Posts Tagged With: say what you mean

Why listen to me? From an abortive interview on blog talk radio


I agreed to an interview on a blog talk podcast.  The podcaster was just beginning to get the hang of podcasting, and I’m happy to help fledging efforts.

Except the show was double booked.

I phoned in, and the host greeted me, then proceeded to interview someone else entirely, leaving me in that limbo where you don’t know if you should check out, mute and feed the dog, or butt in.

I listened for half hour and was never acknowledged.

The dog went hungry.Tulip Tree

What went wrong?

If you want to create a podcast about your book, go for it.  But I anticipate that you may get bored just talking to yourself, so you’ll want to invite guests, just to liven up your hour or half hour podcast.

Once you incorporate guests, you must also incorporate that most complex organization system known to writers – the calendar.  Keep track of your guests.  And while you’re at it, keep track of their information and emails.

Newbie Writers Podcast uses a Google Calendar so my partner Damien can  see what I’ve scheduled without asking.

Send a confirmation to your guests a few days ahead of time, it helps them remember and helps YOU remember who’s calling into the podcast.

That said, have a few back up shows you can implement  in case the guest bails.

In a blog talk environment, you don’t have timing control so have a clear idea of what you want to hear from the guest, and keep to one theme or subject.

In my case during this blog talk podcast, the first guest took up the whole half hour show time, which was not necessarily a problem, but if that happen,  send a quick note right at that moment to apologize to the silent guest and re schedule.

I had a situation where my partner over slept because his time change in Australia (from Fall to Winter) occurs during a different week than the CA time change (from Winter to Spring).  Our guest was ready to interview at exactly 3:30 and couldn’t wait and talk at a later time.   We simply cancelled   and I immediately re-scheduled the guest.

Guests do spend time organizing their thoughts and making room in their schedule to talk with you.  Do be conscious of their time; it’s professional and polite.

Conversely, last week my partner developed a hideous cold, plus the scheduled guest wrote and asked if we could interview him at 6:00 PM PDT instead of 4:00 PDT.  Nope.  We too are on a schedule.  So if your guest can’t accommodate the times of your show, it’s perfectly okay to firmly and nicely say no and either reschedule or realize that this guest may not work out.

In this business sometimes it’s you, and sometimes it’s me.

I’m thinking it’s mostly you.


Sign into the live feed during the Newbie Writers Podcast – Friday, 4:00 PM PDT.

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Don’t Do This!

Books out doorsWhat we don’t read  can be as instructive as what we do.

I found this Linked In post in my in box:

This is Interesting

“Hmm, where do I even begin? There is so much to share. I am so blessed every day and I just hope I can remember everything that has happened!  When so much awesomeness happens I am compelled to immediately share with with you all here, as it is most fitting and want to share my good news with you all!  This month my recovery…”

– from a real linked-in post but I altered the details 

In this Linked- In post, the headline is the best part.  But the opening narrative is ineffective and a turn off.  We are not, on any level, compelled to read anything more.  So the writer could be announcing the end of the world, and we’d miss it, because she didn’t start her post well.

A long time ago writers commanded  enough page space to be able to “clear our throats” , we had time to set up a comment or explain all the points necessary for an essay to really sing.

But now we don’t.

Those opening lines cannot be wasted, they are the critical and arguably the most important part of a post or a blog. They must   grab the reader’s attention. And with this post, by the time I read to the third line – I was out, I  did not have the time to listen to the writer’s thinking process.

The solution is easy.  Do clear your throat.  Write all that introductory material because it helps focus the work and gets you really into your subject.  But before you post the work, delete those opening sentences and just start with something interesting like zombies invaded my home last night!  It’s the end of the world.

I guarantee  you I will continue to read.

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Manufacturing Angst

A lucky few of us rarely experience flat out public rejection or prejudice or even a moment of  feeling uncomfortable in a situation.  This makes for a lovely smooth life, but doesn’t generate much in the way of empathy for others or a direct experiences that will help us create realistic characters in our books.

Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards, Second Sunday Spanish-Style Tapas & Wine PairingSo I was thrilled to experience first hand what it is like to be treated badly for no reason at all.

My husband and I visited  Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards in Freestone CA.  We came to wine taste and enjoy their advertised Second Sunday Spanish-Style Tapas & Wine Pairing.

It was a beautiful spring day and we were invited by the tasting room staff person to sit anywhere on the desk we’d like and we would be served our  tasting selections.

We chose a nice table in the sun and settled in. A minute later the wine server approached us and asked us to move.

“We want to keep this table free in case a group of six come.”  She explained, completely confident that her reasoning made sense.

We looked around for the potential group of six, but failed to see any group at all, let alone a covetous group eyeing our spacious table and chair combination.

We declined her invitation to move even though we could tell she really wanted us to follow along with her own order of the universe.  She gave up and served us our wine tasting anyway, not in the right order, but what the heck.

We in turn did not linger on the deck and declined the opportunity to join the wine club or even purchase any wine (the wine is good by the way).  We were not comfortable there and clearly not welcome. It was fascinating.

Women dining alone used to be seated in the back of the restaurant next to the restroom doors; they wrote about it.  African Americans weren’t seated at all; and wrote about it.  Our lives are usually pretty politically correct and polite, so that even a hint of bad treatment is valuable for both immediate experience and for  character development.

If you are treated badly or even indifferently, how did you feel? What rose up?  Can you capture that and escalate it so you can reproduce that angst and sense of unfairness in a fictional work?

Sometimes when our lives are pretty nice, we have to search out situations that give us some depth of feeling – some despair  – a little angst.

I have just the winery for you.


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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Haunted Houses

Having difficulty  describing a character?

Not even clear yourself about his or her motivation? The Metaphor of house

Describe where they live.

The details of a home or a home environment can serve your character and your story in many ways.  First, symbolically, like  Huck Finn’s raft, a haunted house, rooms that are always cold, libraries filled with books that are never read (Great Gatsby)  or a back door that stays unlocked.

Until we stop and consider it, the house has always stood as a solid metaphor or analogy for characters and plots.  Many authors use the  idea and symbolism of the house  in their work including Virginia Woolf (A Room of Her Own), Jack London (Little Lady of the House), Edith Wharton (House of Mirth, Age of Innocence) and of course Downton Abbey which is a whole show centered around the house.

We love houses, we are drawn to them as evidenced by real estate shows, DIY shows, extreme home make over, and Hoarders. I think Hoarders is especially popular because you can slump in your green 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.

The second part of this conversation of house as a metaphor is if course,  what does your own house or room of your own say about you?

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

I haven’t done it myself  – too scary.

Homes, our living environments, reflect directly on our character.  You can use that information to evaluate your life, give a third dimension to your fictional character or the very idea that our furniture is a reflection of our inner lives can just inspire you to re-consider that green couch.

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Tossing Out 29 Years

A young lady asked Natalie Goldberg, “What do I do? I lost all my journals and now I feel part of me is irretrievably gone.”

Just before I wrote more than I needed toNatalie  sympathized,  she herself had never recovered a dozen paintings she created and lost during a trip to Paris. But remember, Goldberg is a student of Zen, non-attachment.  Her response  was to shrug and suggest that it was really okay that  the journals were gone.  “You aren’t going to ever read them anyway. “ Natalie said.

That single answer, as harsh as it sounds, was the permission I needed to dump years of journals: specifically 1970 − 1999. I was finally able to ask if I really, ever, wanted to  revisit Junior High.  Should I continue to lug the the past from house to house, ever sealed, never read?


As I chucked hundreds of pages into the recycling bin, Goldberg’s True Secret To Writing emerged again.  The True Secret it writing is that  it really is just about  the process. Writing is its own best means – not to an end, but rather  to your mind, your next story, your soul.

I don’t meditate for very long (about a minute, I call it speed meditation).  When I walk, I walk fast.  But writing every day?  I’ve been practicing that forever.

In this context, what is produced  is immaterial.  Anything decent is lifted from those pages of beginner words, wild ideas and complaints about the weather and  transferred into another, more permanent, workable file.  The process work is not revisited.

I rescued  5 poems from the 70’s that I thought I could rework in honor of National Poetry Month.  And that was all.

Some writers feel that every word they put to paper is great, deathless prose, but not me.  Everyday writing, journal writing, is about the process, it’s practice writing. And we all  need to practice so when it is time to perform: we’re flawless.


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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Book Saves Lives

There are a number of scenes in the Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket  where Klaus Baudelaire,  who reads everything, must remember how to navigate boats, create traps and otherwise use the knowledge he has learned from reading.

Not the most subtile of messages, but hey, as writers and lovers of books, we can’t help believe that all that great information we consume daily  will come into use someday, if only to allow us to show off during a tedious dinner party.

I came across this article that proves we should continue to flog our children with the merits of reading too much.

In a recent Publishers Weekly issue: the article Lonely Planet Guide Saves Lives of Three Boys, caught my eye.

Three Australian boys were suck in mud flats, one up to his waist, the other two had sunk into mud to their chins.  I’ve been on the mud flats in Alaska, and apparently it’s not the sinking that is dangerous, what’s dangerous is not extracting yourself before   the ferocious and fast tide roars  in and you drown. (I did not read that).

Nine year old Vasco Gonsalves had just read the book  Not-for-Parents: How to Be a World Explorer: Your All-Terrain Manual by Joel Levy and remembered  the section on what to do in case you slip into quicksand.World Explorer book

“The book said to lean back and lift my legs and bring them up, roll over and swim back,” Vasco recalled. “And I got out and ran to tell my mum and the other mums and dads.”

I know how to use a fish fork because of what I’ve read.  I know how to time travel, because of the books I consume. We probably are completely unaware of just how much information we acquire just by reading our favorite novels and non-fiction.

And yes, I probably read how to swim out of quick sand a couple of times, I just don’t if I have the presence of mind like our nine year old, to remember all the steps.

So when we write, we owe it to our readers to be accurate – you never know when you’ll save a life.  Or embarrassment at dinner.






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A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day

I came across this article by Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster .  In honor of National Grammar Day, I agree with Ms. Stamper that no, we are not really correcting your grammar as you speak, and no, unlike the militant grammarians, I am not compelled to correct grammar or spelling on signs, in public or during social exchanges.  Because it’s just obnoxious.

So thank you Kory, for expressing my feelings on correcting grammar in public.  I always consider how well I’d be doing, grammar-wise, if I were trying to live in China and figuring out how to communicate in Mandarin.  I already tried, and I suck.

Check it out:

A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day | harm·less drudg·ery.

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Why the Lion?

Lion Dance

Happy New Year!

Happy Lunar New Year!

The lion dance brings good luck for the year to all who observe it.  But why a lion?

The lion is that it is not a lion per se, but the idea of a lion. This is a great example of unreliable narrator, in this case the Emperor Qianlong.  The emperor dreamt of an auspicious animal with colorful hair. The term “Lion” seemed close enough, since what he wanted was the idea of this animal, rather than the exact copy. The result is charming and recognized internationally as one of the enduring symbols of the new year.

We don’t necessarily need to be accurate to be interesting and effective.Lion Dance 2

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Acetone words

nail polish remover

Go for the hard stuff

To remove nail polish I have found  nothing does a better job  than real acetone.

I tried the non- acetone polish removers – and spent five to six minutes rubbing and rubbing  as the safe, natural  product gradually and rather ineffectively removed  my nail polish. After about two nails, I  had it and pulled out the real stuff  which took  care of the project in record time.

This is the same in writing.  Don’t rub and rub at a subject or problem with non- acetone words.  Don’t try to cloak the meaning, or dance around a subject in an effort to be nice, accommodating or politically correct.   Just pull out those hard words:  effective but potent  and say what you mean, describe what you see, explain what you remember.

Those 100% acetone words can be scary and even toxic, and they should probably come with a warning sticker (for instance, some are inflammatory . But they are potent a reason. These words will  drive to the heart of your work faster and with more certainty than a weak pleasing, committee approved word.  You take a risk of course, but the writing will end up stronger and get the job done.

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