Daily Rituals

Naomi_1As I begin my thesis, I also begin to think about process. I think about committing myself to sitting down to write every day, an action as essential to the day as is my morning routine of grinding the measured amount of coffee beans and brewing espresso on my stovetop moka pot, as pushing myself for that outdoor run.

There is a book titled “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” that describes the daily habits and work regiments of sculptors, composers, writers, filmmakers and other creators. The section on composer Igor Stravinsky describes how he would wake up at 8:00 a.m. to exercise, and then work on his music without a break from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in solitude with all windows closed. These four hours were often all he could dedicate to his creations in the day, and he would sit down to work each day regardless of inspiration. In a section on Leo Tolstoy, he also describes writing every day from morning until dinner so as not to get out of the habit of daily writing.

Daily writing is essential to almost every writer. It requires diligence and focus, but also the power of schedule. During the school year, I am conscious of my wish to create a time for daily writing outside of classroom assignments. However, in midst of exams and homework and my appreciation of eight hours of sleep, I end up writing in bursts – a few consecutive days here, a few days there, and then perhaps radio silence for weeks.

This summer, I will form the habit of writing or researching for my writing every day. I look forward to acquiring a new daily ritual, and seeing what form my daily writing will take.

Alternatives to the Guidebook

Another few weeks have passed and I’m almost to 75 pages! Which is almost to 100, which is almost to 150! Yes. Let’s go with that. Stay motivated.

I feel like my time has been flying by this summer. On one hand, I like that, because I can see that the writing I do everyday is coming together and building up. On the other hand, I want it to slow down so I can enjoy my experiences and savor the summer before I go out into the unknown world. The jump from the safety of college to the freedom (but also confusion) of the real world is a big transition for myself and for many of my fellow students.

Something I really appreciate about the fellowship is that it gives Dietrich students, students who don’t necessarily have a straight and narrow guidebook to what we will do after college, the opportunity to create a project that we are interested in and give it our all. This gives us the chance to figure out whether or not we want to be doing something similar once we graduate.

I really appreciate that I have been given the chance, within the safety of college, to attempt novel writing and see how I like it. One of my friends wrote a novel for her thesis last year and she came out of it knowing that she never wanted to write a novel again. College is the time to discover these things and learn about ourselves.

So far, I have loved the novel writing process. I have enjoyed sitting down, every morning, dreaming up new scenes and immersing myself in the world of my characters. It is a dream come true to be able to write my first novel and I hope to be doing it for many years to come.

Read more about my project.

Scribbles and Snapshots

Now, where to begin?

This was the first question I asked myself as I sat down about three and a half weeks ago to begin my thesis. Having never taken on a project of this size before, I felt more than a little bit overwhelmed by what lay ahead.

For those of you just jumping on this blog’s bandwagon, welcome! Let me briefly recap what I’m doing: For my thesis, I’m planning on writing a series of short stories, along with a series of photo stories. In an effort to keep myself inspired, I’ve planned a somewhat nomadic summer, spending time in Maryland, Munich, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, with a bonus weekend in Seattle. I will also be taking a photography class to supplement the visual side of my project. My goal is to find a way to have the text and images work together in the most effective and meaningful way possible. It’s a big task, but I’m ready for it.

So, if you’re still reading, then you’re probably wondering what I’ve been up to. Yes? Great!

This whole first segment of my project—my, shall we call it, “pre-departure” segment—I imagined would be a time of planning, researching, and gathering. But let me tell you something about all of my plans thus far: I’ve thrown all of them entirely out of the window.

It’s funny, really. I’m such a planner. But, in just these first three weeks, I’ve seen that planning my stories has been a pretty solid waste of my time. Originally, I believed that planning out my work would help in keeping me on track. And while I think it may have helped me get started, it also left me somewhat uninspired. (Think: Me realizing that I had brainstormed six identical stories. Eep!)

For the first two weeks, writing felt like ramming a cast-iron skillet against my head, every day, for 5 hours a day.

Ah, yes, the life of a writer. Romantic, no?

1 Photo 02.06.15 13 06 06

I hear brain freeze helps writer’s block.

But then on Sunday night, while corresponding with a friend, I happened upon inspiration for a story that I have fallen in love with. So I’m beginning to think that plans are overrated.

Who knew that starting my thesis would lead me to realize deep, life lessons? And I’ve only just begun!

The photography part of my thesis has been a bit more stop-and-go. The first week, when I was still in Pittsburgh, I went to two photo exhibits–One at the CMOA and one at the Silver Eye Center for Photography.

A snapshot from the Silver Eye Exhibit

A snapshot from the Silver Eye Exhibit.

I also spent time with a really lovely Eugene Richards book, Red Ball of a Sun Dipping Down. This was a gorgeous combination of text and images. If your library has a copy, I would highly recommend taking a peek.

Last week, however, the photography element took a little snooze. But this Wednesday, I revved that engine back up for my first photography class!! I’m honestly so excited, friends. My class has two people, including myself (three, if you include the teacher), so we are going to get SO MUCH personal attention! I can’t believe my good fortune.

So far we’ve only really discussed the basics. This week, we have quite a bit of homework to get us comfortable with the manual settings on our camera. (Think shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc.) Apparently we will never be using automatic again.

Since the creative process can be such an amorphous thing to document and describe, I thought I would also accompany each of my posts with little bits of inspiration. This way, you can see the external influences that are shaping my experience as a creative. (This is a term my photography teacher applies to people who practice any form of art. I love it and have decided to adopt it.)

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Red Ball of a Sun Dipping Down—really a must // Hand letterer Lauren Hom for a new definition of creative writing.

For the Ears: It’s gray and cold and generally miserable in Maryland right now. That means Alt J (the second Album especially) on repeat–to go with the mood–and anything by the Hot 8 Brass Band to lift your spirits.

For the Soul: Pema Chödrön’s Comfortable with Uncertainty, because uncertainty is one of the hardest qualities of life to embrace.  

I’m looking forward to bringing you along on this journey. So keep a look out for more interesting posts from my fellow fellows and me!

Til next time, friends.

Writing A Book To Which I Do Not Know The Ending

My name is Sayre and I am writing a book to which I do not know the ending. Perhaps this isn’t so unusual. I know of several real adult writers who aren’t sure of how a certain story will turn out from its beginnings. But my case is slightly different, being that this book indeed has an ending, however the only person who really knew it died of brain cancer almost seven years ago.

This single enlightened person was my grandfather, Chick McKinney, who was writing his first and only book: a novel that in many ways mirrored his own life. It was essentially a memoir, disguised as fiction. Unfortunately, what now remains of the so-called novel is a collection of handwritten fragments. It’s possible that there’s an ending written somewhere amid the approximately four thousand loose pages that I have stacked in boxes in my room, but so far, I haven’t seen it. In fact, a lot of the middle is a mystery as well—iffy at best.

I came across one page that is labeled by my grandfather as “story line.” The entire contents of the page are the following sentence: Young boy vows to pick up where his dead brother left off and live his life for him but finds that fame and glory is a tough act to follow. Unfortunately, although I’d like to think that all of the answers are still on the pages in the boxes, I know that I’m going to have to look beyond the obvious or the tangible. I hope that my grandfather’s own biography, for one thing, will provide some answers.

Adam, the book’s protagonist, has a good amount in common with my grandfather simply in the fact that they both grew up in small Appalachian towns. My grandfather’s town had a population of a few hundred. In order to go to high school, he moved away to “the big city,” Raleigh, with his older sister. His sister Wilma offered to take in one of her younger siblings after their older brother died, as a way to help their mother, and so she chose Chick.

Below are some photos to give more context to the story of my grandfather’s upbringing:

Chick’s father at work

Chick’s father at work

Chick and his older brother

Chick and his older brother

Chick and three sisters

Chick and three sisters

Chick’s parents

Chick’s parents

Although I’m very convinced that my grandfather’s relationship with his own brother played a large role in his construction of the story, I’ve sometimes doubted whether it’s appropriate or even correct to assert that his cultural upbringing also plays a role. It’s probably true that there was an unintentional influence of actual memory in my grandfather’s writing, because of his increasing confusion as to what was true and when it had happened. But a part of me likes that idea even more. Take the following passage, for example. Originally, the protagonist was just a “he,” and I changed it to “Adam” to fit with the book. But it could just as easily have been an actual memory that my grandfather had of himself and his brother. An ambiguous passage like this might not belong in the book, and perhaps I had no right to change anything about it. But at this point, and I hope I’m right, I believe that moments like this will be the best thing about the book.

It was still dark when they turned off the paved highway onto a dirt road. There were a few ramshackle houses perched on the steep banks to the right, and three junk cars sat in a patch of tall weeds in the flat next to a small branch. Further on, the road narrowed, became rocky, and laced with gullies. “You’re going to shake every bolt loose in this old track” said Adam. They crossed over the shallows of Sassafras creek to an old logging road grown up with waist high pine seedlings. The Chevy groaned in low gear up the steep grade.

“You’d better have some g-r-u-b” said Daniel, mimicking the slow drawl of a good ole’ boy he had seen in a western movie. “Yew’ve got a l-o-n-g h-a-r-d day ahead of yew.”

            Adam laughed. “I don’t want to take your lunch.”

            “Not to worry, my good buddy. We’ve got enough to feed a couple of bears for a week.”

            “Well then, I’ll take you up on your offer.”

            “There’s a bottle opener in there somewhere.”


Down there’s your birthday present, Daniel said with a chuckle. I told papa that I was going to bring you here when you were old enough, say thirteen.

            “I told you I was only eight.”

            “Yeah, I keep forgetting that.”


            Then, a sudden strike. Adam set his hook the instant he saw the flash in the water. He let the fish run, but guided him gently into his net. It was a nine-inch native brook trout.

“What a beauty,” Daniel said. The fish was a male with a dark back and colored spots on the side. The belly and fin had an orange tint.

            “The locals call that speckled trout,” said Daniel.

            “They’re really not a trout,” said Adam. “They’re actually char.”

            “Mama always said you were a prodigy.”

            “Mama also said you were an adventurer and a romantic. But I say you’re a poet.”

            “I’ll settle for any of the three.”

            What a glorious day that was.

Read more about my project.