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

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.

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.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast
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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.

Your Book Starts Here web siteTo learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast
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Subscribe to the blog
Sign up for the quarterly newsletter
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And THANK YOU

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.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast
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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And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

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 –
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.
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
Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
And THANK YOU

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!

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

When Your Characters Go Rouge

From our upcoming book –
Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned from agents & authors, publishers & poets

Why characters matter, Catharine BramkampYou have your character all figured out. You’ve even created the hero according to last week’s suggestion of deconstructing the characters in a comic book

Some authors identify their characters by zodiac sign.

Some write extensive backgrounds, time lines, favorite pets, the parent’s story.

We write long biographies for every character who appears in the story.
All of this work can be excellent exercises, and valuable as you flex your writing muscles; however, most writers will confess that their characters, the good characters, are not so easily controlled. What many of us have discovered: as soon as you think you know everything about your character and as soon as you sit down and think, well today my character will drive to the store fight a dragon, and fall in love with the prince — they suddenly will not cooperate.

Like children, fictional characters are strangely resistant to The Plan. You remember the week after your precious bundles of joy showed up? You created the ultimate calendar of success based on the 98 books on child rearing you  read during the last nine months.  You tracked to the hour  developmental benchmarks.  You wavered between placing the child in the advanced  Yellow Tiger class or holding him back for another six months as a Blue Bear.

You delivered multiple children to multiple lessons:  piano, trumpet, bongo. You spent months of your life driving  to band, ballet, tumbling practices. You  spent hours cheering from the side lines during little league, soccer, la cross.  And what happened?  At twenty, your precious bundle announced he wants to be a chicken farmer, an option markedly absent from the Goals List (subtitled Acceptable Careers Mom Thinks You Should Pursue).   

Fictional characters will do much the same thing. Characters in your story   or novel will just blurt out comments, pursue the villain down unmarked streets and race so quickly away from your expectations that you have no choice but to just hold on for the ride.

Take notes along the way.
As traits and details about your characters emerge, just keep track.
Create a running reference list chronicling his coffee preference, her favorite drink, what she hates, what he’s afraid of.
Remember to note her eye color or if she starts flipping back her hair when she’s stressed.
These notes will help with consistency as well as keeping your hero and heroine on track, not your track of course, but theirs.
The picture will emerge. Sketch it out as your character comes into focus.

Someone needs to farm those chickens.   

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
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp

Why Your Characters Matter

“First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.”

~Ray Bradbury

Ask me about a favorite book – and I’ll describe the heroine.

We often, if pressed, remember key points of a plot, but what really sticks in our heads are the characters.  We remember the who over the how, and before the what.   

Do we love Jane Austen’s books because of the  intricate plots? Not really.

The story? Please, we know the story. What we love are the characters, the strong women who get into trouble because they blurt out what they are thinking, the handsome hero who is just misunderstood, the spunky friend for whom we wish as much happiness as we wish for the heroine. We may not relate to the plot, but we certainly identify with a well developed character.

Listen to what you say when you play a movie for the fifth time, it’s not

about the plot or the story — you just want to see the hero or heroine again.

“I love him.” You murmur under your breath.

That said, how on earth do you do it?

One way is to open a comic book. (Bonus, the trip to the comic store can be called research.  You’re welcome.)

Comics have great heroes.  Take a look at three or four heroes and deconstruct them:

What motivates them?Why characters matter, Catharine Bramkamp

What do they look like?

What are their tags?

What is their super power?

Their kryptonite?

Love interest?

Why do they wear a mask? (Think of this metaphorically for your own heroine)

As simplistic as is sounds, just taking a look at Iron Man, Batman, and/or Cat Woman can give you a strong idea of how to create an equally strong character.

Once you have your character, start throwing obstacles at them, and watch what they do.

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
And Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
And Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp