Monthly Archives: April 2013

The True Secret Of Writing

If you are a writer, you have purchased, among other works, the three essential writing books:  Writing Down the Bones, Bird by Bird and The Artist’s Way.  But wait, you say, there are more essential books.  Yes, the horary old Elements of Style, the OED, the APA, MLA, AWA, Chicago book of Style, Grammar books, vocabulary books.  Ray Bradbury, Steven King, Virginia Woolf, there are few writers who have not penned a book on how to write.

Natalie Goldberg's BooksAnd I have many of them.

My favorite is Natalie Goldberg.

I attended a book signing and talk to promote her most recent book, The True Secret of Writing.

Spoiler alert – I’ll share the true secret to writing.

The secret is – just write, actually it’s more complicated than that – according to Goldberg the true secret to writing is “Shut up and write.”

Since her break out book, Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg has promoted writing as an activity or practice that is as beneficial to the soul and mind as sitting or walking meditation.  For her, writing has never been about the product – in 1986 the idea of all process but no product,  was a radical. It still is, and she is still championing that central thesis.

In The True Secret of Writing Goldberg describes the process,  schedule and activities behind her famous (if you slavishly follow her career as some writers here do) writing retreats at the Mabel Dodge House 

Ever since I heard she offered to teach writing, in person, I was wild to go. But scheduling and finances always held me back.

I was thrilled to at least learn a bit about this magical retreat Friday night at Book Passages in Marin.

Goldberg did not disappoint. She read out loud, she explained that  mediation is really three powerful  things: Sitting, Walking and Writing.  Then,  as a special treat, she invited a retreat participant to sing the retreat song.

We were instructed to sit, close our eyes and feel the lovely song as we would if we were spending a week in beautiful  New Mexico, sitting for days in companionable silence, or practicing slow walking meditation.

I did not close my eyes.  I squirmed  in my low slung plastic chair, jiggled my foot, and annoyed the woman in front of me and realized, as the singer’s voice cracked and wobbled, with complete clarity, that this was not my song, I do not have a propensity for silence and I have never walked slowly in my whole life.

I love Goldberg’ s work. I love her attitude and how she brought Zen and mediation to so many  through writing practice. I own multiple copies of her books with my favorite an old wine stained Wild Mind.  

But as I considered the reality of a week long retreat under her tutelage, it was clear I  wanted no part of it.  And I was pretty happy with that truth.

Is there a moral to this story?  Natalie would say no, because Zen means that things are not good or bad but just are.

But I’m too western minded for that.  The moral of the story is before spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars traveling to a writing retreat that looks fabulous on the web and transformational in your dreams, seek out that author or retreat leader during a book signing or conference, listen to them, make sure what you have in your head, and what comes out of their mouths and experience, match.

And it’s okay to toss a fish or two out of your bucket list.

Of course I bought the book, as long as that woman writes, I will buy her books.

If you want to create a writing retreat at home, check out The Cheap Retreat Workbook

You are welcome to re-post this article in your own blog or newsletter – please include this entire statement, “Catharine Bramkamp is a Writing Coach and podcaster, find out if you’re ready to go from  Newbie to Known visit or for a complimentary consultation.”

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Feel – Think – Do: A New Way to Look at Goals

Thank you to our podcast guest Keith Abrams author of Discover Your Passion.

PhotoIn this book you list 8 areas of life we should feel passionate about

And you have fifty items for each heading,  I signed up and couldn’t think of 100 things nor did I have the time – so I asked Keith for help:

The first thing he said was:

  • Tell me the five things you are passionate about  (People usually say  “Family.”)
  • Tell me the second? (People usually say “cooking”)
  • Tell me a third
  • Tell me a fourth
  • And keep listing – one at time until you can drill down to what really matters.

How not to be overwhelmed  by 100 goals

Ask the right questions to get to the 100 goals

  • What would you do if the money was handled, what would you do with your time?
  • In your life, if you need to be the best you could be what you need to change?
  • If that’s what you need to change?  Then what do you need to differently?
  • You are 95 years old –  your achieved marvelous things, and someone at 50 asked you for advice, what would you say?
  • What are the things you dabble in?  That’s a great place for goals to be listed.
  • What do you like to do to give back to others?

How do you want to feel? Put that idea at the forefront of the goals?  What do you want to set  up to have those feelings?   One of the ways to look at goals is to ditch the SMART goals and consider how you want to feel.  Feel first, then Think about how to get that feeling, then do it.

For writers, think of what you loved to read, what did you love?  What book and style did you love? And what was your message to the world?

For more, check out Keith’s web site!

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My Favorite Addiction

Dublin writer museum

Book bub  is a email program courtesy of Amazon that delivers a choice of four or five books for ebook down load ranging in price from $3.99 to Free.

I love free the best.

And I love Amazon for assuming the role of my own personal drug dealer.  For a woman who considers books her crack cocaine, this daily email offering a free book download is like the  archetypal drug dealer lurking just on the other side of the playground chain link fence.

“Want to trip for free?”

And I reply, “SURE of COURSE I do.”

Since I missed doing drugs in college due to financial constraints,  this is my next best experience.

The  Amazon one click option is like main-lining in a meth lab.

If you are a real writer you are not book – free or novel-neutral.  So it’s not a question of  addiction, the question is,  how does your addiction manifest?  The local used book store?   The monthly Friends of the LIbrary sale?   The library itself?  Amazon?  A fabulous destination store  like (cue the god-clouds and heavenly chorus) Powells?

This is not an intervention, this is not a plea to just say no. On the contrary, don’t say no, say yes, and if you know your weakness, then you know that when you come across it in your in bo

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Michael Somers featured at Day of the Book

Day of the Book – April 20, 2013

Day of the Book ink well

Day of the Book

                                   JFKU 100 Ellinwood Way, Pleasant Hill, CA

                       Time: 10-4

GALACTIC EXODUS: A Science Fiction Documentary or History of the Future  – Michael Somers

Focusing on the work: Galactic Exodus, we will explore the meaning of science fiction, how does science fiction  express our own socio-political arrangements, intercultural relations, the interplay of freedom and equality.

Michael Somers  is a college professor teaching  A Condensed History of Critical Ideas from a Cosmological Perspective  and authored an award winning, post-apocalyptic science-fiction epic: GALACTIC EXODUS: Counterdance of the Cybergods and Polylogue with Mythokrates).


$35 with lunch

Faculty, staff, alumnae:  $25

Students: $20

Morning events open to the public 10-12

Panel discussion (lunch) 12-1

Literary salon 2-4

For early reservations contact: Catharine at

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Spring Cleaning

Powerscourt, Ireland

I’ve always wondered about the idea of spring cleaning, until I noticed that when the late afternoon sun streams through the windows, I see. . .

Yeah, more sunshine means we notice how dirty everything in the house is.

Did you know that for decades authors have used houses and interior descriptions of rooms to reflect their characters?  Jack London, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker, Henry James, the first chapter in 1984  to name a few.  Where and how we live is an obvious expression of who we are, our priorities and what we are dealing with that very minute. The house is the external expression of our internal world.

This knowledge can help you in two ways.

Stuck really describing a character?  Not even clear yourself about his or her motivation?

Describe their home.  You may not even pick up on the subtlies, but they will be there, as symbols or more obvious traits: the house is always cold, the back door is always left unlocked.

The second way this knowledge can help you is to look at your own house.

Why is the TV show Hoarders so popular?  You can sit on your sprung couch surrounded by Little Caesar pizza boxes and 1997 issues of National Geographic and say, well, at least my home isn’t as bad as theirs.

Probably true.  But what does your clutter say about you?

While we are at it, how big is that TV?

In a recent issue of O magazine, Martha Beck suggests that you describe your house – quickly – the ten minute write way – and you will create an metaphorical description of your inner world.

Scary huh?  You can use that information to evaluate your life, your environment or re-consider the couch.  Or ignore it.  But homes, our living environments reflect directly on our character.

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