on writing

Story 101, Ep. I: Bullets from an Unknown Source

One night while brainstorming, I rediscovered some old notes on my phone.

There were piece-y observations from my people-watching days: an old pilot whose laugh came in chopped “ha ha ha”s that, if it weren’t so real, would sound fake; a white man speaking fluent Spanish with his Latina girlfriend and refusing to look at the other Anglos, though I could hear him translating their sale pitches under his breath; a wraith thin girl with symmetrical lip piercings, whispering hush hush to the puppy laying in complete silence in her arms…

There were a few sermon notes and a series of the briefest seventh sense type sensations. You know, those odd psychosomatic feelings that happen in everyday life and you know you have to record it, or you won’t get just the right words next time it happens to your created humans.

Then there was the untitled note with bullet points and ideas from who-knows-where.

It read–

“Storytelling:

  1. there is always a problem

  2. begin new strings where old have ended

  3. main characters are always learning new things, about each other, about themselves

  4. HUMANS, not characters

  5. birth, death, marriage, redemption

  6. ‘you can charm the critics and have nothing to eat'”

  7. who is this for?

I have the vaguest suspicion that these thoughts sprang from an interview with Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, that I read in some writing forum or other. And while Ms. Meyer has been brutalized in the literary world for her writing skills (or, some argue, lack thereof), I will defend her in the case of storytelling. Which is of course what we’re talking about. She made her millions because she could tell a story that kept you reading. And that’s more than can be said for a number of writers I’ve read.

Keep your eyes peels for Episode II (concerning bullets 1., 2., and 3.)!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

 

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on writing

on story: an introduction to Story 101

As a matter of fact, non-stories annoy me.

Perhaps it was Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, but–I’m blanking–whatever other culprits there were (some Sundance person or other starts to grate in memoriam), the writing world got artsy about the concept of storytelling. But in the brouhaha of feel-good artistry, the more concrete concepts behind “What Makes a Story a Good Story” were abandoned. It’s not popular to be black-and-white these days.

The problem with artsy-fartsiness isn’t the amount of white people involved. Rather, it’s the sphere of the writing world that well-to-do hipsterdom and postmodern-storytelling represents, a fancy cover on the book that is The Lack of Story. It’s intellectual to tell non-stories because life doesn’t have a meaning. Because we wake up and we make coffee and we go about our days trying to make enough money (or steal it) to accomplish the something-more-that-we-want, but always always Real Life thwarts it for all but the lucky point two percent and then we die.

I disagree with the former statements because I believe in many things, God for one and that life has a meaning, and also—stories. As soon as the answer is that we have no answer, we’ve set a limit on possibility, and Possibility is meant to be endless.

I love my dog. She makes you feel like the most wonderful person as soon as you come home from anywhere, even the two second walk to the mailbox. But this silky-eared critter doesn’t sit with a pen in hand, puzzling over the twist in a suspense novel–or wonder if she has the right to write a human character, as she’s never had such experiences. She lives to love without condition and be petted every waking moment, and as the vet told us today, that’s her job.

But as a race, unlike our animal coinhabitants, we have the unique tendency to deal with our earthy mediums in rather pointless ways. We do puzzle over plotholes and villains we’ve botched. We fresco ceilings and carve immense marble statues, and while we don’t have to do these things for our living functions of respirating and surviving to carry on, we do it because we want to. Because sometimes we feel we must to be truly living.

“We are infinite” (Chbosky), and within us is the infinite: our stories. Stories compel. Stories move. Stories shape. Stories don’t muggle about in actionless introspection unless your character is then moved to do something and fight and perhaps, at long last, achieve a happy ending. Because–as such endings lie within the realm of endless possibilities–those happen too.

Keep an eye out for Episode I — coming soon!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

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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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