Lessons With Murakami

murakami_1

Some nine years ago I walked into a book store that had a sale on all sorts of books. That was still a time when I purchased books in the spur of the moment: if the title, synopsis and the writing style agreed with me (checked by reading a paragraph or two), I’d buy the book. That day I left the store with two books: one was a classic and the other one was a memoir – a genre I’m not very familiar with.

The memoir was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. A thin book, 180 pages, published in 2008. The back cover promised personal essays on running, a sort of memoir written by the famous Japanese author.

At the time, I was desperately trying to find ways to integrate sports into my life and thought that maybe this book could inspire me to make running into a habit. So, I bought it. I hadn’t read Murakami before, but this felt like a simple, nice way to get to know him and his style of writing.

However, it wasn’t until this year, 2019, that I actually managed to read and finish that book. Funny enough, soon after purchasing the book a friend of mine asked if her friend could borrow it because he was writing a book essay about Murakami. I borrowed it as I hadn’t started reading it yet, with a promise to get it back in a few months.

I did get it back in a few months – nine years later. Because two months ago, I saw my friend again and got the book back.

I did get it back – and the timing was perfect.

The Ideal Timing

I don’t know if you know this – but you know how sometimes you read a book and think this was the perfect time to read this book? It could be the theme of the book that feels relevant to you at the moment, or maybe the hero of the story is pondering the same things that you are.

The book might have been waiting in your pile of books to be read but you just never got into reading it. But then something happens, you pick up that book again and boom – it’s a match, the mind is ready for the content because the timing is perfect.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was that kind of match.

It’s a short book with nine journal-like entries that Murakami wrote under the course of one year when he trains for one of his many marathons. In these essays, the author reflects on his journey as a runner – but also as a writer. Originally, I purchased the book because I wanted to find the motivation to run. However, as I read it now, nine years later, the book gave me new thoughts and perspectives on writing, not running.

Metaphors and Thoughts

Although the book is short, it’s nothing to binge on. The essays are not fictitious but based on Murakami’s life experiences and thoughts on these experiences, that fill the chapters with some sort of lessons on life. Taking these life lessons in and thinking about them takes time, and therefore I read one chapter here and one chapter there – twenty pages or so at a time.

The book is for the most part about running although Murakami does share some of his thoughts on writing as well. For instance, he describes the moment when he decided to write his first book (he was in the bleachers of Jingu Stadium watching a baseball game when the thought came to him) and the process of becoming a full-time writer.

But although most of the essays focus on him training for a marathon or a triathlon, many of his thoughts on running can be turned into metaphors about writing. One of these thoughts / metaphors is about consistency when it comes to training. Murakami writes:

”The total amount of running I’m doing might be going down, but at least I’m following one of my basic rules for training: I never take two days off in a row. Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it.

– –

If, however, the load halts for a few days, the muscles automatically assume they don’t have to work that hard anymore, and they lower their limits. Muscles really are like animals, and they want to take it as easy as possible: if pressure isn’t applied to them, they relax and cancel out the memory of all that work.” (p. 71)

When it comes to training and running, this excerpt presents a cold, hard and true fact. But it applies to writing as well: creativity is a muscle that needs constant training to produce desirable results. And when improving one’s craft, consistency is a key. During a typical week, I don’t take more than a day off from writing – and that is why it never gets too hard to sit down and get my writing done. It’s a process similar to Murakami’s marathon training, only for me, it’s about sitting on my butt in front of my computer.

Three Lessons I Took With Me

There are three things in What I Talk About What I Talk About Running that resonated with me particularly well:

1. ”Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”

In the foreword, Murakami tells about an article he read where famous marathon runners revealed what special mantra goes through their heads while they run. One of them was ”Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” which means you have very little control over the hurt part of running, but it’s up to you to choose how much you wallow in it, how much pain you can take.

Writing can be seen as a marathon race, as well. It’s a process with as many feelings, emotional ups and downs, as during a 26.2 mile / 42,195 km run. Creating a novel from the first draft to being published contains inevitably some pain but how much you decide to invest thoughts and feelings in that pain is up to you.

2. Three most important qualities of a novelist: talent, focus and endurance.

This is something I hope to get back to later on this blog. Although I don’t fully agree with Murakami here, he does have a point. Talent is needed, some sort of knack or gift for the craft (although – what is talent, really?), to get good at producing quality.But talent is a fickle thing and isn’t really under our control – and this is where focus and endurance come into play. The ability to concentrate helps you to utilize that limited talent of yours, and endurance is what keeps you going and helps you finish those projects.

3. Sometimes taking time is actually a shortcut.

 

Taking time to ”stubbornly, rigorously, and very patiently tighten all the screws of each individual part” (p. 161), that is, to practice and improve ones craft day after day, piece by piece, can pay off big time.

Say that you’re editing a novel and want to make it better but don’t know how. You start a time-consuming project: you start by reading about plotting and structuring a story, then you move on to storytelling and how to write fluent dialogue. After that comes creating authentic characters and tweaking the details, creating an as-perfect-as-possible manuscript.

Reading all these things and applying them to your writing can take a huge chunk of your time and feel ridiculous, time-consuming, like nitpicking. Why do this, why invest all this time in learning details – why not just try rewriting the whole story instead? At least you would be writing.

But suddenly, the parts fall into place and you understand how all the small details create a bigger, well-functioning picture. You end up improving your craft by taking all that time to learn.

***

Have you read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running? What in it resonated with you?

What Comes After ’The End’?

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Here you have the face of a very happy person – me. You see, I wrote a book. Or, rather, I finished writing the first draft of my first book and that, my friends, leads to a smile like the one on the photo.

On Monday 17th of December, 247 pages and 90,742 words later, I finished the epilogue of Yellow Tails. I wrote the words ’The End’ on the document, looked at them for a while and then erased them as they feel somewhat cheesy to me. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t finished the manuscript – because I have. In this photo, I have in front of me the finished first draft of my first book and I feel serene.

The First Feelings

On Monday, I knew I would finish the story that day so when it actually happened I wasn’t surprised, not in any way confused that I actually managed to come to the end of the story. Finishing felt like something very natural, like this was the way it’s supposed to feel. I walked to the bedroom to whisper to my partner (who was still quite asleep) ’I finished the story’ and felt the calmness wash over me.

But after those first feelings of calm, the emotion rollercoaster started moving. Encouraged by my partner, I decided to print out the book that same day so we walked to the university to print out all the 247 pages (I even made a time-lapse out of it). However, I didn’t only get my words printed out on paper: what I didn’t know was that my partner had actually made a cover for Yellow Tails! He creates digital art and had used his skills to make a book cover with the three main characters of Yellow Tails, balancing on a scale.

So, after printing out all the pages, he presented the cover to me and placed it on top the pile of papers that now was my book. Seeing that book cover on my first draft, my first book, made me burst into tears. The calmness I had felt up until that moment disappeared and instead I felt elated but also somehow relieved. I realized that I had actually come to an end of this phase of the project. Perhaps it was that book cover that actually made me realise what I’ve created and accomplished during the past ten months. Suddenly, Yellow Tails became real to me. Because it is one thing to have the title page written in Times New Roman – but to have a proper book cover to one’s draft makes it feel like an actual book.

How do I feel now, a few days later? Three things: 1) I’m happy for finishing the story without trying to rush to get to the end, 2) I’m proud for my perseverance, of what I’ve accomplished, and 3) most of all, I’m so glad for taking the time during these ten months to write my novel, pushing it forward 1,000 to 2,000 words at a time, and ending up with a first draft with a proper beginning and an ending.

So! I reached the end of my novel – what happens next?

The First Four Weeks

The book has been printed and it even has a cover. But for the next four weeks, I won’t be touching it. Or I will try not to touch it, at least. I haven’t really been able to keep myself from turning a random page and read a few sentences, enjoying my own writing and feeling amazed by what I’ve accomplished.

(However, as the story has been written over a period of ten months, I also notice some changes in my writing style when I compare the first fifty pages with the last fifty. But that isn’t anything to think of at the moment, that I will leave to the part about editing.)

I’ll pick up Yellow Tails in four weeks or so when I start editing it. But until then, I will let it rest, get some air, take it easy for a moment. And that is precisely what I’ve been planning to do myself as well.

These past four months have been tough on me as I’ve been juggling with several different projects at the same time. As my the first part of my thesis is finished and even Yellow Tails has reached its end, I finally feel like I can take a break from more or less everything that entails a deadline. Except Christmas, of course, which has a deadline of its own.

Instead of focusing on things that need to be done, I’ll focus on things I want to do. I’ll be ’sharpening the saw’, so to speak. Those things include dedicating time for some self-care: doing yoga, reading, writing my journal, listening to podcasts I’ve been postponing all Fall, even listen to music (I prefer to write, walk and work out in silence so I don’t listen to that much music). And of course, spend time with my partner and friends.

A Writer’s Buzz

But as a writer, I’m pretty sure I can’t keep my hands off writing or at least planning  something. Therefore, during these upcoming weeks I’ll probably spend a good deal of time preparing for what’s next on the Yellow Tails agenda: learning new things about writing and especially self-editing. What to focus on, how to get the most out of the first round of edits (do share your tips in the comments if you have some)? I’m already making a mental list of how to improve the characters of my story and try to figure out what a good editing pace is. I even wrote down a few thoughts on beta-reading and to whom I could give my story to read, although it will take a couple of months before entering that phase.

(So… I’m already planning and the four-week break has only begun.)

In addition to this, I’ll probably even start planning some new stories I wish to write and tell. During these past ten months, and especially this Fall, as I’ve been working on Yellow Tails, new ideas have come to my mind. Altogether four different stories, three of them traditional novels and the fourth a collection of short-stories with a specific theme. But which one will I choose? I guess I’ll find out sooner or later.

However, for now, I’ll be taking a Christmas break. Let the mind rest for a few days, focus on taking care of my body and mind, enjoy the fresh snow on the ground and make Christmas cards and presents instead of pushing myself to produce a good amount of daily words. Sharpening the saw can take one far – and we will see how far it’ll take me.

On the Importance of Reading

bookspages

When I was little, books were my go-to whenever I had time. It was the life before smartphones, before screens were used to communicate, see, read and like. Instead, the minutes and hours were used to doing other things, and I loved to spend my time in the world of fiction.

To demonstrate this, I have an excellent example from my childhood that describes my love for reading:

In the end of third grade, everyone in our class were instructed to guess how many books they would read during the Summer. Our teacher wrote everyone’s guess down, saying that she would check with us in the Fall how many books we actually had read and compare it to our guess.

While others guessed something between two and ten books (no one was allowed to say ’none’ or ’one’), I estimated in a clear voice that I would probably read thirty books that Summer. It was an honest guess, I was dead serious about the number. I remember the look on my teacher’s face: the kind but doubtful smile and how she said, in a friendly voice, that maybe ”we won’t write down thirty books, but maybe ten or twelve?”

I guess you can guess the end to this story. In Fall, when we returned to school after Summer, I declared with a proud voice that I had read 35 books that Summer.

(It felt like a victory. And although this was supposed to tell about my love for books, I guess this example also tells you about my determination and perseverance.)

Fast forward to this day, my love for books continues to thrive and even though I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like to (will I ever?), I’ve still had a book in the process most of the time. Reading is also something I’m hoping to be able to hold on to for as long as I live – and if my eyes get bad, I hope I will have someone who reads to me or then I’ll opt for audiobooks.

For me, books have helped me escape this world and enter another. They have given me the possibility to see a life different from mine and learn to know new people. Today, reading books helps me become a better writer.

But this weekend I found out what kind of effect reading books as a child and a teenagers has had. In addition to offering an escape route, reading books (especially fiction) has had a huge impact on my personality and on how I see the world around me.

Let me tell you more about this.

Alluring, Delightful, Gorgeous

My secondary school Finnish teacher, author of three novels, wrote an article about teenagers’ reading capabilities. He talked a great deal about the problems: the short attention span that hinders them from reading longer texts about unfamiliar topics; problems with analytical reading skills; difficulties understanding words they come across less frequently and so on.

But my Finnish teacher also talked about the good things, telling about the many benefits of reading, which I’ll now share with you.

Did you know, that the amount of fiction we read as children and teenagers has a huge impact on our vocabulary, our fantasy and the ability to feel empathy? Reading helps improve ones perseverance: the long-term attention span, a skill many let rust in the winter rain. Reading increases the reader’s understanding that one cannot get everything at once: reading a book takes time, it requires effort if one wishes to know how the book ends.

A fiction-reading teenager can have a vocabulary of over 70,000 words while a teenager that doesn’t enjoy the world of books manages only about 15,000 (my mind gasped for air when I read this). This means that for someone there is only one word for beautiful while the other sees dozens of alternatives to it, from alluring to delightful, dazzling and pleasing. The world presents itself in a whole other way to the person who reads: it’s full of colors, different nuances, and the book worlds tickle the reader’s senses in different ways. For the non-reader the world is more black and white, simpler.

A person who reads has also better skills to empathize with other people. Because books let us in on other people’s minds, worlds, feelings and thoughts, readers are also more likely to understand other people better. Understanding helps us feel empathy and brings us humans closer to each other – something that social media doesn’t always manage to do.

Reading is so  i m p o r t a n t . It’s not just something a nagging teacher tells us to do just because. It really has an impact, and I am beyond happy today that I had the opportunity to read as much as I wanted when I was a kid.

However, lately I’ve been thinking more about what kind of books I read.

Finding Good Books as a Writer

For a writer, reading isn’t only about learning about other people, about seeing the world in colors, or only about improving one’s vocabulary. It’s also about finding my own voice, the style of writing, and helping to realize what kind of characters I like, what kind of plot twists intrigue me the most. Reading books will help me write better books.

As a child and a teenager, I just wanted to find books I liked: books with exciting characters, desperately romantic eternal triangles, books with adventure and dangers. I loved Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Alex Rider series, and the books of Enid Blyton, Astrid Lindgren and Marianne Curley. I could read them over and over again (and I did).

But today, I’ve become more selective. I’ve paid more attention to what I read. I try to find books by authors with a similar style to mine, books that swallow me into the story, and tried to learn from these books. But what I’ve found is that there isn’t actually that many books like that out there. Or, actually, there probably is – I just have trouble finding them.

I actually have trouble finding books that I like enough to read them from beginning to the end. Usually, I give them a few pages, most often 50 pages or so before deciding if the plot, the style of writing and the characters are interesting enough. I want to read good books, books that give me a feeling of satisfaction – or even better, make me feel energized and happy.

This year, I’ve opened probably more than twenty books only to return them to the library after reading a few pages. I’ve picked up both classics and modern literature, female and male authors and different genres, only to realize that I would simply suffer if I forced myself to read these books. I can’t help but wonder: am I being too picky? Too selective? Should a writer read any books as long as she’s reading or is there actually a guideline to what kind of books a writer should read?

And at the same time, I’m convinced that I don’t want to waste my time reading a book with only an okay plot or a boring style.  I want those well-written, capturing stories!

But how to find them? How to find good books to read?

***

So please, readers: how do you choose what books to read? Any recommendations, book tips? And writers: do you think all books are worth reading, or only the ones that help you become a better writer?

 

Still Life Sunday: The Difference Between Two Minds

IMG_7674_1

20 The Difference Between Two Minds

Assignment: A young girl stands on a road that leads to the woods. With her she has only a backpack, on her a pair of hiking boots and in her hand, she clutches a first aid kit. It is up to you to write a beginning to her story, in 200–300 words.

Student Z:

The girl walks in the forest. It is green, the leaves are hanging from the trees and the path she walks on is wet. Somewhere, a bird sings but the girl can’t see it, as it’s hiding in-between the branches. She walks forward and comes to a lake. It is dark blue and silent. On the other side of the lake she can see a deer drinking the water. It’s a beautiful animal. But when the girl steps on a stick, it disappears into the forest in the blink of an eye.

The girl continues her walk, listening to the birds that sing in the woods. Somewhere she hears noises, maybe a rabbit hopping away, but doesn’t see anything. She starts singing to herself a song she heard on the radio. Suddenly, she stumbles on a root and falls. Her knee starts bleeding. Luckily, she has her first aid kit, which she now opens to find a band-aid. She needs two for the sore. After that, she stands up again and continues her walk. Her knee hurts but she tries to ignore it even though it doesn’t help. Finally, she gives up and turns around to walk back home.

Word count: 200

***

Student W:

Sandra had tied her bronze colored hair into a bun so that her vision would stay clear through the journey. She held the first aid kit tightly in her hand, hoping it would help her when help was needed, and most important of all, keep her alive. As she took the first steps into the forest, Sandra could feel her senses sharpening: her eyes searched for anything unusual, her ears seemed to catch even the smallest cracks and rustling sounds. Even her nose seemed to catch smells that were new to her.

She could feel the nervousness in her stomach. It made her shiver, the thoughts of what was waiting for her. At the same time, she felt courageous, the strength of her body, her fixed mindset. She had promised her grandfather to find the little fox that had disappeared some days ago, and a promise was a promise. No matter how much she feared the forest, how disgusted she sometimes felt about the bugs or how she would have rather stayed at home reading a book – she had to keep her word.

The thing was, the fox wasn’t an ordinary fox. Sandra’s grandfather had a special connection with it, the brown-orange furry thing called Paw. Grandfather called Paw his spirit animal, although his family had always thought it to be some kind of joke. But Sandra had known his grandfather’s words to be true, when Paw had disappeared: her beloved, laughing and hugging grandfather had turned into a different person – a darker, grumpy, silent version of himself when he was separated from his beloved Paw. And that was why Sandra knew she had to find the fox, no matter how much she wanted to be somewhere else. She wanted her grandfather back.

And with this thought in mind she entered the forest, without looking back.

Word count: 306

Still Life Sunday: Reviving Resilience

Processed with VSCO with acg preset

18 Reviving Resilience

First, everything’s quiet. But then – a crash of ceramics on the wood-paneled floor. Then a yell, someone telling someone else to grab something, maybe a jacket or the phone. A door opens, panicked footsteps echo in the corridor. Someone trips on their own shoelaces or misses a step or something, but gains their balance quickly and continues their way down the stairs.

Then the scream comes: “Fire! Everybody out!”

The doors open, almost in a synchronized movement, as if all the residents of the house have been waiting behind their front doors for the order to come.

Until this moment, an elderly man on the third floor has stayed in his armchair, not bothering to stand up in vain. But now the smoke is starting to seep into his apartment too and he feels like he must get up and join the others.

As he grabs the armrests with his white hands weakened with age, the doorbell rings.

“Tom! You need to get outside! Are you in there?”

He walks to the door and opens it. It’s his friend, Elsa, from the apartment one floor down. Tom feels warmth in his chest, appreciating Elsa taking the time to walk up the stairs to warn him despite her anxiety and bad knees.

“I’m on my way”, Tom says, keeping his voice calm, and glances at Elsa. What does she have with her? “What should I take with me?”

“Nothing!” Elsa’s first answer is colored with panic and some sort of determination. But then she thinks for a second, and decides differently. “Take your jacket. It’s cold outside. And your keys, of course.”

“What about my…”

“There isn’t time for anything else, Tom”, Elsa interrupts with a high voice that sound like a cry, unable to stop the panic from taking over. “Come!”

Tom follows in the steps of his friend. He walks from his apartment, carrying his coat and keys. He glances into the apartment, only for a second, letting his eyes rest on the old wooden writing desk of his for a short moment. He would like to sigh, but he doesn’t seem have time for that – Elsa begs him to stop wondering and start walking.

So, he walks down the steps, three floors down to the front door of the building, and joins everyone else in the yard.

It doesn’t take long before the fire is raging in three floors out of six. It had started on the fourth floor, the floor above Tom’s, and continued in two directions, up and down, quickly and aggressively.

It’s as if the fire knows it will be extinguished soon enough by the fire department, and decides to destroy as much as it possibly can before its time is out.

That’s a thought Tom would’ve liked to write down. But it isn’t possible. All his journals are inside, probably being eaten by the fire at that precise moment.

I hope the fire likes my words, Tom thinks to himself and wants to chuckle at his own joke. But it isn’t funny, not really. He’s aware that it’s only a mechanism of the brain to protect Tom from the truly awful truth he already knows – that all his work is being destroyed, right now, inside that building. Everything he has created, every word he has written. Gone. And there is nothing he can do.

In the distance, the fire trucks sound their alarm. They are close, coming at a surprising speed. But it’s already too late.

However, as the cold November wind makes everyone shiver, Tom thinks this: maybe all the thoughts will come back to him. Maybe he can write them all again, just like they were before. But at the same time, an elderly man with dementia… Tom sighs, this time out loud. What are the odds of him remembering everything again?

“Tom, it’s going to be alright”, Elsa says to him, in an effort to sooth both her friend and herself. Tom pats Elsa’s hand that has a tight grip of his arm. He appreciates her effort.

“Life has a tendency to find its way”, Tom hears himself say.

He is unsure if he has belief in his own words. But that isn’t anything one thinks of in a moment like this. At moments like these, one holds on to hope, to resilience, at any price. And Tom does that too, for now. Just to keep Elsa calm.

The Art of Finishing

IMG_7804_2

It’s been two months since the last writing project update. At the time, I had reached that legendary 50k mark and was extremely happy about it. I felt energized and motivated by my plot, my characters and the journey they were on. I said it would be another 20k or so before I’d finish the first draft of Yellow Tails

Well, on Friday I reached 70k. It was a triumph, yet another milestone reached. I still can’t believe I have over 170 pages of self-written fiction, that all of those pages are a part of one single story. But even though I wrote that 20k after hitting 50k as promised, I’m not done with the draft. I still have scenes to write. I’m at the climax point of the story at the moment so I’m getting there – but I still have at least 5,000 if not 8,000 words to go.

Funny enough, I said something similar in the beginning of November. I posted a photo on Instagram and in the caption explained that I have come as far as 64,000 words on my work-in-progress – and still have a good 10k to go. Well, I’ve almost written 10k after publishing that photo… and I still seem to have another 10k left.

(Maybe you’re already noticing the pattern here.)

My first draft might need only 5,000 words to be done. Or 8,000 words. Or maybe even 10,000. The thing is – I don’t know. I have no idea how many words it’ll take before I get there, until my first draft is done, finished. Although it’s frustrating, not knowing, I keep on writing and writing and writing in order to get closer to my goal every day. Not the word goal, because that ain’t holding no matter how much I try, but the goal of the end.

However, this lengthy writing process of mine has started to wear me down.

Oh, the doubts

As close to the ending as I am, there are some doubts in my head. Every time I’m waiting for Word to open my lengthy document to continue on my work-in-progress and as I’m writing, these thoughts come into my head: 

Is my plot filled with holes? Have I described this or that enough to strengthen the storyline?

Do I have a structure in my story?

Are my characters strong enough? Will the readers love them as I hope they will?

Is my story powerful enough?

In essence:  I wonder about the strength of my idea. I wonder if I’ll only find plot holes and incomplete thoughts in my first draft when I start editing after finally finish it. I think of who I will ask to be my beta-readers – and how I’ll take their feedback about my work. I worry, I doubt my skills and my creativity. It’s awful and unnecessary – but I can’t help it.

When I began writing Yellow Tails in March this year, none of these thoughts existed. Writing the story of an overweight cat was only about having fun and finding the discipline to write for 30 minutes every day. But as I’ve done this for a while now, the stakes are getting higher and the doubts in my head are getting more attention than they did before.

One of the worst things with these doubts is that they keep me from effectively striving for finishing my first draft. This is because I’m afraid of picking up my story after letting it rest for a few weeks only to find out that I have plot holes, non-existent structure and other weaknesses in my story.

I know I’m not alone with these thoughts. Any writer or creative person out there can probably relate to these feelings – they seem to be a part of the process, like built-in responses to any creative process that takes place. But that doesn’t make them any less real. This self-doubt, this fear of not being a good enough writer… it’s incredible how one can doubt herself this much. It’s as if I’m in that stage of a creative process of ’This is horrible / I’m horrible” as illustrated above.

However, I’m aware of the fact that it is possible to overcome and process these feelings. I just have to work on them and think them through, make myself realize that they are as true as they are false.

(The self-doubt might also be a side-effect of having had this writing project for nine months now. It sounds like pregnancy – and I feel that it’s time to get that baby out into the world.)

How To Deal With Fear

In order to aid my self-doubt and, well, the fear of finishing, I turned to Steven Pressfield to find some solace and empathy in my uncertainty. And for sure, he writes about Resistance and fear. This is what The War of Art says:

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign.

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

He also writes that self-doubt can be a creative person’s best friend – ”an indicator of aspiration” that reflects one’s love for and desire to do the craft.

With these two in mind, I’ve been able to calm those doubtful feelings. Instead, I’ve been focusing my mind on the goal. I remind myself that I can’t be too far in the future worrying about editing and getting feedback for my novel when I don’t even have a first draft to worry about!

The other thing that has calmed my mind has been this reminder: When have I done something this big for myself? Have I ever been in on a lengthy project like this that is primarily only for myself?

The answer: never before.

And that’s something worth thinking of, isn’t it? I have been writing this novel mostly for myself and it’s been fun, fulfilling and energizing. It feels like I’ve never been this alive before and therefore this project has done me so much good already.

To hell with self-doubt and fear! I can’t stop now, simply because of a nagging self-doubting voice in the back of my head. The truth is, I would be insane to quit now! I have to finish the story!

A Writing Update

So, I’m getting there. I honestly have less than 10,000 words to go, this time for real, and the most important thing right now is simply to finish that first draft of Yellow Tails. I’m taking this process one step at a time instead of always being three steps ahead of the one that is happening right now.

This blog post is a writing update: 71k words, 173 pages, less than 10k left. I’m petrified, nervous and uncertain of many things, although most of them have to do with future parts of the project. But I’ll tell you when I’ve finished. I’ll share the moment with you when I have those last two words down:

The end.

Keeping Your Vision Clear

IMG_7793_2

After the move, life has been busy.

It’s been busy with writing, having long conversations with friends at school cafeterias and establishing old routines at the new place. Life has been busy with thinking, reading books and finding peace with many different issues.

Time has simply flown by.

Many (but especially self-employed creatives) say that October and November are the busiest months of the year. It’s the time of the year that’s filled with work projects, deadlines, keeping up with hobbies and being social. Maybe it’s the darkness, the cold and a way to pass the time while waiting for Christmas and a new year to begin. But it sure is true.

Even for me, October and November have been filled with so many things that require my time. Especially November. However, I can only blame myself for setting a deadline for my first draft at the same time I have a deadline for the theory part of my thesis and, in addition to that I decided to plan and execute a surprise advent calendar as a Christmas gift to my partner. Oh, and then I also had a deadline for a couple of articles I’ve written for a magazine I’m the chief editor for.

In other words, I’m swamped.

Two Personal Reminders

It feels like these last remaining months of the year tend to fly by and become months dedicated to completing the eon-long to-do lists. They are also the months where experiencing and trying new things (fun things especially) get less time than they’d deserve. We are putting off what seems to be everything to complete the list in time – before Christmas and the new year. That’s at least how it has felt like for me.

However, two things happened last Saturday that were great reminders of why it’s extremely important to lift one’s head up from the messy soup of to-dos, to take a break from what one is doing, or even to break free from it:

  1. I met the team behind an association’s member magazine that I’ve been the chief editor of for the past couple of years.
  2. Me and my partner got a plant, an Euphorbia leuconeura, that is, the Madagascar jewel, as a house-warming gift.

What’s so special about these two things, you ask? Let me tell you.

Being a chief editor for an association member magazine doesn’t require that much face-to-face contact with the editorial team. It can be done from the distance full-time, if necessary, like I did when I lived in Ireland. This, can be liberating, of course, but it comes with a dark side (as many other things in life): the job can become very lonely and, most of all, uninspiring. After all, sitting alone at your computer in the middle of winter with only Whatsapp or Facebook as your social contact to the team, you are almost bound to lose focus, your interest in and motivation for the job.

And this was how I had experienced the job for the last six months or so. I hadn’t been inspired to create a truly good and enjoyable magazine – I had only worked enough to get the magazine done and published. Quite clearly I had lost my interest, and finally decided that being the chief editor for the magazine wasn’t worth of my time anymore. So, I resigned.

However, after meeting the team again after a long pause and getting to know some new faces, I felt a change in my motivation. Suddenly, the negative feelings I had had about the paper and producing material for it, disappeared. Instead, I was energized and somewhat motivated to ’start anew’ and put some effort into the work again. I felt that the team is nice, the atmosphere at the brunch/meeting was good, and that I did enjoy writing those articles when I finally decided to write them. Suddenly I saw no reason to quit the magazine – I was happy to stay on board as a part of the editorial team.

And the plant then! I’ve mentioned before that me and my partner are frequent movers. That means I’ve given up on investing in plants or in an impressive collection of spices since they tend to become problematic when the next move is around the corner. But now we were given a Madagascar jewel. But instead of being stressed about the future of the plant, I was quite thrilled.

Later that day, I sat down to observe the plant at close. There’s something about these green organisms. They bring different kind of life to the household, they bring color to the grey and dark landscape that we see from the window. This plant needs to be talked to in order to get its dosage of carbon dioxide (that’s the instruction we got from the gift-giver: ”It needs to hear some conversations!”).

The Madagascar jewel shows that one can survive in this part of the world where the sun hasn’t made any appearance in oh-so-many-days.

Nurture the Conviction

These two things made me realize the importance of taking care of oneself instead of getting swamped with a massive to-do list without an ending, instead of just living one day after the other without something fun that interrupts the day-to-day life.

It’s important to take care of your mental and physical well-being. But it’s equally important to take care of your conviction and your creativity.

I know my conviction, my passion. But what I’ve realized is that it’s not enough to know what you want to do and do it. Habits only get you so far – they automate the process or the technical aspects of creating. But what’s your fuel, what’s the oil in your system that helps the creativity to reach a state of flow? Anyone can do anything if they have the habit of doing it – but is what you’re doing fun? Is it energizing, fulfilling, exhilarating?

So, maybe you know what you want to do and have down the habit of taking the time to do it. But in addition to this, you need to take care of your conviction. It’s like the windscreen of a car – you need to keep it clean in order to see clearly, even if you know where you’re going. Because if you can’t see where you’re going – you’re likely to end up in a ditch in the middle of somewhere.

So, instead of keeping the eyes on the goal only – may that be finishing your first draft or your edits, completing editing a new video or learning to master Adobe Illustrator – one needs to enjoy the process as well. It could be meeting up with people who share your passion for the craft who remind you that working on your conviction and doing the thing you love is fun. Or getting a plant just because they’re colorful and full of life and remind you of the curious process of growth (even if you might need to give it away or throw it away in six months or so).

To keep you convinced of your own conviction, you need to do things that might not get you closer to your goal technically (for instance, sitting in a cafe with friends doesn’t automatically create new words to your Word-document), but give you new energy, new thoughts and a refreshed belief in what you do instead.

We people have a tendency to get blinded by what we should be doing, our lengthy to-do lists and our stressful deadlines. We forget that feeding our passion often happens outside of the physical in-the-making process. People-watching or meeting with friends give you new thoughts and ideas for you novel, but in order to do that you need to leave your computer at home and get out to see the world. Taking the time to enjoy a nice piece of cake or going to the art galleries is a way of taking care of your energy and motivation – taking a break once in a while in order to bring back the motivation, the conviction in what you’re doing. Because if you’re not motivated, your habit cannot be utilized properly.

So, last Saturday worked as a friendly reminder for two things: 1) living a minimalist life doesn’t mean one cannot invest in something that will only last for a while. If it brings you joy, it’s worth the trouble it causes, and 2) I already do things that I enjoy but every once in a while I need to refresh my memory of why I enjoy doing them.

After realizing this, I’ve been wondering how I might implement this on my creative writing and my blogging. Lately, I’ve been feeling somewhat unmotivated although I keep on writing six days a week. Would it be a cup of coffee and a croissant in a café that would get me going, that would energize and motivate me? Or meeting other people who share my passion for writing (in real life as well in addition to the Internet)?

What’s that something that would feed my creativity and my motivation for writing?

***

How do you do it? How do you feed you conviction, your passion?