Do You Have Writing Goals?

There is no better proof of being a writer than writing, and writing, and writing some more. I’ve met a lot of people in my years who have indicated that they wanted to write a book, or they have ideas for a book, or they have written one book, or they have started a hundred books. All of those are good in and of themselves, but for me, being a writer means producing varied works over a long period of time. It’s a daily task whether or not any digital pages have been written. It’s an all-encompassing passion which you cannot escape, literally, ever single day of your life. Writers do not become writers on a whim or because they finally finished their manuscript from high school. Writing requires discipline but writers don’t need to be disciplined to write because it’s a natural out-flow of who they are.

It took me many years to call myself a writer. I’m an author because I’ve published five novels. I’m a playwright because I write plays and have them produced. All of that has made me a writer. I don’t dare attach other adjectives to that moniker. I don’t consider myself a good writer or a great writer or an average writer or a poor writer. I’m simply a writer. Adjectives get attached to writers by critics and readers. I can’t control which adjective a reader attaches to my name, I can only control what I type on my blank screen. That’s it.

So it’s best not to think in terms of whether something is good or bad or just plain silly. In my view, a writer should think in terms of goals, long-term and short-term, and work towards accomplishing those goals. If you do that and put everything you have into your creativity, you’re a success, regardless of the adjectives plopped in front of your name.

When I just started out pursuing writing as something more than a passing whim, I recall telling myself that I wanted to write a novel a year for seven years and then see where I am at that point.  Well, I’m happy to announce that today, during my afternoon writing session, I completed my seventh novel. Seven novels in seven years. This on top of a regular job, family, and a myriad of other writing projects I’ve taken up over the years. I’ve done what I’ve set out to do and that, in fact, feels good. But achieving this goal is not the end by any means. I can’t wait until I hit double digits in novels written. Where will it end? Could I hit 20 novels written by the end of the next 10 years?

Who knows?

You don’t have to meet every goal, but they help you determine if you are actually serious about this writing gig or not.

I am. I have goals which I’m never going to stop shooting for.

What are yours?

Are you satisfied? I never am.

Writing becomes addictive. Almost compulsive. The worst kind of compulsive behavior. It stalks you in the middle of the night, when out driving your car, when embroiled in the minutia of your work. Writing doesn’t stop. It possesses your mind and forces you to make decisions that you never wanted to make. Such as, do I do my job or do I follow the rabbit down the hole?

Writing is a 24-hour cable news network. It shouts and screams its biases and its commands that you pay attention to it. If you don’t, it sneaks into your psyche in other ways, often unnoticed as a slight and sly trick of the mind.

Writing demands its authority to be recognized. I’m not talking about the whims of a person who one day wakes up and wants to write her memoirs. Or I’m not talking about the person who has a great idea for a story and struggles to see if he can fulfill its promise. Each of those people should attempt it. Why not? Creativity should be embraced and encouraged. Go for it. Strive to write that book.

But no. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m well beyond that. I’m well past the time that I want to see if I can do it. I want to see if I can improve. Build. Create. Attempt something that hasn’t been done. Use language in ways that give the reader pause, enjoyment for sure, but pause also. To think, to feel, to experience, to live. Life abundant. Ideas free. Flowing. Beyond what I could imagine. I want to reach and grasp far above what I commanded a few years ago. This is not about the story. This is about the story commanding its attention, taking over my life, pushing me in directions I never thought I’d go. This is about being immersed in its flow, its pageantry, its tradition, its all encompassing … what is the word? That is what I want to know. All encompassing …

It’s discovery.

It’s progress.

It’s life.

It’s writing.

That’s where I am. Life and writing. One and the same.

Creativity: the Driving Force

Someone asked me recently why I write. After I thought about it, it became increasingly clear: creativity.

I have an overwhelming drive to create. I absolutely love picking an idea out of the thin air and seeing what I can create with it.

If I could be locked away (on a beautiful tropical island) and be fed at varying intervals (thai, curry, and nyonya would be great) then I think I could go on creating for a specific indefinite amount of time. (And I definitely have no idea how specific that time would be.)

My brain is bottlenecked with ideas – novels waiting to be discovered, phrases and words ready to turn into dramatic works. melodies and lyrics ready to become the next Broadway smash.

I used to be drawn to movies and TV shows. Now I’m drawn to white screens and greasy keyboards. I’m drawn to secluded tables by the beach or little back corners of vacant cafes.

I used to drawn to sports. Now I’m drawn to musicals and live shows, theatrical productions and lighting schemes. I’m drawn to set designs and unpredictable movements.

I feel like my brain has graduated. It’s move beyond the rigid confines of stale grammar and cliched dialogues. It’s moved beyond the sitcom drivel and the banality of pop-culture which lives on the surface of society. I’ve graduated from consumption to creation. I’m compelled, coerced, and utterly vanquished to hourly solitude in front of the glowing screen, etching away at a hidden theme inside a partly hidden story.

So I wait for the next hour, the next afternoon, the next day, the next week which will whet my fingers with a stirring of ideas which will lead to entire new palate of other ideas. The building up, the networking, the cognitive hooks bound together by phrases and sentences leading into the great unknown.

That’s why I write. That’s why I have to write. If I don’t write, the buildup inside would be too great to withstand

Creativity is the necessary outlet which keeps me partially sane.

So here’s to creativity!

Come to think of it, I was always a writer – Part II

In my last post, I took a personal journey, surveying my entire life and making an amazing discovery – I always had the heart of a writer. I was always interested in creating and doing things that made people look peculiarly at me – and yet, when implemented  they always worked out in the end. My drama kids do that to me all the time. “What were you thinking when you wrote that?” I always answer, “I have no idea where it came from.” But for some reason, it just works. I can’t explain it. So on part two of my journey as a writer, I look at my secondary writing phase. This one really laid the groundwork for the productive current phase I’m in now. So here are the crazy things I was doing back in the day.

Come to think of it, I was always a writer – Part II: 1990-2006

Plays of Cows and Ho Chi Minh (early 1990s): I wrote the script and even the songs for a VBS presentation we did, including the smash-hit “Roman the Cow.” Corny? Absolutely, but the kids loved it. I even named my own production company: Roaming Cow Productions. Around the same time, when we were doing training with a teaching organization, readying ourselves to go Vietnam to teach English, I wrote an off-the-cuff skit that our team had to perform, using the popular at the time motion picture “Forest Gump”. In the skit, I brought Forest to Vietnam – discovering the conical hat and even inspiring Ho Chi Minh to become a revolutionary. I, in one of my few stage acting roles, actually played Forest Gump in the skit. It was such a hit that we were asked to do an encore for our banquet before flying out.

The Vietnam Years 1994-2003 (and beyond): My creative juices didn’t stop during my time in Vietnam. These are the years where I had a blast being creative with my kids. I wrote several movie scripts which I produced and directed with my kids being the stars. It was an incredibly fun way to chronicle the lives of our kids. My first “major” production was “Jasper’s Quest” set in Biblical times around the time of Christ’s birth. Then came my movie epic “The Song of the Golden Buffalo” where my older daughter played a dual role of two different singers who were competing in a famous music festival in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam. (It was fictional, ok?) We used everyday life in Vietnam as the background to the story. It was a ton of crazy fun filming scenes all over Thai Nguyen with countless bystanders looking on, wondering why foreigners are so strange.

My “movie career” continued as I wrote the ridiculously silly “Commercial Broke” that we filmed with my kids’ cousins, “The Recipe for Love,” & “Silly Band” – the last of our kid movies and the only one filmed in Malaysia (2006).

The Vietnam years also saw me starting a monthly newsletter about Vietnamese language and culture which I kept active for nearly four years. My reading and writing about Vietnamese and Asian culture really laid the foundation for many of my written works which were yet to come.

My Vietnam years also had me attempt something previously untried – writing my first novel. I failed miserably. I wrote a few pages and didn’t like it. I was discouraged, set it aside and thought I would never come back to it.

Little did I know that that forsaken idea would bloom into my third novel in 2013 – ten years later.

More on that in Part III.