Still Life Sunday: Élan Vital

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16 Élan Vital

Still wrapped in a black garbage bag, I was handed over to a stranger.

The newspaper wrapped around me was supposed keep the warmth in, prevent the moisture from evaporating to the chilly November air.

While still outside, trying to keep myself warm and somewhat cozy, I got handed over from one pair of hands to another. A muffled sound of gratitude, then steps, a door opening and closing.

The warmth made me feel like I had been reborn. That I was, once again, alive after battling in the cold winds and the misty dampness for what felt like forever.

I was brought inside, pulled out of that black garbage bag and unwrapped from the thick layers of newspaper that was filled with old news, stories that had already lost their value. It may sound sad, but for me this was a moment of joy.

After waiting for a long time, I was able to breathe again. To take deep gulps of fresh but warm air, stretch my muscles up towards the white ceiling, to the sides, trying to grab the white walls that were, however, too far. Or I was too small.

But I am ready to grow taller, wider and stronger. Take in the energy that is given to me, breath in the carbon dioxide and release the oxygen. Because in that moment, as I was being pulled out of the garbage bag, it felt as if I had been born again and remembered my place yet again.

I remembered what I was supposed to do and why I had chosen to do what I did. A great reminder that had already diminished in my memory during the long wait in the darkness. But the light, the fresh air, the friendly arms that brought me inside and showed me my new home, brought the original thought back to me.

My aim is to grow in all directions. To put down strong roots but also to stretch upwards to the ceiling. And one day share a part of me with another pot filled with earth, ready to start reaching towards the white walls and get stronger every day that goes by.

A Writer’s Curse and Blessing

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As the finish line of completing my first draft is coming closer, I’ve found myself conjuring up different scenarios considering my future book.

For instance, I’ve imagined how my mother would pick the book from her bookshelf to show it to her friends, saying ”This is the book my daughter wrote!” with pride in her voice (because especially my Mom likes to share our achievements with her friends). And then I imagine how she would describe the book, how it came as a surprise that I had written and published a real book.

I’ve also imagined the publisher calling me up and telling me that the draft is great, that he or she really enjoyed reading it but they had some issues with the names of the characters (which, of course, would be heart-breaking). I can imagine myself torn with the conflict of ’yay, getting published’ and ’do I want this so bad that I’m willing to change the name of my characters?’

And after being published, I imagine a colleague or a fellow student, attending the same lecture or meeting as I am, pull out the book from his or her bag and show it to me, asking in an excited voice: ”Did you write this? I loved it!” And I would try to keep the pride in my voice on a tolerable level and answer calmly: ”Yes, in fact, I did. How did you like it?”

Silly fantasies, I know. But during the past couple of months I’ve come to realize that it’s just how I am and how my mind works. I’m a writer. Therefore, I have a tendency to speculate different things. As a writer, it’s even part of my job to speculate, to imagine how different situations could turn out, what someone would say, how they’d feel, what childhood memory makes them act like they do.

Speculating on things can be fun most of the time. I’d say I put down a good deal of time speculating on other people’s lives, and how different situations and conversations could turn out. It’s like daydreaming. It comes naturally to me and even without me noticing it. Yesterday, for instance, I was having lunch with friends and caught myself in the act, speculating a situation where me and my partner would get robbed on the street, who would kick whom in the groin, what street would be the best one to run along and so on. When I caught myself speculating this, I snapped back to the real life conversation we were having. Oops. But that’s just how I am!

However, this speculative, imaginary mind of a writer (or any creative person for that matter) has a dark side as well.

The Deep-Analysis Pit

In my experience, constant speculation of what happens, analyzing why someone said something and drawing conclusions from social situations has a tendency to lead to deflation, social insecurity and even depression.

Only a few years back, this sort of analyzing and speculating was a real problem for me. I had a tendency to ’read between the lines’, feel the vibes of other people, analyze what was said to me, in what way, and with what tone. The same went for posts on social media and private chats – what words and emojis were used. My analyses were probably more often a bit over the edge than right which often led to feelings of insecurity and depression, affecting my overall mood.

I know now that being sensitive for people and social situations is part of being a highly sensitive person. Hard-core analyzing was also a part of my people-pleasing behavior, a way of avoiding possible conflicts and being liked by everyone. But at the time, the speculating and analyzing just took over everything. And I had no control over it.

As you can guess, it ended up restricting my life. I withdrew myself from social situations, and didn’t for instance attend to any parties at the university because I had the feeling that I was being judged or somehow not wanted in the group. I was nervous for meeting up with people, and spent a good deal of time ahead imagining how things would work out, how the dialogue would be, would it be good to prepare some questions beforehand?

As a result of constant speculating came the need for balance: I wanted to be prepared for everything. Which, of course, didn’t happen because it couldn’t. The lack of control over what felt like everything made me feel even worse.

However, as I’ve gained confidence and been able to rationalize most of the speculations and analyses inside my head, the hard-core speculating has calmed down a good deal. Also, as I’ve become better at analyzing people and conversations – what words they use, how their body language is – I’ve become better to understand that other people’s’ crappy mood seldom depends on me. Thanks to this, I’ve been able to cut down on the negative effects on constant speculating.

Of course, on some days I still end up in the deep-analysis pit and make things worse for myself but I’ve become better at picking myself up again. It’s like I have a ladder in that pit and I know where it is these days, and it’s easier to come up again.

Creating Magic

However, as a writer, speculating and imagining things is a vital part of the writing. Despite it’s deflating nature when gone too far, speculating can be extremely fascinating and energizing. It’s amazing what the mind can come up with – characters that don’t exist in the real world, dialogues that have never happened, worlds that no one else could come up with. Many creatives have an endless well of ideas and stories they want to tell to the world. And I seem to be one of them.

As long as I keep on reality-checking my analyses and speculations, I’ll be able to use this speculative nature of mine to conjure up different scenes for my novels and short-stories. Although much of what I write has to do with personal experience and memories, speculating (i.e. imagining) other outcomes and different reactions turn the stories into fiction. What I experience, witness around me and what I think about it work as raw material, that then becomes something completely new as I write it down.

And that feels like some kind of magic to me.

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Are you a speculator, someone who puts down time and energy to think out different outcomes from different situations? How do you feel about it – does it give you more energy or rather, does it leave you feeling deflated?

 

Still Life Sunday: A Method for Sleep

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15 A Method for Sleep

Every night at 9.30 PM, when the lights go out, the game begins.

It’s right after the parent wishes her daughter good night, makes the room go dark and leaves the door ajar. That’s the moment when the colors begin to gather. Some nights they are more pastel, some nights darker. It depends on the day.

The daughter draws the blanket right up to her ears, letting the warmth take over and observes how her body gets heavier. It’s as if the mattress is in love with her arms and legs, her back and her head, and squeezes her closer. It’s a nice thought. I like you too, bed, she thinks to herself.

But then it is time to spin the wheel and choose a story. The imaginary colorful wheel of stories spins and spins in the daughter’s mind until she thinks she can’t take the chaos of color anymore, and stops the wheel. The story for the night is… the wolf girl in the woods. The daughter smiles a tired smile, her eyes closed, her body heavy and already a little bit sleepy. This is one of her favorite stories.

Every night she plays the game. She spins the wheel, then makes it stop and takes the story it offers for the night. She tries to recall what happened in the story the last time she visited it and then lets her imagination take over. It’s her favorite way of making the time go under the blanket while she waits for the Sand Man.

(She isn’t quite sure if she still believes in the Sand Man but as she doesn’t know any other reason for why she falls asleep every night, she continues to refer to the mysterious man while she waits for her sleep.)

The wolf girl in the woods is one of her favorite stories because it is always filled with the most exciting adventures. In the woods, she gets to run through the blueberry bushes, letting her naked legs get scratched (but it doesn’t hurt). She can climb the trees, jump from rock to rock, take a dip in the cold but refreshing spring and sleep under a pine tree. And she can do all of this with her wolf friend, Otto.

This particular story is so wild, fun and adventurous that the daughter is almost less willing to fall asleep. Sometimes she wishes she could stay awake the whole night because then she could roam the woods as long as the stars stay in the sky.

She needs to take care of Otto and her wolf friend’s siblings. You see, they are in great danger. There’s a huntsman in the woods – a brown-haired, tall, heavy man, whose heavy boots can be heard from afar.

And the huntsman wants Otto and his siblings. Not as pets, not as friends, like the girl does, but for their fur. The daughter knows this and therefore she needs to stay in the woods with her friend and protect him from the huntsman. It’s important – she’s the only one who can trick the evil hunter to fall into the big, deep pit that they’ve been digging for several nights.

She is the heroine of the story, the one who can save the day. Otto is the other main character, her right hand (or rather, her right paw). And the huntsman is the enemy.

Night after night the daughter returns to this dream (if the wheel of stories is in her favor) to help Otto and his siblings escape and hide from the huntsman. And every night she tries to find out a way to trick the man into the pit. It’s a slow process, but she knows she will eventually succeed.

The daughter loves this story. But every night, after only a short time of continued adventures as the wolf girl in the woods, the Sand Man comes to her, and she falls asleep. Before the dreams take over, she tells herself that Otto must wait for another day for her to come to the rescue. But she will come to the woods again. She knows she will.

 

Using Shortcuts to Succeed

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Do you remember a game called Space Impact? It was an old-school spaceship war game one could play at least on Nokia 3310 if not on other cell phones as well. Another game I remember from Nokia phones, now the ones with a color screen, was Bounce where a red ball tries to get through a set of levels. Both games were highly addictive and I remember playing them over and over again, getting through the many levels and finally, finishing the last, most difficult level.

But what do these two games have in common except that they were both created by Nokia and could be played on Nokia phones?

They both had a magical four digit code that made you invincible.

The thing is, both games (but especially Bounce) required a good deal of practice from the player to get to the end of the game. Sometimes when I was feeling optimistic and motivated to complete the game with pure skill – but at other times I just wanted to play and focus on tactics instead of avoiding getting killed. When that feeling came over me, I decided to use the code that my friend had told me about.

(Fun fact: my grandmother still has a well-working Nokia 3310 with Space Impact on it so I can do a throwback to my childhood any time I want. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the code anymore so I’ll just have to get through the game with skill)

It was a great feeling – being invincible and able to complete the game without having to focus on not getting hurt or killed. That magical four-digit code was a shortcut to success, both in Space Impact and Bounce. But I also remember feeling that the winning at the end of the last level didn’t really feel like an honest, one-hundred percent win because I knew I had cheated. It wasn’t pure skill that got me through the game – the code did a good deal of the job.

Useful Shortcuts

There are many shortcuts in life that can be considered being extremely useful. For instance, finding the quickest route from home to the bus stop will help you save time in the mornings – give you a few minutes more to read the paper, drink your coffee, fix your hair and so on.

Another great shortcut is finding a lunch cafeteria with the best ratio between friendliness of the staff, quality of the food and length of the queue. This shortcut will save you time, energy and hopefully make your day better when you get to enjoy good food and nice service.

These shortcuts are pretty practical and make the daily life a bit easier. Even habits can be considered as shortcuts and they, if any, make the daily life more simple to digest. Shortcuts help us save time and energy on some things, and let us use that energy and saved minutes on the projects that require our time at the moment.

This kind of shortcuts are widely accepted, even recommended. Life is too short to walk the longer routes to the bus stop or deal with angry customer service. Instead, life is about doing what you enjoy, and if you can enjoy life a little bit more by choosing the shortest route to the gym or the restaurant with the best food – go for it.

But what about other shortcuts?

Creative Shortcuts

As I’ve become more and more interested in writing, photography and filmography, I’ve learned many rules or tips on how to create enchanting, well-functioning products.

For instance, in photography the two rules for composition are the golden spiral and the rule of third. They are widely used in photography and photos that use one of these rules tend to be perceived as good photos.

In filmography, one can find many rules that help to create visually pleasing content. Switching between three different frames (full shot, detail shot and something in-between), using the 180′ rule, the Hitchcock rule… All these things help the film become more interesting, pleasing to look at and enhance the storytelling.

And in the world of novels there’s the classic storyline, the hero’s journey. A simple storyline many films and novels follow that creates a familiar adventure, sweeping the viewer or reader into the story. Reading stories that follow the hero’s journey is almost always nice because it’s something we are used to – we know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know how and what all the consequences will be.

These creative shortcuts are effective and help create pleasing, easy-to-take-in kind of content. The way the products are formed feels familiar to us consumers and therefore we enjoy them. Similar shortcuts can be seen everywhere. For instance, in journalism and the newspaper world there are several rules/guidelines for creating headlines that trigger curiosity in the reader, or what are the best ways to structure the article so that the reader will read the whole news story instead of just the headline.

One might not think of them as shortcuts – they can be described as well-functioning patterns or as recipes with certain ingredients that guarantee your cake will rise in the oven. And getting to know these rules, these shortcuts, the recipes, help anyone to become a better creator.

But are this kind of shortcuts as accepted as the practical, life-simplifying shortcuts?

A Creator Using Shortcuts

Somehow it seems that almost everything today has some sort of hack, a magical four digit code that will function as a shortcut to success. Using the rule of third or golden spiral you can create intriguing photos; switching between three different frame sizes in a film keeps the tempo up and the viewer interested. A novel with a structure like hero’s journey will help one create a good structure and tempo that will make the book more pleasing to read.

To me it feels like everything is possible and you can create your own success – if you know the code. I realized this on a whole other level when I read an interview with the author Ottessa Moshfegh. Her successful novel Eileen was ”a deliberate exercise in playing with the format of commercial fiction to get the attention of a big publisher.” She hacked the system, found out about the four digit code, and made her writer dreams come true.

The interview made me realize that anyone can write a novel. Anyone can write a best-selling novel, as long as they know the recipe. And as a writer hoping to become a published author…

I feel confused. I feel a little bit disappointed as well. Aren’t published authors supposed to be true fighters, true talents? Aren’t you supposed to feel lucky if a big publisher wants to take your book under their wing?

Apparently not – because here’s someone claiming that anyone can write a best-selling novel and has actually proof of it, her own work.

Honestly, after learning this I’ve had some trouble feeling encouraged. It feels like I’m out there, on the battlefield with all these other writers, hoping to get published. But suddenly there isn’t only 200 of us – there are 2,000 writers, all trying to claim that same space as I am. And the one with the best ingredients, the best ability to take in that recipe and follow it, will win.

It’s like authorship isn’t anything as glorious as it used to be. Like children who learn that Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy isn’t real – it feels like my belief in the glorious authorship has been broken.

Finding that Optimism

But the tone of this blog post is getting somewhat cheerless and depressing – so let’s get back to the intro of this blog post.

I wrote that winning Bounce or Space Impact with the help of the four-digit magical code didn’t make the victory feel like a real, honest win. It was more like thirty percent skill, seventy percent cheating. And I would like to think that the same sort of ratio goes for the creative content we produce. At least if we do it according to a certain type of shortcut/pattern/recipe.

The storyline in my first draft of Yellow Tails doesn’t consciously follow any tips, structures or recommended beats. I’m a pantser, planning as I go (although I’ve had the ending clear in my mind from the very beginning). I’ve felt the temptation to order books that give tips on good writing or help one structure the story in the best possible way, but for me it feels like I would be cheating. If I would start writing my book according to certain rules and guidelines, it wouldn’t be my story. Not entirely.

I might miss out on something for not taking in all the tips and guidelines. I might make it harder for myself to get my book published and actually making it. But for me, this feels like a road I’m supposed to take. The road where I do it the hard way and where I learn from my mistakes and, eventually, become the master of my own work.

Although, after saying all of this, I don’t think there’s actually anything wrong with reading these guide books. I believe there’s a good deal of practical shortcuts that help one focus on the things that matter the most. But I don’t want to read them – not yet. Maybe I’ll pick one of the books up after reading the first draft for the first time after finishing it, if it feels like it. However, at the moment, I’m happy where I am. I’m satisfied with my own thoughts on how Yellow Tails should look like, at what pace it should go forward, how my hero’s journey will turn out and what the cover should look like.

What are your thoughts on (writing) guides and other helpful rules/shortcuts? What tips have you found useful or do you experience that the information makes you to create differently than you’d like to?

Why Make the Words Public

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My story is in no way unique. It’s the typical tale of a youngster who wants to become a writer but is pushed down by an authority who tells the youngster to strive for something else. The youngster pushes aside the dream and decides to go for something else – only to realize later in life that they got completely side-tracked by the advice from the authority. Whether they make it back to the real dream or not, I guess that’s where the differences lie with each similar story.

I was listening to an episode of the podcast Write-minded (hosted by Brooke Warner of She Writes and Grant Faulkner of NaNoWriMo) where they talked about how every story deserves to be told, how every story matters. Warner herself had her writing dreams pushed down by her school teacher which reminded me of my own story. In my narrative, however, it was my parents who managed to convince me to put my writer-dreams aside, not my teachers at school (who actually were extremely supportive of my writing which I appreciated a great deal at the time and still do today).

But here I am now, writing almost on a daily basis, feeling alive and fulfilled by what I do. I’m in that phase of the story where the main character decides to get back to the real deal, The Dream, and make her way into ’writerhood’. But why do I want to put my word out there, to the world?

Thinking about us writers who are yearning to publish their written world, I keep wondering why we do it. Why do I do it?

Why am I publishing these blog posts, why am I planning on sending my book to a publisher? Why do I have the need to make my words public instead of just keeping them to myself?

A Writer’s Doubt of Power

Because as I write down word after word and create these entities, the blog posts, the Instagram captions, the fictional works, I can’t help but think this: isn’t there enough words in the world already? There are millions, if not billions of people out here in this world creating as much if not more words than I am on a daily basis. They are telling their own stories and are having their own impact on this world.

Isn’t there enough stories, enough influencing through storytelling? Why do I have the need to add to that? Why do I consider my story to be so important, so unique, that it needs to be shared with the whole wide world? Where does this need of sharing come from?

But then I think: is this just the Resistance talking? Is this simply one version of a writer’s doubt – the thought that my story isn’t unique or important enough to be told to the world?

And maybe the doubt has also to do with this: Is my story powerful?

Because every day that I string together words that build sentences that create entities of knowledge and meaning, it feels like I’m doing something magical. It isn’t quite like creating-air-out-of-nothing kind of powerful but I do feel powerful by the fact that ’no one else sees the word the way I do, so no one else can tell the stories you have to tell’ (a quote by the author Charles de Lint). In other words, everything I write is, in a way, unique and can therefore have an impact, be powerful.

But is that what I want – to be powerful?

The Hierarchy of Words

Do you remember in biology class the teacher explaining the food chain and how energy is passed in an ecosystem? Eagles, lions and other tertiary consumers/carnivores are at the top of the pyramid while primary consumers/herbivores, such as rabbits and grasshoppers, and producers, i.e. plants, are at the bottom of the chain. In the food chain, the strongest and the most powerful are at the top of the pyramid while the ones at the bottom have the least power over other species.

The power structure or power hierarchy is an interesting thought to play with, so I took the principle behind the feeding hierarchy and applied it to the world of words. How does the hierarchy of words look like? Who has the most power in using words and in what way? Here is what I came up with:

Word Hierarchy

As you can see, I have placed the makers of the words on top of the hierarchy because if there were no words there wouldn’t be any stories like the ones we have today. The word creators are at the top with quite a lot of power but they are only a few in total. Next, I have the people who give meaning to the words. They think about what words like society or jealousy or sexuality really mean to us. These people have a good deal of power as well but the reason they are under the word-creators is because if there were no words there wouldn’t be anything to give meaning to, right?

After that the hierarchy presents those who take these created words and the meanings given to them and use them to express knowledge, to create something completely new. That could be new findings, for example, or new ways of expressing oneself. These people are followed by those who take this knowledge to produce their own version of it. The majority of all written word finds its place in this category. And at the bottom of the hierarchy we have the consumers. Those, who take in the new words, the meaning of those words and entities built from them, and consume them, giving them their own personal context and meaning. All the readers out there (me included) – you are in this category with the majority of the population.

I am aware that the hierarchy I’ve created isn’t exactly very strict (or scientific, for that matter) and that all categories pretty much go into each other. Makers of the words tend to give a context for the words to be used in and those who give meaning to the words tend to build on new knowledge when defining that meaning, and so on. But I think it’s a fun way to think about the hierarchy of words created, written and thought of. It also describes the power structure of words: the higher up you are in that hierarchy, the more power you have over communication and people.

The Power Of A Writer

In this hierarchy of words, I find myself in the two bottom layers. I am definitely a reader, a consumer of words, but I’m also a builder of already existing entities. However, if you think about the Charles de Lint quote mentioned earlier, that no one can see the words as I do and therefore everything I writes is unique, I could be boxed into the third category as well.

Hmm.

According to my self-made Hierarchy of Words, I have good deal of power. I might not be the most powerful, but I do have some power in my hands, in the words that I write. Every blog post, Instagram caption and word in my novel is a new creation, a unique entity that can have an influence on them who read the texts. By talking about comfort zones, habits, self-development and what comes with them, I can create a change. In other words, I have some power in my hands. But is that why I’m doing this?

To come back to the questions I presented earlier in this post, I would like to declare this one thought: I can’t really say why I’m putting my word ’out there’. This blog and Yellow Tails are outlets for my thoughts and observations. I am not writing because I wish to be an influencer or a change-maker. I’m not out here trying to gain power, to use my wise words to do something large-scale. Maybe one can see this blog or my Instagram account as a portfolio but that’s all. I just want to write and hopefully be able to turn my creativity into currency.

It feels like I’m leaving you, the reader, disappointed in the end of this post. I can’t really explain why I wish to publish so much of my writing, why I think my words deserve the space I’m claiming for it on the Internet. I’m happy as long as I am able to keep on writing. The publishing, the social media branding and other similar things come as second to be able to support the primary thing, i.e. daily writing.

And the power of words, the power of writing? It comes, if it does. After all, it’s not me who creates that power, not really. It’s the people who take my words to their minds that give me the power. So, I’m not really in control of that.

Why do you publish what you write (if you do)?

The Conviction, The Passion

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”You would make a good secretary with those organization skills.”

”The way you talk about things, you could be a politician.”

”You have such a nice voice, you should do radio!”

I consider myself lucky for having almost always known that I wanted to become a writer (fun fact: before landing on that profession I considered becoming a trainer of either dolphins or lynx). Although that Dream of Becoming a Writer has shifted many times because of the thought that I could become something else as well, interest in writing has helped me make various decisions.

Writing has always been the number one way to express myself. Whether it’s been private journals, blogs (that are long-gone), fan fiction or NaNoWriMos, it has always been about putting down words on a piece of paper, a notebook or a Word-document. I have never found similar pleasure in drawing, painting, singing or acting. (Actually, I considered myself being pretty bad at the other creative outlets for a long time)

But why isn’t it enough for me to just write on my free time, why not keep it as a hobby? Why do I insist on this journey of becoming a published author, of becoming a full-time writer?

It’s because this is the only thing I can imagine myself doing for the rest of my life.

Yes, I have great organizational skills and I can talk about different subjects in a neutral way if I want to. And I do have a nice voice! But those ’good qualities’ are just good qualities. Simply because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I want to make a profession out of it and do it for the rest of my life. None of the professions listed in the beginning offer the same kind of challenges or give the kind of fulfillment writing gives to me.

Linking together words that create sentences and meaning – that is my passion. It’s what I get excited about and what I think about a great deal during the day. Writing, whether it’s this blog or Yellow Tails or the book that comes after that, is also something I’m willing to live for, commit to and to sacrifice things for even if it doesn’t feel like the best damn thing all the time.

(Because let’s be honest: writing is a rollercoaster ride with highs and lows and some days it just feels like I don’t even like writing. But those moments last only for a short while and tend to happen when I’m not writing. When I get to writing part, putting down words feels awesome again)

But I do like writing. More than that, I love it. It’s my creative outlet, the most fulfilling way for me to express myself and my thought-processes. And it really is the only thing I can see myself doing when I’m fifty or sixty-seven, even when I’m seventy-three years old.

And those other things I’m good at, what am I going to do with them? Will I let them go un-pursued, let my great organizational skills and nice radio voice gather dust in the closet of great qualities? No, I won’t. Instead, I’ll make them into my hobbies.

I hope you get to spend your Tuesday doing the thing that is both your passion and your conviction. I sure will spend mine doing exactly that.

 

The Right Kind of Ratio

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What is consuming?

What is creating?

Do we need to do one in attempt to do the other? Or can we stop consuming altogether and only create – or vice versa?

I contemplated this already on Tuesday – how to balance between the right amount of consuming and creating. To me it seems like both are required if one wishes to hold on to the qualitative creative flow and be able to generate new ideas. But it also seems that maintaining a balance between the two can be more difficult than thought. This, because I believe we humans tend to draw us to the easy, almost lazy alternatives instead of pursuing the tougher path. Or then we get too fired up about some project we have and keep on working until we are completely deflated, having burned all that creative energy.

But there has to be a balance somewhere in between those two extremes. A place where the right kind and amount of consuming gives you new ideas and helps you keep the creative work going strong. And where you are able to create the right amount in order to be happy about what you are doing and make real progress instead of getting burned out.

My question is this: what is the right kind of balance between consuming and creating?

Finding the Golden Ratio

I remember a conversation about the ratio between consuming and creating I had with my partner a few years back. We are both creatives which means we consume a good deal of information in order to get inspired to create something of our own. I wasn’t creating nearly as much then as I do today but still, it was a relevant topic to discuss already at the time.

We ended up in some sort of conclusion that to be able to create one needs to consume a great deal of information. I proposed a ratio of 80 to 20 – 80 percent time spent consuming in order to spend 20 percent creating. It felt like a balance at the time: consuming and gathering as much information as possible in order to create one small thing. Like going through one hundred photographs to take one photograph yourself. Read one hundred books to write one novel, three hundred paintings to create one painting. Spend hours and hours thinking to create one new original thought.

But today, as a great amount of my day goes to creating, I’ve been thinking this ratio again. Is it really necessary to consume that much to create so little? Does it have to be 80/20 or could it be 50/50 – or even less? If I put it like this: every day I’m awake for about sixteen hours. Eighty percent of sixteen hours is 12,8 hours. This means that according to my 80/20 rule I would be consuming information almost thirteen hours every day and create for the four hours that remain of the day.

That feels like a lot of time put down to consuming.

Maybe the 80/20 rule isn’t as applicable as I thought it was two years ago. But what is the golden ratio between consuming and creating?

Too much consumption leads to deflation and numbness where nothing gets created. It’s like being a painter with a blank canvas and all the colors in the world to use but no clue, no object to paint. Or everything that the painter tries to put on that canvas turns out wrong.

The same with creativity: too much creating leads to deflation and numbness as well. As if you’ve given everything you have, the towel is dry, the grapes have no juice left to press out of them, the battery is out.

If you don’t recharge your creative batteries often enough (by consuming), you’re making your creative flow suffer.

A Symbiosis of Two

I believe that for overall wellbeing both are required. We humans are curious to our nature and want to figure things out. How does this thing work or why does it do like that? What if I tried doing it like this? In order to figure out things and by that quench our thirst of curiosity, we need to create.

But to be able to do all of this we also need to consume. New things, innovations and creations are born from knowledge that was acquired before. Creativity comes from what we see, hear, feel and smell. Creativity feeds on information and knowledge, even on memories. It’s like research one needs to do to be able to create something new.

A new food recipe is developed from a mix of different flavors snapped up from foods that already exist. A musician gets inspired by songs and melodies that already exist, and in the book world every plot is already out there – you just pick your favorite, come up with a new story with own characters and there you go – you are creating something new. Nothing we consume is really unique anymore – everything exists already. We just come up with new versions of these things and it never seems to grow old.

So – we need to consume in order to create. But what about the other way around? Do we need to create to be able to consume? I guess the answer here is quite simple: if we wouldn’t create anything we wouldn’t have anything to consume. Therefore: yes, we need to create to be able to consume.

Consuming and creating go hand in hand in this universe. A balanced life is a symbiosis of these two, where they create a mutually beneficial relationship and feed on each other, creating balance.

Because if you think about it – what would the world be like without the one or the other? A world of only consumption or creativity would lead to some sort of dystopia, an alternative universe where contact between nothing exists. Where no one would be in contact with anyone and everyone would live their own individual life in solitude, in isolation, in an empty environment free from stimuli.

Creating One’s World

Consuming for entertainment, inspiration and information is okay as long as one balances it out by creating. But lets get some clarity on this thing: what is creating, really?

I’ve always thought that creating for me is writing, creating new things to read. Whether it is about writing a journal, blog posts for this blog or Yellow Tails, I’m creating. But today I think creativity is so much more than just writing – it can be seen as things that help to create one’s career, build on one’s own social environment, one’s world. So even the small things, like updating Instagram and commenting and liking other people’s photos, can be seen as creating. Or sending an email, putting down a few hours to improve the blog, meet up with friends or have a date night with one’s partner. Everything listed here is a part of the creativity process, it helps you develop your creativity, your career.

In contrast to the conversation I had with my partner a few years back, I’d like to propose a ratio of not quite 80/20 but maybe 70/30, and this ratio reversed – seventy percent put down to creating and thirty percent to consuming. From day-to-day this probably shifts according to mood and energy (as my non-creative Wednesdays show) but the overall ratio could be seventy to thirty.

We are allowed to both consume and create. But to boost our self-confidence and happiness, I’d say we actually need to create a lot more than we consume.

Beating the Resistance

The last question I have for this particular blog post is this: when do we know when a break from creativity is actually needed, and when we are yearning to consume because we are procrastinating?

I’ve learned that procrastination is a part of Resistance, the imaginary but real thing that keeps you from doing what you really want to do. In order to learn more or less everything about Resistance, I would recommend you to read the too-good-to-be-true The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. After reading this book on Resistance and creating, you’ll know when you are procrastinating. But I’ll give you this quote:

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work. (p. 82)

 

So, okay, check on beating that Resistance. But how do you know when you need a break from creating?

I guess the knowledge will come to us through practice. Keep on creating (and beating that Resistance/procrastination) until you start to notice the pattern. When do you feel depleted, when do you need to recharge those creative batteries? When do you notice a lack of ideas or inspiration? That’s when you might need a break from creating.

But the ratio, the balance – it’s personal. Only you will know when you’ve created enough, when you have consumed too much, when it’s about procrastination and when it’s about creative fatigue.

Do you know your balance?