I just published a book.”  Either statement grants you writer status and you are now officially allowed to sit in a Starbucks, drink a Venti something with soy, no foam, three pumps and work on your book.

That’s where the fun is.

You don’t believe me do you?  No new writer believes me. They believe, deep in their newbie hearts, that it’s publication that brings joy.

No, it doesn’t.

Publication brings to do lists, jobs and activities that are at best, soul sucking, at worst, completely avoided.

But the rough draft?  That avalanche of words now blocking what you thought was a clear path?  That’s the fun. Chipping through the ice and snow to reveal the next steps.  Working on a character because you want to get them just right.

That’s why we write.

You may be like me, and want to stay in the rough draft forever.

 

Why Bother Writing?To learn more.
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Social Media for Authors – Illustrated

Social Media helpI’ve had the privileged of speaking to a number of authors this month on Social Media.

Here is the summary of the talks and the Social Media Graph

Goodreads.  You must get yourself on Goodreads even before your book is published.  Make friends, create a list of your books, write reviews, join groups.  Participate a little each week and grow your presence.  Once your book is published – create a book give away to increase your book’s exposure.

Facebook: For an author the very first social media channel for your book is Facebook.   Millennials feel that FB is here to stay, they consider it an old established form of social.  Which is just fine by us.  For an author your best strategy is to create a FB Page so you can separate the information about your book from your own personal feed.

Pinterest is surprisingly good for authors.  Create boards and posts about your book, join other boards, post photos while you wait in line or are sitting as a car passenger.

Ideas:  Post photos and comments about where the book is set, what the characters are wearing, old photos.  Photos of film stars who resemble your book characters, stuff found in the book.

Both Pinterest and FB are great resources for ads.  But create the boards and pins first before launching into paid ads so you don’t appear inauthentic.

Paid ads are inexpensive and easily tracked.  Try a boosted post on Facebook for 20.00 and evaluate the results.  Try a boosted post on Pinterest and do the same.  You can refine and explore quickly and fairly easily.Social Media for authors

For a better version – I’ll trade you – sign up for my quarterly newsletter and I’ll send you a PDF version of the graph!

To learn more.
Visit us on ITunes – Newbie Writers Podcast –
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Social Media for Authors

How to keep writing

I’m teaching a seminar on Social Media for Authors at the Sierra Writer’s Conference this January 21 in Nevada City, CA

One of the more overwhelming aspects of marketing your book is managing social media. Think of Social Media as an exponential tool: focus on creating 100 fans, and those fans will share with their 100 fans, and those fans will share . . . well, you get the idea.  Since there is no such thing as the best social media channel, learn which one will work best for you and your project.  We will also discuss what to say, how to say it, and most importantly – why do this at all? 

Sign up today!

The Agent Pitch

How to pitch to an agentI had requests to post the notes from the workshop I just gave for Agent’s Pitch Day.  Here they are.

Congratulations, you are here to move your book forward – this is exciting and a wonderful opportunity. And nerve wracking.
I am here to help you make the most effective use of your five minutes with these lovely agents and publishers.
They are here to find great ideas, great books and great authors. Remember this is a business. They want to be able to sell you and your book to it’s specific public.

They are looking for the right fit.

So know, right now, that this isn’t a beauty contest. This is not a win/lose activity. If there is a fit – celebrate! If there are no fits, you’ve learned valuable information and can make more choices for your book publication life later this afternoon. After dinner. Maybe after a bottle of wine.

Here, from Andy Ross, is what these Agents and Editors would rather not hear

• Reading from Note Cards
• Presenting a memorized talk
• Explaining the entire plot of the book
• Telling the agent that this is the next best seller
• Telling the agent that your book will make a great film.

Here is what we will help you with.
• Figuring out and delivering what your book is about which is different than the plot
• Delivering that essence of the book and your platform in a few words.
• Expressing why you are uniquely qualified to write this book – your qualifications.
• Creating an answer for promotion.

Don’t worry about perfection, that’s not the point

Agents are here because they want to see you in person, so as much as you can, be yourself.

Just in case you end up before an editor who did not list your subject in their “want” list, talk to them anyway. Use your 5 minutes to ask them what they are looking for. What is selling? What genre is hot and what is the up and coming genre? Do they know anyone who would be interested in your book?
Tell them a bit about your book anyway.
Breathe.

What is the book about?
Social justice?
Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll?
The clash between expectations and reality?

Rather than list off plot points in chronological order, what is the book’s essence?
There is a reason films cycle around a single idea or protagonist. We can say, Oh Spiderman, and we are done.
How can your idea and book fit into that tiny frame?

Who are you? Have you won awards? Hiked through the desert?
Do you have a massive Social Media following?
Why are you uniquely qualified to write this book?

Platform, this is the overall reason you wrote a book. Platform is also something on which to build a promotional campaign.

Elements of a good pitch
Hi my name is XXXX and I have written a novel based on my experience doing or being XXXX the novel is about a boy, a girl and social enlightenment and will appeal primarily to female readers who buy both e-books and hard copy novels. I already have a following of 10,000 on my blog of the same name. Would you like to hear more?

Hi, my name is Catharine and I’ve written a YA Science Fiction Time travel book series Future Girls featuring female heroines who escape to the past to change their future. I am passionate about delivering the message that teens can change their future by what they do right now.

I am a college professor with two degrees in English and am growing my Facebook Instagram and Pinterest following using both organic and paid advertising in order to increase interest in these books.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
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I Make Plans – Instagram Poem

Instagram poem

Luring Your Muse

Don’t Write Like You Talk
What I learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

This blog first appeared on Writer’s Fun Zone

I’m not a fan of Sara Gilbert per se, but she delivered a great TED talk on the Muse.  Based on that talk (the Muse must have been pleased with her TED talk) she has a book, Big Magic.  I bought it hard cover, I’ve read the whole thing, I liked it much better than that other book of hers.  I talk about the Muse all the time, and Gilbert does a good job defining the Muse and what it means for authors.Blog by Catharine Bramkamp

In the past, writers and artists were not so much responsible for their creative work as they were honored to be the instruments of creative inspiration. The artist was simply a medium for a greater power to flow through them and create work that needed to be born into the world.

As passive as that sounds – that we are merely hands, eyes and bodies at the service of a capricious god, it does take some of the pressure off.

If we are channeling the Muse, then a dry spell, the inability to produce great art, is not entirely the direct result of bad character or lack of will power.  However, it may mean that you angered your god.

Think back, did you  leave the right offering at the feet of your Muse?  Did you remember to thank her for the last creative rush, the one that left you exhausted and spent but also gloriously alive?

Did you wait around, burning your incense, leaving cookies and brandy, yet  she never came and you just spent a month staring at a blank screen?   And now you’re pissed?

That’ s the conundrum.  Wait for inspiration?  Worship, pray and hope?  Or, as Jack London suggested, hunt down inspiration with a bat.   

You don’t need a bat. It is possible to encourage the Muse to visit on a daily basis.  Contrary to popular lore, the Muse responds well to schedules.  She will often drop  by at the same time each day.  Your job is to discover when that is and be there when she visits.

Gertrude Stein once said of the writing process, “It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.”

But for the writing to come, you may have to nudge it along by finding a consistent source of inspiration. Stein claimed her best ideas came to her while she was driving around in her car looking at cows. She would write for only 30 minutes a day, driving around a farm and stopping at different cows until she found the one that most fit her mood.

Barring counting cows  follow the advice of many, including me: show up.

If the Muse knows you’re home, she is more likely to stop by.

For the first weeks, you may show up in good faith but the Muse may not reciprocate.  She may  be wandering around your house, checking the base boards for dust, reading the books in your library and judging if you are really serious, or if you’re actually playing Candy Crush and it just looks like you’re working.  The Muse is not that easily fooled.  To attract the Muse, you need to be writing.

And by writing I mean anything you want, anything that comes to mind. Like warming up the water in the shower, you turn on the words, let them flow and pretty soon  they will become the right temperature, and you then can step into the shower and relish the flow.

I believe in the Muse, I believe in luring her to my side with promises of wine, chocolate, and attentive listening.  I believe in thanking her for her efforts on my behalf. And if I could, I would book her as a guest on Newbie Writers Podcast.

Make your offering today.  Your writing will start to improve by tomorrow.  I swear by the wild red hair of my Muse.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast – new episodes start again in January 2017
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually. All you need to do is wait . . . Like us.
Subscribe to this blog
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
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The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp