Still Life Sunday: Reviving Resilience

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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

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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

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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?

 

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.

***

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?