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!

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#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!

 

 

 

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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.

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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)….

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…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 🙂

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on writing

how to write (when you don’t want to)

If anyone has a case of the post-NaNoWriMo blues, it’s this girl.

The beauty of the collective writing madness that is November and National Novel Writing Month is just that: it’s community. Writing in general is a lonely art. (But aren’t all arts?) And when there are a million and one other people doing the exact same thing–sitting in front of a screen or piece of paper with a caffeinated beverage and a general longing to be anyplace else–you suddenly get enthusiastic about your goal. It’s not just me. It’s all of us. And we can do this thing together.

Then it’s over and you’re still only halfway through. In some cases, by this point your story has built up enough momentum that you’re naturally lured back to finishing it. In others, not so much. With my novel, I’ve tackled a walloping beast of a thing: several perspectives and tightly woven narratives and too much to be anywhere near halfway by 50K. And now it’s December and perhaps there are a few gluttons for punishment still out there trudging along when the 50K has been long over…

…but where are they, and why aren’t we all crying in a Starbucks together?

All I can say is: Do not give up, my friends.

If you’re in need of a friendly push, here are five ideas:

1. Make a new goal.

Want to be finished before your Christmas vacation? Make an Excel chart and map your way to success. And by success, I mean, specific goals. The company I work for abides by the SMART acronym when it comes to setting team or personal goals. All such aspirations must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

E.g., by December 26, 2016, I will write 35,000 more words on my current NaNo novel and finish the story (even if that means adding “flesh to the skeleton” later).

Be a professional about it, and stand by your personal deadlines. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT lie. To your accountability buddies. To your SMART goals. To yourself. Why? Then even you will stop believing when you say you mean it (cue theme song to your favorite Netflix television show).

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Don’t be a jaded self-sabotaging artist.

Nifty knacks for your writer’s toolkit: for thirty-minute focused word sprints, Write or Die and for ambient zen writing mood music, Noisli

2. Exercise.

I was a Psych major in my undergraduate years at Liberty University–and also a Biblical Studies minor, which made for a fascinating combination of truths tossed at me at any given time. One truth, however, that I stand by in both worlds is that the body was not made for Sabbath but the Sabbath for the body. Which translated means: you’re not a machine. You cannot, between work, leisure, and hobbies, sit for hours at a time hooked up to electronic devices and expect to not feel depressed and/or anxious and/or angry, whatever means you take out your pent-up energies on the world. Go do something. Change the scenery. As pleasant and relaxing a sight as this can be…

img_0007 …you were made to move and experience new and different and even weird sensations.

One of my favorite no-screen activities (unless I’m taking photos) is to find street art. Now that I’m in a biggish city in Southeast Asia, there is no shortage of #commonartists to look for:

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a downtown Chiang Mai find… Dude harnessing the geo-bird looks similar to these gremlins:

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…and more finds from all over my city…

This one is in front of the Deaf school.

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…a surprise sea of lush plantage in a cement jungle. You’re allowed to wear cute shoes when you go for a thirty minute walk.

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That last one translates to “no parking.”

Let this be our motto. NO PARKING. Keep it real and keep it moving, my sedentary sentence-slayers.

3. Pull a few all-dayers.

In total contradiction to my last statement, I will vouch for what I call “all-dayers.” Need a motivation boost like no other? Dedicate a WHOLE DAY–with snack breaks, of course–to your novel. Binge-write and see what wild things happen. I find that, when I do this (like when I was on my visa run in the Land of Malls!), I get way more invested in my characters because I’ve spent more “real time” in their world.

* All-nighters also work, but if you have a full-time job, it’s a smart and recalibrating move in the long-term to use that one day off a week for writing (and not ______ [whatever else you like to do]).  It’s you telling yourself, “My novel is important enough for my actual time.” Give it a try!

4. Set up a reward system.

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During October of this year, two of my friends and I decided to get ourselves out of an exercise slump and create a competition. We each put 300 baht (the equivalent of $8 = two movies / a pedicure / a fancy farang meal) in a jar and agreed to the following terms: you have to exercise every day for the next 30 days for at least 30 minutes. If you fall behind, you have to work out an additional hour to catch up those lost 30 minutes. Whoever reached the 30 day mark with all days caught up either got their money back (if all 3 girls won), could split the money with the other winner (if 2 girls won), or won ALL the money (if they were the only survivor). Then we all told each other what we would do with the money if we made it to the end (I, personally, wanted a pair of green earrings). What do you think happened? We all won! And not only that, we all got back on a regular workout routine. Perhaps it was not as frequent as every day, but our bodies felt it when we were not moving. The habit stuck.

Say ‘no’ now for a bigger ‘yes’ later.

You can promise yourself rewards for each benchmark you meet. Not everyone has money to spare, so you don’t have to do anything extravagant. But even if it’s something as small as ice cream, practice a little self-control and deny yourself until you reach that word goal. It’s amazing how motivated we can get for small things–and how much more we can appreciate those small things when they’re finally deserved! I mean, when I finally got myself those $3 green earrings, I felt like an absolute champ.

5. Tell people!

That’s what social media is all about, am I right? 😉 It’s one thing when you’re like: “Hi I’m doing this.” And another when your friends are like “Hi you’re doing this right? Where’s your stuff/can I READ IT.” every five minutes (e.g., all my awesome BFFFLs, who check up on my creative ventures). I can’t wait for the day that I can hand a complete printed draft of this mess to a friendly and willing victim.

Make your news known.

And on that note, I will be sticking by 80K words by December 26, thanks. Yell at me otherwise 😉

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 ❤ )

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on writing

10 NaNocessities: A Survival Guide

 

Hello, readers & Wrimos!

Welcome to the creative lair. NaNo-prep underway! img_9745-2img_9741-2img_9584-2img_9742-2

Flip flops, UV rays, palms, sunbrellas…perfect time of year for NaNoWriMo, amIright?! Actually, it’s confusing. Last time I did this, I was freezing in three layers of socks.

10 NaNocessities for Surviving the Month

So living in Asia and participating in NaNoWriMo… are the essentials any different? I have had to get a tad inventive being overseas for the first time, but maybe you have some equivalents where you are in the world!

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…on the other hand, these are rather Western options.

Try something everyday that scares you.

Well, here, that’s eating.

Some days, I’m adventurous, but other times, I just want something that I know won’t be punishment for my American taste buds. When I’m writing, for instance, candy I know vs. candy I don’t is crucial to whether or not I will stay on task.

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The financial pit of despair

The very FIRST thing I grabbed…

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  1. Electrolyte powder

… because dehydration is a thing here, and the sweating won’t stop for anyone, even if you have all the fans you own blowing on you (and blowing away your notes) while you write.

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2. Cookies

What is defined as “dessert” here is just kinda sad sometimes. But fortunately, there are THESE. They taste like Pop-tarts and cost only about 10 cents a package. I plan to pace myself, say, about 200 words before I can have just one. Cookie, not package.

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3. Tea

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to write when I don’t have something hot to drink right next to me. Here’s my favorite British tea (can I get an amen for Irish breakfast?!!). And then there’s that sour green tea for when I’m not allowed to have any more caffeine. Rue the day.

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4. Instant coffee

I know. An utter abomination. BUT somedays, it’s just too hot to boil water. And/or I’m too lazy to boil water and wait and clean the French press and get the coffee and pour it in and wait and … just no.

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5. Candy Rewards

Gummies, chocolate, this half a bag of candy corn that my Mom mailed me (it never stood a chance). If you’re consistent–or have someone hide the candy until you’ve earned it–this can really motivate you through a word sprint.

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6. More instant coffee

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7. Peppermint-y stuff

Nothing like forgetting to brush your teeth in the middle of a creative frenzy.

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8. Candles

These may be Buddhist altar sticks. It’s a fair bet. But I wanted more non-smelly candles for ambience. Looooove candles when I write.

9. Headphones

Try creating iTunes playlists or Noisli for ambient sound, if music distracts you. But I am a HUGE fan of headphones for tuning out distractions. We have some loud birds here. And wall geckos.

10. Power cord

….because we’ve all been somewhere and realized, MY COMPUTER IS ABOUT TO DIE. Or worse, it’s died on you? And you didn’t save your draft?

You have my condolences, poor friend.

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GREEN MANGO MY FAVORITE …snacks for myself today. To write this blog post. Food motivation is key, people.

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What is Jet even doing?

 

 

Bye ’til next time. Happy pre-writing!

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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.

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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.

 

 

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