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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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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Who is Talking? Trouble with POV

Don't Write LIke We TalkWarning

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.   

POV, Who to Blame?

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name), followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   Third person POV is the simplest way to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

We are reasonably intelligent, even talented people. Why the confusion over point of view?

Film and Video games are part of the confusion; they are hell on   POV.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives close-ups ups.  Film mixes it up.  Film shows us who and what is around the corner.  Film gives us the character motivation visually.  We are used to knowing everything.

Video games are even better at violating POV.

You already know the cast of characters and their motivation and strengths because you reviewed them all before starting the game. When they pop up, you already know stories, motivation, and moves.

Great for a game.  Great for a film

Crappy for a novel.

If we already know everything, what is the point of the journey?  So how do we keep the point of view clear in our novel?

Here are some ideas:

Cleaning up POV

  • Does your character suddenly know what the other character is thinking?
  • Are you creating scenes of action or explaining motivation?
  • Is there action that accompanies the dialogue?
  • If the view from above a little mixed up?
  • Have you decided on who is filtering the story and sticking to it? Readers will forgive a great deal, but not an author who violates his or her own world.
  • In reviewing your second draft, ask the question, how does character A know that about Character B?

Solutions in the first draft

  • Write the action from one point of view, all the way to the end of the story.
  • Then write the same story from the other character. Now put them together. Sometimes all it takes is for us to be clear in our own heads who is talking to whom.
  • If each character has a secret, and a history, that helps keep each one clear in the reader’s mind.
  • Also if the other characters do not know the secret, then that will help notify you as you write if you’ve overstepped the POV and suddenly switched to mind-reading.
  • Be clear. Stay in the right head, stay with the right character. And everything will be okay.

First, let’s confuse the whole issue.  In her great book – Shoot Your Novel, CS Lakin advocates that writers behave more like directors and “shoot” scenes in your books.

One, because it will help make for a more interesting book and two because your readers are quite familiar with the jump cut, the fade out, the high point of view, the close-up.  We are steeped in visual storytelling, so if you can capture some of that essence in your book, you will be well served, and we hope, well read.

To summarize:  Is the scene a fully formed scene?  Can you clearly “see” the action or is there something lacking?  Did you mention the right things that will pop up in later scenes?  Is the heroine described well enough, is the villain described well enough?  And of course, in the second and third edits, did you write it all down or did you assume a few things because they are so embedded in your head?

That said, as you view your work with the eye of a director, what are the pitfalls of this approach? One of the pitfalls is point of view confusion.

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name).  Followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   It is one of the easiest ways to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

The third person view “sees” all the actin and knows what each character thinks and feels.  The trick is to make sure the thinking and feeling happen in different paragraphs.

So the problem becomes:  Glen opened the door, oops, there was Melissa, awake, fully dressed and angry that he was once again, late.

How does Glen really know what Melissa is thinking?

Glen opened the door, there was Melissa, still fully dressed, clutching an empty glass.  She lifted it as if to throw it, but changed her mind.  “Late again.”  She spits out.

Third person limited is akin to Third person omniscient, which, just as the label indicates, means that you, the reader along with your handy God-like narrator, know everything.

Glen knew that Melissa would be angry, he had of late, made it a habit of arriving home at all hours, this could be because of his growing ambivalence about the relationship, this was clearly his way of rebelling against Melissa’s controlling nature.

Mellissa waited at home, frantic because Glen was late. Why did she always take up with unreliable men?  There must have been some issue in her early childhood.

But First Person Unreliable is the most fun.  The story is told by an idiot signifying . . . sorry.  The story is told by a character deeply entrenched in the story itself.  The only views the reader knows are those of the narrator. The narrator cannot read minds, he or she can only respond to what they think they see and what they observe.  This helps build characters and keeps the plot on track.

I was late.  I’ve been late a lot, but Melissa didn’t need to take it so personally, I just like being out with my mates.

“Where have you been?”  She shrieked as soon as I opened the door.  I ducked as a scotch glass hurled by my head.  It crashed on the far wall.

“Not that late.”  I protested.

She dropped her hand and looked at me with what?  Pain?  Disgust. Sex, she definitely wanted sex, I could tell.

See?  How much more fun, especially when the narrator is so very, very wrong.

Seems pretty straightforward.  Why all the confusion?  Just pick a character and stick with him or her.

Ah, the reason we have such a difficult time with POV – Point of View, is movies.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives and close ups.  Film mixes it up.

And so we reasonably try the same in our novels and stories.

Doesn’t work as well – the grammar police, our editors call us on it every time – if we are lucky.

Newbie

I think that just about covers it.

Prompt

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

What do you write for publication?  What do you write for the heck of it?  Are they two different activities?

Give yourself a couple minutes and write exactly what you want.

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
Like us on Facebook – Newbie Writers Group

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What Sells? Genre

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. 

  

Genre sells Don't Write LIke We Talk

Non-fiction/ how-to sells.

How to make money sells.

Non-Fiction books on how to write genre books and make lots of money  sell the best.

We don’t get many questions about genre, and the essence is covered in the price of a best seller. I think because I write genre fiction, both mystery and science fiction and, if you will, YA – Young Adult, I assume that since I know and write the material of the genre, most of my readers are familiar with the types, the rules and how to do it.
There are more books than is probably prudent to shelve on the subject of genre. How to write a killer mystery, For Love and Money, etc. Follow the writing advice of CS Lakin in the Twelve Pillars of Fiction or Beth Barany’s Adventures of Writing, or Elizabeth Sims Writing a Book is Easy and you’ll be covered in the genre field as well.

Genre fiction falls into the same category as Doritos Nacho tortilla chips. Compelling, delicious and addictive. You must eat until the bag is empty. A well-written genre book is exactly the same. And who wouldn’t want to produce an established addictive product? It worked for Starbucks, it can work for you.
Genre fiction is not famous for its insights or erudite comments on the human condition. These books are not novels in the way we understand literary fiction. Genre books are plot driven. The characters are big and beautiful. The story is fairly straightforward. The narrative is linear, there are few tricks or sleight of hand. Tell us a good story. Tell us again and again.
Women are the readers of genre fiction. Some read 3 or 4 books a day (many are reading romance at this rate). They love the books, they are loyal fans, they show up at conferences and cheer their authors on to write more and more.
These fans are online. They will talk with you and deliver feedback. It’s all beautiful and it can be overwhelming.
The secret to genre writing is you must love the genre. You must read the genre yourself and know your favorites and know your competition.
You must be absolutely sincere and entrenched in your genre both to create a decent book and to create a decent existence. If you are not prepared to troop down to Comic Con in San Diego dressed as your lead character in order to hand sell your latest book, don’t write in the genre.
Reading the genre also allows you to absorb the tropes and conventions of that genre. Ideally, you know, in your very bones, what a good romance or horror novel entails. It should come naturally and it’s a deep knowledge that is difficult to fake, difficult to follow along in a how-to book. Dare we suggest that it should be fun?

I tried writing romance. I tried it for all the wrong reasons, it was supposed to be easy, it was selling, it was a way to break into publication.  I bought a couple of how -to books. I followed the formula.  What could be easier?
Winning a monkey knife fight would have been easier.
Giving birth to large-headed children was easier.
It was a total failure. Because I did not believe in the redemptive and total triumph of love over common sense. I did not believe that the strong, silent, misunderstood hunk of a man could be changed by the lovely, spunky girl. I did not believe in sincere dialogue and wet weepy eyes.
It did not work for me at all.
But finding a dead body in the bathroom of an empty house? No problem at all. I realized, after many starts and stops that I should write what I love to read. And I loved mysteries and science fiction books.
I knew the rules of those games. And played them much better.
Know the rules, know the styles, then rush out and invent your own twist on an established genre.
For writers, genre is an easier format to attract an agent.
It’s easier to find an indie publisher.
It’s easier to publish yourself and still get the attention you need.
It’s easier to sell.
It’s easier to find the conferences to attend
It’s easier, much easier, to find your audience.

You just gotta love it or your everyday writing will be a bore and a chore. And since that is what you are really doing all day, make it worth your time. Make it enjoyable. Be proud of what you write.

Newbie
Please don’t write something based on a genre you think will sell, or make you money. We have had plenty of guests who have written a book because it’s the hottest topic out there. Write a genre you understand and most importantly, a genre you like. I am a firm believer in writing what you are influenced by because the resulting story will be more genuine, it’ll have all the common tropes you have read from other stories and most importantly: it’ll be true to that genre.
I would suggest writing the story that is in your head as the genre will shine through during the writing process. It may end up a mixture of genres, horror and romance, fantasy and westerns… who knows. You’ll find a fit for your 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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Travel/Write – Why Write While Traveling

For writers who travel and love to write.

Mom at a temple in India

Mom, avoiding the trampling elephants

Travel writing sounds so glamorous; get paid to see legendary places, sample unusual food, sleep in exotic hotels, all on a magazine’s expense account.  Wow right?  Except there are maybe four writers who get to work that way.  The majority of travel writers pay for their trips, write up the experience and work hard to publish those articles on a blog, newspaper or magazine and often receive about  $1,000 for their efforts.   So why bother?

Because Travel and Writing are in your blood and your blood is made of part oxygen, part helium, and part ink. Like all obsessive hobbies, writing about travel is pointless, costly and fun as hell – it can be found listed in the same category as water skiing, sky diving, or gourmet cooking, there is no why there is just expensive equipment.  The goal and you hope, ultimate outcome, is huge, massive satisfaction rather than any product.   Often my only takeaway after three weeks in a foreign country is a small ceramic elephant and a clutch of poorly rendered postcards.  And it’s all worth it.   

Travel will extend your year and extend your life, not those crappy years at the end, but next week.  Spent on foreign soil, next week will last much longer than usual.

But you know all this. There are blogs and blogs and blogs about the joy of travel: climbing Mt. Everest, hiking through North Korea, building schools in Afghanistan.  You can find all those missives, read them, believe them or not.

I love that travel is not a competitive sport. I don’t need to have a count or see “more” than another traveler.  I don’t need to stand in 100 countries.  In fact, that 100 country contest?  I actually counted the countries I did want to visit and arrived at 80.  What countries of you want to visit?  Five?  Ten?  Travel to where you want, not to rack up a number, because no one cares.  Most travelers will not ask your score.

For me, part of the adventure, of you can call it that, is traveling with my elderly mother.  ( I get to call her elderly because it’s my blog).  At 81, mom is no hiker.  She walks like one of those wind-up toys that teeter along,  half step after half step eventually falling off the edge of the coffee table.  So scaling Kilimanjaro is out.

But ushering her across the streets in  Mumbai was pretty damn exciting.

I know it was exciting because I made a note in my journal –  almost killed mom today.    I don’t edit while writing, but I do edit and editorialize on behalf of the blog or in telling the story to friends. With each telling, the traffic becomes denser, the street wider and mom slower.  It’s my story and I’ll enhance if I want to.

What about you?  You may be traveling this summer, do you think you’d like to write down some impressions, take a few notes, write up the draft for a poem that includes the bright summer sky, three new birds and your elderly parent?

All you need is a notebook. (See, this activity is already cheaper than base jumping).

Yes, you can make notes on your phone. Of course, you can.  When I pass by one of you doing this, hunched over, studious chimping away at the world’s smallest keyboard using just your opposable thumbs, I am amazed, impressed and can’t help note that more time is spent figuring out the keyboard and checking that the notes are correct rather than enjoying the surroundings.

Look up (especially if you’re writing about birds).

Bring the phone, but also bring a notebook.  Notebooks free you from the distraction of technology and encourage spontaneity.  Plus, no roaming fees. A good travel notebook is large enough for ephemera:  tickets stubs, postcards, coasters, business cards from the hotel, and small enough to fit in a pocket or purse.  Ideally, you can carry your notebook while wandering through a museum or sitting at a tiny cafe table.   

Don’t spend too much money on a fancy notebook,  it will just terrify you, you won’t want to deface it with your pen.

Pens, don’t assume pens. Take the pens you love and take more than just that one.  As soon as you think, oh, I’ll just pick up a pen at the airport or I’m sure there are pens available in Albania, there won’t be.  Take four or so, and scattered them through your luggage because a cluster of pens rubber banded together makes TSA personnel nervous.

Take a backup notebook.  Sure you found the perfect one, but just in case, throw another into the bottom of your suitcase, that way you won’t restrain your writing just because you have three pages to the end of the notebook, but four days left on the trip.

Should you aspire to create a Pinterest-worthy notebook?  Nope. I follow those boards and am amazed and impressed with the level of talent and creativity scuttling around the world.  I collect them on my travel/write board, but I cannot do it myself. Journals are filled with perfect square writing and elegant watercolors.  Stunning works of art. Impressive, impossible.

If you are worried about your mother pitching off the end of the felucca, you won’t have much time or bandwidth for stunning and beautiful.

But you will have time for notes and impressions.  Embrace the messy notebook, revel in creating something that will never be ready for its close-up.  The fun of a notebook is making the notes. Write a poem around the paper napkin filched from the trendy restaurant.  Make a couple of notes in your lap while your travel partners finish their coffee.

Record the sound of a bird, describe a tree.  Travel.  Write.

And join us on Facebook – Travel/Write.  A group of unrepentant writers and travelers.

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Writers Conferences How To

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. 

   

How to Rock a Writer’s Conference

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?   

Don't Write LIke We TalkWriting Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing.  By a number of years.

But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

I know reasonably famous authors who love to travel and so attend as many conferences as they can be explaining that they “write off” the trip on their taxes. Yes, you can claim a writing conference as a business expense. But you still need to pay for the flight, hotel and food up front with a cold, hard Master Card, so let’s not kid ourselves and call it a savings, or even clever financial planning. Conferences are expensive, both for the speaker and for the attendees.
So choose wisely.
Advantages of attending a conference:

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?
Writing Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing. By a number of years.
But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

Disadvantages:
Writing conferences are not immune to the techniques of the most expensive and obnoxious sales pitches that claim that you can, in no particular
order: Instantly build your business! Learn the techniques of the stars! Double
your income! Double your life! Three days of excellence! Save $100 when you
register now, now, now!
All for the low, low price of $2,000 for the conference, $1,500 for the hotel
room and $16.00 for the glass of indifferent Sauvignon Blanc. Not counting gas.

You don’t care.

Writing conferences should be approached with caution and purpose.
Before you save all that money and sign up for a conference TODAY, SAVE
NOW, consider what you want from the conference first. Do you want to just experience the conference life? Do you want to meet an agent? Do you want to spend a week working with a particular author or poet? What are the takeaways? Or, as my husband insists on asking, what is the ROI?

There are writing conferences, like the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. And there are workshops, like the Squaw Valley Workshop, the Napa Valley Workshop, and a summer of Iowa Workshops.
Workshops are typically focused on writing and craft. You, as a participant are vetted and often need to submit your work in progress before gaining entry to the workshop.
You will stay in a lovely place, meet with a famous author for five or six days in a row. Make new friends, and write. At lot.
Workshops often include dinners and evening lectures.

Conferences focus a little on craft and mostly on promotion and publishing. These conferences have no barriers to entry except time, money and space. The SFWC for instance sells out early due to limited space (the conference is held at the Mark Hopkins in SF, and it’s small, as conference spaces go).
You will have a chance to learn about craft, the writing life, and listen to the popular lecture, I am famous because I was really lucky. Often a version of Agent Speed Dating will be included.
There are lunches and dinners, often at an additional cost. There are often receptions and after-hours activities at no additional cost.
If you are just considering this writer’s life, or life-style, a local conference will do just fine. Look for a writer’s conference close by to reduce the cost. Unless you very much want to experience Iowa in the summer.

Know your goals:
If your goal is to just go and experience the writer’s life, that counts.

However, if you have a purpose, state it. Know what you are going for. Do you long for contact with real literary agents? Look at the list of agents participating in the conference. No agents at this one? Don’t go.

If a favorite author is the keynote speaker and you want to see her (maybe meet her, maybe get a book signed) before she dies. Go.
Make sure she is really on the schedule. Are there words like “possible,”?
“chosen,” “may show,” “they drove by our office and that counts?” If the famous author appearance isn’t guaranteed, stay home.

Do you want to get down and dirty with real editors who will really review your fabulous manuscript? Is there an additional cost to meet with an editor?
Again, check out the conference list and know that often those meetings with editors or agents are by reservation only and may even take place the day before the actual conference, so check that carefully, or you’re into the expensive hotel for another day — and another glass of wine.

Do you want to meet publishers directly? Is there a list of publishers shown on the conference flyer or website and will they be there? Or are they attending just to sell off inventory? Who are the publishers? Do you recognize their companies or are they all from the Author Solutions where they will cheerfully guarantee that, of course, they will publish your book — it’s only $4,500 for the basic package.

There are some fabulous conferences for writers, and most conferences are held during the summer months because they meet at college campuses. You can travel to Iowa, you can travel to Adelaide and all places in between.

What to do once you are there.
Make friends with other attendees. I know you want to meet that famous person, that famous author, that agent! You want to make friends with that agent!
Meet them. Shake their hand. That’s going to be the extent of it.
Who you really should make friends with is that woman sitting next to you. You, the members of the audience, are often in the same boat. Make friends with these people. They can be the first members of your new writing critique group. Or a mutual promotion group (you support each other’s book promotions). You will likely see them again next year if not sooner. This is your chance to create real connections, not with the authors who have already succeeded, but with authors who, like you, are working their way through the process. Meet and greet, this is your tribe.

What not to do
I speak at conferences and I volunteer at conferences. I would like to nip a few bad habits in the bud if I may.
Here is what drives speakers and volunteers crazy:
Conference attendees who march around with their manuscript thrusting it at unsuspecting agents, author and volunteers like a weapon.
Conference attendees who have nothing to say except to complain about the food. It’s banquet food. It’s not gourmet fare and wasn’t advertised that way in the first place. The food will keep you going. It’s the best that can be had for the price. If you are a gourmet chef, you may have something to comment on, otherwise, the cost of your meal is paying for the room, the speaker and the wait staff, not just that chicken breast sprinkled with two olives and some rosemary. If you can cut the chicken with the knife provided, it’s a win – get over it.
Conference attendees who waste valuable networking opportunities bitching about their room or roommate.
Conference attendees who meet a pre- published author and dominate that conversation by bragging about their own agent, their own six-figure advance or their movie deal. If you are that famous and successful, what the hell are you doing at a conference? Move on to a TEDx conference and deliver your ‘I’m- Famous- Because- I- Was-Lucky talk there’.
Name dropping, especially if you’ve only heard the name, not met the actual person.
Not helping. Help people, encourage that young girl to speak to the agent. Help that small elderly lady find the workshop room.
Here’s what I really hate, the author who stands up during the five minutes Q & A and delivers a lengthy autobiography and/or lengthy descriptions of his upcoming book plot that, surprise, people can purchase from him at the end of the lecture. Do you have a question? Is it relevant? Then ask. But this is not the place for grandstanding. It’s an effective way to be remembered. But you will also be stabbing that chicken breast all alone.
Not having a 30-second elevator speech to promote their book. A word about this. The reason you want to have a 30-second summary of your work in project ready to go is to prevent you from wasting 30 minutes explaining the plot to me. Summary is good – blow by blow is bad.
I dislike conference attendees who disrespect the volunteers. First of all, it’s just bad behavior. Second of all, you don’t know who is volunteering. Many of volunteers are also speakers, or agents, or friends of the conference organizers. There is nothing worse than meeting an agent during an agent speed dating session and realizing, with some horror, that fifteen minutes ago you handed them your dirty coffee cup and told them to put it somewhere.
Conference attendees who stalk agents to the point of pushing their manuscript under the stall door in the women’s room.

But even the best conference will not help you if you don’t know what you want. And the best agents and editors can’t help you if you don’t have a completed or mostly completed manuscript to send them.
So before you sign up and buy the plane tickets, get focused. For all the money you spend, make sure there is a purpose to your conference experience. Write down the deliverables and try to full fill them during your two or three days. If you just want to have fun – fly to Hawaii. Or Australia, Australia is very nice.

Newbie
Never been to a writing conference before, certainly not paid for one. From an outsiders’ point of view, it seems like a good way to waste money and valuable time you should be writing. Perhaps this would be classed as “research” by some?
Prompt
Write a dialogue between two of your favorite characters. Snow White and Cinderella, Eloise and Ramona, Batman and Superman. Or think of your childhood favorites, what are they doing now? Write up fan fiction that fills in the grown up life of a character like Pipi Longstockings, Richie Rich, Bart Simpson. Do it well enough and you end up with a block buster like “Wicked”

 

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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Books Making the Cut

Last month we listed our medium size house for sale and I moved to our smaller house (a second house that just earned a field promotion to First House).   The real estate agent recommended that not one, not two, but all the bookcases in the “large” house be moved so as to

How to get rid of your books?

Books that made the trip.

make every room look spacious and accommodating. 

Of course, I thought the lack of book cases just made all those walls look naked, but okay, we will haul the five book cases up to the small, tiny house in the mountains. 

Except the bookcases don’t all fit.

By extension, neither will all the decorative, important, favorite books.

Of course I have a hard copy of Spark Joy by Kondo (sitting on my book shelf, and I’m aware of the irony), so I started with that technique.  I picked up each of my books and asked the question:  Will I read you again?  Do I love you?  Did we have a satisfactory relationship? I may not choose to read the whole book again,  but for a bibliophile,  there are so many excuses for keeping a book other than reading it again. So I asked more questions:

Is this volume merely aspirational? (Like keeping a full set of the OED because you could look up a word’s history any moment now.)

Is this part of my brainstorming and research?  (So it represents progress even though none is immediately apparent?)

Is this a reference to subjects I’m interested in?

Does this represent the future?

Does this represent a well-read past?

Is the information in the book already information in my head? 

Is there an on-line equivalent?

Does that matter?

Does the book represent who I want to be?

Does it aid in my work?

Does the adjacent book convey  the information in a stronger or more accessible way?

Am I keeping it because I want to impress my guests who peruse my book shelves? 

Does anyone peruse nowadays?    

Do the books represent travel?

Do they represent what I want to learn about travel or have they already done the job?

Do I need to keep all the Virginia Woolf books or am I kidding myself?  Will I work on a project about her? Or do I know that libraries and collections like the Sitting Room are available and while we are at it,  I have not accessed the Sitting Room even when I lived down the street.   

Is holding full collections of any subject the job of a library rather than me?

Have I touched this book in the last two years?

Only you can answer these questions for yourself and your marvelous collection of books.  And you may be additionally lucky and you will never need to face such a wrenching quandary.  But just in case, here are some of the answers that came to me as I meditated before my towering – too- tall-to-fit-into-the-small-house – altars of books:

I am feeling that the entire cannon of Natalie Goldberg stays.

But the diaries of Virginia Woolf can go. Just the diaries, not the biographies, Vanessa Bell’s sketches, commentaries,  and a handy chart of all the members of the Bloomsbury group and who they slept with.

Whitman stays.

If you majored in English, it is very difficult to let go of any Norton Anthology.

The 19th century stays.

But the 17th century goes.

Copies of my own books stay.

All the poetry books stay.

Some scholarly criticism books, even ones about Whitman and Woolf, go.

Books for classes I no longer teach can go.   

Half the books on self-actualization can go since I’m feeling pretty self- actualized today.

All the diet books can go.  I feel lighter already. 

Art books I love as well as art criticism I still don’t understand, stay.   Shakespeare stays.  Shakespeare always stays.

Some Dictionaries stay.  Yeah, I had to choose.  I love the idea of dictionaries but have gradually released the massive tomes in favor of books about the discovery of dictionaries and what they mean to a population.  I have a partial OED and an American Heritage apps on my phone and computer.   Spell check may be enough for you.  And that’s okay.

I also like Grammarly, the free version.  Which then begs the necessity of collecting multiple grammar and usage books, but I still do.  They stay.

Travel books.  I moved the Lonely Planet books out since they are time sensitive in favor of those heavy massive DK books featuring each country I’ve visited.  They are great visual references both before and after a trip and remind me of where I’ve been, which is immensely satisfying.

But here’s the thing. You wouldn’t take any travel book WITH you.  Just download the latest Rick Steves to your iPad and you’re good to go.

Those ideas took care of about four books, only 589 to go.

As I squinted at the collection.  The lovely, collection built from book stores, library sales, school give aways and yes, Amazon, that I need to reframe my questions.

Who else would benefit from this book?

Once that question was answered, I was able to pack up two Macy bags worth of writing books for my Niece. 

I was able to pack up history books for my brother.

I was able to pack up every mystery book I read and some I’m not sure I read and deliver them all to my mother.

The books that I didn’t give directly to friends,  I packed up and delivered to Friends of the Library and Hospice. Which is like giving them to friends, right?

It was the most satisfying method to re-home my books. 

One last idea:  If you are a writer or a coach, place a sticker on the books you are donating (not to friends, just to the universe in general).  Write  Donated by – name, the name of your book and your web site.  In my case, if someone is interested in a book on writing they may be interested in a writing coach.  If someone is interested in that romance, maybe they would like your romance as well.  It’s a nice way to market and it’s better than nothing.  It will also change the dynamic.  Because I feel like I’m giving out a book to someone who would need it, and you never know who will additionally need your book or your service.

  I have distributed, shared and cleared so I can find the new homes for my collection in clear conscious feeling that their move from my cozy book shelves will not have been in vain.

Now I must find someone who needs a few bookshelves.

This article first appeared in Writers Fun Zone.  

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You Are Not Alone – because you can’t be.

We all know the legend of Jack London the adventurer and prodigious writer.  He is held up to authors as the epitome of the writer’s work ethic, publishing 50 fiction and non-fiction books and hundreds of articles.  He made his living by writing and always, always writing at least a 1,000 words a day.  That is an impressive output not only for the number but for the consistency.  1,000 words!

Many people help bring a book to lifeOn first glance, London represents impossible goals. Fifty books!  But how could anyone match that?  You can.     

Recycle

Both Jack and his wife re-purposed their adventures into many version of essentially the same book.  The travels of the Snark inspired a number of related books all covering the same material including Charmaine London’s version provocatively titled:  Woman among the Head Hunters.  Like so many best-selling authors, London created many books from a single theme.

But still, he wrote and he sailed the adventures, he had the ideas.  All deserving of praise and acclaim.  I love his work, no question.  But I also don’t want any author to think that Jack woke up each morning at Beauty Ranch and simply created his literary success all by himself.

He did not.

Let’s begin with that 1,000 words a day.

Clear the Decks

No matter the guest count that week, no matter what the crisis at the ranch, no matter what was for breakfast, Jack wrote.

His work supported the whole enterprise of course, and writing was his job.  But do consider who made those 1,000 words a day possible:

His ranch manager.

The Staff

The ranch workers and their families

His wife.

The cook.

Someone took care of all the daily challenges that arise on a working ranch.  Someone make breakfast and cleaned up afterward.  His wife protected his time and entertained the weekend guests until Jack was finished.

Use a Typist

Jack could write, but not fast enough. He worked out his books long hand.  It was his wife, Charmaine who typed up the drafts of the manuscripts, editing along the way.   She was involved in his work from the start and wrote her own stories after his death.   

Even in the creation of his books, Jack was not working alone.

Now that I’ve thrown poor London under the bus, here are more people nestled in the anonymity of the acknowledgments page of most books.

Researchers

Research comes from volunteers, helpers, or paid professionals.  For authors, everyone and anyone is a resource.  Jack discovered those stories on the islands of the  South Pacific, and the bars in Alaska.  Some authors who write multiple books a year,  hire profession researchers.    If you are very lucky, you can exploit your own high school children as research assistants and pretend it’s an educational experience.

Room Of Your Own

Behind every great writer is a spouse keeping the children quiet, or a beloved aunt who left them enough cash to live on while they worked.   I have a husband who supports the arts.  We all have some kind of help.  Don’t think authors are doing this all on their own.   

Editors

There could be up to three people involved in the editorial process.  Authors need editors. From Beta Readers to Copy editors,  these wonderful people are critical.

Promotors/PR

A group or an individual needs to promote the author.  An author often does this work herself, but again, if you are published consistently enough, or are lucky to have a team at your disposal, a PR expert is key to the success of the book.

Social Media

First, you need to start up the social media projects, then if you are lucky and I mean that – lucky – you will collect rabid fans in the thousands who will spread the word about your project or book.  These fans are unsung and unacknowledged and increasingly, critical.

Agent

In Jack’s day, literary agents were more like a personal manager.  Agents protected the author, negotiated for better royalties, negotiated with the publishers and the press, sometimes advanced the author funds out of the agent’s own pocket and helped the author decide on the next book.   It’s different now, but also the same, successful authors have that team member.

Publisher

All authors need a delivery system for their books.   It can be done through one of the big New York publishers or the largest one of all – Amazon –  but again, people behind the scenes are assembling your book and shipping it out and sending you money.

Booksellers   

If your book is featured in a bricks and mortar store, the owner and staff of that store will help sell your book.  Smart authors do not forget this.   In Powells (Portland), there was a note tacked onto the end of a bookshelf –   a  card from Sue Grafton.  T is for Thank You.

Artists

Can you design your own book cover?  Canva options aside, no you can’t.  Get help.  Those beautiful book covers illuminating pages of Amazon offerings?  All professionally done.

A section in Poets and Writers magazine lists new and noteworthy books.  The listing includes the first line of the book, then the top people involved in bringing that book to readers:   Publisher – Author – Agent – Editor – Publicist.  It takes a team, or even in some cases, a village.

London had a village.  Virginia Woolf had a village.

It takes a rather large population to bring a book to market.  We think of writing as a solitary affair and the American myth of complete self-sufficiency is still very powerful particularly when it comes to writing.  But the myth is wrong.  Authors not only need to be competent at their work, careful in their craft but also able to coordinate the multitude it will take to bring a book to market.

It’s daunting but nice to know we are not alone.

This first appeared in Writer’s Fun Zone.

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Don’t Worry, Write Anyway

In her book, Fierce on the Page, Sara Cohen  insists that authors be happy first no matter where they stand on the fame and fortune continuum.  This belies our whole tortured artist myth, that validation, and accidentally, happiness can only be achieved with publication the sharp spires of which beckon  as our own shinning  city on the hill.  This is about as true as black being flattering to all complexions.

You seem both shocked that contrary to fashion magazine claims, the little black dress isn’t universally perfect, and shocked that the end of the rainbow does not lead to a pot of gold, or happiness.  I understand.  When my first book published.  I felt satisfaction, pleasure, had a celebratory drink and immediately  had to get to work because promoting a published book is critical, required,  and lead  to increased crankiness.  Not happiness.

If that is true, how can a writer possibly be happy?

The first strategy is to understand our mythology.  Our favorite myth is that all writers want to be published.  And all published authors are happy.  More specifically, published authors are happier than YOU.   This myth perpetuates the erroneous idea that  all our work will be in vain if we don’t publish.  And not just any publisher, our work must be published by one of the big 5, 4, 3 – the only traditional publisher left.

What if the writing itself makes you happy?   

  Write HappyI am a life-long writer, can’t help it. The work may change, but the process stays very much the same because I love the process.  My goal for writing is that the work will increase in satisfaction and flow the more I do it.  I want the writing in my 80s to be even more satisfying than writing in my 50’s  which is considerably more satisfying than writing in my 20s was. In my twenties, I wanted to have written. I wanted the finished project and the imagined all the acclaim and satisfaction that a published book would bring.  In short, even though the actual process was miserable and difficult, I knew I would be happy once the damn thing was finished and published.

I ended up dropping the awful novel ( A romance. I am not a romance writer evidenced by the excruciating process) in favor of planning a trip to Europe.  Better use of my time.  I remember the trip, it made me happy.  The only thing I remember about that novel was the rejection letter.    

Concentrate on the process – the hours you will spend on creating your work.  Are you happy in those hours?  I’m betting you are.  That’s the happiness. That should be the goal: doing what makes you happy, not waiting in vain for validation from strangers.

So what will make you really happy?

Do you long to announce your book project at family dinners to show you are creative, erudite and introspective?

Will holding the title – Writer – make you more important?

Will adding writer to your Linked In account give you a thrill?

Will wearing the writer’s costume give you deep satisfaction?  (Note, the writer costume does not include a cape, rather it often consists of an old college sweatshirt and yoga pants covered in dog hair) (But being able to wear yoga pants all day confers on many of us, tremendous happiness).

Some writers are happy to have something to do while sipping their lattes at Starbucks, so an afternoon in a cafe noodling around on your laptop, feeling part of the tribe is time well spent.

If explaining the plot of your yet unwritten work delights you.  Then do that.

If endlessly editing your epic poem from 5:00 to 6:30 PM every weekday soothes your soul.  Do that.

If you can turn yourself into a writer who loves the process, and revels in the zone of writing, the doing of it, you will truly win this game.

Whatever you do, don’t believe that publication will lead you through to the beautiful sunset into which you will walk, sunlight streaming from your slender limbs, all troubles and cares erased from your now bright future.  It won’t.  Publication ends up being just one more damn thing to do.

Finding happiness in your work, in the beauty and wonder of putting words to the page, that will last forever.

So stop worrying and just keep writing.  That will make you happy.  Promise.

To learn more.
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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   

Your Book Starts Here web siteTo learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast
For the greatest yet unassuming information on writing and social for authors
Subscribe to the blog
Sign up for the quarterly newsletter
Follow us on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
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