What My Grandfather Taught Me

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Tomorrow is my grandfather’s funeral. He died peacefully at the respectful age of 95 on a beautiful Friday morning two weeks ago. I visited the care home that morning to see him one last time and I was happy to see the peaceful look on his face – it felt important to see him one last time.

After he passed away, I’ve been going through some old photos I found at my grandparent’s apartment before the place was emptied as they had moved to a care home.

Most of the photos I found have been taken by my grandfather, some of them have been taken by someone else as my grandfather is in the photo. The photos have made me wonder who he was, what he believed in and what of his values has he passed on to me.

He was a silent and a thoughtful man who did smile but not very easily. I remember how he was always reading the newspaper or sleeping. He liked sweets and baked goods. He was always organizing papers and staying updated about what was happening in the country – they subscribed to four different daily newspapers.

Those are some of the memories I have of him. But for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about his legacy – what he taught me through his way of being and how he lived his life. This is what I’ve realized:

Routines

My grandfather was a man who followed his daily routines. He would wake up at 4 AM to read the newspaper and then take a nap (it was usually my job to go and wake him very carefully and kindly for breakfast). Then he would read or organize his papers, maybe work for a while at his work apartment in the house next door. In the afternoons, he went for his walk. Every single day. Even at old age when Alzheimer was taking over his brain, he could remember all the streets he walked through during that afternoon walk.

I don’t know why he had his routines – I never asked. But he must have known they were good because they give so much more time and space for some proper thinking and for understanding things. Maybe I’ve simply taken after him?

Knowledge

When I was little and did some homework after school at my grandparents, I sometimes needed help finding out about a fact. Most often, I turned to my grandfather who was known for knowing great many details about what seemed to be everything.

However, when I asked my question, may that have been about history or geography or grammar, I never got a straight answer from him although he probably knew it. Instead, he would go to the great bookshelf and pick up one, two or three books about the subject. He then helped me find the right page where I could find the information I was looking for.

I believe he knew that if I would find the information myself I would remember it better – and I believe he was right.

Literature

As you might have realized by now, my grandfather was a man who respected information. He was a history guide and a tour guide on trips in Europe – and together with his team he won several years in a row a competition where the team is supposed to drive from one place to another and answer some detailed questions about the city.

He knew a lot without getting any help from Google, Siri or Sierra.

In addition to love for information, my grandfather respected books. My grandfather was the one responsible for buying us all a book for Christmas. He didn’t mind that they were fiction but I think it meant a lot to him to know that all his grandchildren were fond of reading (I wonder what he would think about Yellow Tails).

Although I wouldn’t maybe hold on to as many books as he did while he lived, I still like to think his love for literature and information has passed on to me.

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In addition to these things, I remember him for his good humor, wisdom and excellent board game skills. One time, me and my grandfather were a team while playing Star of Africa and we won the game by finding the diamond in time and returning home rich as any. He was a clever man.

There’s so many things I would like to ask him now – real grown-up things that I wonder about and would like to hear his thoughts on. I hope he would’ve written a diary of some sort to know what he thought and believed in. But I can’t do that, not ask questions or read his thoughts. It’s too late for that.

But I have his photos, I have my memories – rest of it I’ll just have to build up on my own.

Why Fan Fiction Could Be Good For You

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During 2007 and 2011 I wrote over one hundred fan fiction short stories that I published on a Finnish writing forum. The stories I wrote were a way for me to stay a bit longer in the beloved world of Harry Potter after the books had been released, but it was also an opportunity to try writing alternative histories, throw the characters into new sorts of adventures or make them go through something I myself had experienced.

The active years I spent there helped me develop as a writer as I read several hundred, if not up to a thousand, good pieces of fan fiction and got feedback for my own stories as well. Also, I loved finding a community that shared the same passion for the fandom and for writing.

A bit over a month ago, I wrote about my wish for finding good writing company. I was feeling reluctant to return to the same writing forum and start writing fan fiction again as it felt like I had outgrown it, but after some thinking and browsing through the familiar forum I noticed an HP short story idea starting to form inside my mind. Something I thought would be worth publishing.

So, after an eight-year-long break, I decided to make a comeback. And it was nice to return.

Developing as a Writer

During the past few months of my fierce and stressful thesis-writing, I’ve had Yellow Tails resting on the shelf (quite literally, it’s on the highest shelf of my wardrobe). I didn’t want to have two big projects going on at the same time because I was certain I couldn’t give them both the high quality energy they deserved, so I opted for one of the two.

Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to keep my mind off fiction writing. A writer needs to keep on writing and therefore, instead of writing novels, I’ve been putting my creative energy into something where the stakes are a bit lower: fan fiction.

I’ve spent the past months reading some great works, both one-shot and longer, and I’ve practiced giving feedback to writers on their stories. I have also written and published a short story with four parts (1,000 words each), and at the moment, I’m working on another story that will have five parts. Small things – but things, nonetheless.

Ten years ago, when I was a newbie in fan fiction, I used to write fan fiction almost on a daily basis and as soon as I was done with a piece, I would usually publish it right away and eagerly wait for some feedback.

Today, however, I have become more tolerant with my work. I give it the time it needs after the story is done before I start editing it and read it through several times before publishing it. I focus more on the reader’s experience and try to make the story as easy to read as possible.

Things I don’t think I even considered ten years ago.

What I wasn’t expecting upon my returning is that, as time has gone by, I notice how much I’ve developed as a writer.

The Many Benefits of Fan Fiction

In the same way as I see my own progress, I’ve also noticed the many things how writing fan fiction can help probably anyone develop as a writer.

Back in the days writing fan fiction was only something I did for fun. Today, as I see writing almost as a science, I’m making a comeback to the writing forum with a clear aim and for a purpose: to become a better writer.

So, these are the pros with fan fiction I believe will improve my writing skills:

  1. Just like reading books helps one to develop as a writer, so does reading fan fiction. There are so many great works online! By reading all those short stories and novels, one can learn a great deal about writing. It also helps to realize what makes fan fiction good – and what does not, something one can probably translate to writing original stories as well.
  2. When the world and the characters are familiar, it is easier to develop your plotting skills and focus on creating an intriguing storyline. There isn’t the same kind of pressure in writing fan fiction as there is in writing something original: when half of it is already there, you can direct your focus on the things that need it the most.
  3. However, just because the world and the characters are familiar doesn’t mean you get to be sloppy with them. It’s a fine challenge to try writing about the world and the characters everybody already know as authentically as possible. The world needs to feel real and the character’s actions must seem realistic, in-character. This way, writing fan fiction helps a writer to find ways to think about the characters and the world on another level: what are the qualities of this character, how does he or she think or feel in this kind of situation? How does the world actually work, what would be a suitable explanation for this thing that is happening?(A good example is an HP fan fiction work called Manacled (K18 / NC-17!) that I’m reading at the moment: the characters and the world feel so authentic I’m amazed by the writer’s skills)
  4. At least on the writing forum I’m active at, there are several different writing challenges anyone can join. For instance, there’s a challenge where writers are invited to write fan fiction about forced marriages. Another challenge offers the opportunity for the writer to write a story where one uses their knowledge of a certain topic, e.g. Biology or Political Science, in the story. In this way, the writing forums offer new ideas to write about and an opportunity to try writing something completely different.
  5. One of the best things about writing fan fiction is that the stakes aren’t that high. The audience can be demanding but no one will banish you from the forums if you write something less intriguing. You are writing and publishing on that forum for one reason: to develop as a writer. Therefore, it is also an opportunity to try one’s wings on new genres or writing from an odd character’s point of view.(I’ve done this more now than before: the story I wrote and published in early April was written from an 11-year-old boy’s view, something I’ve never done before, and the story I’m now writing has some detailed sex scenes in it. I’m really walking on strange land here)

The only downside about fan fiction writing I can come up with is that it can become very addictive to write fan fiction only because it is easier than writing something of your own. After a while, writing something original can become too daunting, and that is a thing to be aware of.

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Have you written fan fiction / are you writing right now / could you consider writing?

Help for Heroes – Or How To Realise an Idea

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I was standing on the platform waiting for a train to take me to another city. A woman in her thirties walked past me. Her style and the way she walked, proudly, made me think she was an advocate for something. She was wearing a black hoodie with a text written in white on it that said Help for Heroes.

Still with minutes left to kill before the train would arrive, my mind started thinking about the words it had seen. Help for Heroes sounded exciting and immediately a thought, an idea, started forming inside my head. What if there was a person in the world who would not be a superhero herself but would come to the aid of superheroes – in a way, she would be the superhero of the superheroes?

How would the story look?

For instance, would the hero of this story, the helper of the superheroes, have an office where she would sit on one side of the table and Hulk on the other, the green giant holding back tears because the puppies were just so cute so he got distracted and that’s why he failed to save the world? And the helper would tell Hulk that ”Hey, puppies are your soft spot, Hulk, and you just have to learn to be okay with it. It’s unnecessary to keep putting energy on wondering how the hell the puppies ended up in the warehouse in the first place. More important is to discuss how you can deal with your weakness and make it into a strength.”

In that moment, I got into the wonderful wheel of spinning on ideas. It’s a great feeling and for me, it’s one of the best things about writing – coming up with ideas, creating more ideas around them and creating a new world of everything that is exciting. But then I got hit by a wall – a wall I’d like to call too mainstream. While standing on the train platform, I saw the whole Help for Heroes enterprise build in front of me – the movies, the comics, the miniature toy figurines. And that made me realize that my idea was so identical to so many of the superhero movies and books that are published today – and in that moment, the idea lost its appeal.

And that made me think of this: if I wanted to make the idea wonderful and unique, I’d have to find a way to use the idea in an unexpected way. But how does one realise an idea without it becoming a copy of everything that already exists? How to make an idea unique?

Learning from Others

This question of realising ideas has been boosted by the literature I’ve come across during the past month. I decided to alter my reading list and switch from adult books to young adult literature. So, in the library, I walked to the young adult section and picked out books with a catchy name and an interesting back cover.

I like YA as a genre; the books tend to be hopeful with a valuable lesson to learn and the characters can be great role models for young readers (and why not for older readers as well). But the best part, what I noticed while browsing the shelves, was that the ideas for YA don’t seem to have any limits. I mean, speed dating in space? I’m in! People having nine lives instead of one? I want to know more! The ideas are daring and awesome – and I was intrigued to see how the idea would take form in the story.

However, as fun and even a bit crazy these ideas are, when I started reading the books I noticed how the idea only takes the book so far. These novels were built on a good idea but had such weaknesses that exhausted the power of that idea: there were too many characters or they were too weak; there were too many subplots that didn’t seem be important for the main plot; the storyline was foreseeable which made it boring and so on.

It feels like many books are built on a great idea – but the execution doesn’t do justice to that idea (or vice versa but that’s another topic). So, how to write a story that presents the idea in the best possible light?

Make It Your Own

As there are certain ingredients needed to bake a cake, so are there for writing a novel. The story gains a good deal of structure when it follows the classic story structure of a hero’s journey. A story needs a set of characters and some subplots to engage the reader and create feelings of excitement or sympathy for the characters.

But a writer needs to find a way to make the novel stand out from all the other novels that are written. It is said that every story is unique because no one will write the story in exactly the same way as you do. And it’s true. But on top of the things already mentioned, the idea that gives life to a new novel needs to be realised in a way that will leave people, in some way or the other, amazed and surprised.

How to do that? I don’t know – but I can guess. This is what I’ve come up with:

  1. Don’t get too excited creating tens of characters and subplots for the story just because they give a fun twist to it or show new sides of the idea. Instead, focus on crafting a strong storyline that thrives on the idea without becoming too much of everything.
  2. Don’t cut the corners while crafting the storyline, i.e. don’t settle for the typical, foreseeable story structure most of us have learned to recognize. Instead, try to analyze the story structure points in a new way, in your way. Can a mentor be something else than a person? Can ’the darkest moment’ be interpreted in a different way?
  3. Think about the idea through your own values or the life lessons and experiences you’ve gained. What values or lessons do you want to pass forward to the reader through the story you’re writing? For instance, in Yellow Tails I’m trying to show the reader the difficulty of change – something I’ve learned first hand. This will make the story even more unique because it becomes more like you.

So, sure, your story needs structure, characters and subplots to work and realise an idea – but do a favor for yourself: don’t cut the corners while working on your idea. Do the analytic work. Kill your darlings. And make the idea work for you; make it your own.

To come back to that moment on the train station: although the primary idea for Help for Heroes feels very mainstream, I’m certain that I can find the twist that makes the story more complex, unforeseeable and, most of all, unique. But to manage that I need to be willing to do the thinking work it requires. We’ll see where it will take me.

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How do you go about when realising an idea?

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.

The Time of Self-Diagnosis

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Some time ago a friend of mine was happy to tell me that she had finally been diagnosed – she was suffering from dyscalculia, which explains why she was always struggling with math, or remembering important dates.

And last Summer, I listened to the radio while driving a car. The host of that radio station was excited to tell about this new diagnosis called dysmorphophobia, or body dysmorphic disorder – a mental disorder where a person believes one or several of his or her body parts are severely flawed which hinders the person from living a normal life.

In one way, my feelings towards these diagnoses were neutral. It’s a good thing to find explanations to one’s behavior and know that I’m not alone with these thoughts and feelings. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder: is it really necessary for us humans to diagnose every flaw, weakness and imperfection in human nature? Are we coming up all these names and diagnoses just because we have the need to have an explanation for everything we do, instead of just accepting that these traits are a part of who we are as people?

Instead of being called shy, we prefer the word introvert.

Instead of saying that you don’t like your nose, you say you suffer from dysmophophobia.

Instead of saying that you prefer quiet evenings in the company of a few, you describe yourself as a highly sensitive person.

Don’t take this the wrong way: I myself use these diagnoses to describe and understand myself (as you will see later in this post). But I’m critical to how much we should rely on and adapt to these diagnoses.

Should we take them as granted and make them an integrated part of our personality – or should we critically observe them and take in the knowledge without becoming the diagnosis itself?

An Intertwined Mix

During the past year, I’ve learned some things about myself. For instance, I’m a people-pleaser, which means I tend to put other people’s needs before my own. I’m also a highly sensitive person, a HSP, which is difficult to describe in a sentence but basically it means that I’m more sensitive to people and social events than many others are. Recently, I’ve also concluded that I’m an introvert.

And some weeks ago, my partner came across a book about who we fall in love with and why. It describes four different personality types according to what hormone your body releases the most, and there is a test anyone can do that will show you what two personality types dominate your body and mind. I did the test and got some more definitions to add to my ’personality diagnosis closet’. Now I’m also a builder and a negotiator.

So, let me introduce myself: My name is H.E.R. and I am a People-Pleaser, an Introvert, a Highly Sensitive Person, a Builder and a Negotiator. My horoscope sign is Cancer and my Chinese Zodiac Sign is Dog.

According to these definitions I’m clever and courageous but emotional and stubborn (definition of Dog), attentive and thoughtful (HSP), tend to prioritize other people’s needs before my own (people-pleaser), enjoy spending time alone and in that way recharge my batteries (introvert), and am imaginative, sensitive (negotiator), loyal and good at making lists (builder).

This. Is. Me.

Or is it?

Does It Really Matter?

As the science of biology and psychology develop further, the scientists come to understand us humans better and better. Today, our behavior can be explained through not only psychology, but also biology.

For instance, according to the Four Personalities Test, a Negotiator releases more estrogen than the other four personality types, while a Builder releases more serotonin than others. Highly sensitive people aren’t necessary people who are shy but because they have a more sensitive central nervous system than many others, it may seem like they are. And science shows that introverts react to dopamine in a different way than extroverts do.

The more we know, the better we get at giving biological explanations to why we are the way we are. In the olden days, our behavior was explained by words such as shyness, courage or being in love. But today, we have a biological explanation for these things. We can name these characteristics anew and call them diagnoses, explanations for why and who you are.

For scientists, this is a good thing because it helps them move on to the next human-related challenge and de-mystify many mysteries about us humans. But for us others who don’t do scientific research – does knowing about hormone balances really change a thing? Knowing what hormones we release or how our bodies receive those hormones – how much of it do we really understand? Just because affection is actually your body releasing oxytocin, does it change how we see it in real life?

Just because we have a different, more scientific description of something, changing the way we see and think about things takes a lot more time. So, why are we putting down all this effort to self-diagnose ourselves?

(In addition, isn’t it nicer to talk about our affection for someone rather than saying ”by the way, last night my body was releasing oxytocin like crazy, if you know what I’m saying?”)

Living Up To Expectations

In the age of self-diagnosis, these biological / psychological explanations of human behavior may give you reassurance and validation – but it isn’t said that they’re one hundred percent true.

Understanding yourself, how your body and mind functions, can be extremely helpful because you 1) get to know your strengths and weaknesses, 2) understand why you behave in a certain way in certain situations, and 3) have a better understanding of what you need and want in order to live a balanced life.

For instance, learning about my high-sensitivity helped me realize why I didn’t enjoy working as a local news journalist and why I often seemed to react more strongly to conflicts than other members of my family did. The definitions of introversion helped me realized that I need time alone – not because I’m weird and anti-social but because that’s one of the few ways to find the time and space to focus only on myself and my needs for a while.

Sometimes we need to see things from another point of view to understand who we are and what we want. These tests and descriptions can help open one’s eyes, help to see one’s personality traits from a different perspective.

Another reason for self-diagnosing is also the fact that life, in general, is pretty messy and complicated. There are so many challenges to face, problems to solve, complex things to understand. So, if we can make our own personality easier to understand by making tests about it (instead of asking ourselves those questions and seeking answers to them), why not do it? It’s like a weather app: instead of learning to read the clouds, the winds and the color of the morning sky, you can take a look at the app and it will tell you how many layers of clothes you need that day.

It might sound like an easy way out. You do a test and read what it says about your strengths and weaknesses. You take the information to your heart and start living your life according to those strengths and weaknesses.

But there’s a catch here: we humans have a tendency to ”live up to expectations”, whether we want to or not, and that can have dire consequences.

Read about how highly sensitive people easily get exhausted, overwhelmed and burned out, and you find yourself noticing those traits especially often, either in yourself or in people around you. Suddenly, the descriptions become self-fulfilling prophecies because we are quite likely to buy in everything the descriptions say about us or others. We see those traits around us because we want to believe that they actually exist.

We take these instructions in because we want to fit in, find our place in the society.

But in that case, can we still say that we are being true to ourselves, true to who we are?

Diagnosis as a Tool

For me, reading and doing these tests has been a way to help me understand myself. I’d say they have been extremely useful. But I’d also like to point out this: when doing these tests and processing all the information, it’s essential to remember that these tests don’t tell you who you are – they tell you some aspects that can be true with you. Just because something says this is a part of you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are.

So, instead of taking these theories into your heart and making them a grounded part of your identity, you’ll benefit more if you see them as tools that help you 1) clarify to yourself why you react or behave in a certain way, and 2) understand how you can deal with these reactions in relation to yourself and other people.

Don’t see the test results as a set script for you to follow. Don’t choose the seemingly easy way out because it isn’t – if you wish to stay true to yourself.

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How do you feel about all the tests and books that aim to help us understand ourselves? Has some specific book or website had an impact on how you see yourself? I’d like to continue the conversation in the comments.

Lessons With Murakami

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ideal Timing

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

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

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

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

Metaphors and Thoughts

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

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

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

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

– –

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

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

Three Lessons I Took With Me

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

1. ”Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”

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

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

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

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

3. Sometimes taking time is actually a shortcut.

 

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

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

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

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

***

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

What I Read This Year

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Sundays are usually the days for Still Life Sundays, my unofficial series of short stories. Last Sunday, I published my 20th (!) Still Life Sunday which makes me feel many positive things. I feel 1) happy for having published consecutively a short story almost every Sunday for the past five months, 2) proud for publishing short stories that are written then and there and haven’t actually been edited all too much, and 3) amazed of the thought that these twenty short stories could be made into a mini e-book! How cool is that?

The thought behind Still Life Sundays has always been to write about something that somehow has to do with the post I publish on Thursdays. For instance, a few weeks ago when I wrote about the art of finishing a story, the Still Life Sunday that preceded that blog post was about a girl thanking a boy in his class for helping her finish the first play she ever wrote.

However, this Sunday I’m still uncertain of what I’m going to write about on this coming  Thursday. I usually have it figured out by Sunday but this coming week is special. I am so frigging close to finishing Yellow Tails – I only have the epilogue left – and if I finish the draft before Thursday, I have post planned for that. But if life gets in the way (or Christmas because did you know Christmas is only a week plus a day away?) and I won’t finish Yellow Tails before Thursday, then I will talk about something else.

So, next week will show what I’ll write about and therefore, as a follow-up on the blog post about books I published this week, I thought I’d share with you what I read this year! Maybe you’ll get some tips, some ideas for the new year on what to read? And I would love if you shared your own book tips in the comments below!

So – let’s get to it, shall we?

(P.S. What are your thoughts on prologues and epilogues in books, are they a good thing or could they be left out?)

A Few Notes on My Reading Preferences

But before I’ll introduce you the list of books I read in 2018 (I know, I know – I’m keeping you on edge, making you wait for the list as I always come up with a few notions on something before getting to the actual topic), I want to mention a few things about my reading and how I choose the books I read.

  1. I read, write and speak in three different languages almost on a daily basis. That means that the books I read tend to balance between these three languages. This year, I read eight books in Finnish, one book in Swedish and six books in English. I focused a good deal on Finnish and English books in order to support my blog writings (in English) and writing my work in progress (in Finnish).
  2. I prefer reading books in their original language instead of opting for translations. Of course, I appreciate a good translation but most often I pick up books in their original language if possible. That, however, leaves out many great books written in languages I don’t master, which is unfortunate.
  3. I read 15 books this year. I’m currently reading three books that I’ll maybe be able to finish before New Year’s Eve, maybe not. In addition to that, I’ve begun several books, probably twenty or so, read 50 to 150 pages before returning them to the library. But this I wrote about on Thursday, the challenge of finding good books to read.

So, what were these fifteen books I read?

15 + 3 Books

Finally – the books! Here is the list of books I read this year. I have a * after the title if I loved this book. But do notice that I liked them all. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have completed them (like happened for the other twenty books or so).

As I mentioned, many of the books I read this year are in Finnish. I know most of my readers aren’t that familiar with the Finnish language so I’ll try to provide a translation on the book title – and if there’s a translation available in your language, I’d recommend you to try to find the book and read it!

What I read in 2018:

  1. Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’ Tale (1985)
    • I purchased the book in Lisbon, Portugal a few days before New Year’s Eve. I enjoyed the book and the pictures it paints in certain scenes – however, I think the spell got partly broken because I had already seen the HBO series. A good read but not quite what I had hoped for.
  2. Yuval Noah Harari: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2015)
    • This was an interesting read! Especially after finishing A Brief History of Humankind, a book both me and my partner loved. The second book of Harari wasn’t quite as compelling as the first one but there were many thoughts and ideas that have stayed in my mind, fuelling my writing and that have given me ideas for future novels and short stories. Definitely worth a read, I’d say.
  3. Steven Pressfield: The War of Art (2002) *
    • This was probably the Book of the Year for me. I loved reading it and I don’t think I’d be this close finishing my first draft if I hadn’t read Pressfield’s book about creating, the struggles and the benefits behind the process and what it’s like being a creative person. I’d recommend this to anyone who wishes to become a creative person. The War of Art is probably a book I’ll return to many times in the future, as a reminder and to refresh my belief in my writing.
  4. Riikka Pulkkinen: Paras mahdollinen maailma / The Best Possible World (2016)
    • Honestly, I had a tough time remembering what this book was about. A quick Google search reminded me of the plot – but at the same time I realized the book wasn’t to my taste, why else would I have forgotten so much about it? I love Pulkkinen’s writing, she has an amazing way of describing things and feelings! But the plot didn’t work, not for me. I would recommend reading her other books, though. The first one, Limit, has at least been translated to nine different languages, English being one of them.
  5. Mika Waltari: Sinuhe, egyptiern The Egyptian or Sinuhe the Egyptian (1945) *
    • This was the second time in a year’s time I read Sinuhe. It is one of the classics of Finnish literature, and I loved it. Waltari manages to invite the reader to Ancient Egypt and builds up a world one feels familiar with and longs to long after the book has ended. I enjoyed the characters, too. In addition to an intriguing story, Sinuhe contains a good deal of wisdom that still apply today, making it a thought-provoking read as well.
  6. Matti Rönkä: Eino / a translation isn’t needed as Eino is a Finnish male name (2015)
    • Eino is a book about a young man trying to figure out his own life while finding out about the secrets of his grandfather who fought in the World War II. The book was a nice read although it didn’t leave me with any long-lasting thoughts or feelings.
  7. Tommi Kinnunen: Neljäntienristeys / Where the Four Roads Meet) (2014) *
    • I read this book in two or three days. The writing, the characters, the plot… everything about the book was so compelling and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s the story of three different generations of a family, how they live their lives, and how they see each other and themselves in a changing world. The book has been translated to several different languages but I don’t think there’s an English version – not yet, at least. But if you get your hands on this one, give it a go!
  8. Tommi Kinnunen: LopottiThe Light Behind Your Eyes (2016)
    • The second book of the family story, continuing where the first one ended, sort of. I liked this book but I enjoyed the characters in the first book more. This one has also been translated to several languages!
  9. Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project (2013)
    • It’s the second time I read this book, this time as an DIY audiobook as I wanted my partner to read/hear it too. The Rosie Project is an entertaining, fun book with quirky small details and entertaining characters. Definitely worth a read, if you’re searching for something fun and easy to read over the holidays!
  10. John Williams: Butcher’s Crossing (1960) *
    • Ever since I discovered Stoner in 2017, I’ve been in love with Williams’ writing style (and am interested in learning to write like he does). There’s something in his cold but colorful, descriptive style of writing that makes me want to read his books over and over again. This western novel was cruel but at the same time very realistic depiction of how life can turn out. Definitely worth reading, as is Stoner.
  11. Joel Haahtela: Mistä maailmat alkavatWhere Worlds Begin (2017)
    • Like Pulkkinen, Haahtela has an amazing way of expressing the world. He writes beautifully about a young man who want to become a painter, how he sees the world around him and the things he experiences. The metaphors are beyond amazing. The only thing is that I myself don’t relate to this style, quite the opposite. But I still did enjoy it!
  12. Anthony Doerr: About Grace (2004)
    • I loved reading All the Light We Cannot See, and I enjoyed Doerr’s first book as well. However, it took a while to get through it. It has many beautiful scenes, it tells an amazing story, but somehow my reading felt slow and complicated. However, I’d definitely give it go as the story is still clear in my mind, meaning the book made an impression on me.
  13. Bea Uusma: NaparetkiThe Expedition (2013)
    • This book wasn’t fiction, but more like a mysterious research project written partly in a fictive style. I swallowed it in only a few days, excited about finding out what happened to the Arctic Expedition of three men in the end of 19th century. The book consists of diaries, letters, research, autopsies and hypotheses of different causes of death. An interesting read, and I enjoyed especially how the story unravelled.
  14. Mika Waltari: Suuri Illusioni My Great Illusion (1928)
    • After reading Sinuhe, I was interested in reading the book that made Waltari famous in the first place. My Great Illusion is about a young man, a writer, who tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life. The book is about love, life after World War I and about life choices. A slow read, but something made me complete it.
  15. Henna Helmi Heinonen: Veljeni vaimo / My Brother’s Wife (2011) *
    • Another author with a writing style I could think myself to adopt. The story is about a family and what happens when a new character enters that family. How the members change the way they think about their lives and the choices they’ve made. I read this book in a few days, enjoying every moment of it.

And the three books I’m reading at the moment:

  • Matthew Dicks: Something Missing (2009) – reminds me of The Rosie Project, a fun read with many entertaining details.
  • Mason Currey – Daily Rituals (2013) – an interesting read about the lifestyle and habits of hundreds of creatives. I’ll have to get back on this one!
  • Haruki Murakami: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008) – I have only started on this one, so no comments. Not yet, at least.

***

Are you familiar with any of the books I read this year? What did you think of them? And did you find a book in my list you would be interested in reading next year?