A Writerly Update

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Some ten months ago, I remember writing how sad it was not to be able to be a full-time writer after being one during the summer months. The reason for it was simple: in September, I was forced to start dedicating my afternoons for research on digital volunteerism and crisis communication instead of writing more of Yellow Tails or blog posts.

Of course, I did switch those writing hours in the afternoon for the big thesis project, so it was for ’my own good’ – but still, it didn’t feel right.

Fast-forward to ten months later and this Thursday, I can now declare myself a full-time writer again. Hooray! As the thesis has been accepted and the university has confirmed that I will be graduating, I can dedicate my days to writing again.

And I can assure you that is precisely what I have been doing.

A Writer’s Day

I start my day with clearing my head from the thoughts that swirl around in my mind by writing my journal. In that way, I have a clean slate and can dedicate my energy to my character’s ideas, thoughts and feelings, and write those on the page instead of getting influenced by my own personal thoughts.

After writing my journal entry, I eat breakfast, make some coffee and open my computer. Mondays are usually the day when I write the blog post of the week. On other mornings from Tuesday to Friday or, in best case scenario, Saturday, I focus on one of my creative fiction projects. One of them is my dear Yellow Tails (which I’ve finally started re-writing, super excited to share you some details later!) and the other one is a lengthy fan fiction story I’ve been working on for the past month.

In the afternoon, I try to keep on writing but this time on the one I didn’t work on in the morning. Usually, in the afternoons, it’s the fan fiction project I work on because I tend to choose to give my mornings, i.e. my best writing time, to Yellow Tails.

And, as the evening comes, I tend to dedicate some time to reading other writers’ fan fiction stories and comment on them, giving them some feedback on their writing. This way, I’m taking in some new stories, other styles of writing and at the same time, improving my own writing skills by looking at what makes writing good.

Love for Every Moment

As you can see, most of my daily hours go to writing. I don’t know how many words I manage to write per day, maybe everything between 1,500 and 3,000 which isn’t that much – but still, it keeps me busy all day long.

And I love every single minute of it. I just don’t get tired of it! When I’m not writing the fan fiction project, my mind is going back to the story, wanting to keep on plotting, and when I’m not writing Yellow Tails I’m almost longing to return to my own, self-created characters and wanting to tell their story (again, yes, but only this time better).

My writerly days and the love and the continuing thirst I have for them make me feel two things: one is this weird feeling of knowing that for so many years, I was willing to consider writing as only a hobby or even something I used to do when I was little but not any more.

How wrong was I? Because the other feeling I have is pure happiness and some kind of serenity for the fact that, in a way, I have returned to my childhood dream and my roots by becoming a full-time writer.

And that is something not just any job can give.

The Cat Who Ate Too Much

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After a month-long break from my first draft of Yellow Tails, I took it out from the closet where I had hidden it and started reading the whole thing.

Now, I would like to share with you a few notions about reading a fictitious draft that was born under a longer-than-usual time period:

  1. When I began writing Yellow Tails, I hadn’t written any fiction in many years, except for the drafts I wrote during NaNoWriMo (successfully in 2016 and not so successfully during 2015 and 2014). I had only written essays and my Bachelor’s thesis, some random journal entries and that was all. And you know what? When a person then suddenly decides to start writing her first draft… well, the lack of practice in creative writing shows. The first 30–40 pages were awful. I literally had to take a break from the whole thing and do something else for a few hours to be able to continue reading it. I don’t know what I was expecting but certainly not that kind of reaction… However, as I kept reading I did realize something positive which leads me to point number 2.
  2. Write daily is a common advice given to many writers. For some it works, for some it doesn’t, but for me it definitely works. The effects of writing almost daily for ten months are only positive: not only has it improved my writing skills, but my endurance and ability to focus as well. So, after the first shock, I actually enjoyed many aspects of the story. I even had fun reading it (which is a positive sign, telling that I still like what I’ve written)!

However, what I’ve written requires a great deal of revising as I didn’t plan all that much during the writing process. But the good news is that despite the pantsing, my story seems to follow a story line and has a structure. To me it means Yellow Tails isn’t hopeless at all! Quite the contrary, it even seems to have potential!

At the moment, I’m reading a book about writing (general advice when it comes to structuring and what to think of when executing the different story arcs) and after I’m done with the book, I’ll start making the required changes to the structure and focus on the things that need improvement. We will see where the editing process takes me.

But what I know is that I’m really looking forward to getting started and make the story better than good.

Tell The Tail

I thought I could share a few things about the story itself. I believe it might help you, the reader, understand better what I’ll be talking about here from time to time, if you know what the story is about. I also think sharing something about the story helps me think of Yellow Tails as an actual book, something that’s becoming a real thing.

So, what is Yellow Tails about?

In short, it’s the personal development story of an overweight cat called Jello.

A bit longer version would be something like this:

Jello is a big, yellow, overweight cat who loves to spend his days organizing fondue parties to his little friends. However, when his longtime but long gone childhood friend suddenly returns to his life, Jello needs to figure out who he’s turned into and what he really wants with his life.

It is said that a novelist’s first book tends to be personal. Well, Yellow Tails certainly is that. The idea was born during a cycling session at the gym as I pictured in my mind Fit Diva stealing the cheese meant for Jello’s fondue parties and Jello getting all upset about it.

After that, I was unable to let go of the story setting and the characters. I had to write about them – and that is how Yellow Tails was born.

What The Story Is And Isn’t About

Yellow Tails is not a romantic story (but it does talk about love for food).

Although Jello is an overweight cat, the story doesn’t include dieting tips or exercise programs.

Neither does it contain any large-scale car-chase kind of action scenes. However, I can promise some wild fondue-partying. I find the mood of the story to be quite peaceful although there’s something happening all the time.

Yellow Tails has only three characters and takes place in one house, mainly inside the four walls and the round entrance hall. Some visits are made into the outside world.

Ultimately, it’s a story about change and what making a change entails for the mind, the body and the willpower. It’s also about how a change affects many more things than we primarily think it does.

***

So long, my friends and readers! Have an energetic Thursday!

Choosing a Direction For 2019

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Happy New Year, reader! May your 2019 be energetic, motivated and filled with fulfilling things!

But here’s the thing: I wish you all that but we both know it’s not up to me if your year turns out that way. It’s up to you, my friend.

Now, you might think: ”Alright then, I shall make some New Year Resolutions!

I, however, advice you to do something different.

False Hopes and Aspirations

This Tuesday, when the new year began, I wondered what I thought about one year ago. The human memory isn’t that powerful that I’d remember what I did and thought about that day, and unfortunately I have no journal entries from that day.

(Oddly enough, I didn’t write anything personal at that time and had no idea I would be writing more than 140,000 words that year. Life is a funny thing.)

So, there is no way of knowing how I felt one year ago, on the 1st of January 2018. However, I would like to believe I felt all those typical New Year Feelings: happiness, energy, motivation. Because, that’s the way we are supposed to feel, right? Isn’t that the way we usually feel at the brink of something new?

When a new year begins, we feel motivated. We have all these hopes and aspirations about the new beginning that is starting right now, in the beginning of January. I guess we’ve all been there: we have these great plans about new challenges, the improvements we will make in our lives. The bad habits we will get rid of, the new good habits we will adopt. But there lies a challenge: despite how lovely and wonderful this feeling is, despite how much we believe in the changes we plan to make, it can all be false if these feelings and thoughts are grounded on something outside our own control.

Because of the society, because of the social norms of the world we live in, because of our environment, the people around us, we are programmed into feeling great in the beginning of the new year – because every one else is feeling that as well. It’s contagious! And that makes it oh-so-powerful.

However, the contagious energy of the new beginning fades as quickly as it comes – if we don’t embrace that feeling when it’s on our doorstep and make it our own.

And this is what I’d like to write about today: how to embrace that energy and gain as much control as possible over your upcoming year.

Resolution vs. Direction

As I wrote, I have no memory of 01/01/2018. We had just come back from our two-week escape to Spain and Portugal over the winter holidays, and I had a week or so before my classes would start again. I probably had some thoughts about the new year, what was on its way. I would finish my journalism studies, work for some newspaper or radio station that Summer and in the Fall, begin writing my thesis.

But all these things were already prescribed, planned by someone else than me. They were a part of my Master’s Degree curriculum – and therefore, not entirely my own plans. And as I reflect back to the beginning of 2018, I wonder: did I have any other plans? Any of my own that I had control over?

I honestly don’t think I did.

In January 2018, I didn’t write anything else except Instagram captions, chat messages and school assignments. I was in the beginning of my weight-loss project and troubled about what my future would bring. I had no goals for the year, no idea of what I wanted to accomplish (except for weight loss). Last year ended up being awesome thanks to my self-discipline and an amount of habits I adopted, all without any specific plans. But as in everything, the beginning is always easy.

For instance, the first hours of learning a new language are usually easy: learning to present yourself, numbers from 1 to 10 and how to order a coffee in a café. But the more pro you want to become the tougher the lessons get. Suddenly, you need to put in hours of dedicated, focused work to actually learn the more difficult words to be able to make proper conversation or learn the small details of grammatical rules.

To be able to go pro, one needs a plan.

Last year, I managed to write my first draft. It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, nothing all too planned and something I managed to do by setting myself a rule to write 30 minutes every day from Monday to Friday (which turned into 1,000 words per day later on). But this year, I’m more dedicated to go pro and that requires more than one thirty-minutes-per-day rule.

However, instead of making a bunch of resolutions I’ve done something differently this year.

As you probably know, a resolution seldom sticks. It’s because they tend to be too abstract or too high-hopes. The resolutions tend to be set in the dream land, the utopia of your own making, instead of finding a place for those promises in the realistic environment called life (if you want to read a post about intentional goal-setting, check out this post by Ashwini CN).

I realized this a few years ago and decided to start my New Year without any resolutions.

However, I’ve noticed that a resolution-less life seems to resemble a life without direction.

A life without direction can be wonderful for a while – the freedom of moment, of choice, of life. But that also means that your direction-less life can be steered by the environment, the people around you, by the society and social norms. And suddenly, you might realize that you are no longer in control of your own life. Suddenly, you are heading for a career you didn’t really choose or invest your time and energy in a project you never had an interest in.

To me, it sounds like some sort of nightmare.

So – to avoid this kind of uncontrolled direction of life, I did the following:

On Monday, the last day of 2018, I walked to a café, ordered a cappuccino and sat down for an hour or so to write down a plan for 2019. I chose on a direction.

A Tangible Plan

What I did that afternoon was that I categorized my life according to these different goals I want and think I can reach as this year goes by.

One was for education (goal: finish my thesis and graduate),

one for writing projects, divided into two (goal: 1. Edit Yellow Tails and get it published, 2. Write the second novel and get it as publishing-ready as possible),

one for this blog (goal: post twice a week + be active on Instagram 3–3 times a week),

one for self-care (goal: learn more about HSP, take care of your physical fitness, keep on journaling) and,

one for self-development (goals: reading books, both fictional and fact-based, listening to podcasts about self-care, writing and creativity).

But in addition to this, I also added micro-goals and attached a specific deadline to them. For instance, I now have an editing – beta reading – editing – final edits and off-sending timetable for Yellow Tails. I have micro-goals for developing my physical fitness (gym 2–3 and yoga 1–2 times a week) and for finishing my thesis.

What I’m trying to do is make my goal as approachable and tangible as possible. If sometime during this year, for instance, I feel like I’m slipping from my goals to have an honestly finished version of Yellow Tails ready to be sent to publishers, I can take a look back on my micro-goals and the deadlines attached to them and get back on track.

In this way, my goals and the attached micro-goals are giving me my direction. They mark the path I have decided to walk upon this year, and as I’ve invested a good deal of energy into planning them, I hope they also help me stay on the path.

(Throughout January I will probably make the micro-goals even more detailed to make them even more tangible than they are now: write down ideas for this blog, put in Youtube-links for yoga videos for me to do, find resources that help me get on with the research for my second novel and so on. I don’t think the goals can ever be too approachable.)

I’d say the clue here is to 1) decide on a goal for the year (for instance: in the end of 2019 I will be an author with two ready-to-be-read novels), 2) attach micro-goals with deadlines to them, 3) break down the micro-goals into detailed resources, ideas and thoughts so that you won’t have trouble finishing them.

So, hear this: instead of resolutions, choose your direction and follow the road – but instead of opting to walk the whole road in one try, try walking from one rest stop to the other, from one park bench to the other. When the next park bench is in your view, aim for that and maybe, by the end of the year, you’ve reached your goal.

And in the end, I think the goal will come to you suddenly, unexpected, and might not even feel like one big victory because you’ve had so many micro-victories along the way. That’s what happened with Yellow Tails, at least. It was one long row of micro-goals reached so that when I wrote the last sentence, it didn’t feel like I had finished a novel. It was as if I had reached the end of the road and started looking for the next one to walk on.

***

I would love to hear your thoughts on resolutions vs. deciding on a direction! Share in the comments one goal, one direction of yours, and some micro-goals that will help you reach your goal. Let’s make this year into a year with a direction, friends.

Thank you for reading!

What Comes After ’The End’?

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Here you have the face of a very happy person – me. You see, I wrote a book. Or, rather, I finished writing the first draft of my first book and that, my friends, leads to a smile like the one on the photo.

On Monday 17th of December, 247 pages and 90,742 words later, I finished the epilogue of Yellow Tails. I wrote the words ’The End’ on the document, looked at them for a while and then erased them as they feel somewhat cheesy to me. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t finished the manuscript – because I have. In this photo, I have in front of me the finished first draft of my first book and I feel serene.

The First Feelings

On Monday, I knew I would finish the story that day so when it actually happened I wasn’t surprised, not in any way confused that I actually managed to come to the end of the story. Finishing felt like something very natural, like this was the way it’s supposed to feel. I walked to the bedroom to whisper to my partner (who was still quite asleep) ’I finished the story’ and felt the calmness wash over me.

But after those first feelings of calm, the emotion rollercoaster started moving. Encouraged by my partner, I decided to print out the book that same day so we walked to the university to print out all the 247 pages (I even made a time-lapse out of it). However, I didn’t only get my words printed out on paper: what I didn’t know was that my partner had actually made a cover for Yellow Tails! He creates digital art and had used his skills to make a book cover with the three main characters of Yellow Tails, balancing on a scale.

So, after printing out all the pages, he presented the cover to me and placed it on top the pile of papers that now was my book. Seeing that book cover on my first draft, my first book, made me burst into tears. The calmness I had felt up until that moment disappeared and instead I felt elated but also somehow relieved. I realized that I had actually come to an end of this phase of the project. Perhaps it was that book cover that actually made me realise what I’ve created and accomplished during the past ten months. Suddenly, Yellow Tails became real to me. Because it is one thing to have the title page written in Times New Roman – but to have a proper book cover to one’s draft makes it feel like an actual book.

How do I feel now, a few days later? Three things: 1) I’m happy for finishing the story without trying to rush to get to the end, 2) I’m proud for my perseverance, of what I’ve accomplished, and 3) most of all, I’m so glad for taking the time during these ten months to write my novel, pushing it forward 1,000 to 2,000 words at a time, and ending up with a first draft with a proper beginning and an ending.

So! I reached the end of my novel – what happens next?

The First Four Weeks

The book has been printed and it even has a cover. But for the next four weeks, I won’t be touching it. Or I will try not to touch it, at least. I haven’t really been able to keep myself from turning a random page and read a few sentences, enjoying my own writing and feeling amazed by what I’ve accomplished.

(However, as the story has been written over a period of ten months, I also notice some changes in my writing style when I compare the first fifty pages with the last fifty. But that isn’t anything to think of at the moment, that I will leave to the part about editing.)

I’ll pick up Yellow Tails in four weeks or so when I start editing it. But until then, I will let it rest, get some air, take it easy for a moment. And that is precisely what I’ve been planning to do myself as well.

These past four months have been tough on me as I’ve been juggling with several different projects at the same time. As my the first part of my thesis is finished and even Yellow Tails has reached its end, I finally feel like I can take a break from more or less everything that entails a deadline. Except Christmas, of course, which has a deadline of its own.

Instead of focusing on things that need to be done, I’ll focus on things I want to do. I’ll be ’sharpening the saw’, so to speak. Those things include dedicating time for some self-care: doing yoga, reading, writing my journal, listening to podcasts I’ve been postponing all Fall, even listen to music (I prefer to write, walk and work out in silence so I don’t listen to that much music). And of course, spend time with my partner and friends.

A Writer’s Buzz

But as a writer, I’m pretty sure I can’t keep my hands off writing or at least planning  something. Therefore, during these upcoming weeks I’ll probably spend a good deal of time preparing for what’s next on the Yellow Tails agenda: learning new things about writing and especially self-editing. What to focus on, how to get the most out of the first round of edits (do share your tips in the comments if you have some)? I’m already making a mental list of how to improve the characters of my story and try to figure out what a good editing pace is. I even wrote down a few thoughts on beta-reading and to whom I could give my story to read, although it will take a couple of months before entering that phase.

(So… I’m already planning and the four-week break has only begun.)

In addition to this, I’ll probably even start planning some new stories I wish to write and tell. During these past ten months, and especially this Fall, as I’ve been working on Yellow Tails, new ideas have come to my mind. Altogether four different stories, three of them traditional novels and the fourth a collection of short-stories with a specific theme. But which one will I choose? I guess I’ll find out sooner or later.

However, for now, I’ll be taking a Christmas break. Let the mind rest for a few days, focus on taking care of my body and mind, enjoy the fresh snow on the ground and make Christmas cards and presents instead of pushing myself to produce a good amount of daily words. Sharpening the saw can take one far – and we will see how far it’ll take me.

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?

The Art of Finishing

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It’s been two months since the last writing project update. At the time, I had reached that legendary 50k mark and was extremely happy about it. I felt energized and motivated by my plot, my characters and the journey they were on. I said it would be another 20k or so before I’d finish the first draft of Yellow Tails

Well, on Friday I reached 70k. It was a triumph, yet another milestone reached. I still can’t believe I have over 170 pages of self-written fiction, that all of those pages are a part of one single story. But even though I wrote that 20k after hitting 50k as promised, I’m not done with the draft. I still have scenes to write. I’m at the climax point of the story at the moment so I’m getting there – but I still have at least 5,000 if not 8,000 words to go.

Funny enough, I said something similar in the beginning of November. I posted a photo on Instagram and in the caption explained that I have come as far as 64,000 words on my work-in-progress – and still have a good 10k to go. Well, I’ve almost written 10k after publishing that photo… and I still seem to have another 10k left.

(Maybe you’re already noticing the pattern here.)

My first draft might need only 5,000 words to be done. Or 8,000 words. Or maybe even 10,000. The thing is – I don’t know. I have no idea how many words it’ll take before I get there, until my first draft is done, finished. Although it’s frustrating, not knowing, I keep on writing and writing and writing in order to get closer to my goal every day. Not the word goal, because that ain’t holding no matter how much I try, but the goal of the end.

However, this lengthy writing process of mine has started to wear me down.

Oh, the doubts

As close to the ending as I am, there are some doubts in my head. Every time I’m waiting for Word to open my lengthy document to continue on my work-in-progress and as I’m writing, these thoughts come into my head: 

Is my plot filled with holes? Have I described this or that enough to strengthen the storyline?

Do I have a structure in my story?

Are my characters strong enough? Will the readers love them as I hope they will?

Is my story powerful enough?

In essence:  I wonder about the strength of my idea. I wonder if I’ll only find plot holes and incomplete thoughts in my first draft when I start editing after finally finish it. I think of who I will ask to be my beta-readers – and how I’ll take their feedback about my work. I worry, I doubt my skills and my creativity. It’s awful and unnecessary – but I can’t help it.

When I began writing Yellow Tails in March this year, none of these thoughts existed. Writing the story of an overweight cat was only about having fun and finding the discipline to write for 30 minutes every day. But as I’ve done this for a while now, the stakes are getting higher and the doubts in my head are getting more attention than they did before.

One of the worst things with these doubts is that they keep me from effectively striving for finishing my first draft. This is because I’m afraid of picking up my story after letting it rest for a few weeks only to find out that I have plot holes, non-existent structure and other weaknesses in my story.

I know I’m not alone with these thoughts. Any writer or creative person out there can probably relate to these feelings – they seem to be a part of the process, like built-in responses to any creative process that takes place. But that doesn’t make them any less real. This self-doubt, this fear of not being a good enough writer… it’s incredible how one can doubt herself this much. It’s as if I’m in that stage of a creative process of ’This is horrible / I’m horrible” as illustrated above.

However, I’m aware of the fact that it is possible to overcome and process these feelings. I just have to work on them and think them through, make myself realize that they are as true as they are false.

(The self-doubt might also be a side-effect of having had this writing project for nine months now. It sounds like pregnancy – and I feel that it’s time to get that baby out into the world.)

How To Deal With Fear

In order to aid my self-doubt and, well, the fear of finishing, I turned to Steven Pressfield to find some solace and empathy in my uncertainty. And for sure, he writes about Resistance and fear. This is what The War of Art says:

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign.

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

He also writes that self-doubt can be a creative person’s best friend – ”an indicator of aspiration” that reflects one’s love for and desire to do the craft.

With these two in mind, I’ve been able to calm those doubtful feelings. Instead, I’ve been focusing my mind on the goal. I remind myself that I can’t be too far in the future worrying about editing and getting feedback for my novel when I don’t even have a first draft to worry about!

The other thing that has calmed my mind has been this reminder: When have I done something this big for myself? Have I ever been in on a lengthy project like this that is primarily only for myself?

The answer: never before.

And that’s something worth thinking of, isn’t it? I have been writing this novel mostly for myself and it’s been fun, fulfilling and energizing. It feels like I’ve never been this alive before and therefore this project has done me so much good already.

To hell with self-doubt and fear! I can’t stop now, simply because of a nagging self-doubting voice in the back of my head. The truth is, I would be insane to quit now! I have to finish the story!

A Writing Update

So, I’m getting there. I honestly have less than 10,000 words to go, this time for real, and the most important thing right now is simply to finish that first draft of Yellow Tails. I’m taking this process one step at a time instead of always being three steps ahead of the one that is happening right now.

This blog post is a writing update: 71k words, 173 pages, less than 10k left. I’m petrified, nervous and uncertain of many things, although most of them have to do with future parts of the project. But I’ll tell you when I’ve finished. I’ll share the moment with you when I have those last two words down:

The end.

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?