Revising Your Mentor by Catharine Bramkamp
Let’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us “Revising Your Mentor.” Enjoy!
I am a very enthusiastic Natalie Goldberg fan girl. I love all Goldberg’s books, I own all Goldberg’s books, but her most famous, Writing Down the Bones (I have two copies) was not as transformational as Wild Mind.
Wild Mind was one of the first books on writing I read since college.
Goldberg drew me into her exotic world: She is Jewish. I was raised Catholic. She is Lesbian. I like boys so much I made two of my own. She was a full time teacher and lecturer. I was my own full time marketing department for a nonprofit. She meditated for hours at time. Did I mention the boys?
The Mentor’s Main Message
I love her messages and suggestions for how to write and how to write well: keep your hand moving and write for ten minutes without stopping.
At the time, this was a radical idea, but of course, forty years later, most writers have so thoroughly internalized her messages we don’t even notice. We all write for ten minutes or if we can more, but we get it: we write.
At the time though, her work and ideas were a revelation.
I bought all her books as soon as they were released. I practiced her techniques. And because of her message of acceptance, I did not write like Goldberg. I wrote like me.
Fast forward. I have a shelf of Natalie Goldberg and a dead end job.
Study the Mentor
I realized that for my next career phase, I needed my M.A. The boys were in high school and didn’t really need much from me, so I returned to school. It was there I engaged with Goldberg and her writing in a completely different way.
One of my thesis projects was to research and comment on the whole oeuvre by a single author — not only what she wrote, but all that had been writing about her.
The class was only a semester long, so Virginia Woolf was out. But Natalie Goldberg was in. I bought all her books and instruction tapes. I discovered her inspirations. I unearthed her first collection of poetry, Chicken and in Love. I read her one novel, Banana Rose. It was glorious — the research, not the novel. Goldberg is not a novelist.
Meeting the Mentor
My big moment was to finally see her in person at Book Passage in Marin. I. Was. Thrilled.
She is not the most electrifying of speakers. In fact, while researching for my thesis, I listened to class tapes: The Writing Life (with Julia Cameron), Writing Down the Bones, and Writing the Landscape of Your Mind — all of which revealed that her insistence to never comment on a writer’s work, drove me crazy.
I would have loved to travel to Taos to join a live retreat with her, but on close reading of the retreat syllabus I saw that each day featured about three hours off silent meditation. Which was about 3 and a half hours too long. I could never justify spending that much money to spend that much of my day in complete misery.
Like the dreams of so many fangirls, meeting my fantasy author was a let down. But also like so many die-hard fans, I remain undeterred. I still love Goldberg. I still love her message. I still buy her books packed with her honesty and determination to bring her readers to writing.
I have Goldberg to thank for:
- The MA in Creative Writing
- The college teaching positions
- The five year — 200 episode writing podcast
- The writing workshops
- The writing books.
Mentor Came at the Right Time
Wild Mind came into my hands and heart at exactly the right time.
I cherish everything about Goldberg the author and Goldberg the workshop leader, but I quickly learned it is impossible to re-visit the joy and wonder of that very first book, that initial discovery of a process, an author, a mentor.
Even after we discover we’ve outgrown our mentors, we can honor them by teaching the next generation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.