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?

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

 

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?

Things Will Change For A While

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It’s Tuesday and it’s time for a new blog post. However, this will be the last Tuesday post for a while. Let me tell you why.

For the past 16 weeks, ever since the beginning of H.E.R. (that’s more than three months!), I’ve been writing three blog posts every week. One on Tuesday, one on Thursday and one on Sunday. They all have their own theme: on Tuesday I share something more personal, on Thursday I connect that personal to something more abstract or theoretical – to things seen from a wider perspective. And the short-stories I publish on Sundays conclude the week, or prepare for the beginning of the coming week: the day of Still Life Sundays.

Until now, I’ve been able to put down the time and energy to write three posts a week. But things have been somewhat different lately.

  1. As you know, I’m juggling with three different writing projects at the moment: the blog, the thesis and Yellow Tails. That means I’m glued to my computer from Sunday to Friday, writing on or researching for something. Two of these projects, i.e. the thesis and Yellow Tails, have a more strict deadline (one dictated by the university and the other one by me) and require therefore more time and energy to get done in time. The deadlines are also closing in on me which means I need to invest more time and effort in these projects to be able to finish everything in time.
  2. In addition to that, there has been many social situations (and they’ll keep on coming) that have required a good deal afterward-processing. As a part of quitting my people-pleasing behavior but also practicing better communication, social awareness and analyzing the body language and words that are spoken, these social situations are filled with data. Processing that data takes huge amounts of energy and time. It might sound weird, being tired because of being social, but I’m not all that used to these situations, and especially not analyzing them as I am today. It is also something I hope to become better at, reading and analyzing people on the go.
  3. As a third thing, the Winter. Here in Finland the amount of light changes from 22 hours a day in the Summer to whopping 4 hours per day in the middle of Winter. We have been entering the darker time of the year for some time now, the daylight lasting for 8 hours and 54 minutes at the moment. The darkness in the evenings (as the sun goes down at 4:41 PM) and the shortness of the days make me feel tired and like there’s nothing I’d really like to do. It takes time and energy to get used to the darkness – and when you get used to it, the days will start to get lighter again (but it’s going to take a while before that period comes again – sometime in March maybe).

This is why I have decided to do the following: at least during November I will cut down the amount of blog posts from three to two posts a week. This means the Tuesday posts will fall off and the Thursday posts will become a sort of mix of Tuesday and Thursday posts, starting on this Thursday.

This way I will hopefully be able to keep things more realistic and not drown myself in my self-made to-do lists. One post less to write each week will hopefully also help me 1) finish my first draft by or in early December, and 2) finish the theory part of my thesis in the end of November.

In theory, cutting down one blog post a week doesn’t sound like anything major. But for me it feels like a huge weight being dropped off. It feels like I can focus on other things for a while. I’ll stay active on WordPress, still publishing twice a week, and will keep on updating Instagram – but I’m also allowing myself to refocus and steer my energy and time to things that need it the most.

So, this will be the last Tuesday post for a while. But as you know, I’ll see you again on Thursday. Have a good one!

 

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?

Investing To Know Yourself

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It was Friday, the sun was setting and we had just finished the typical Ikea-meal: meatballs and mashed potatoes with brown sauce and lingonberry jam. We decided to check the outlet-corner (or the Corner of Findings as it’s called) before hitting the rest of the store, curious to see what they had there.

We have never actually found anything we wanted in the outlet, the furniture being either too expensive or unnecessary for us, but this time my partner spotted a grey armchair on the staff-side of the outlet, kept behind a red-white line that separated the customers from the staff space. We walked to the red-white line to take a closer look at the chair (both curious because we planned on getting armchairs for the new apartment instead of a sofa) when a staff member asked if we wanted to step over the line and try sitting in the chair. Yes, please!

We stepped over the line to the staff-only-space, and I got to test-sit the chair first.

Let me tell you – it was  the  p e r f e c t  chair.

It wasn’t too soft, it wasn’t too hard, it was just perfect (and yes, it was a total Goldilocks moment). And apparently I looked so comfortable sitting in that chair that the staff member reminded me friendly not to fall asleep there. He had a point – the chair felt so comfortable I could have taken a nap in it right then and there.

However, we left Ikea without the perfect armchair. Why? Because 1) the price was not exactly student-friendly, and 2) we aren’t staying in the next apartment too long which made me think it was unnecessary to invest in that kind of armchair for such a short amount of time. It wasn’t an easy decision because I really wanted the chair, but the facts spoke against buying it so we left the grey armchair to the outlet.

Yet, in the evening (after we had returned from the 2,5 hour-long trip to Ikea) my partner asked me this: although the chair was expensive and even though I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it for a very long time – wasn’t I worth that perfect chair? Why wouldn’t I enjoy the perfect chair as long as I could, and invest not in the chair but in myself?

And that was an excellent question. What was I actually doing when I decided not to buy that chair that was so comfortable, so perfect? What kind of logic is it, and is it a sensible logic in the long run?

Cheap Living

I’ve been a student now for five years. I’ve lived on my own, handled my own money and been responsible for many adult-life-things, including my finances. Being a student with a very limited monthly income means that I’ve also lived as cheaply as possible for the past years. It has become a routine of some sort: comparing prices at the food store, making detailed grocery lists, avoiding spontaneous shopping and so on.

Especially after I returned from Ireland in the Fall of 2016, having studied there for one semester as an exchange student, I started paying more attention to my finances. That had most probably to do with the fact that when I came back I had less than 20 euros on my bank accounts (not my most glorious days, to be honest). Before Ireland I hadn’t really considered how I consumed my money – but now I decided to take action, never wanting to be in a similar economic situation again.

Today and two years later, after returning from The Green Island, the situation is quite different. I’ve become more conscious about my incomes and expenses. Together with my partner, we’ve managed to minimize our expenses, and I’m doing my best to update an Excel-file every week to keep an eye on our money.

During these last couple of years, I’ve managed to build an economic buffer for myself for emergency cases, for a rainy day or simply to be able to invest that money someday in something. But as I’ve reached this state of economic ”welfare”, it has made me think: I’ve been saving and saving and saving, 10–15 percent of every payment I’ve received on my bank account from subsidies to study loans to salary. That has been a plan that has worked better than I expected. But when have I saved enough? Or, rather: when can I put my savings into good use? I mean, the money isn’t just supposed to sit there on that bank account until the day I leave this world, right?

Right?

Because, as I wondered about the armchair I had left in Ikea, I asked myself this: how do I know when to skimp and save the money, and when to invest in myself and in my own life? After living the life of a student for so long, do I even know what investing in myself is anymore?

Rerouting the Thinking

As I’ve been living cheaply/economic-consciously for the past couple of years it has become almost like a lifestyle. The economical thinking is rooted into my thought-system and turns on automatically when I’m making choices. In one way, this is extremely helpful, giving me the continuity in cheap living – but when seen from another perspective, it gets a bit tricky.

I feel that this kind of autonomous cheap thinking twists the way I see myself and what I’m worthy of. Often I find myself thinking ”I cannot afford this” and opting for the cheaper alternative instead. Or I leave the object in the store, thinking that ”maybe I don’t need it anyway”. And in one way, again, this is helpful – but then again, I wonder this: do I hinder myself from buying something that could give me great joy simply because I think I can’t afford it?

As the amount of money on my savings account has been increasing slowly but surely, I’ve become more aware of the fact that there are actually quite a lot I could afford. But it’s amazingly difficult to try to switch from that cheap thinking to investment thinking – mostly because when I find something that feels worthy to invest in, those items tend to be the more expensive ones. But if I really want those things and think they will help me do the things I love to do – aren’t they worth the investment?

(By the way – although I’m talking about having money on my savings account and being able to afford things, it doesn’t mean I’m in any way wealthy. I do okay, mostly thanks to government subsidies and a study loan, but I rarely eat out or buy new clothes.)

Investing In Yourself

There is a thing I’ve thought about a good deal after that Friday night in Ikea:

I need to invest in myself to know who I am and what I enjoy.

If that money stays on that savings account from here to eternity, simply growing in amount, why have I been saving it in the first place? Isn’t saving money supposed to be about saving for things you enjoy or want to try out?

If you never invest that money you’ve so patiently been saving, how will you ever learn to know yourself and what kind of things you enjoy? If you only leave cheap, always skimping and thinking ”I can’t afford this” although you do, have you actually lived life to the fullest at all?

During this move we’ve made oh-so-many choices from carpets to chairs to lamps, and it’s been a constant balancing between what to invest in and where to save the money. And the conclusion we have come to in this decision-making process is that if the item you are thinking about helps you get closer to where you want to be or helps you to do what you enjoy, then it’s worth the more expensive one (that also tends to be better quality).

(For instance, the carpet we picked for our livingroom is an investment in our creativity. We call it the jungle mat as it’s a crazy jungle-themed dark-colored carpet with birds and other jungle-like things, and it’s thought-provoking to look at.)

So, after this lengthy thought process on Friday night, we woke up a bit earlier the next morning, drove the car to Ikea five minutes before they opened the doors, raced to the Outlet of Findings, and I bought the chair.

I bought the chair for myself.

I bought the chair because 1) it is comfortable, 2) it doesn’t make my butt hurt, 3) I can see myself drinking my morning coffee in it, reading books and sometimes even writing while sitting in it. In a way, investing in this chair is also an investment in my creative process and my well-being.

And that’s something, isn’t it?

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How much effort do you put into your choice-making when you’re buying something new? What do you think about when making that choice?