Back To Where I Came From

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Most of my recent blog posts have been about writing. Writing, reading and everything around it have been recurring themes on this blog because much of December and January has focused around writing – lucky for me! 

At the same time, though, life keeps on happening and therefore this post is more about the other things that are going on around my writing: thoughts about my future, both the near and far ones.

When we began our travels in the end of July six months ago, we had been saving money for a few years to do this trip. That money allowed us a completely different kind of freedom and the opportunity to see what the rest of the world is up to. We got to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia and then to New Zealand. It has been a rollercoaster ride.

But now it’s time to give up that freedom. The money that was saved has been used well – and as we’re starting to run short on it, it’s time to find ways to make money again.

To find out that solution is far from easy.

It isn’t only about finding work but it’s also about where to find it and what it is I want to do. What happens after our trip comes to an end? What happens when you give up the kind of freedom we’ve grown used to during this past year?

Finding Meaningful Work Isn’t Easy

In June, I wrote about my thoughts on graduating. I wrote that there’s a harsher reality waiting for me when I give up the freedom of being a student, but that I’m ready for that.

When writing it, I felt it to be true. I guess I still do, but nevertheless, taking on another new chapter feels daunting. I’m doing it, for real this time: trying to find a job, an apartment, not rely on study subsidies or student discounts anymore. It’s real. But at times, finding a job feels overwhelming and causes feelings of anxiety.

I haven’t had too many good work experiences. Either it’s because I’m picky or because the working world as such isn’t, well, working. I’ve had my share of shitty shifts, bad bosses, ugly work atmospheres and unrealistic or unnecessary work assignments.

Time after time, I thought I’d like to work as this or that, only to realize it wasn’t for me. And now I’m supposed to be on the job market again, finding myself work that hopefully will be better than my previous experiences. But what kind of job? Is there someone out there looking for a fiction writer to their company? I could be that person!

What? No? Okay. I guess I have to find something else.

It’s a strange feeling to go through different work ads and realize that you don’t want to “build your career” in any of those companies. I’m not passionate about selling and making profit – but our society runs on consumerism. I’m not eager to deal with customer care unless I’m really passionate about what I’m doing. I want to work with something that feels meaningful, that truly matters to me – but the current working world doesn’t seem to offer too many solutions.

It feels like so much weight is put on the employee and how one fits in the company but not so much on the company itself and it’s way of doing thing.

It’s essential to me to feel that the people working in a place are aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it and are willing to give their best – just as I will if I work there. More often than not, however, it seems like the boss who is supposed to be there for us employees and help us do our job well doesn’t know what he or she is doing or isn’t motivated to do his or her job well.

There is no such thing as a perfect work environment, that I know – but there are good opportunities to create a great work environment. It simply requires conscious effort.

So, maybe I’m picky, maybe I know what I want. Fine. But where to find that right kind of job?

The Language I Speak

For now, I have found two work ads that resonated with me and sounded like worth giving an opportunity to. I’m hoping to hear from them in a month or so. And this brings me to the next thing on my mind – both jobs are situated in Finland.

So, partly this post is about finding a job – but it’s also about where that seeking seems to take me.

We left Finland to find something better abroad, a different and maybe a more suitable culture. We both honestly thought we would be better off somewhere else.

But lately, as I’ve been thinking about working over and over, my mind leads me back to the land of forests and a thousand lakes. It’s because of my writing.

Not including this blog, I write mostly in Finnish. My journal entries, my fan fiction and my novels are all written in Finnish, a language spoken by approximately five million people living in this world.

The thing is, reading and writing are my greatest strengths, and these strengths have the best opportunity to succeed in Finland. Therefore, it would be in my interest to live in Finland to make a career out of writing. Right?

But I’m not homesick.  I don’t, per se, miss my social life or the Finnish food and culture so much that I would love to be back. I can see myself finding a nice yoga studio, the perfect writing environment, an active lifestyle somewhere else. In another Nordic country, perhaps.

I have no officially serious reason to go back. But because of my strengths in my own language, I’m drawn to my home country. I’m most likely to succeed on my career – if I get back to Finland and stay there.

It bugs me because it feels like my freedom to choose is being cut. At the same time, I’m curious to see what can come out of it. I have these ideas about my own small company, focused on writing and reading, and all my hopes for my author career – and I know the best place to make them happen is in Finland.

Our time on this trip has given form to these thoughts and it feels like the right time to try finding the paths to realising them.

But just to get back to where we got started – if I’m in a country I really don’t have a need to be in and I’m starting out with work that I might not even want to do and that might end up in another disappointment, where will that lead me? Will I still be able to hold on to all my ideas about writing?

So many questions, so few answers.

So, to sum up this blog post: I’m thinking about a lot of things, mostly about the future of work and where it will take me. I’m optimistic about the fact that things have a tendency to find their way. Things will work out. And hopefully something good will come of it – if I get to choose, that good will have to do with writing.

Different Methods For Writing

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The past couple of weeks have been good writing weeks for me. I have found the flow, the groove of writing. I believe it is a result of me reflecting on my writing process and me as a writer. It has had to do with how I write.

The thing is, a writer can write 100 or 100,000 words and not develop if one does not reflect. It is like a constant self-check, skimming through thoughts that go through one’s head, catching those flimmering emotions that one feels in the pit of their stomach (dread) or chest (everything from joy to fear to anger).

Quite often that feeling of dread, fear, disappointment or even anger can come from the fact that you, the writer, haven’t been able to put down the words. You might have a daily, weekly or monthly word goal and every day you don’t work towards that goal makes you lag behind. 

It’s not a nice feeling, for sure. It certainly does not help you get back on the saddle the next day. But I have some suggestions for you – some ideas that might help you get to your word goals regardless of how you feel. Interested?

A Writer’s Heureka

When I got back to writing in February 2018, I had a simple goal of writing 30 minutes per day. It was usually in the morning before heading to the University. I wrote what I wanted, self-reflections or short-story ideas. In a week or two, the idea of Yellow Tails started to find its way to the pages.

During that time in my life, studies at university and working for radio, 30 minutes per day was enough for me. I felt satisfied for whatever words I put down. It was enough that I was writing.

But then I quit my job and had suddenly days upon days of nothing planned and I could write. I changed my daily writing goal from 30 minutes per day to 1,000 words a day. It took me longer, maybe an hour, to get to my goal. After that, I was usually exhausted, done for the day. 

All the way until the last pages of Yellow Tails in December 2018, I wrote 1,000 words per day.

After that, in 2019, my writing got less foreseeable with the fan fiction and all the short stories. It wasn’t any more about a certain amount of time or a certain amount of words – it was more of writing until the story was done, going by feeling. Sometimes it took days, sometimes only one.

But now, since December, I have been wondering again, how many words per day should I write? What would be enough? I kept thinking about something between 1,000 or 2,000 – but it was supposed to be fixed. You know, 1,500 and no less or precisely 2,000 because that’s the way I am. 

And I kept thinking about this back and forth while definitely not managing to reach this daily fixed goal which led to confusion and disappointment. But then I realized that I can change up my writing routine every single day if I wanted to. Who cares how I write those words as long as I find pleasure in writing?

So I started trying out different things: word crawls, a 20-minute writing session, a 100-words-at-a-time approach – and suddenly I was having both fun with my writing and I was reaching good word amounts every day! Gone were the days of personal frustration for not getting enough writing done or doing it with a grumpy face.

And that’s the thing I will tell you about right now: how to have fun and write.

Finding the Method

I know, it’s not groundbreaking in any way. It’s pretty simple, really. But I believe we writers tend to get held up by our beliefs and self-made rules that a good writer writes 2,000 words per day like Stephen King. 

That’s not the deal here, folks. 

You don’t need to write 2,000 words to be a good writer. You need to write XX amount of words to feel good about your writing and that can be different from one day to another. It is also key to have fun while writing. So, how do you do it?

The best way for you to get your words down today so that you’ll feel satisfied with the work of the day is to reflect on how you feel that day when you sit down at your writing desk. And to do that, there are a few different things to figure out. 

(But before you go on, just let me say this: if you feel motivated about your WIP, go for it, write already! But if you don’t, then keep on reading.)

What are working on today?

Are you writing flash-fiction? A short story, a one-shot? A novel, perhaps? It’s important to know since different stories and story formats have different needs. So, with that in mind, the next question, then.

In what phase of the work are you?

Do you know where to continue from last time? Or is there a troublesome, grubbly, muddy mid-section plot catastrophe waiting for you? 

You got the answers? Good, go on to the next section.

Depending on your work in progress and if you know what’s coming next, there are a few different methods to get going with your writing and getting those words down.

Method 1: Writing for a certain amount of time.

For short stories and novels. This method is for you who knows what scene comes next but finds it gruesome to get going.

Try putting on a timer, either on your phone or online. You can start by 10 minutes, or even just five if that feels like a good start. When those minutes are up, take a break, put on a new timer and start working again.

And if this doesn’t feel motivating or get your fingers running on that keyboard, try instead giving yourself a time limit. Decide for, say, 15 minutes and if you still feel unmotivated – maybe today isn’t your day? Rachael Stephen talks about meeting your muse at a bus stop: the method is to try writing for 20 minutes and if you muse hasn’t met you by then, you can close your computer for the day and be happy that at least you wrote for 20 minutes time.

Method 2: Writing a certain amount of words.

For flash fiction, short stories and novels. This method is for you who is uncertain of what scene comes next.

Instead of working against time, give yourself a word goal you try to reach. This way you don’t end up only thinking about the next scene for ten minutes without ever writing a word. 

If you’re feeling extremely unmotivated, start with 100 words. Anyone can put together that scrawny little amount! Then try another 100. Or 250. And take a break. Always, remember to stand up, stretch, drink some water and/or go to the toilet before getting back to work. Taking a break might even help you figure out what the next step in your story is.

Method 3: Writing a certain amount of words during a certain amount of time.

For short stories and novels. Also known as a word sprint. If you know what’s next and want to challenge yourself, try writing either as many words in a certain amount of time or, for instance, 500 words in 15 minutes or 1,000 words in 45 minutes or 400 in ten minutes. After a session, take a break.

Method 4: Take a wild card.

Are you feeling undecided about how many words or how long you should write? Would you like to give your faith to the hands of chance? I have a few options for you: check the clock and take the last three digits of it as your word count for the next session (right now, I would have to write 914 words). Alternatively, you can take the three last digits of your current word count and write as many words as it says. Or roll a die and multiply the number by a hundred. Or simply write to nearest thousand.

And without you even noticing it, the words are starting to fill the pages. Don’t be afraid to switch things up – you might end up having more fun trying out a different writing method. Start out with a five minute timer, then roll a die, try to write 450 words in fifteen minutes and lastly, round up to the next thousand. Believe me, it’s going to be fun! Because that’s what writing is supposed to be, FUN!

Again, this is nothing groundbreaking, right? But I think we all sometimes need a reminder that it’s more than okay to switch things up and try a different way of writing that might suddenly result in 500; 1,000 or 2,000 words more than you expected.

So, what will your method be?

Reading With An E-Reader

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At the end of last year, I published a blog post where I listed all the books I read in 2019. It was a year of not-very-good reading, but for the last months one could definitely see an upswing in my reading habits.

It was because I decided to invest in an e-reader.

I’ve had it for more than a month now, as I purchased it at the end of November, and have had the time to try it out. And the great news is, the e-reader has truly changed my way of reading. I thought it to be interesting to share my insights about the gadget with you, as maybe some of you have wondered about buying one!

So – let’s get into it. I’ll begin with the technical stuff and then we can get into the interesting things: the good aspects and the one fault it has.

My Choice of E-Reader

My e-reader is Kobo Forma that comes with a comfortable 8’’ display and a design that lets you flip through the pages with either using the screen or pushing the two buttons on the side of the display. It’s extremely lightweight and comfortable to hold in hand, and the display is friendly for the eyes even at night time as it does not flicker and has an adjustable color temperature. The battery lasts for a few weeks if I read actively 1-2 hours every day and recharges in just a couple of hours.

The choice was not quickly made. After making the decision to buy an e-reader, I put down a couple of days and several hours to research the different options and what kind of reader would suit me best. Apparently, the best producers of e-readers on the current market are Kobo and Kindle.

The price differences and the technical aspects between Kobo and Kindle are few but there was one thing that made me change my mind from Kindle to Kobo. 

The reason why I wanted to buy an e-reader was to get easier access to books in Finnish and Swedish, something you can barely find in Australia and New Zealand. As I was looking into the e-books that are sold in Finland, I noticed that most of them are in EPUB format. This turned out to be the decisive factor for me and the reason why I chose a Kobo over Kindle. With Kindle, that supports mainly MOBI, you get access to a large variety of English books, while Kobo supports EPUB, and the latter is definitely more popular in Finland and other Nordic countries (and you also get a large variety of books in English).

Kobo Forma is, in my opinion, quite expensive comparing to other models, costing approximately 300 euros. But I decided to give it a go and try one of the best e-readers that are currently on the market to see if I would like it – and there I definitely did the right thing.

The Good About The E-Reader

After purchasing the reader at the end of November, I’ve read five books and are currently more than halfway through two others. For me, the e-reader has been more than anything a game-changer for my reading habits.

I think it is for two reasons. 

First, the e-reader opens up a world of books to me. Previously, I’ve found it challenging to find good or interesting books to read, but somehow, having an e-reader has opened up a world-wide library of books. I now have more than thirty books on my to-be-read list – and I think having an e-reader has something to do with it. E-books tend to be more affordable, they are easy to download and you can have them on your reader in no time. The threshold to buy a book is lower when you get to preview the book prior to purchase, and it feels easier to let a book go when it’s ”only” on your e-reader. 

The second reason is that the e-reader allows me to change the font, the marginals and line spacing on the pages. Suddenly, reading such books as Stephen King’s It or other heavier novels becomes easier and more fun when you’re not forced to read it in small print with too many lines tightly fitted on a page.

In this way, the e-reader makes reading classics and longer novels an easier challenge. And in addition to that, it’s nice to try out reading with different fonts and see what works best for you. The big surprise has been to realize how much I enjoy reading with the OpenDyslexic font that has been designed for people with dyslexia.

It took a while to get used to reading on a display rather than an actual book and my focus tended to shift a bit in the beginning, but in a few days I already found it easier to read for longer times and was able to focus even better after a week of reading.

I was afraid that my eagerness to pick up the e-reader to read would fade within a few weeks after purchasing it. You know, the fun excitement of getting a new gadget tends to wear off after getting used to it – but it didn’t happen with my reader. Sure, some of the early excitement has vanished, but it hasn’t had an effect on my reading hours. Every day, I feel motivated to pick up the reader to continue on the books I’m reading at the moment and on a good day, I get 2-3 hours of reading done.

So – a great purchase, right? But there’s one thing that I consider to be a fault in this whole e-reader thing. It hasn’t got to do with the Kobo Forma itself, but with what it stands for.

The One Big Bad Thing

Books are great. They are awesome. They are entertaining, informative, provoking, even life-changing. The people who write these books are masters of the craft and relentless in their work – they are the people who have gone through the whole writing process, the ups and downs, edits and rejections. I have immense respect for them (especially if I like their books), and because of this I would like to support them.

E-books, however, don’t really support writers.

In a way, they do, but not in the same was as buying an actual copy or borrowing from library does. I checked into the whole deal, how it is in Finland (especially when I wish to read mostly books in Finnish on my e-reader) and found out that writers aren’t compensated for e-books and audiobooks in the same way as they are for physical books.

In Finland, a writer gets royalties for his or her work when signing a book contract and publishing a book (approximately 3 euros per hardcover). They also get approximately 25 cents for every time a book is borrowed from the library (so if four people borrow the book, the writer gets 1 euro).

But for e-books or audiobooks purchased or borrowed, the writers get no additional compensation. So, although I’m supporting Finnish literature by purchasing and reading it, I’m only barely supporting the writers themselves. And that is a major drawback of using an e-reader to read e-books.

Luckily, there are a few things I still can do to support the writers: by buying their book, whether it’s an actual copy or in digital format, I show there’s interest for their work and thus make them a little bit more attractive for publishers. The other thing I can do for them is that I can always review their work and tell about their books to others. Word-of-mouth can be extremely efficient and result in way more than just three euros for purchasing their hardcover in a book shop!

Final Thoughts On Digital Reading

The shift from analog to digital reading has made me a more active reader. It has also encouraged me to pick up more challenging, heavier books and helped me get back to good reading routines. In the long run, all this reading will help me develop as a writer and develop my world view.

I’m happy with my investment and don’t honestly think I could have done any better – in my current situation, an e-reader is the best way for me to keep on reading fiction in many different languages and it helps me get my hands on all kinds of literature wherever I am. Thus far, it has been worth every penny I paid for it and I hope to have many great reading moments with it in the future.

However, it does make me think about the authors and how they aren’t getting compensated for the e-books that are being sold. Luckily, there are ways to support the writers in other ways that, for the time being, help me calm my conscience. In the future, I hope to be able to support the writers in some other ways, but for now, showing interest for their works and putting out a good word for them will have to be enough.

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Have you tried reading with an e-reader? Would you even consider shifting from analog reading to digital?

Writerly Update 2: December 2019

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As a new month (and a new year!) begins, another month ends. That means it’s time to reflect on what I wrote last month and do the official second ‘Writerly Update’ – this new series of mine where I can show and share with you what I write and how I feel about writing. 

Before getting into my December writings, I want to say that this new series helps me, in a way, to feel more motivated about writing. It makes me reflect more on what I write and how I feel about it and I believe it will help me along the way. So, if you read these posts and like them, thank you – it’s nice that you are here, or actually there on the other side of the screen. It makes me happy to be able to share these things with you!

So, let’s begin! These were the goals I decided to aim for in December:

“-– to keep on with the good work and aim for writing five to six days a week. I won’t get all too excited and start dictating a daily word count quite yet, but we’ll see what and how much I write when I try to get back to almost-daily writing. My goal is also to publish the 24-part hurt/comfort online and get back to writing my longer fan fiction story.”

And so the great question is –  how did I do? 

The Great Statistics

Compared to November, December was so much calmer. We didn’t change locations but stayed put instead, which gave me a great opportunity to keep up with my writing routines. However, I did face a discouraging writer’s block right in the beginning of the month (the irony of having put down just a few days before my writing goals…) which slowed me down somewhat, and then of course the Christmas holidays and New Year had me take a break from writing for a few days.

But, despite the block and holidays, December was still a good month of writing. You can see it for yourself:

December 2019

Days journaling: 23 days out of 31
Days writing: 17 days out of 31
Word count in total (excluding journaling): 22,480 words

Texts published: 4 blog posts + one fan fiction one-shot + a four-part fan fiction story
Comments on other people’s texts: 25

In total, I journaled 74% of the month and wrote fiction for 55% of December. My lowest word count for a day during the month was 600 and my highest 3000 (!). When dividing my total word count on the days I wrote fiction, I wrote 1,300 words on those seventeen days (and if dividing for the whole month, I wrote 725 words per day).

Compared to last month, when I wrote 12,960 words during 13 days, i.e. 996 words per writing day, I’d say December was a huge improvement.

And that makes me incredibly happy!

What I Wrote This Month

December was both a scary and an exciting month of writing. I continued to work on my fan fiction projects but I also tried something I haven’t done in a long time: writing original short stories.

There are a few interesting writing competitions going on in Finland I thought I would like to participate in. The other is in prose and the other in science fiction and fantasy. After almost a year of publishing my fan fiction online, I think participating in a real writing competition would be a good next step on my writing career. It’s scary as hell to give your story for someone to read and judge – and because of that fear I worked on a short story during December.

First, I began writing one but it just got too long and too complicated to be a short story of only 15 pages. I decided to leave that idea to rest and instead give a go at another idea that came to me a year ago. This one is now almost done and I only have about 1,000 words left, and it has been fun but at the same time scary to work on it.

There’s something about writing an original short story you wish to publish. Compared to a full-length novel, in a short story every word and every piece of dialogue seems to matter more – there’s no room for wish-washing and jibbering. That makes writing an original short story somewhat daunting. But I’m getting there!

In addition to the short story, I worked on the longer hurt/comfort fan fiction story I told about last month, finished it and even published the whole thing! Every time the right day with the right mood came, I got writing and managed to write up to 2000 words during one of those days. I ended up being really happy with the whole story. I also published the last part to another fan fiction story I worked on in November and wrote and published a shorter Christmas one-shot (about 1,250 words).

At the end of December, I finally even got going with my long fan fiction story after a long break and got to 10k just yesterday!

Summing Up December

When I look back at the goals I put down for December, I’m really happy with myself. I managed to write more, published a longer short story along with some other fan fiction as well and even got back to my longer fan fiction story. I also made a personal score in commenting on other people’s stories, which gave me joy. What a great month! 

However, I still struggled to write five to six days a week and wrote more like 3-4 days, and that is something I hope to improve on. Writing this month was a rollercoaster ride, as some days everything was just so easy and fun while other days were sticky as walking in deep mud. Not everything was perfect but some days I managed to write some really great stuff.

I know the longer fan fiction story will need a good deal of editing, but for the moment, it’s just about getting the story on the paper no matter the quality. The time for editing will come later.

The goals for January are following: I wish to complete the short story I’m working on for the writing competition and let it rest until February (the deadline is in March). I also hope to write at least as much as I did in November, hopefully even more, aiming for 1,000+ words every day that I write. My journaling routine is good at the moment, and I hope to continue like that. In addition to the short story, I aim to keep writing my fan fiction long story, hopefully getting to 20k this month, and if possible, I’d like to get back to writing Yellow Tails again (Remember that? It’s still in the works!).

My goals for January feel ambitious, for sure. However, the month is looking quite calm at the moment and hopefully that means good writing days for me! We’ll see how it went at the end of this month 😉

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Do you believe in making monthly writing goals or do you go by day, week or year?

 

Writing Lessons From Reading

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It is good to read books. 

They broaden your perspective by showing how different but still similar the people living on this Earth are. It broadens your perspective. Reading also improves your vocabulary, fantasy and helps you feel empathy towards other people. Books test your attention span, your patience and analytical skills. You learn new things, even new skills by reading books.

But for a writer, books are even more helpful than that. Reading books can help you find your own voice and learn what you like and don’t like in books. Last year, I wrote about the importance of reading and how I had trouble finding good books. Now, I have changed my perspective a little and I’m reading books even if they weren’t that good

It seems like there’s much to learn from less appealing literature as well. One can even see it as a mood-booster – reading a book you don’t like and thinking to yourself I certainly wouldn’t describe my character like that. This, of course, should be balanced with very good writing to have something to aim for to keep on developing your writing skills.

So today, referencing to my book list from 2019 I published last week, I will tell you what I’ve learned this year about my preferences in writing… by reading.

Creating Good Characters

Some of the books I read last year had many characters in them. One of them was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, another was Victor Dixen’s Ascension. But how the characters were presented and when made the books very different experiences.

I like books that have only a few characters in them or where the many characters are presented slowly, one by one, instead of presenting them all in the process of 15 to 20 pages.

In The Goldfinch, the characters come along very slowly (partly because of the length of the book) as the main characters life takes him to new places and to new people. For me, it felt like I got to know one character before being introduced to another and it helped me create an understanding for them.

In Ascension, however, there are more than ten characters presented almost at once. It’s when the six girls and boys are starting their journey into space and are supposed to start speed-dating. Although I really enjoyed the book, I had so much trouble getting to know the characters – only the main character we get to meet alone during the first few chapters becomes a bit more important compared to the others who I don’t really care about. When presenting characters like this, all in one, for me they lose their value. I barely care about what happens to them – and that’s a bad thing for the book.

In addition to this, for me, characters become good when they get some depth. This doesn’t happen when the character’s looks are described to me in detail from hair color to weird toe nails (especially if they don’t have an effect on the plot) – it happens when I’m allowed to follow along the character’s thought processes and opinions, when I learn to know his or her personality and how the character interacts with other people. I’m looking for the depth, to really get to know the person. This, I believe, happens in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and in a way, also in Ready Player One

Action Heavy? Too Heavy.

The other thing I have learned from reading books this year is that an action heavy plot gives very little to the reader. I refer to my experiences with The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner which is three books of almost only action.

When watching an action movie or even something like The Lord of the Rings, there is a balance between action scenes and calmer scenes. By balancing the tempo, the viewer or reader gets to pause for a moment, breath out and relax all the nerves that have been tingling and excited for the past few pages or minutes. After some calm it’s easier to get excited for the action again.

However, if the whole movie is only action from beginning to end, we never have the time to reflect on what’s happening – and neither do the characters.

In Maze Runner, the page-after-page action, that kept on going from halfway of the first book until the epilogue in the third, didn’t leave any room for character development. This way, one never learnt to feel anything for the characters who died along the way. Sure, there were scenes where the main character was wondering about his past or his motivations but if I haven’t learnt to know the character, why should I care? 

Action scenes are a good way to keep up the tempo and make things happen plotwise but if that’s the only thing that happens in the book, it kind of turns against itself. Is action still action if that’s the only thing that ever happens in the book? I definitely enjoy good action scenes and understand their value, but I don’t think they are an absolutely necessary part of a novel.

One other thing when it comes to plot is that I’m okay with not-so-happy-endings. Sure, I don’t like miserable, gritty endings but I don’t like overly happy-happy-joy-joy kind of endings either. There is a silver lining to every cloud but that’s it: there’s the silver lining and there’s the cloud. The Fountainhead like The Goldfinch were excellent examples of this kind of endings while Eleanor Oliphant was too happy for me – and in that way, unrealistic.

Some Personal Preferences

The last thing I’ll get into detail about in this post is the other stuff that comes with writing a novel. Things like the length of chapters, third-person or first-person point-of-view and present versus past tense. These things might not make a difference if the book is good and the style goes well with the author’s choices but they are still things to consider.

This year, I read books that had either very short chapters or very long chapters. The Fountainhead and The Goldfinch had probably the longest chapters while Ascension, Maze Runner Trilogy and One of Us Is Lying had very short chapters. You can find the pattern: YA books tend to have shorter chapters while books for adults seem to be able to take the time and space for theirs. And who knows, maybe it’s even a question about attention spans?

Short chapters are good page-turners. They make reading the next chapter very easy – I mean, it’s just a couple of pages more. Or like in One of Us Is Lying, the chapters were ten pages or so but the point of view changed twice in every chapter. These are good things, especially if the reader gets bored easily or has trouble finding reading routines – but in the long run, I think this can turn against the novel. Too short chapters make the reading experience more… halting instead of creating long, beautiful waves of scenes. You never seem to get into the events before the chapter is already over – if you know what I mean?

Then again very long chapters can become too long and exhausting to take on. I for instance, am a reader who doesn’t like to leave a chapter halfway. But if the chapter is over 30 pages long, I might opt to not read another chapter before I have the time to get through a long chapter like that. That’s not optimal either.

Looking at things this way, I think I prefer best long chapters that are divided into parts. At the moment, I’m reading Stephen King’s It, a book that has very long chapters – but they are divided into 3-12 scenes depending on the length of the chapter. That way, we get to those long chapters with depth, character development and even some action but it doesn’t become exhausting to read them because you can always pause before the next scene begins.

When it comes to writing in past or present tense or in first person or third person, I really have no preference when it comes to reading. I like them all if they are done well. However, I do find that I personally like to write in present tense rather than past and in third person if it feels natural, more “right”. It’s just something I’ve noticed when writing: how I feel like I’m more in the moment, in the midst of action, when writing in present tense.

These are things that come from experience, both in reading and writing and is up to oneself to reflect upon.

Read and Learn Even More

This year, this is what I learnt from the books I read. Much about characters and character development, about the value of action scenes and the pros and cons about long versus short chapters. What I will learn from the books I read in 2020, I’m eager to find out. Maybe in a year from now, I’ll tell you what I learnt this upcoming year?

As I wrote last week, in 2020 I aim to read more of all sorts of books. Different genres, different authors, different settings. I’ll try to read through books that don’t please me as much as I’d like and try my best to learn from them. However, to balance those books I’ll also read some good books just to keep myself developing and strengthening my writerly skills. We’ll see where I end up in twelve months!

Until next post, I wish that you, dear reader, have had a relaxing Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

What I Read In 2019

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With only two weeks left of this year, I thought it would be nice to catch up on what I’ve been reading this year. It’s good to do some kinds of recaps of the year – there’s so much we can accomplish in one year but we tend to forget that. This reading list is a reminder to me that I did manage to read some books – and maybe it will benefit you as well, if you find something new to add to your TBR pile for 2020?

This year was a very inconsistent year when it comes to reading. 

In the beginning of the year, I was able to hold on to a reading routine as I had some good, inviting books to read. Then at some point I just couldn’t seem to find anything interesting and my reading routines halted for a while. During our trip in Southeast Asia, from July to September, I barely read anything. I only had one book with me but it wasn’t an easy one to read.

Back To My Reading Routines

However, things started to look up when we were driving our car on the east coast of Australia. At a camping site, I noticed a man reading a book behind a table filled with novels. He was selling them for two dollars per book and I couldn’t resist a look. I found two books and ka-ching! I was back to my reading routines.

The other improvement to my reading happened when we arrived to New Zealand. After a few weeks and some honest thinking and looking into reviews and product information, I decided to purchase an e-book reader. After 2-3 weeks of using it, I can honestly say that this was my best purchase in a while! In only a few weeks, I’ve managed to read three books already and I still feel motivated to pick up my eReader every evening.

So, through the ups and downs of it all, I managed to read nineteen books in total in 2019. That makes it approximately one and a half books per month – which is surprisingly good considering everything! 

As this post tends to get information heavy, I think it’s best to just dive into my what-I-read-list from this year! As last year, I have marked the books that I really enjoyed with an asterisk (*).

From Tartt to Rand and King

Donna Tartt:
The Secret History (1992)
The Goldfinch (2013) *

I started the year with reading an old favorite of mine: The Secret History. This was the fourth time reading it and it was nice to be back with the characters and once again marvel at Tartt’s style of writing. I really love the atmosphere in the book, and the psychology and complexity of the characters. However, surprisingly, in the end, I wasn’t as excited about the book as I had been previously. Time changes our reading habits and preferences, I think.

Then again The Goldfinch was excellent. It was awful and cruel in the same way as Tartt’s debut but I just loved the setting, the main character and how I got to experience his life journey with him. I don’t think I’ll ever read it again as it tended to be quite distressing, but still, I really enjoyed it. 

Haruki Murakami: What I Think About When I Think About Running (2007)

This book I’ve written about on the blog as well. Even though it didn’t end up as one of my favorites of the year, it has stayed in my thoughts. Every once in a while, I find myself thinking about the strengths of a writer Murakami writes about (talent, focus, endurance) or how to find your style as a writer. A good book about writing (and running), for sure! 

Beth Ravis: Paper Hearts Volume 1: Some Writing Advice (2015)

This book about writing was a good and easy but informational read! Ravis explains so many things so well in so few pages. Although I’m familiar with much of what she writes about, this book was still a fresh reminder of some aspects of writing. She also presents different story/plot structures that can help you plan your plot (that is, if you are a plotter).

Victor Dixen: Ascension (2015)

I came across this book while browsing through the YA section of my local library. Something about the name and cover made me pick up the book and the short summary in the back sounded promising: speed dating in space. Although I do think there were too many characters to be presented in such a short while and the plot development was inconsistent in pace, this turned out to be a fun page-turner I really enjoyed reading.

Tove Jansson:
Pappan och havet / Moominpappa at Sea (1965) *
Taikurin hattu / Finn Family Moomintroll or The Magician’s Hat (1948),
Vaarallinen juhannus / Moominsummer Madness (1954)
Taikatalvi / Moominland Midwinter (1957) *

When I went sailing this Summer, I noted my friends had Moominpappa at Sea in their small bookshelf on the sailboat. I had been thinking about reading Moomin for a while now as I thought Jansson’s (who was a Swedish-speaking Finn) books were written with the same idea in mind I have for Yellow Tails: funny, odd characters presenting more serious thoughts and truths about life. After Moominpappa at Sea, I continued to read many of the others from the Moomin-series. Of these, my favourites were Moominpappa at Sea and Moominland Midwinter. Both of them had a darker tone while still portraying the moomins in their silly everyday activities. These books I’ll return to in the future, for sure!

James Dashner: The Maze Runner Trilogy
The Maze Runner (2009)
The Scorch Trials (2010)
The Death Cure (2011)

Honestly, I did not like this book trilogy to the slightest. The books are, for sure, page-turners, all three of them but oh my, how they are filled with action and only action. I decided to read them because my younger sister had talked about them a great deal, and when I spotted the first book on the book desk at the camping site, it was easy to decide this was a great time to read Dashner’s bestselling series.

I’d say the first one is the best one – after that everything just gets chaotic. You never get to know the characters probably and they lack depth. For me, it didn’t really deliver life lessons to its readers. However, Dashner has managed to create an action-packed story that many youngsters have found appealing – the fact that these books get them to read is good. I just wasn’t very impressed with the trilogy.

Gavin Extence: The Universe Versus Alex Woods (2013)

I bought this book for one dollar at a charity shop. The title was fun and after reading a few pages I decided I would give this book a go. It reminded me of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and the main character definitely had some Don Tillmanish going on there. However, even though the book was a fun read and even educational, I found it hard to fall in love with it. There was just something missing, maybe between the characters or in the plot itself. 

Stephen King: On Writing (2000) *

I spotted this book on the bookshelf of our hosts in New Zealand and decided that I could and I would read it during the week we were staying there. Although I had to rush through it, I loved it. It was fun, informational and really critical to some aspects of living and writing which I enjoyed because King expresses ideas and thoughts that not everyone has the courage to bring forward. This one is definitely a book I’ll remember for a long time.

Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (2017)

Another book I found at another host’s bookshelf in New Zealand and knew this was the time I would give the popular book a go. I had been thinking about buying it a couple of times and always left it at the store but now I got to read it – for free! 

The first 150 pages were really enjoyable and proper page-turners. There was something similar, again, to The Rosie Project and Alex Woods, but halfway through, the book kind of lost its tempo. It felt like the problems that were presented in the beginning of the book got solved too easily which for me wasn’t believable. This is most likely an enjoyable book for many but for me, it was too… straightforward. 

Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead (1943) *

This ended up being the only audiobook I listened to this year. But it was a long one – 32 hours / 753 pages. It’s also a book one does not read as a light evening read. It’s filled with ugly truths, unhappy fates and awful trouble people can cause on each other. But it’s also a wonderful book with a complex plot, even more complex characters and it celebrates the wonder of creating and staying true to your passion. 

I loved this book, although it was a huge struggle to get through. I would like to read it again at some point, most likely from my eReader where I can adjust the font size and line spacing. This is definitely one of my favourite books even though it wasn’t my favorite read (and there’s a difference).

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One (2011) *

I saw the movie earlier this year and really liked the idea behind it, so I gave the book a go. Even though they had changed a lot of the plot for the movie (to their advantage, I’d say), I had so much fun reading this book. It was entertaining and a proper page-turner – and it didn’t matter that I mostly had no clue about the computer games the characters were talking about or playing.

What I really liked about the book was that the author didn’t make his characters too easy to like. They all have their weaknesses, their ugly sides, and I had a hard time liking these characters. I really respect an author who has the guts to give their characters truly ugly personality traits – it feels real.

Karen McManus: One of Us Is Lying (2017)

I just finished this YA book this week. It’s okay, probably a good book for a typical young adult because it deals a lot with challenges youngsters have – but for me they were too stereotypical and their problems weren’t that interesting to me because they lacked timelessness. I kept on reading it, however, because I wanted to know the ending. Therefore, in that way, the book had a good mystery going on there.

19 + 2

In addition to these nineteen books, I have two pieces of fiction that I’ve been reading but didn’t make it to the list:

SenLinYu: Manacled (2018–2019)

This was a fan fiction story I read during the Summer and Fall. I wouldn’t maybe include it here otherwise but the story was, in total, 350,256 words. If it would have been printed out as a novel, it would’ve been a heavy book to read. The story was great, filled with good writing and great plot twists – and that’s why I think it deserves a place on my reading list.

Andre Aciman: Call Me By Your Name (2007)

The book I have carried with me from Finland to Southeast Asia to Australia and to New Zealand… without getting even halfway. There are so many things I like about this book but it’s something I can read only in short snippets. The language is too beautiful, I just can’t read it as an evening read. It has to be read with time and thought. 

I think I’ll hold on to this book a bit longer and see if I get through it. To think a book can be too good to be read!

A Short Summary

I read some good books this year. My reading list was quite YA heavy and I read many books from the same authors but maybe it was okay – for me, it was most important to keep on reading all sorts of books, whether they were all the same genre or not. And I got to read books from a long period of time: the oldest was from 1943 and the newest 2017!

But for next year, especially with my new eReader in hand, I’ll try to challenge myself more and try different genres from several different authors. I also hope to read more in Finnish. I already have a long list of books I look forward to reading during 2020! I also hope to be able to keep on with my reading routine, between 30 to 60 minutes every night. 

But now, it is time for me to round up this book list review / blog post and let you pick something for your TBR 2020 pile. Was there any books on this list you’ve read yourself and especially liked or didn’t like? Or did you find some interesting book to read during Christmas or next year?

Finding A Way Out From Writer’s Block

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Last week, the only thing I managed to write was the blog post that came out last Thursday. It was the only time I came far enough to sit down and write for an hour or two and even then the quality wasn’t what I had been hoping for.

Bad writing days. The awful days of not putting pen to paper and eventually feeling dread or fear that you’ll never get that writing flow back.

Ugh.

If we forget the past four months of travel and what effect it had on my writing, I can’t even remember the last time I had a writer’s block like this.

But after several days of reflecting and journaling, I managed to find my way out from that awful gravel pit of not-writing. You know: that pit, the one that keeps you occupied with everything else than writing. But this week, I climbed up from there with a self-made ladder – and came up from there wiser than I was before.

The Awful Block

It’s a weird feeling, not being ”able” to write. I mean, I’m in the same room with my computer where all the necessary Word-files are open. Even the battery on my computer is fully charged – but I can’t seem to get myself there, make my fingers work that keyboard, produce the words my mind can’t even consciously put together before they’re already in front of my eyes, black on white, the small writing cursor waiting for the next letter. 

I even know what to write. I have an idea for the first sentence (something that helps me immensely when I start the writing process of the day), but something in my body or mind or both pulls on all the breaks and I just avoid the whole writing thing. Turn my thoughts to something else. Read a book, do the laundry, obsess about the grocery list.

Ugh. 

I did, however, manage to write diary on six of those seven days (which turned out to be the key to the whole thing. But I’ll get to it later).

Every day, I started out hopeful. Maybe today I’ll be able to get back to my writing. But at the end of the day, no words were written. 

On day three, I really started to panic. My to do-list did not allow this kind of non-writing to happen. I love ticking of those boxes but day after day there were more boxes to be ticked rather than the other way around. Talk about the nightmare of an organized person.

On day seven, my panic had turned into this gray thick fog that is in your mind, clogging everything, but does not hit you in the head with the hammer. One only feels it, like a heavy theatre curtain that has just been lowered on your shoulders. 

But I don’t believe in writer’s block, not really. It feels more like a shortcut to say that you haven’t been writing because you have The Block – but it isn’t some kind of illness that keeps you from putting words down. It’s resistance or fear of something, it’s an effect of something else

And because of that doubt, and especially because I rarely experience consecutive non-writerly days like those last week, I was very determined to understand why this was happening.

Finding An Explanation for It

For the last few weeks, we’ve been staying put in Christchurch, New Zeeland. That has been helpful for my writing routines, to getting back on track.

As we are sharing a family house with one person who is roughly the same age as we are and who works during the days which means we have the house to ourselves most of the week. There’s a space with a desk and a chair for journaling and fiction writing. We are close to shops so everything is near, and there is a good supply of tea and coffee in the kitchen. Even brownies and cookies for occasional sugar boosts.

So why, even though I had a sound basis to get started, did I have such trouble investing myself in my writing?

I pondered and pondered, wondering if there was something wrong with the writing space or the chair I was sitting in. Maybe I should get out of the house or try getting to my writing earlier? Was it the other person’s, the house owner’s morning routines that threw me off? Or maybe it was my partner’s moody days that disturbed my writing flow?

After listing out possible reasons for my writer’s block in my journal for five days, I finally realized to turn my thoughts inward and try to find a reason from there. And I found one. It is too personal to get into it here, but just know that the real reason for my not-writing could be found in me – not around me.

The thing about being a writer, at least for me, is that I’m quite sensitive to and observant of the things happening around me. There is so much data to take in especially when you live with two other people and the toilet is clogged for the fourth day in a row (yes, that happened last week and is, actually, still happening) – and when you take that data inside you, analyze it and let it affect you, like I do, it has an effect on your writing.

I would like to live in a neutral, balanced environment with only a few or no conflicts so that I can channel all my energy into my writing – but unfortunately it’s more or less impossible to create that kind of environment, now and in the future. I wonder if it’s even possible. 

(Unless you’ll be able to isolate yourself in a hotel with full hospitality.)

I’ve written previously about my deep-analysis habits and how they can, if not controlled, lead to a momentary burn-out. My analyses of situations give me food for thought and ideas for writing but when channelled wrong they can turn against me. This leads to not-writing that leads to panic about not writing which definitely does not help me to get back to my writing.

And I believe that was what happened last week.

Showing Some Mercy

So, coming out from last week a bit wiser, this week I decided to take a new start. To forget that I reached none of my writing goals last week and start fresh.

I wrote my to do -list for the new week on Sunday night, keeping my writing goals simple. Only one project for one day, options for what project to work on and how many minutes or how many words. And on Monday, I started with an optimistic mind-set and managed to complete the first writing task for the week with 1,900 words.

I took the step ladder rather than the shovel and beat that gravel pit I had ended up in.

What I learned from last week is that there are a few key things that can help get out of the not-writing pit. The first one is to deep-dive into yourself and figure out the real reason why you have trouble writing. To be honest with yourself and ask those awfully straightforward questions: what is bothering me and why? What can I do about it?

The other thing is to show yourself a little mercy. Forgive yourself for the poor results and give yourself a fresh start when the new day or week begins. Don’t start too heavy or keep beating yourself up for missing all those writing days the past week.

Funny enough, as awful as staying in that writer’s pit was last week, I think I learned surprisingly lot. About myself and how my surroundings affect me which in turn has an effect on my writing. But I also learned how I can try to work around those surrounding events, moods and conflicts around me without letting them have an effect on my writing.

It’s a slow process but I believe journaling about it will help me figure out enough answers to it.

How do you beat your way out from the deep gravel pit?