The Return of the Draft

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When Monday came along, I opened It: the first draft of Yellow Tails. The one I completed in December 2018 (it feels like a long time ago).

Ever since finishing it and re-reading it again after a few months break, I’ve been tossing around the idea of when to get going on the second draft and make it into a manuscript I could consider letting test readers read and comment on.

First, I thought I’d get the second draft done before Christmas last year. Traveling the world didn’t quite agree on the project and the last and only time I put some work into the draft was in the jungles of Malaysia on a rainy afternoon sometime in September. After that, I just let it sit. Didn’t even poke it with a stick.

Even now, although we’ve been back a few months, the draft has been waiting. Or, rather than waiting it has been hibernating. Keeping no noise, but still existing.

And now I know why: it has simply been waiting for its time to come. It hasn’t been about when I want to get back to it or have the time. It has been about when I’m ready for the draft.

I know this, because during the month of April, I recognized for the first time a motivated, courageous little feeling that was telling me that now would a good time to get back to Yellow Tails. It felt like I was finally feeling ready to rewrite it.

At the time, I was in the middle of a writing project working on a 23k fan fiction story and I was very determined to complete it, but I hoped that that courageous feeling would hold on until I was done with the story.

Lucky for me, it was still there this Monday. I felt excited to open the draft, to take a look at it and start writing it again from the beginning. So I did it: in Google Drive, I went to the Yellow Tails -folder and opened the second version of my first draft.

But after looking at it for a while, before typing a single word, I freezed.

I began to feel dread.

Because, as you might know, the first chapter is incredibly important: it’s supposed to be the thing that surprises the reader, makes him or her hang on to the cliff you’re creating with interesting characters, exciting quests and questions about the plot. The first few pages are crucial. And I was sitting there, looking at my previous draft and wondering, how on Earth will I ever manage to write a great first chapter?

Which led to the roller coaster ride of:

Is my first chapter interesting enough? Will anyone get to the end of the first chapter and is there someone who will want to keep on going to chapter two?

Will anyone care about a girl who wakes up in an unknown house and tries to become friends with a cat and a squirrel?

Does my story matter? (Or ever worse: why should it matter?) Will it ever matter? Is there someone out there who wants to publish it?

And so on, and so on. I trust that you can imagine how my thoughts kept going like that until the morning was over and I was feeling exhausted already, with zero words on the new draft.

However, after the first shock of Resistance was over, I remembered that 1) the first chapter is important, yes, but I can always go back to make it even better, which leads to 2) the most important thing is just to write. Simply get those first pages done and keep on going – because if you have nothing written, you have nothing to work on, to improve.

(Also, one thing that encourages me is that these days I’m part of an awesome writing club called The Secret Word Society and the theme of our next meeting is ’first chapter’. It’ll be the first time someone else gets to read Yellow Tails and I’m terrified nervous and excited to hear if my first chapter is working and if yes, YES!, and if no, how it could be improved.)

I believe that riting the second draft is just as hard as writing the first draft, but the good thing is I’m more capable of recognizing Resistance and have a few tricks to get it off my back. I’m better equipped for this writing process than I was for the first one.

And now, three days later, I’m working on chapter three and it’s going great. I am considering taking a few days off actual writing to work on the timeline and the plot because then it’ll be easier to get back to the draft more or less every day but the fact that I have 5,000 words on the new, improved draft and I’m still feeling good… How do feel about that, Resistance?

 

Am I Proud To Be A Writer?

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Lately, there has been some conversation among the Finnish writers about taking pride in being a writer. For many, writing fiction and/or fan fiction is something they don’t tell about to other people. Maybe it’s for the fear of being judged or because it feels like writing is sacred only when kept to oneself.

(I used to be familiar with the latter one, though with books. When I was 13 and read Twilight for the first time, I loved the book so much I didn’t want to tell about it to anyone – I was afraid the book would lose its appeal if someone I knew also thought it was awesome.)

As a 9-year-old kid, I wasn’t afraid to tell people I wanted to become J.K. Rowling when I grew up. I wrote stories, even a school play, and wasn’t afraid of letting the teacher read my texts out loud in class. Many in my class knew I was the writer in our class, many said I would be a writer in the future.

There was a slight shift when secondary school began. That’s when we pretty much stopped writing stories in class, and writing became only a hobby for me. But still, I didn’t stop me from sharing my passion for writing. All the fan fiction I wrote, I shared online. The few short stories I wrote, I let my teacher read and give feedback on them. When I was participating in NaNoWriMo, I let some of my friends know.

In other words, I wasn’t afraid of telling people I write.

However, today, as I’m pursuing a career as a writer, I do find it difficult to tell people I’m a writer. That I don’t just write, I’m actually a writer. That I am what I do.

Seeing Writing For What It Is

I think it’s because I feel people don’t see fiction writing as a full-time job.

Many seem to think that isn’t writing a book just about putting words down to create a story and poof! you have a ready-to-read novel? The only thing left to do is to pick a cover for your book, organize a release party and then wait for the sales numbers to go up?

Even I, as I started pursuing my career dream of being a writer one and a half years ago, didn’t know how much went into writing. Now, however, I know that if you really want to, you can make novel writing into a full-time job. All the planning, the research, the writing, editing – it takes time. It’s easy to put down hours after hours to writing and then editing a novel.

Writing books is a real job – but it feels like something only writers and publishers know about, and therefore it is hard to make someone believe writing can be made into a full-time job.

The other reason I have trouble telling people I want to write full-time is that they don’t see it as something you can support yourself with.

It’s what my parents told me when I was nine years old.

They probably have a point – it’s very possible, at least in the beginning, that you won’t become self-sufficient only by writing fiction but this doesn’t mean I cannot make writing into my job. Publishing a book can lead to other financially nice opportunities than working in café/as a cashier/a receptionist alongside writing. For instance, lecturing, visiting schools and libraries and other writing and reading related projects.

I’d much rather work with projects than that than doing something “just because I need the money”. At the same time I’m aware of the fact that it takes a moment to get that first novel published before the other opportunities can come into the picture.

Finding The Courage To Believe In The Dream

Most of all, I think why I’m nervous about telling people I’m a writer is because I’m wondering if I can make it.

There’s a difference between wanting something and being able to get it. Am I good enough to make it, to write a book a publisher wants to work on and make into a proper publishable novel?

And all those actions I’m planning on taking to become a writer: investing in writing software and an e-book reader, reading novels, reading books about writing – am I worth it, I notice myself wondering. Am I doing this, for real? Will it pay off? And…

What if it doesn’t?

By telling people I want to be a full-time writer is scary. It’s a vulnerable thing to say, to reveal your dream or passion for something.

This fear, however, proves that by talking or telling about it I’m doing the right thing. I’m actually facing my fear – and through that, I might actually manage to write a book someone wants to publish and/or read.

What drives me is the encouraging fact that I know writing is what I like doing best, it’s what I love to do. By finding the courage to tell other people that I’m a writer and this is what I aim to do the rest of my life, I might open new possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t told about what I want to do in life.

And – I don’t know if I want to believe in the “even if it doesn’t pay off” way of thinking, but even if something would happen that would alter my writerly pursuit, I know that I’m at least letting myself pursue my dream and passion.

I do that by publishing my blog posts, my fictional short stories. But I also do that by telling more and more people I am a writer and want to be that full-time.

And that’s something I do find pride in.

Experiencing As the Opposite of Writing

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After writing last week’s troubled blog post about my writing-not-writing situation, two quotes came to my mind.

Somehow, it seems, my brain thought it was time for me to do some changes so it picked these quotes from the long shelves of thoughts and memories, giving me a perspective on my current writing situation.

Funny enough – the quotes have made a difference.

Let’s just dive in and start with the first one. The quote is by Benjamin Franklin and goes like this:

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

If you have read my posts from the previous two weeks, you know I’m longing for writing something worth reading. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past year and half, writing almost daily – fiction, journal entries, blog posts. It’s what I know and love.

But now, as Mr. Franklin/my brain conveniently reminded me of, I’m doing something worth writing.

Or am I – really?

Learning About Prioritizing

Because –

I wonder if one can travel great lengths without actually doing anything worth writing about. Just linger, wander, pass curious details and interesting human beings without really seeing them and taking in their existence – and if I’ve done just that.

You see –

During these past months of travel, I’ve been looking for opportunities to write and been disappointed when day after day I haven’t had the possibility to do so. I’ve been having many negative thoughts of what I should be doing and what I’m not and, to be honest, it has consumed me and my energy.

And as I’ve been in this gravel pit of negativity, I wonder if I’ve actually given myself the chance to enjoy and experience, to take the days as they come.

However, the thing to realize here is that in the mode of experiencing, to write or not write becomes more like a side product of that mode. You have to be willing to ease on the writing part of being a traveling writer and focus more on experiencing.

But I haven’t let that happen.

I’ve kept writing as my main mode, my first priority, and that just may have hindered me from it’s opposite – experiencing.

Experience Requires Patience

This is where I’d like to introduce the second quote my brain reminded me of. It’s from a film called Stuck In Love I saw earlier this year (a movie recommendation for those looking for films about writing – it’s not a super awesome movie but it’s about writing and that’s the best thing about it).

A writer is the sum of her experiences.

When I was little, I read a fantasy book called The Prophecy of the Gems by Flavia Bujor. It was Bujor’s first (and only) book but the thing that made it cool was that she was only 14 years old at the time. I was amazed by her young age and, as I already at that point had my dreams of becoming a published author, thought I could do the same.

But the thing is, it is very hard to write about themes such as love, loss, freedom and loneliness if one has never experienced those things. No matter how much I would have wanted to write a publishable book at the age of 9, I don’t think I could’ve done it because I didn’t have enough experience of the topics that make books feel real.

Becoming experienced in this thing we call life takes time and waiting out time takes patience. And during that time you shouldn’t just sit and wait but experience, instead.

And even then, you’re not done.

Even though I feel I’m somewhat more experienced than I was at the time I read Bujor’s debut and could put together a realistic novel, at the same time I realize I’m not done experiencing.

There’s so much more to learn about life’s quirks that I haven’t gotten to yet.

I believe one of those quirks has been presented to me during these last couple of days.

The Lesson To Learn

I don’t think it’s too late for me to switch my focus and re-organize my priorities. Even though writing is one of the most meaningful things in my life, I can let it rest for a while – that doesn’t mean I will never get back to my writing routines and never become a published author.

I just have to be patient, give time to this period in my life. Remember that experiences give me something to write about.

And even though I’ve been obsessed about writing-not-writing, I think I’ve squeezed in some experiences and observations:

I have used my senses in the desert landscape of Northern Australia: seen the drought, felt the heat and sweat in the small of my back. I’ve heard the wind rustle through the dry hay, smelled the smoke coming from forest fires, tasted the refreshing water after a hike.

During the long days of driving, I’ve had time to listen to audiobooks and in the evenings, listened to audiobooks or read fiction. Thought about my own works of fiction, the characters and what makes a book feel real.

I’ve had time to think of who I am as a person and as a writer, thought about what life’s meaning really is about and if it’s necessary to find something that feels meaningful or if the meaningfulness of things already exists there or here, I just can’t see it yet.

So I’m already on a good path here – I just need to be patient and forgive myself for not writing.

It won’t be an easy switch to just ”forget” about writing and only write when the opportunity presents itself. And I need to be careful not to put too much weight on experiencing and instead just take the experiences as they come.

This road trip might be about learning to enjoy, to experience without stressing out about experiencing, and write when the opportunity presents itself – but not force myself to do anything.

If I learn that, I might have an experience on my hands really worth writing about.

Sweat, Strength and Tears of Happiness

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The first time I attended a yoga class, I cried.

I was 15, overweight and had had very few positive experiences in physical exercise. But doing yoga, although I wasn’t very flexible or have good core muscles, resonated with me. The calmness and the steady flow of breathing in and out in harmony with the movements did the trick and I cried out of happiness.

Even after the class as I got a searing headache I felt good, like the headache was good kind of pain that comes from doing something your body has been needing for a long time.

Aside from baseball, yoga was the first form of physical exercise I truly enjoyed. For most of my life, I had struggled with my eating and had trouble finding a sport I liked. Finding out about yoga was a relief – maybe there was a sport for me after all, a way to get fit.

However, it took a few years before I actually started doing yoga regularly.

First, I found my way to Youtube where I got started with free yoga classes from beginner and advanced to the intermediate level. After that, I managed to find a very affordable yoga class near the place I lived, and decided to participate on the beginner course of ashtanga yoga.

Diving Into The Practice

Ashtanga is a form of yoga that is dynamic and physically demanding. It builds core strength and even tones the body. During the first lesson I was delighted to hear that the yoga instructor herself had lost a good deal of weight after she began doing ashtanga regularly.

I believed that the same could apply to me if I just practiced ashtanga regularly.

I never learned to enjoy exercise when I was younger because I couldn’t find a sport I felt good at. I’ve tried water gymnastics, dancing, squash, instructed BodyPump and BodyCombat, even fencing but none of those sports resonated with me. Only running and biking have been sports that I’ve enjoy – and even then going out for a run is almost always a bit forced.

Then I found ashtanga yoga and noticed how much I enjoyed the disciplined, monotonous routine. As the series and the poses are always the same, I knew what was expected of me and could do my best, be better than last time. I could try to achieve perfection in my routine, to become as good as possible at doing the ashtanga primary series.

Despite this eager and ambitious mindset, I seldom managed to break a sweat during those lessons or get aching muscles from all the sun salutations and push-ups. I didn’t have the feeling I was developing that much as I always got stuck on those same poses, unable to get any deeper into them. And I didn’t loose any weight.

Despite of that, I kept going back.

Back To The Roots

I kept going back – until this Spring I started to question my reasons for keeping up with ashtanga. During the past couple of years I’ve been questioning almost all aspects of my life: whose company I enjoy, how I speak and what I talk about, what do I like to do, who do I want to be. But up until this Spring, I hadn’t been questioning my ashtanga practices or any other forms of sporting for that matter – until I got the opportunity to attend a yoga class at a real yoga studio.

It was a whole other experience. The atmosphere, candles, air diffusers, music, the 30°C temperature inside the classroom – it was something completely different compared to those ashtanga classes in a slightly chilly gymnasium.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been trying out yoga classes from yin yoga to hatha yoga and flow yoga. It has been nice as the calm exercises have given me an opportunity to balance out the stress caused by the thesis.

However, one class made all the difference: two weeks ago I attended a vinyasa flow class. It was a fast-paced but calm, extremely sweaty but not the kind that makes one’s heart rate skyrocket. Instead, it was pure bliss. In the end of that class, after almost ten years, I found myself holding back tears of happiness.

It was as if I had found back to the roots to the core that sparked my interest for yoga.

A New Perspective

After all the years of disciplined ashtanga practices and always somewhat forced workout sessions at the gym, I finally managed to realize something about myself. I’ve been doing the hardest, most demanding physical exercises because I act the same way in other aspects of life. I don’t go easy on myself on the work or writing projects I decide to take on. Instead, I push myself to give my very best.

But that doesn’t mean the hardest and most demanding form of working works for everything in life.

The vinyasa flow and power yoga classes I’ve attended make me sweat and give me properly aching muscles the day after, but without the pushing-my-boundaries-and-making-my heart-rate-race.

I’ve managed to find a new perspective on physical exercise that works for me: at the same time as I’m challenging myself with the different poses and the balance and core muscles yoga practices require, I’m also finding peace and calm in my exercise.

And just because the pacing is calm doesn’t mean I won’t sweat or get a good workout. After over 20 years of painful battle of finding balance between what feels good and what is good for my body, realizing this is a relief.

It’s time for me to adopt this new perspective for real and let go of punishing myself for not being the fittest runner, the dancer, the fencer, the squash-player.

Who knew calmness can equal sweat, core strength and tears of happiness?

14 Hours Of More Clarity

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Thirty days ago, I decided to delete the app for Instagram from my phone and to log out from my Facebook account. For a month now, I haven’t really been up to date with my friends and family or with the newest writing updates or recipe revolutions posted on social media.

And you know what? I’ve been just fine.

The first few days were the oddest. My fingers automatically found their way to the place where the app for Instagram on my phone was. It was also extremely easy to start writing facebook.com on the address bar while surfing the Internet.

But as I was determined about creating a successful change and didn’t experience any abstinence from staying away from the platforms, in a few days, I was completely okay with dedicating my time for something else.

How I Spent My Hours

So, where did my time go? How did I spend those 14–28 hours I counted I would save by quitting scrolling on Instagram and Facebook?

I might have to disappoint you here because I can’t tell you what I did. I honestly don’t know, at least not hour-by-hour. But I can tell you what I think I spent it on:

  • Watching videos on Youtube. And I don’t mean funny animals or home videos –  I’m not an active cat-video person so I didn’t spend hours on watching cute animals fall off shelves or getting their faces caught in Kleenex-boxes. Instead, I spent time watching some interesting, though-provoking videos on self-development and when I was feeling a bit down because of the weather or life in general, I watched videos about van life and sailing (because those videos are most often very sunny and positive).
  • Reading books. I had more brain energy to focus on the content of several different works of fact and fiction. For instance, I finished What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which I reflected on in a blog post. I continued listening to Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and read the first 600 pages (and continuing) of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I also read and summarized a book about writing called Paper Hearts by Beth Ravis.
  • Thinking. It might sound odd but I actually found more time and especially energy for deeper thinking. As I wasn’t constantly getting distracted by some food photo or book recommendation I had seen or read about on social media, my thoughts were more focused on me and what I am surrounded with. Things I’ve been thinking about have been, for instance, what I want in life, what I think has meaning in my life and how I am as a person.
  • Getting things done. I hope to be able to talk about this more in another post, but as I didn’t have Instagram or Facebook to direct my procrastination needs to, I actually got many such things done that usually would have waited completing for hours: everything from cleaning the coffee maker (and I mean properly) to responding to e-mails directly as they drop into my inbox. Finishing these small things that I tend to leave hanging gave me a sense of achievement (just like making one’s bed in the morning can give).

Doing More By Doing Less

The thing with Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter among many other platforms is that they take your time in small, unnoticeable amounts: a few minutes here, ten minutes there. But put together, they result in a specific amount minutes and hours every day. Therefore, I can’t show you exactly how I spent those minutes I’d otherwise have spent on my phone because there wasn’t really anything I did that took only a few minutes from one moment and a few minutes from the other.

In a way, maybe one of the absolute benefits of staying away from active scrolling is this: I was able to put those small snippets of time together and instead, spend an hour or so doing some deeper work. Instead of spending a few minutes of time here and there on some random chores or a few book pages, I put all those snippets together and did something more efficient with those minutes that were turned into a whole hour.

For instance, I spent an hour reading about writing or listening to a book, or took twenty minutes to watch a lengthy video about how to keep an eye on your expenses and create a budget, and so on.

I was able to do more by doing less – if it makes sense?

What About Staying Updated?

But hey – if I’m not that much on the Internet, how do I keep up with the world when I’m not connected to it? How do I know what my friends and family are up to if I can’t check their updates on Facebook or Instagram? And what if I miss out on something important, like an interesting event or a revolutionary food recipe because I’m not on those platforms they are announced or published in?

After being AWOL for a month now, I have to say that I have been completely okay with not being connected or updated. I’ve felt peaceful despite the risk that I might have missed out on something. In a sense, I haven’t experienced any feelings of fear of missing out.

One of the drawbacks of social media is that it creates this need of constantly being present – we need to be there where everyone else is to not miss out on anything. But I have a question: did this same fear exist before we started hanging out on social media? If it did exist, how strong was that fear?

What makes me question this is that although I haven’t watched my sister’s Instagram Stories for a month now or I’m unaware of what my friends have been up to, I haven’t experienced that fear. And why I haven’t is because I know the fear is not real. I know for a fact I’m not worse off because I haven’t been following the news or my friends’ latest adventures. My life hasn’t become worse because of me being offline.

The fear many people experience from not being connected is almost completely made up from thin air. We create that fear ourselves by thinking that we miss out on something if we’re not actively online – although we aren’t.

Or, well, it depends, of course, what you define as something. If you want to be a part of different social media phenomena or want to know what videos have gone viral, then yes, you are missing out if you’re not active on social media. However, if you are afraid of missing out on friends and family updates or the daily news – your fear is probably artificially constructed.

You don’t need social media to know what your friends are doing because you can ask them. And it’s so much more fun to hear from themselves what they’ve been up to instead of not asking because you already know because you saw a short video or a photo of it.

What It Gives and Takes

The decision to ignore the fear of missing out on things and make that fear entirely non-existent comes from finding balance and peace within yourself. You need to be okay with not following the 24/7 news posted on Facebook or find peace with letting those Instagram Stories vanish into thin air without watching them. And the way to find the balance is to ask yourself:

1) What does knowing these things give you? And

2) What does knowing all that information take away from you?

For some people, being on social media actually gives them more than it takes. But for many, constantly updating and being updated is actually taking more time, energy and memory space compared with how much high-quality information one gains in return. If you are able to see the off-balance and acknowledge it, you won’t have a problem finding peace with yourself with not being active on social media.

This is, at least, how I’ve experienced the whole thing.

Final Thoughts

Keeping my mind free from all the information on social media has helped me focus on things. I’ve been putting my concentration to work: my projects are progressing, I’m thinking about more complex issues and have been generating new ideas and thoughts. It’s been relaxing to not stress about Instagram content or being updated with book recommendations, food recipes and writing advice.

Instead, I’ve been able to figure out what I want to know, what I want to read or see and when I want to do it. I’m more in control over my own resources (time, energy, brain power and memory space) when I’m not accidentally giving them to the social media platforms. The hours I have when I’m not scrolling are being invested into my hobbies,  into writing, self-development and spending more time with loved ones.

But what happens after a 30-day detox? What I can tell you is that I’ve made two decisions: 1) I’m not calling it a detox anymore, because 2) I’ll continue being absent from social media for an undetermined period of time.

Maybe there will be a time when I wish to get back in but for now – I’m staying offline.