a dedicated space for curiosity

Living ?s for Dorothee Lang

In Interviews > ?s For Others on 03/07/2010 at 18:13

Dorothee Lang is wonder woman — a whirling dervish of many worlds …

From her base camp in Germany, she swims through cyberspace under various banners including:

author, collaborator, experimental artist, photographer; BluePrintReview founding editor; international-group-writing-project coordinator; Second Tongue writing community co-founder; and, storySouth Award preliminary judge. On top of it all, she maintains her own website and blog.

While navigating cyberspace, she keeps her feet on the ground as CEO of BluePrintPress, author of the travel novel Masala Moments, and in transit — her hot-off-the-press short story collection. There are the cultures and roadways she explores away from home—in her travels of yesteryear, and on recent jaunts to Lanzarote, LondonSouth France

She also digs dirt in her garden, and grows flowers in spring, summer, fall…

Karyn Eisler:

How do you do it all?

Dorothee Lang:

I thought about this — I guess it has a lot to do with the time I spent working for a media/entertainment company for some years. I was part of the marketing department, and it was normal there to take care of several projects and productions parallel. There was this huge timetable on the wall, with all dates included, and piles of colored files all over the desk and on the shelves, and in high times, on the floor — different colors for different projects. That’s also where I learned a lot about layout, photo design, texting, you name it, as I worked closely with editors and layouters and producers and agencies, trying to get all lined up, and coordinated, and adjusted, and promoted, etc, etc.

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The toughest parts for me back then were the deadlines: there were some beautiful projects, and ideas for concepts, for adjustments — but often, there wasn’t time, as it all ran down to deadlines, and the creative part had to be rushed. But it was a great learning experience, both in creative work, and in organizing.

The key to the work on multiple projects (BluePrintReview, the freelance web projects I do for others, my own writing) is that I try to check in with each project each day, and take it one step further, towards the next milestone. This way, even large projects don’t feel overwhelming, and each project has time and space to develop, and the gradual development enhances an organic process and a balanced structure, which feels more and more important to me — especially with the larger projects, like BluePrintReview or my story collection in transit.

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KE:

Your project-juggling and time-management skills make me wonder:

What does a typical day of yours look like? Would you be willing to crack open your daytimer and walk me through the structure?

DL:

Sure! One key to my daily structure is: I am a morning person. I really like the early hours of day, when it’s still dark outside, and the world is sleeping yet. I usually wake early, around 6, and get up then. I try to keep the mornings for myself, and take time for all main projects then, and the freelance work. I work along a project list with notes for the next steps. During that time, I also try to stay away from news sites and social platforms, to keep the focus.

After this ‘main project time’, I take a longer pause. Then the second part of the days start: this is less defined, and more open, and includes checking in with blogs and forums, working with photos, reading submissions, trying texts in layout for BluePrintReview. The way I work in that part is a bit like I travel: I have a rough itinerary for a journey, and then head off, and see where things lead to, open for new impulses, and unexpected encounters.

The best days are those when the projects keep developing through the day, with one step leading to the next easily, and one project inducing ideas for another project, in a kind of flow.

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KE:

How many hours to each phase of your work day? What time do you pack it in?

DL:

This is a question I asked myself recently, too: where does my time go? — Especially as right now, I have a whole group of projects I work on. So I decided to note down the hours of my days for one week. That was pretty interesting in itself, and also helped to balance the priorities, and update and adjust the personal project-webpage I keep.

Summed up, I spend about 5 to 6 hours with the main projects, and 2-3 hours in the browse / play phase, with 3 breaks in between: the morning break, then lunch, and the longer afternoon break. I close files at around half past 6, to prepare something for dinner. At 7, one of my favourite tv features is on: “Arte Kulturzeit” (“Arte Culturetime”) — a one hour culture / art / world  program, with news before it. So that fits in neatly.

Sometimes I return to my desk later again, to write mails, or to return to a project that keeps simmering in my thoughts.

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KE:

What do you do during the longer afternoon break that divides your ‘main project time’ from the rest of your work day?

DL:

The afternoon break — at the time I reach it, I’m ready for it, and feel the need to be outside, and do something manual, something physical. My favourites are going for a jog, or gardening. I am not that much into doing the shopping, but I often take my camera along, and look for photo opportunities along the way. Often, during this break fresh ideas for the projects I worked on bubble up, and the next step crystallizes. In some ways, this break is often a vital part of the process.

Two other regular keys to my rhythm / balance are weekly dates I have with myself: one is going to the spa. And the other is going to yoga class. I usually also do a bit of yoga in the morning, and then go for a walk to the bakery —there’s a small gallery along the way, too. The town I live in is rather small, but the great thing is that everything is in walking distance: bakery, some shops, a small library, fields, forest. Even the spa is in walking distance — and it’s amazing, in Moroccan style. Being there is like being on a miniature recreation holiday.

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KE:

How consistently do you maintain this schedule?

DL:

If nothing urgent or all unexpected happens, I am usually consistent with this rhythmus, especially with the morning part. And the rhythm changes with the seasons and the projects. If I find that I skip the schedule repeatedly, I know it’s time to change and adjust it.

KE:

Any scheduled days off during the week? Computer-free days?

DL:

Weekends are the time to let things float, but I still turn on the computer, check mails, browse current projects, do the one or other thing, and read longer articles and stories (usually I print those, and take them to the living room).

On journeys, I usually take a time-out from media and computers, including news and tv.

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KE:

There is the focussed, disciplined, goal-oriented side of you that is evident in the structure of your days, your approach to your work, and even your scheduled rejuvenation time.

Yet, a very different side of you appears in your images and words. Specifically, I think of your writing and photography; the poems, stories and images that have an almost ethereal, dreamy, otherworldly quality to them.  Often located in the sky, in your dreams, and wide open spaces, they seem free of structure, borders and endpoints.

How do you reconcile, or make sense of, these potentially opposing sides of yourself?

DL:

That’s interesting, I hadn’t seen this as potentially opposing sides. For me, the organized structure of the day is a way to provide space to work in, and to help me to keep the orientation, without having to constantly figure out what I might or should do next. It’s like a framework, a tool, just like I use the computer and files . If I would have to define it, I would describe my schedule as a table in the time dimension, providing a place for the words and images that square my day.

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KE:

Looking at your online list of published works, it seems that words and images have squared your days since 2003.

Why that particular year? What was going on in your life?

DL:

The short answer to this is: the road.

The longer answer is that after the years spent studying (economies), and doing student jobs parallel, which were followed by working for several years in media (marketing/advertising), I felt a growing urge to move out of the deadline zone for a while.

There was this longing to go to places where life is all different: the East. I started with Thailand, and back home, felt the longing to go again. At the same time, I started web design. For a while, I was torn between there and here, and went to visit Laos and Cambodia, and then India. In that time, I also started to write and mail in English — with the travelers I met, and then in an online internet forum called Lonely Planet that also had a culture area. That’s how I arrived at the doorsteps of the online literary scene.

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Seen from a bit of a distance, it’s logical that ‘travel’ / ‘being in transit’ became one of the main themes of my writing. The first novel I wrote in English is a travel novel, picking up on my journeys through India, and on the stories and tales that are part of travelling there: Masala Moments.

And BluePrintReview started through mails and photos I received from travel friends, some of them so remarkable that I wanted to share them online, instead of seeing them floating down in my mailbox. That’s how the first issue of BluePrintReview came together.

“Good journeys don’t end” — that’s a line a friend once wrote months after returning home. I think of this time and again, when I take road pictures.

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KE:

When you consider your online literary and artistic journey, what have the highlights been so far?

DL:

The highlights so far… let me think …

The logical answer seems simple: the new book, in transit.

But looking back through 2009 and the previous years, I can’t really put a finger on highlights. The smaller works are important to me, like for example Lung Ta, a photo I took for qarrtsiluni’s “Words of Power” issue. I knew I wanted to take a photo of prayer flags for that issue. But where to find those? I had no clue. Then I went to a BBQ of a friend. She had them placed in her garden. And the light was perfect. The photo then turned into the opening photo for the issue.

Or Slivera writer friend, Mel Bosworth, mailed and invited me to send a short text for his audio channel. This brought me back to my dream diary. And the text I sent, it now is my first audio story online. Highlighted by a flashlight.

One of the major delights: the online writing / creative community. The inspiration that comes from it. The collaborations. The conversations across oceans about words and images and art and life.

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KE:

An ongoing theme — journeys on multiple levels …

With that in mind, I’d like to congratulate you on the recent release of your short story ‘journey’ collection — in transitand ask:

What’s next for you?

DL:

Thanks for the congratulations!

Next are a couple of smaller projects: microfiction texts and visuals. I am also reading for the upcoming issue of BluePrintReview, the theme is: micro cosmos, the issue is planned for May.

And I am checking out alternative distribution options for in transit, especially ISBN options and a special edition, mailed from here — so the transit is still going on. Researching those options lead to an idea for a new project: There is a postage option that could work for very small books.

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Combined with the current trend towards microfiction and nanostories, this brought the idea of mini-books: micro novels. I still need to figure out some details for that, then I will put a call up at the BluePrintReview / BluePrintPress website.

And connected to that, all the new small press books launched these days — story collections and novellas and chapbooks — brought the idea to put an extra BluePrintReview page together, a “new small press books” list. I arrived at the concept of a small press blog with daily book feature: Daily s-Press. That’s what I am working on right now.

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KE:

As your friend says: “Good journey’s don’t end” …

Thanks for taking the time, Dorothee.

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Images © Dorothee Lang

  1. Karyn ~ thanks to you for your ?s, and for taking the time to piece all those questions and answers and images and links together!
    Reading through it, i thought that this now turns out to be wonderful timing: the interview making me reflect on time and organization, just now, during a time when there are a more parallel projects than usual simmering on my desk.
    I now also added a virtual note about the interview to my blog: http://bit.ly/aKjKkr

    and a few weeks later, another virtual note:

    http://virtual-notes.blogspot.com/2010/03/daily-routine-just.html

    • Dorothee, it was interesting for me to gain insight into your creative process. Searching for links and piecing it all together was fun.

      And a note to anyone reading this > be sure to click on the small photos that appear throughout the interview!

  2. Thanks for the interview. It is interesting how we need to have an organized side to us to complement the creative side. It seems necessary. I keep thinking of it as my “mommy” mode. When I am getting the house in order and making sure the kids have what they need, are going where they need to go. Reading Dorothee’s interview makes me think that a creative individual inevitably has to have some strong organizational skills. Otherwise, all that creative energy may not get channelled or leave their desk. I also now realize how the mommy mode kicks in when submission time comes (and I do not think how this efficient side of me sneaks into my writing life), dealing with writing deadlines.:-) The discipline to get something done every day I find also very important toward completion of any creative work.

  3. What a fabulous interview. Always interesting to get clear, concise, meaty details of a writing life. Nicely pitched questions, Karyn! Thanks to both.

  4. Great interview!

    • Daniela, Matthew, Rose:

      Glad you enjoyed the interview:-)

      And Daniela, I keep returning to the following excerpt from your comment:

      Reading Dorothee’s interview makes me think that a creative individual inevitably has to have some strong organizational skills. Otherwise, all that creative energy may not get channelled or leave their desk.

      So interesting, the necessity of both …

      K.

  5. Thanks, Karyn and Dorothee, for this look at how Dorothee manages to move so many creative projects forward at once. Being somewhat similar, it was extra-fascinating to see how her routine differs from mine. Glad to know that Dorothee needs to schedule “unplugged” time and be ever more vigilant about not spending too much time online – it’s both a problem and delight that none of us used to have!

    • re:“too much time online – it’s both a problem and delight that none of us used to have!”

      So true, Beth. There are certainly two sides to that coin!

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