on writing

on process: “wove, twue wove”

This episode is brought to you from the air-conditioned cave of my bedroom in Chiang Mai. Today’s weather heading is Death, and even my hyper cat won’t move longer than it takes for her to find an easier spot to breathe in.

It’s days like this that I have to reconsider why I write.

download (8).gif

My book is finished. My new idea is a stinker. It’s hot. A ticker tape of quotes runs through my head: Hemingway, “blasting charges through rock”; Joyce, “mistakes…the portals of discovery”; Gilbert, “woo the muse,” and still this nagging feeling persists:

Is it worth it?

 

download (2).gif

I once read a story of a man who went to a Q&A session with a famous writer. When it was his turn at the microphone, he said, “For years I’ve struggled with writing. I’ve fought and clawed, and it’s never gotten easier. People tell me to keep at it, keep trying, but I just never break through. It’s agony, and I want to quit.”

The writer stared at him over the podium. “Then quit.”

download (5)After the dumbfounded man blustered through a justification or two, the writer said, “Look. Why would you keep at something that’s agony? Everyone’s allowed their opinion, but you don’t owe anyone anything. If you hate it, quit.”

There was a small silence as the audience sucked in its breath. It’s always a queasy feeling seeing someone get hit below the belt.

“But.”

The man looked up.

“But if in the time you give yourself to clear your head, you keep coming back to writing…because it is what you must do…then write.”

And perhaps this is my only reason for returning: it must be love. Yet it cannot be that I am the only one who struggles with the process.

The Mighty 10

Since I began to take writing seriously in early college, I have discovered that there are ten stages to my personal writing process:

  1. the idea
  2. the brainstorm
  3. the Define the Relationship (DTR)
  4. the first page
  5. the 100
  6. the 200″download (1).gif
  7. the Pit of Despair 
  8. the afterglow
  9. the baby blues
  10. the empty nester

…and I want to open up discussion about the varying emotional climates associated with each.

Disclaimer

Not all writers are “feelers,” and not all “feelers” are melancholic basket cases. However, all writers adownload (9)t some point experience the psychological equivalent of middle school: the hopelessness, the endlessness, the feeling that you’re the only one looking this weird and everyone’s looking. It is a small one, but a trauma nonetheless, to judge your art. So be you a sensitive soul or no, these stages may still apply.

1. The Idea

I get ideas by accident and never when I’m upset. The mere act of thriving in life provides inspiration–biking, going to get groceries, surviving a cockroach invasion–and being surrounded by other art helps too. With these seeds of thought come that first spark: maybe… I store them in a travel-size notebook and laugh at them when I’m feeling cynical. But usually, it’s fun.

download (12).gif*sometimes, your brain thinks it’s hilarious to inspire you in the middle of a later stage (usually the 100). That’s what the notebook is for. Jot it down and ignore it ’til later. In time, like any child, it’ll learn to sleep through the night.

2. The Brainstorm

This is the notebook, tea, and relevant music stage. The purpose is to generate ideas. Being trapped places for long periods of time, a death knell for active folks, can actually be crucial: long car rides, waiting rooms, insomnia.

download (4)

Block entire outlines, make characters dialogue in “empty rooms” (not thinking about settings), and plan the metaphysical functions of the universe. I find generating quickly in bulk helps me keep things uniform.

This phase hdownload (10)as no boundaries. No commitments. It can be enjoyable as long as it is pursued with purpose. Otherwise, it starts to feel like you’re locked in the Dali clock painting, time endlessly melting away from you and no structure to prop anything up. Bolt through and later on, return when you’re stuck.

3. The Define the Relationship (DTR)

Okay, commitment-phobes, this is the sit-down-with-coffee-and-assess-“where-this-is-heading” stage, when you decide: I’m going to write this. To be honest, most of my ideas never make it here. Thanks, download (6)crushing creative self-doubt.

I imagine, though, if I was half as disciplined as I am imaginative, I could have several more drafts to “blast out with charges” than I do currently. Revision is its own monster. But at least there would be something growing to cultivate instead of a thousand dead seeds. So my advice? Commit and keep committing.

4. The First Page

download

“This is the part where you run away.”

Some people hate middles, some people hate endings. I hate beginnings. My own. Anyone else’s. I’m most likely to turn off a movie within the first twenty minutes. Unless you’re just blessed with knockout opening lines, everything on the first page sounds like it was written by a blithering idiot.

My recommendation is to turn off the critical voices (there are many) and keep writing. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up rewriting the beginning later on anyway.

5. The 100

The first 100 pages fall into the “beginning” category for me. If this is where you start to “get into the run,” good for you. As for me, I don’t fall into sureness until the second wind.

download (13).gif

6. the “200”

I hit my stride around page 200 (or about halfway).

download (14)

Now this is what I’m talking about. The frenzied typing, the smooth-flowing action, the realistic characterization, the light at the end of the tunnel, and the enjoyment of every second until you get there. That is, until…

7. the Pit of Despair

download (3).gif

During the final scene of my last project, a jungly fairy tale I ended up titling Faeble, my Inner Editor sprang up from the darkness and started strangling my Creative Spirit, all the while screaming death threats and halting the overall flow of productivity: It must be perfect! I hear the shrill tones even now. How dare you end your manifesto with this piddling exchange?! Kingsolver would quit the profession if she knew she had to share it with imbeciles like you!download (15).gif

Of all moments in your process, this final stage may be the most miserable. It will all feel for nothing because everything is The Worst. Again, fear not.

8. The Afterglow

You know that pink-orangey look of the sky after an all-nighter of rain? Or the high-arm V that runners make on the other side of the marathon? Or even just that first sip of coffee?download (16).gif

That’s you finishing your work. Though I claim to be a writer, there aren’t proper words for the sensation, and you won’t know it yourself until you buckle down and get there.

9. The Baby Blues

The other day, one of my best friends, a young wife and mother of two, was describing in grand detail the ordeal known as labor (also, how she stood up on the delivery table mid-contraction and told the nurses she was having a time out). She said perhaps the best feeling in the world is the bonding time with the infant after the adrenaline rush.download (7)

Perhaps we should all have babies and not books because I would say there’s probably no such thing for us writers. Almost immediately, the low hits: the show’s over, the thing to get up for and eat for. Oh, don’t worry, there’s revision. And sequels. But you don’t have the emotional energy for those just yet. Only the ponderous revisitation to life watching television and, if you’re wise about it, doing your actual job.

10. The Empty Nester

Never fear. If it’s meant to be, your brain will have you in fits over a new story soon enough. And the process begins all over again. That’s, I suppose, true love.

download (17).gif

Friends, I’d love to hear about your own creative process — in any medium! Comment below or email me at adnorman2@gmail.com. Happy writing 🙂

Standard
on writing

knock ’em like rocky

I’m a “habitualist” about writing. Candles. Tea. Cold weather. Late fall and winter months give me the writer vibes while summers are always “time off,” dedicated to the books I abandoned for my own stories. But last month was my first Camp National Novel Writing Month: April, not November.

And guess what…

I finished a novel!

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.20.19 AM

#TRUTH | I share not to be all “wowowow I DID IT. IN YOUR FACE.” Rather, it’s my hope that this is a “wowowowow if I can do it, you can too!”

My life is hectic at times. I feel I can’t really say that since I have no kids, but for an unmarried twenty-something, it’s pretty all over the place. Between translation work in my second language, living cross-culturally, keeping in touch with people back home at odd hours, and the supposedly minor tasks of sleeping and buying food, I don’t have many spare minutes.

Therefore, let this be a testimony to all:

YOU CAN DO IT!

 

 

 

download (1).gif

NANOWRIMO | I would heartily recommend NaNoWriMo (there’s another one coming up in July!) for anyone in need of encouragement, a deadline, or just other writers in your life. That’s my favorite thing: the community. (The second would be the Stats Tracker.) Writing is a lonely sport, and it helps when you have cheerleaders in your NaNo inbox everyday.

Jet’s a pretty good encourager too. When she’s not mauling my curtains.

IMG_3364.JPG

Speaking of inboxes…

EMAIL ADVICE | A writing buddy of mine wrote me at the start of the month, asking about my high word count.

He also wanted to know if I had any tips for focus and why was I writing a children’s story?

I thought I would share my response with you…

Hi, ____________!

So confession: I picked 70,000 words for #campnanowrimo because a) I’m wordy and b) I’d already written 20,000 words. I tend to work on the nuts and bolts of various stories forever before I sit down to write them because I have a full-time (and incredibly time-consuming) job. Then when NaNoWriMo comes around, I attempt to knock those words out like Rocky in the ring. I do have a couple of tips, though, if my confession hasn’t disqualified me to share them:

1. AUDIENCE: It helps me to envision what it will be like to hand my manuscript to my father, who loves to read and critique young adult and children’s fantasy novels. Find that person you’re writing for because it’s daunting enough to write at all, and infinitely more so when writing for the whole world. One person, no more, no less.

2. OUTLINE: Do what works for you: I have tried both “pantsing” (not planning ahead at all except for a basic idea) and “plotting” (strenuous outlining and character profiling and even scene cards)….

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 9.16.22 PM

…and for me, writing in a void of nothingness does not work. If you need that freedom, protect it: don’t plan. If you need some structure, obey your inner voice and do it even if it isn’t fun. I need it, and I still hate doing it. Somewhere in the middle of puzzle-piecing cards on the floor, though, it becomes cleansing and pleasant, like organizing a closet.

3. INSPIRATION: What sort of environment inspires you? Do you need time to walk around and visualize? Do you need a notebook to scribble in? Music? Silence? Coffee shop and/or people sounds? If you need ambience but can’t afford to keep going out, try noisli.com.

4) HABIT: I like routines when it comes to writing, so I set up a “I’m going to start writing now and no more Pinterest or movies” ritual. For my November novel, each time I would start my writing session, I would watch this one inspiring youtube video (Rachael Stephens is fun). Then I would put on my book playlist on iTunes or YouTube and start reading where I left off the day before. Once back in the moment of that scene, I would start writing. Habit prevents sneaky distractions. Your brain locks in on the routine, like a child getting ready for bed. Eventually, if you submit to the routine long enough, your brain “gets it.” Writing mode clicks on faster, and you’ve ceased being your own worst enemy.

As for writing young adult/children’s fantasy… I suppose the greatest difference is I feel a sense of freedom from the gruesome darkness that often imposes itself as “realism” on adult fiction. Writing good adult fiction as a Christian, for an audience that isn’t Christian, is difficult. I don’t want to shy away from it, but I haven’t mastered the art, and while I learn, I return to my older passion: fairy tales. In a fantasy world, I feel more in my element. I have noble characters, and I have bad guys, and they’re all, at times, a little bit gray. But they’re round figures with difficult moral decisions to make. Like all of us. And on a more basic level, I had a great idea about humans turning into dragons, and I wanted to write it before someone else did. 

Sorry for the “novel.” 🙂 I feel honored that you asked! 

Best of luck,

dori

And best of luck to you lovely folks too! Throw off the distractions, keep at it, and pretty soon you’ll be a doing a victory dance too 🙂

download.gif

Standard
travel

lanna finds

Wednesday brings you another coffee post from the north of Thailand.

Lanna Welcomes You

Often, you will see this phrase around the city. The region, the Land of a Million Rice Fields, used to be known as the Lanna Kingdom, and the language varies a bit from Central Thai. For instance, instead of greeting a friend or stranger with Sawatdee ka!, the locals may say Sawatdee jao!. 

Perhaps what I find the greatest difference is the “look” of Lanna from the south of Thailand. Up here, everything seems rustic. Or as they say, “lao” — the equivalent to an American calling something “hick” (I get the feeling the term may be a slur against one of our neighboring countries?). Think less the gaudy gold of the Bangkok province and more thatch roofs, muted jewel tones, wooden wats…

hipster101

Yes, I staged this #hipstergeneration

This last year, northern Thailand has provided excellent visual material for my current project and Camp NaNoWriMo novel, The Jungle Kingdom. Though I am only halfway through the draft, I can already say that this has been my most rewarding writing experience since college. The serious intelligence of graduate school tends to bias you against children’s fiction.

When we live in a world of genocide and epidemics, perhaps there are richer, maturer subjects to tackle.

However, I am learning — if it’s possible for your own brain-child to teach you anything — that we can struggle with death and dark choices even in children’s stories. (See J. K. Rowling for love as sacrifice and C. S. Lewis for alternate creation stories & what is free will?). Check my progress out here if you’re curious — or if you’re also creating this month and need a writing buddy!

emily2

Yay for friends who will take you to neat coffee shops and leave you alone to write!

At the height of the water festival, my friend Erin and I escaped to Tanita Coffee House in the nearby mountains to create for a few hours. What a quaint place! If you’re wanting to work in a natural, breezy environment with Internet and delicious coffee, look no further. There’s even an art gallery for inspiration breaks and a local crafts shop (spend all the money!).

tag1

Utterly off topic, but on the way there, Erin tore the car across four lanes of traffic so we could snap pics of this.

I usually prefer weird characters or funny political statements, but this tag was a sparkly rainbow thing, and glitter and I have been best friends since fifth grade. Besides, we risked our lives for it. I’ve heard that increases fondness.

emily

Dori.jpg

Channeling our inner Asian and snapping moody pics

 

mute

Well, I’m off to boost my word count 🙂 Playlist below for any other fantasy writers out there. Happy creating!

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 3.05.52 PM

Standard
life, on writing

celebrate me home

Entering November, I was certain only of my motivation to finish 50K of a novel. That may be saying a lot–like my willingness not to see cheap movies or leave the house on days off or I dunno, keep friends–but life is comprised of a thousand tiny moths that nibble at the threads of our days. Who knew what would turn up to take a munch?

WHAT IS HOPE?  One evening around Thanksgiving, I enjoyed a farang meal with some friends for the holiday–duck with cranberry stuffing, string lights, Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles played acoustic style by a bearded Southeast Asian man–and heard myself, when asked, saying the dreaded words, “I hope.”

img_0120-2-13-16-pm

We should quit this word.

True hope may be expounded upon with more demanding and rosy-cheeked expressions like “plan” and “intend” and “will.” My personality tends to be a conglomerate of qualifiers and situational grays anyways, so when a goal becomes little more than a hope…  I came home, happily full, well-socialized, and artistically more uncertain than before.

img_0042CARRYING ON  Jet was a fab creative companion, however. We stayed up many midnights together: me whacking away at my computer into the wee hours while she warmed herself behind the screen, looked out the window at the bats flickering past the fluorescent street lamps, or sprawled out on my bed, warming the Hill tribe blanket–though in this tropical weather, it was the last thing I needed.

RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD  At perhaps the most crucial point of NaNoWriMo, I had to make a visa run to the Land of Malls–a huge city in the south of my country.

It was an excellent get-away day.

I did not have to go into Immigration until the following day, so I booked an early flight, picked up some Lebanese sambosas, and enjoyed a free afternoon and evening in my rented apartment. There was even air-conditioning! Between instant coffee, leftover naan bread, and yummy 7-Eleven snacks, I knocked out over 4,000 words in one night–securing my climb into the 40,000s word mark.

img_0413

After my morning at immigration, I headed over to the airport early and got myself a coffee (Starbucks is an expensive treat-yo-self type thing for me here!). Then I trudged through another 1,000 words while waiting for my flight back to the north. The scenes I knocked out were ones I had been dreading–a “first language lesson” scene (where my MC starts to engage the Deaf world) and a “first guy interest” scene (where my MC actually  shows some interest in a male who doesn’t intimidate her). Speaking of which, I learned, over these 48 hours, that my MC is not a big wuss like I first supposed. “Kit” got some spunk, and I liked finding that out.

Amazing what a lack of sleep will discover for you.

img_0414

DID SHE MAKE IT?  Ament ament halleluyer, she did! Though I hovered at 49K for about four hours–so close to the finish line, I swore I could taste it–I finally broke through and reintroduced my favorite character as a final treat to myself.

51K, can you believe it!

Check that crazy climb. I’m pretty certain my stats went down one day.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-2-06-18-am-2-13-16-pm

CELEBRATION  Though I have not finished the story, I am still writing! And I knew that, if I did not pause to celebrate my victories, the massive Word doc would get stuck in my “Stroll in the Creative Mind” folder for a waaaaay future rainy day, mostly out of sheer exhaustion.

Celebrate your victories!

So upon reaching my goal, my friend Erin and I went to meet our neighborhood nails lady (new salon for the win! though my Thai is atrocious and it’s only by charades that she understood me) and get pedicures. Then to the cheap movies! Interestingly, I’ve never wanted to go see a Thai movie before–from the commercials and the one or two I’ve seen, they are usually a bizarre blend of romance, horror, and meepy Hallmark drama–but I was intrigued by “New Year’s Gift.”

img_0476

Keep reading for spoilers and a taste of my host culture 😉

The story follows three couples: the first, a recent MS graduate and a heartbroken choir student who have to “block steps” for a visiting President and his wife, and after a day of philosophical discussions about the enduring nature of love, a confirmed breakup with her cheating boyfriend, and several selfies later, they end up falling for one another with the promise of long-distance dating (song: “Sun Down”); the second, the manager of that graduation who returns home to take care of her ailing father after her mother’s unexpected death and ends up learning piano from a cute piano tuner, in the hopes that playing their favorite song on their wedding anniversary will reverse her father’s Alzheimer’s (song: “You Were Always on My Mind”); and the third, a failed rockband artist -turned-white collar worker and a trumpet-playing secretary who are determined to get an office music room in honor of the second girl’s mother, who worked in their office. Incidentally, the dragon lady who would stand in their way (because she hates the former rocker for making her suffer years of her son’s awful infatuation with screamo) is the mother of the MS graduate, who has returned from abroad and ends up asking the choir student to marry him (song: “New Year’s Gift”).

I did not realize until the end, but each song featured in the movie was written by the king. In the wake of his passing, this movie is a beautiful preservation of culture and respect, even as it is a cute nod to modern culture and their infatuation with iPhones and romance.

img_0478Speaking of which, I’m learning a thing or two about selfies from my friends here.

FUTURE “WILLS”  The concept of weaving storylines is a favorite of mine, and I think that’s why my novel is taking so long. Perhaps it is fitting that its working title should be so vague and all-encompassing (sort of like the play “Our Town”).

I am determined, however, not to give up.

There’s something here, and the best way to bare down the bones of this mess is to just finish making it. Stay tuned, dear friends.  (And if you have any NaNo successes of your own, please share ❤ )

Standard
on writing

the end

Hello, friends!

Here’s a picture of me drinking from a coconut. And yes, I did cut all my hair off.

fullsizeoutput_c55

It’s been a while since I’ve said just that–hello!–to you. During this last year, it was freeing to step back from the spotlight of this blog and simply gather portraits, like a child collecting sea shells. There’s less responsibility in that, I think. (have not created the shells!) But now, I am ready to reappear for a bit.

This is the end of my portrait series…for now.

In many ways, I feel my project was a wordy worldwide parallel to Humans of New York. Even now, though his books are published and “finished,” Brandon Stanton continues to update his Instagram every once in a while. I intend to do the same.

Perhaps the original goal of the project was to prove to myself, I could stick with something long-term besides my previous dabbling. To prove to myself I am a writer.

There is a definite difference between saying “I am an aspiring writer” and “I am a writer.” In the States, surrounded by people with leisure time and apparent dedication to their relative creative mediums, I daily questioned if I myself could even dare approach the altar of artistic expression.

Even after graduate school (the most encouraging creative community I have ever had!), my doubts remained. But then I went overseas. And it took this season of artistic solitude to realize I’ve been defining the idea of artistry all wrong.

What is art?

What makes an artist?

Who defines “the best”?

Does it matter?

One day, I realized: it didn’t.

It felt like my soul was crying out to me–when I would pick up an excellent piece of fiction or prance my way through someone’s beautiful new essay. It seemed to be saying,

Hey you.

Yeah, you. The Lonely Creative Soul with a Dream that feels too big for you.

You are a writer.

It’s what you do.

You may die with your work never having been published. (Not that you should give up all hope!) But if it’s the thing you do anyway because you love it, does it matter THE END of your creative means?

So hop to it, sister.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream. ~Vincent Van Gogh

There were some cheerleaders in my corner, certainly. Between my grad school mentor Dale, Jeff Goins, Donald Miller, Rachael Stephen, and Elizabeth Gilbert, I had no hope of walking away with defeated hands in my pockets. But in listening to them and moving on with my life and my work, I did learn a few things:

“You can’t find your passion if you don’t push through pain.” ~ Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

“You are not Stephen King.”  ~ Rachael Stephen, “Let’s All Stop Calling Ourselves Pantsers and Plotters”

“When you stop expecting ________ to be perfect, you can like [it for what it is.]” ~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

“Writing is not like dancing or modeling; it’s not something where-if you missed it by age 19-you’re finished. It’s never too late. Your writing will only get better as you get older and wiser. If you write something beautiful and important, and the right person somehow discovers it, they will clear room for you on the bookshelves of the world-at any age. At least try…” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Have you been afraid of your dreams?

Let me be the first (of MANY encouragers out there) to tell you:

SO WHAT.

To borrow an idea from Gilbert’s grand creative narrative…Fear is a natural roadtripping buddy. You can’t get in the car and go anywhere without him. But he needs rules. Because he’s a wee bit of a control freak and likes to take charge of, well, anything left unattended. Don’t let him dictate where you go, how often you stop, IF you stop, what music to listen to. And by aLLLLL means, do NOT let him drive (check BIG MAGIC for a much more whimsical beautiful vision of this). 

All that to say, move forward anyways. Stop looking for approval. Stop worrying if people think you or your art is weird (weird is great!). Stop checking the stats on your blog. Stop trying to figure out how on earth your art could possibly support you (my vote is don’t; art has fragile bones and can’t take the pressure of your cushy Western lifestyle. Go wait tables or something).

And that’s why I’m here, full-time job and all.

Get to it.

Write.

 

 

Resources for the Ones in Need of Cheerleaders

Jeff Goins … I’d tell you more about him, but if you checked out that quote up there and liked what you saw, you should let him tell you more about himself. Inspiration and motivation guaranteed. (Subscribe to his mailing list!) Here’s an interview about finding your calling.

Donald Miller … Your story matters. If you’ve never read Million Miles in a Thousand Years, you need to do that today.

Rachael Stephen … If you want to laugh and get a bit of tough love in the Hunger Games arena that is FICTION WRITING, check her out!

Elizabeth Gilbert … duh. She even has a podcast.

 

 

Standard