First Reactions to My First Chapter

Oh man – there’s nothing more awfully exhilarating and nerve-wrecking than waiting for reactions on something you’ve created, right?

Maybe it’s a speech you give in front of an audience or a painting you’ve done, or it can be the first chapter of the manuscript you’re writing for real. Whatever it is, it’s crazy scary to let people see it, hear it, feel it – and comment on it.

But I did just that.

The Secret Word Society

When I came back to Finland from our trip, I was asked to join a writing club called The Secret Word Society. It was a writing friend from the writing forum who, together with six others, had put together the club just a month earlier.

I said yes, of course I want to join! We managed to meet with the group face-to-face once before the pandemic broke out, all the proper meeting places were closed and social distancing was recommended. That one time was so great, the people were so nice and friendly and we had a great time talking about writing, reading and creating. I was really looking forward to meeting these people again.

Luckily, even the pandemic can’t stop us and we’ve continued our meetings twice a month through Zoom since the end of March, and it’s been awesome.

Every month we have a different writing theme one can choose to use if one wants to, everything from a specific genre to everyone writing a story with the same title or getting inspired by a certain number or a word.

It’s been great fun to challenge myself as a writer and lately, I’ve been writing more original stories than fan fiction.

Our theme last time was the big one: the first chapter of a manuscript.

So, I posted the first 1,700 words of Yellow Tails on our Google Drive and tried to relax, waiting for Saturday. I did everything but relax: I was terrified, excited, nervous and somehow exhilarated, everything at the same time.

Finally, Saturday came.

Feedback from Five Readers

In The Secret Word Society meetings, every feedback round starts with the author’s note on the story, how the writing process was and if there’s something specific she’d like to get feedback on. Everyone gets approximately three minutes to give general comments, feelings and notes on the story. After that, we discuss the story as a group for about 15-20 minutes.

With my story, the first chapter of Yellow Tails where the main character wakes up in a random house without any memories of how she got there and then finds a huge, yellow cat in the living room, I was looking forward to hearing how the first pages felt to the readers. Were they eager to read more, how did they feel about the two out of three characters presented in this chapter?

It’s said that the first five pages are some of the most important pages in a book because they hook the reader’s interest. It was this hook I was wondering about, if it existed in the story.

And I think I’ve got it. At least a little. Maybe not a huge fork lifting kind of hook, but more like a little hook that gets caught in your little finger, creating a little jerking movement that pulls you back to the story.

Because: I was happy to see glad, slightly amused reactions to my story when we started talking about it. The five members who were joining the meeting last Saturday liked the characters, their quirky behavior and personality. They were curious about the mystery that was presented and interested to read the second chapter. YAY!

In addition to that, I got some good, more practical feedback on how to develop the chapter a bit further: adding a few questions the protagonist can ask to make her confusion more realistic and giving a tiny hint about the mystery that will get the big story moving in the coming chapters. As a result of the discussion, I also decided to change one of the character’s names that goes better with the Finnish language.

The most exciting thing was to hear how the readers perceived the story: how many of those five got the secret idea of what actually happens in the story, or what the story is about. And get this: two out of five was on the right track, just on the basis of the first chapter! I was so happy to hear this because if 40 percent of the readers get the idea behind the story, it’s a huge win.

So, What’s Next?

The great thing with The Secret Word Society is that it boosts my writing confidence and helps me stay motivated about writing. With and because of them, I write at least one story every month even though everything else would end up in the bin. Their feedback make my stories better and me a better writer.

Last Saturday’s meeting came at the best of moments, because I was having a great deal of doubt regarding Yellow Tails. I was getting closer to my first 10,000 word mark and wondering if the story was worth writing at all. Luckily, the feedback helped me feel better about it and ever since Saturday I’ve felt more motivated to develop and continue the story.

I don’t think I’ll be showing other chapters to the group unless they specifically ask to or something unexpected happens, because I’m already in chapter seven and going back to discuss chapter two few months after writing it feels like stalling the story.

Instead, I’ll keep on writing so that I’ll finish the story and will then reach out to a few test readers so I can send them half or the whole story later this year for reading and commenting.

However, I’m so very happy I decided to show my writing friends the first chapter, despite how terrifying it was. Instead, it was the perfect decision in my state of doubt and The Secret Word Society cheered me on in the best possible way.

So, to sum it up: if you have a chance to join a writing club, with face-to-face meetings or online, join. You won’t regret it, writer.

The Good and Bad With Rewriting

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Since last week, I’ve been working on the rewrite of Yellow Tails. I’m close to reaching my first 10,000 word mark (out of approximately 80,000 words) and thus far it’s been good. It’s been fun, visiting the familiar environment and making the characters more like themselves. I’ve felt confident about my writing.

However, these past few days I’ve also been noticing a feeling of doubt.

More or less, it’s the same kind of doubt I was experiencing last week – the fear of working in vain, the fear of writing a story no one wants to read – but now I feel like I know why I’m feeling that doubt. It’s like a fear that I’m not making the story any better by rewriting it. What if I’m making it worse?

And therefore I thought it would be a topic worth writing about this Thursday: to list the bad things with rewriting an old story – but to also tell you about the good stuff that comes with it.

Feeling Chained To The Old Script

Let’s start with the negative, more challenging aspects.

To Not Follow the Script

First of all, it’s hard not to follow the original script. My aim is to write the story with approximately the same plot line as in the original one but to make it more streamlined and better and the characters stronger.

However, to continually keep glancing at the old not-so-good script makes improving the story difficult.

I’m nervous to take the freedom to write a whole new story with the same idea, the same characters and the same plot line. But at the same time, I keep getting frustrated at the fact that I’m so dependent on the original script that isn’t as good as I would like it to be.

I’m afraid those faults in the original script will slip into this new one without me noticing it.

Feeling Inspired By The Idea

The second challenge with rewriting an old script is that the idea is old: Yellow Tails was written in 2018, two years ago. Back then, writing about the fat yellow Jello cat was inspiring and motivating but now, writing that same story feels more mechanical and less like an adventure. It can turn into a real problem if I don’t feel motivated to write the story.

(But I wonder if editing a story feels the same? Do share in the comments, if so!)

And the trouble is that if I don’t feel energetic and joyful while writing the story, it’ll most likely show in the script. That would be miserable.

Doubting My Former Self

The third, and last, thing might be just me imagining things or it might be real. It’s fear: what if the idea that felt so great in my mind two years ago really isn’t that great? That Yellow Tails got written in that honeymoon phase of the idea when I didn’t see that the story had no depth and wasn’t really worth telling? Am I trying to write a story that isn’t worth rewriting?

This, of course, is Resistance that should not be trusted without proper proof. But I can’t help but doubt my thoughts and ideas from two years ago. Or – maybe the thoughts were deep but I’m not capable of getting that depth on paper again?

Confidence from Knowledge and Experience

And at the same, I’m finding great joy in noticing how I’ve developed as a writer during these two years of active writing. These developments can be seen in the rewritten script when compared to the original one, and that gives me great joy. Therefore, despite the fact that I’m feeling doubt and fear over the rewriting process, I’m also finding positive aspects in rewriting an old script.

Knowing My Style

For the past year, I’ve been curious to find out what my writing style is. Slowly, through writing both fan fiction and original stories, I’ve been figuring out some aspects of my preferences when it comes to style.

I prefer writing in present tense rather than past, for instance, and most often write in third person. I also enjoy the dramatic effect of breaking sentences in the middle –

to continue them on the next line.

Knowing this, and especially knowing the effect the chosen style has on the reader and the reading experience, is valuable when rewriting the script. The original Yellow Tails, for instance, was written in past tense and is therefore changing a great deal because I’m rewriting it in the present tense.

Awareness of the Art of Writing

The other thing that gives me confidence and joy while writing is that I know so much more about writing than I did before. I’m aware of the importance of multiple plot lines and knowing what they are in Yellow Tails. I know more about creating complex characters and how to make them less perfect and more humane to create characters that actually awakens emotion in the reader.

This makes the script richer and I’m feeling more confident of the fact that I’m writing almost-good text already and it won’t need as much editing later as it would otherwise.

**

I really do hope that the feelings of doubt and fear will subside as I get deeper into the story. Hopefully I’ll also be able to forget some of the original script and let the story take the course it wants to take because I believe my imagination is even better than it was two years ago. Because who knows, maybe the new story, although the characters and the main idea stays the same, is much better than what I created two years ago?

The Return of the Draft

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When Monday came along, I opened It: the first draft of Yellow Tails. The one I completed in December 2018 (it feels like a long time ago).

Ever since finishing it and re-reading it again after a few months break, I’ve been tossing around the idea of when to get going on the second draft and make it into a manuscript I could consider letting test readers read and comment on.

First, I thought I’d get the second draft done before Christmas last year. Traveling the world didn’t quite agree on the project and the last and only time I put some work into the draft was in the jungles of Malaysia on a rainy afternoon sometime in September. After that, I just let it sit. Didn’t even poke it with a stick.

Even now, although we’ve been back a few months, the draft has been waiting. Or, rather than waiting it has been hibernating. Keeping no noise, but still existing.

And now I know why: it has simply been waiting for its time to come. It hasn’t been about when I want to get back to it or have the time. It has been about when I’m ready for the draft.

I know this, because during the month of April, I recognized for the first time a motivated, courageous little feeling that was telling me that now would a good time to get back to Yellow Tails. It felt like I was finally feeling ready to rewrite it.

At the time, I was in the middle of a writing project working on a 23k fan fiction story and I was very determined to complete it, but I hoped that that courageous feeling would hold on until I was done with the story.

Lucky for me, it was still there this Monday. I felt excited to open the draft, to take a look at it and start writing it again from the beginning. So I did it: in Google Drive, I went to the Yellow Tails -folder and opened the second version of my first draft.

But after looking at it for a while, before typing a single word, I freezed.

I began to feel dread.

Because, as you might know, the first chapter is incredibly important: it’s supposed to be the thing that surprises the reader, makes him or her hang on to the cliff you’re creating with interesting characters, exciting quests and questions about the plot. The first few pages are crucial. And I was sitting there, looking at my previous draft and wondering, how on Earth will I ever manage to write a great first chapter?

Which led to the roller coaster ride of:

Is my first chapter interesting enough? Will anyone get to the end of the first chapter and is there someone who will want to keep on going to chapter two?

Will anyone care about a girl who wakes up in an unknown house and tries to become friends with a cat and a squirrel?

Does my story matter? (Or ever worse: why should it matter?) Will it ever matter? Is there someone out there who wants to publish it?

And so on, and so on. I trust that you can imagine how my thoughts kept going like that until the morning was over and I was feeling exhausted already, with zero words on the new draft.

However, after the first shock of Resistance was over, I remembered that 1) the first chapter is important, yes, but I can always go back to make it even better, which leads to 2) the most important thing is just to write. Simply get those first pages done and keep on going – because if you have nothing written, you have nothing to work on, to improve.

(Also, one thing that encourages me is that these days I’m part of an awesome writing club called The Secret Word Society and the theme of our next meeting is ’first chapter’. It’ll be the first time someone else gets to read Yellow Tails and I’m terrified nervous and excited to hear if my first chapter is working and if yes, YES!, and if no, how it could be improved.)

I believe that riting the second draft is just as hard as writing the first draft, but the good thing is I’m more capable of recognizing Resistance and have a few tricks to get it off my back. I’m better equipped for this writing process than I was for the first one.

And now, three days later, I’m working on chapter three and it’s going great. I am considering taking a few days off actual writing to work on the timeline and the plot because then it’ll be easier to get back to the draft more or less every day but the fact that I have 5,000 words on the new, improved draft and I’m still feeling good… How do feel about that, Resistance?

 

A Blog Break Update

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Hello friends. 

It’s been a month since I wrote here last and told you I’m taking a break from blog writing. Now I’m here to tell you it’s going to be a month more.

Despite the covid-19 situation, I’d like to say I’m doing better than I was in February. Yes, I’m still looking for a job (although the current situation isn’t really in my favor) and I’m sad to tell that my grandmother passed away last week which has been a surprisingly emotional thing for me to process.

In February, I wrote a little over 5,000 words. In March, the total word count was 9,700. So, one can see some improvement, some writing recovery happening there. I even participated in a writing competition! But most importantly: lately, I’ve been finding that joy in writing again that I feel like has been lost for many months now. You know, the true, exhilarating happiness over writing something that gives you joy?

And finding that joy feels so precious and something so delicate, that I really wish to hold on to it with gentle hands covered with silk gloves. I wish not to distract myself from that precious feeling, and that is why I’m taking another month’s break from the blog. 

But I hope to be back in May. I really do hope that, and hopefully things will be even better then than they are now.

A lot of hope, I know. But it’s something we need during these months of self-isolation or mandatory quarantine, depending on where you live.

Keep safe and stay in good health, reader. And remember that forgetting yourself in a story can be one of the most pleasurable and okay things to do in times like these. I’ll see you in May!

It’s Time For A Break

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So, this is the second Thursday in a row I miss my weekly blog post. It really isn’t great, I know. I’m my own biggest disappointment – and I think I need to take a break from blog writing.

I have my reasons. Let me share them with you.

First (and most important) of all, February was a writing disaster. After a prolific January with 26,000+ words, I managed to scrape together 5,000 words during February – and that was mostly from blog posts. On the fiction side of things, nothing much happened.

It probably had to do with the fact that we flew from the other side of the world back to Finland and have after that been living with either my or my partner’s parents (and, being 25 and living on my own since I was 19, this is an… interesting change). I just feel deflated from being a guest all the time and never really finding the right place for writing.

But it also had to do with the fact that writing didn’t give me that happy, energetic feeling it usually does. First, I was just tired.  But then I realized it wasn’t just a lack of physical energy I was feeling – I was feeling unmotivated about writing overall, and still am because lately, writing hasn’t felt meaningful and it hasn’t given me that fun, energetic feeling it usually does.

The second reason is that I’m trying to find a job – and it’s frigging hard.

Most of the places I’ve sent my application to, I have had less than one percent chance of getting the place. There are 120+ applicants for one position – and I’m not the only one who has recently graduated and is looking for a job. I know I have value, I’m quite sure I’m looking for the right kind of jobs, but the competition’s really rough and I wonder how I’ll stand out of the crowd.

In addition to this, actively looking for jobs is quite stressful, whether it’s writing or making a video application. Especially, when you keep waiting for a call or an email but rarely get one – the amount of time and energy invested in looking for a job is a job in itself. And because finding a job is one of my first priorities at the moment, it’s time and energy away from writing.

The third reason why I think it’s time to take a break is that I very recently found out my grandmother has cancer and only has days or weeks left of her life. It’s a lot to handle, especially after last summer when my grandfather and a close relative passed away only one week a part. I’m just kind of tired of dealing with death, and really sad for my grandmother.

The thing is, this blog means a great deal to me, and that is why I want to announce it nice and clean that I’m taking a break from the blog for March.

I am simply letting myself to not write, to not update, to not obsess about Thursdays being the blog post day. By doing this, I hope a break will let my mind rest and my creativity and motivation to find strength again so that when I come back, I can honestly be proud of my content on this blog.

Hopefully, March will be the month when I find a job so that I can get an apartment so that I can stop living with parents. I also hope that during March I will find passion for writing again, that it will get easier to keep working on my current writing projects and that the stress around writing would ease a little bit.

And when April comes, I hope to return to this blog and get back to my traditional posting schedule. I’ll let you know how I’m doing – but so far, I wish you a great March and I’ll see you in April, dear reader!

A Stranger’s Act of… Kindness?

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A few days ago, something interesting happened. I say interesting because it was untypical behavior from me and I still can’t quite understand why I did what I did. But I have a hum, an idea of what happened. Let me tell you.

I was in the city center at the shopping mall, when a young man with an immigrant background came to me and asked in English, if I could give him money for food. I didn’t have any cash with me so I said no (I also think it’s always problematic to give money to a stranger because you don’t really know what the money is used for and even if I had cash, I probably wouldn’t give it).

But then he pointed to Burger King next to us and asked if I could buy him and his girlfriend a meal. I said no as politely as I could and left the situation.

But then I watched them ask more and more people for the same thing and everyone kept saying no, and I noticed how this started nagging me. I had just spent fifty euros at a hairdresser and another fifty to buy myself new jeans – but I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, buy two people a meal? And in addition to this, I was also curious: were they here, every day, asking for money for food?

I twisted and turned for a couple of minutes thinking about it – but then walked back to the couple. 

The look on their faces was vague amazement, like they didn’t really dare to hope for what they thought was happening. 

“Don’t you have any money for food? Ever?” I asked them.

“Well, yes, when we are at home in Tampere”, the young man answered me, speaking with his accent. “But we are here to look for a job.”

And I nodded and said: “I can buy you a meal, this time.”

And so we walked to Burger King. 

Reasons For Taking Action

I asked how old they were. The man was 22, the girl 19. He was the one who spoke English quite well, the girl could only a few words. I watched them make their order and paid for their meal that was 17,95 euros in total.

The young man shook my hand (although it was a weak handshake, and I would have liked to tell him how important a good handshake is) and thanked me, but the real gratefulness was in the girl’s eyes.

“Thank you”, she said with her struggling English as she hugged me.

“Take care”, I answered and hugged back.

I think we shared a moment, then and there, me and that girl.

But then, afterwards, I started thinking why I had done it. Why did I help this immigrant couple? Why did I give them money when I’m trying to find a job for myself and don’t really have a regular income?

I can’t say it felt like I had done the good deed. I didn’t feel especially good about myself although one could categorize my action as charity and charity is supposed to give you a good feeling. I didn’t even know how to share what happened with anyone because I didn’t know what I thought about the whole thing. 

So what happened in my mind when I decided to go back to the young couple and offer them a meal?

After turning it for a few hours in my mind and finally sharing it with a friend, I came to one kind of conclusion: instead of being an act of kindness it was more like an act of rebellion. Rebellion against the stereotypes, the hate speech, the prejudice.

I believe it is so rare in our western society to help the less wealthy especially if we don’t share the same skin color and language. It’s easy to judge someone based on their appearance. 

And still, these two were clothed normally, they behaved well, they didn’t shout or curse or throw ugly glances at those who didn’t want to give them money.

I have seen many Finns who behave the exact opposite.

Somehow, it was seeing the reactions of other Finns when someone with an immigrant background asks for their money that made me turn back and do precisely the opposite most people I know would do. And I wanted to know – it was curiosity – why did they have to do this? Why was this happening?

The Future of Societies

The thing is, I can’t be sure they told me the truth. It can be that they live in this city rather than somewhere else, that they have money and they simply want other people’s money just because.

It can be that they spend their money on other things and that leaves them without food, and I can only hope it isn’t drugs, alcohol or any other addictive substances. There is still doubt in me: were they really as poor as they made it seem?

The only thing I could do, this one time, was to trust these people and give them what I could spare.

The world is changing – the immigrants are here to stay, the societies become more and more multicultural and we have to work hard to have a society where we can trust each other and believe in the good in strangers. 

Because how can we help if we don’t trust? And how can we trust if we don’t help?

I don’t know if I would do it again and that makes me wonder what it tells about me, about good deeds and the future of our societies. But may that be another thought process for another time.

Instead, after all this, taking action and wondering about it, my friend said it quite well: “It’s a good thing to do surprising things, every now and then, as long as it doesn’t throw you off your budget. And it’s good for the brain.”

And it’s good for the brain. That I can agree on – definitely.

 

Coming Home

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After a 25-hour flight, walking down the corridor with swollen ankles and a tired head, I am greeted by things that feel, that are familiar:

The simplicity and clarity of Finnish design, mostly using wood as the main material – one of the great resources we have plenty of. 

The sweet, intoxicating smell of cinnamon buns at the café – one of the desserts I’ve missed the most because no other place in the world makes cinnamon buns the way we do in the Nordic countries.

The taste and smell of Finnish filter coffee (especially after drinking mostly instant coffee since Australia).

All these things greet me with their familiarity and I welcome them, thinking to myself as I enjoy the wet and foggy landscape on the train ride to the city centre: I’ll make this work.

Then the jet lag hits me. 

The first day everything goes well despite only a few hours of sleep on the flight, but the day after that, I struggle to stay awake. I decide to go to bed early, only to wake up three hours later, at one o’clock in the night to realize I’m alert and awake like a nocturnal animal. I try reading, and have to force myself to at least rest after two hours of page-turning.

Days after that, I get headaches. I find it hard to concentrate. I get no writing done and for every day that passes without words, it feels even harder to open any of the files I felt so inspired by in New Zealand.

It becomes a pattern.

Slowly, it feels like everything I believed in in New Zealand loses its value. The short story I’ve been working on, the longer fan fiction story, the ideas I wrote down while living on the other side of the globe. It doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere, not anymore.

My remedy? I ask Netflix to play the next episode of Anne With an E. I check Whatsapp for new messages in a writing group I was added to (which is, actually, awesome). I update my email over and over again to see if something’s happening and when something is, I close the app and decide to do something else.

I feel conflicted about meeting friends and family because I don’t know what to say to them. For them, six months have gone by quickly as life as we know it has been happening. For me, for us, the past six months have been a lifetime. Now, I’m supposed to have a plan. People expect us to have a plan. 

And I do, or at least I did. But everything that felt right in New Zealand… It feels like I lost it somewhere during those 25 hours. It’s like the change in environment has affected me more than I realized.

I do believe this is only temporary and that the inspiration and motivation and energy for doing things are somewhere there, hidden in the back of my mind. But instead of giving myself the time to land, to ease into being in Finland again, I keep beating myself up for binge-watching Netflix, reading for hours, avoiding contact with people I know – and not writing.

It’s nice to come home but it isn’t as simple as I had thought. 

In 2016, after my exchange semester in Ireland, I was happy to come back and had no problems with it. Now, it seems different. I wonder if what I’m feeling is fear – fear of actually starting to do things that seem meaningful to me? Writing and publishing a book, maybe getting started with that idea about youngsters and reading.

If it is fear, I think it’s a good sign. That usually means you’re on the right path, despite the fact that resistance tries to keep you from not acting. I think I just have to give myself a few more days to get used to the cold weather and the fact that this country is the place where I have decided to actualize my dreams.

It’s not easy but it is definitely the right thing to do. Then, hopefully, I will be able to get my hands dirty (or my fingers sore from all the writing).