Dana Norris is a writer and performer living in Chicago. She is the founder of the Story Club Franchise and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. I enrolled in a writing workshop this summer at Story Studio Chicago called Live Lit Bootcamp. Dana was my teacher. I was terrified but she was encouraging, enthusiastic and specific.
She’s a new mom and agreed to talk with me – during baby’s nap time when she could have been napping herself – and share some insight on what it takes to be a published writer, performer, editor, teacher and all around phenom in Chicago’s vibrant storytelling scene.
Click on the audio player below for the full interview and/or scroll down for highlights.
Note: Depending on your browser, you may see ‘download’ instead of a play button. Clicking on download will give you the option to play the file online (without actually downloading the file).
Dana Norris on becoming a writer and starting Story Club
I kept waiting to be chosen. I kept waiting for someone to notice how brilliant I was and be like ‘let me give you a book deal.’ I was waiting to be discovered. It didn’t occur to me that I could just make the thing that I wish existed.
Why she loves Live Lit
After a night of listening to true stories, people generally feel more connected. I believe the show does make lives better. The best thing is they’re like I want to come back and I want to tell now. It’s like a virus…a good virus!
On writing nonfiction and live storytelling
I had all these tools from short stories and I realized I could apply them to actual events.
Everyone has a story. You need to show people your world very clearly and cleanly so they want to go in.
It’s an argument. Stay here with me and go with me. I have to give you reasons to stay.
Advice on getting published
Submit. Send things away. Do it. There is no reason you should not be published. If you’re saying what you came to say and you’re doing it in a way that’s interesting, people want to publish it. So get published. You just have to keep trying and eventually you will be.
Search for editors that are going to push you and try to make you better.
Nonfiction craft and the personal essay
The most important thing…is to answer the question ‘what’s the big fucking deal?’ An essay needs reflection. Why does it interest me? Why should a stranger care? Sometimes you don’t know the answer to that question yet. You’re trying to drill down to some previously unspoken truth about the subject that only you can relate to the reader through your own experiences or through what you’ve thought about.
The word essay means to think on the page. You need to think.
On handling rejection and submitting
I have a current goal of 100 rejections this year. I’ve submitted 75 essays (same essay sometimes, multiple times) and at last count, I’ve had 8 acceptances. I’ve received 11 soft no’s…which are very important! I need to tell writers if you get a soft no – that is not a rejection. It’s considered an almost yes. I’ve received 60-some no’s.
Don’t take no as an answer. Take it as an opening to negotiations.
Best advice I’ve gotten is it’s paperwork. Treat it like paying your bills.
Her writing routine
I am deadline motivated. I like to write for a thing that is due on a day.
I hate the cult of busyness. A thing I heard recently is you have exactly as many hours in the day as Beyonce.
On making a living writing
I don’t want to belittle the dream but I don’t quite understand it. You love it so you’re going to do it anyway, so just do it anyway.
Paying writers is incredibly important. Writers should work more on ‘you should be so lucky to have me and you need to pay me.’
On writing programs and the MFA
They need to change to accommodate the real world of submissions. Editors have no time and are mostly volunteers. You have one paragraph. You need to make your piece more interesting than their lives in the first paragraph.
You don’t need to go to an MFA program to become a writer. If you want to write a book, write the book. What it is [an MFA] is just immersion and you can immerse yourself.
One thing beginners should know
Write the check and then make your ass cash it. Don’t wait for permission.