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.

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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?

 

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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.

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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

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“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.

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6. the “200”

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

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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

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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.

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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 🙂

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travel

that time i didn’t die in nepal

Hailing as far back as the days when we shared a bedroom and I threatened the your-side-my-side thing with tape, my sister and I have often been at odds. It’s in our natures. When she walks into a room, there is light, color, and the ambition to think highly of everything. Openness. I walk in with arms folded.

Nepal pried my arms open with a crow bar. Mostly, it hurt, and I didn’t like it. But now, with this post at least…and like many other seekers before me who have wound their way around this place… I shall try to open my mind again to this beautiful dusty country.

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My words will be few as the most I can recall of that country are what these pictures hold: monkeys, mountains, dogs, dire illness, and as I said, dust. Oh and Downton Abbey on binge, since there was little else to do between bathroom breaks. But perhaps the pictures are worth enough themselves.

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Stunning peaks

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Henna night with new friends

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Lolz….guess which one I am…

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Poinsettias? They were everywhere!

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Chicken guards outside the bathroom

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Food poisoning strikes! featuring the overnight room at the international clinic and a bottle of saline

Tip 1:

Don’t eat chicken skin.

Apparently, bacteria galore… You could die. (My friend and I ate questionable soup.)

Tip 2:

Drink water.

Even if you throw it back up. Dehydration via IV is not fun.

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Snow patches on the side of the mountain

After biking for four and half hours up into the mountains, we found a misty ledge of snow. It was so foggy and cold, it reminded me of London in the winter. On the way back, I started to lose feeling in my toes. Living in Thailand makes you forget what cold weather is like… We each slept under three heavy blankets that night.

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My sister still has a few things to teach me…but given the choice, I think I would go back. Give this rugged place another chance 😉 Why not?

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travel

wake up, sleepyhead! notes and tips from my nearly-european adventure

If there’s anything in the world that can rouse a sleepy soul, it’s grabbing coffee to go (preferably hazelnut) and exploring a new city.

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I want to learn how to do latte art one day!

SUNZAPPED I’m finding it necessary these boiling days to remember cooler temperatures, and today, Central Asia comes to mind.

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Last winter, a dear friend and I vacationed in a melting pot city between Europe and Asia, and its weather was like something out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.

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One midnight, I woke to a chill in the room. The clock was blinking. Just outside the window, snow tumbled down in magnificent lace to cover the city’s tropical trees. How odd and beautiful against the pink sky. That’s when I knew this was one of my new favorite places.

TRAVEL In case you’re thinking of a wintertime trek around a Eurasian megatown, I thought I’d share a few observations & tips—from one blogger to another 😉

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  1. Power

    As an American, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve taken power (and WiFi!) for granted. As they say, you never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

    Traveling? Invest in a converter so you don’t destroy your devices—in ANY country.

    My friend and I got caught in a sleet storm while on our way to a “book corridor.” We dashed there, soaking wet, and with our phones lighting the way, clung to one another giggling as we entered the dark alley… Soon, the book stall owners lit candles. We even found the new Harry Potter play, two copies!

    The only certainty of travel (and life as a whole) is that few things are certain!

  2. Attire

    Clothes just need to cover you, right?!

    My rule of thumb is: as long as it isn’t culturally appropriative, wear what the locals wear.

    In Thailand for example, I avoid the beachy, underclad look of most tourists and favor long pants, sleeves, and muted tones, particularly in the wake of the King’s passing.

    IMG_1472Becoming the “gray man” in Europe means wearing black. Lots of it. (I’m kidding but not really.) While I was there, I wore my hooded coat, neutral long sleeve tops, and matching scarves. Other necessary investments: SOLID WALKING SHOES, an umbrella, lined leggings, socks socks and more socks.

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  3. the “SIGHTS”

    For a stress-free restorative time abroad:

    See only what you want to see.

    Our shared loves are church & spirituality; art & books; and coffee (and cats–though my friend would never admit it). So my friend and I went to places that corresponded to those interests. I also indulged myself in graffiti, collecting artifacts along the way…IMG_1375IMG_1485IMG_0950IMG_1046

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    IMG_1358IMG_0949IMG_1384IMG_0966IMG_1323IMG_1038IMG_1219IMG_1339Too often I’ve heard stories of folks abroad sightseeing all day and gleaning little joy from their experiences. In my book, that’s not meaningful—or fun either! So look for the little things you love and spend your time on those instead.

  4. Chill

    If you’re an introvert like me, it’s important to try to balance your time out with time in. My friend, though outgoing, loves to dialogue about a good story, so we spent our evenings indoors with cookies and a list of classic movies that one or the other of us had not seen. E.g., Pearl Harbor (me), Moulin Rouge (her)Titanic (me), Pride and Prejudice (her)… When we were out during the day and needed a break, we read aloud from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The other coffee shop folks thought we were weird, but we had the time of our lives.

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    The button is from Walter’s Cafe, which is styled after the show Breaking Bad (and looks like a laboratory).

  5. and last but not least….

    Caffeinated sustenance

Know thyself. This last one may not apply to all, but for my friend and me, coffee breaks were vital to keeping our energies up while we bustled about in the pouring rain or sleet or snow. When we had had too much caffeine, we opted for sahlep with cinnamon. (Ohmygoodnessgracious, TRY IT.)

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Unlike manic vacations in the past, I returned home rejuvenated. The usual symptom is an overwhelming need to scribble ideas. I had been so creatively “dehydrated” before then! So–if we may stretch the metaphor–this week away was just what the doctor ordered.

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Speaking of dehydration, keep a lookout for my next post, another coffee-and-travel highlight… Hey there, Nepal!

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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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poetry

Ode to Heidi

Don’t chew on our shoes.
Don’t chew on the chair.
Chew on the stuff
that you have over there.

You’ve got a stuffed dog,
some bones, and an oven mitt,
and yet you assume
that we’d rather get bit.

Off! Off! Get down!
Stop jumping so much.
Why must you want
what you’re told not to touch?

And what have I done
To invite play position?
With all of that energy,
I say, wash the dishes.

I have papers to write
and big books to read…
You’ve disappeared now.
I know it: you’ve peed.

I’ve had it. I’m done.
Go clean your own mess—
Don’t look at me like that.
Okay, fine, one kiss.

Topple eggs, chew leashes,
then eat up the spatula…
You give us big headaches
in all our amygdalas.

But one look into your
bearded brown mug,
and all (but Dad) cave in,
give you full-body hugs.

To think they’d have drowned you
when you were a pup…
For all of your messes,
we can’t give you up

to a world that is cruel
and needs such control…
Wait, that’s my phone cord!
Stop chewing that hole!

They say that you graduated
dog class with honors,
but off-leash, you play deaf,
poop in yards that aren’t ours,

and make me so angry—
I’ll pop you one good—
for biting and running…
…then you sit like you should.

For all the conundrums
your dog self enthuses,
we love you to pieces—
like all of our shoeses.

Heidi in the IndiBlanket

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