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.

***

How do you go about when realising an idea?

Working With Flow

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A few days ago, me and my partner got into a conversation about flow. You know flow, right? That highly enjoyable feeling of being completely absorbed and focused on one activity and everything else disappears around you?

What triggered the conversation about flow was something as simple as meal times in our household. Both me and my partner prefer routines because they make life easier and simpler as doing the same things every day in the same way requires less energy and thought compared with irregular sleeping rhythm and unplanned meals. But when flow comes into the picture and starts bossing around, me and my partner are somewhat different.

We both experience flow more or less regularly, and for me, interrupting my flow state when lunch hour is coming closer is no problem. I can stop writing then and there, maybe finish off the sentence but then save the thing and put my laptop to sleep. For my partner, however, nothing else seems to matter when he deep-dives into his thought processes and writing.

From time to time, this leads to conflicts. Most often, it’s me asking him to interrupt his flow for the sake of lunch, dinner, bedtime or any other routine we have – and it isn’t always with a happy agreement he stops writing.

But how to deal with this kind of issue? Is it completely wrong of me to ask someone to interrupt his or her flow in order to do something quite mundane? Isn’t flow like something sacred, something to value and appreciate and, most of all, not interrupt when it decides to pay a visit?

Or how are we supposed to work with the flow?

Many Can’t Afford It

Many dream of it, many seek for it – the mysterious feeling where time disappears and magic is created. But there aren’t too many who can afford to wait around for flow or for the inspiration to strike in order to work on their craft. There are of course some, but may it be painting, writing, composing or crafting, most creatives rely on every-day routines to get their work done. They learn to work with flow or without it.

For instance, in The War of Art Pressfield writes about Somerset Maugham who told a curious someone, that ”I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” And Daily Rituals by Mason Currey showed that most creatives in this world have relied on routines to get their work done.

But all who have experienced flow know that it is so much more wonderful to produce words, music or works of art when one is completely absorbed by the moment rather than relying on the everyday habit of working. Creating that comes as a result of a habit can be extremely painful at times, even forced and awful – wouldn’t one opt for creating in the state of flow rather than according the constructed routine?

And therefore, when the flow embraces us, should we for once forget about everything else and let it take over completely? For once, create in the happy, magical state of concentration where the words flow like a river and every brush of paint is perfect?

Or should we treat flow with a cold hand and say, ”Hey, you’re not here most of the time. Just because you decided to visit me today doesn’t mean I’m throwing all my routines away to adjust to your wishes”? Because what if we don’t embrace it and, instead, let it go – will it come back?

Can we afford not to take advantage of flow?

The Cutest Puppy

As I wrote in the beginning of the post, most of the time I have no trouble interrupting my flow to follow my regular routine. When I become fully focused on creating worlds and stories, I can enjoy it while it lasts and then break free from it when needed.

What I’ve noticed is that although I break free from it, the flow state comes back when the circumstances are right. For me, that is usually the moment when I have a few hours of unplanned time in front of me, there’s nothing on my to-do list and I get to return writing an enjoyable story.

So, for me flow is like a muscle, something one can train and work on in order to become better at reaching that state. Therefore, I don’t see flow as anything sacred, anything too special that one needs to discard everything when it appears.

I’d even like to think of flow as a cute little puppy you take home with you. It’s adorable, you love it and embrace it and its funny ways – but if you don’t stay in control and teach the puppy to behave from day one, it will chew your cables and furniture when you aren’t paying attention.

The flow is something greater than good, something to strive towards and embrace when it comes to you, but at the same time it shouldn’t be greeted with overly open arms. For me, it feels important to stay in control of the flow, to be able to embrace it but also to push it away when needed, in order to not feel empty when it leaves you again. Because flow is fickle and you can never really be sure when it decides to pay you a visit. Therefore, maybe one should live as if there was no flow and be pleasantly surprised when it does visit one’s creative mind?

***

What are your thoughts on flow and how to deal with it?

 

A Five Star Experience

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Every morning from Monday to Friday, I take about thirty to forty-five minutes to write my journal. I reflect on how I feel, the thoughts that are running through my head and the overall mood of the day. However, for the past three days, my morning writing sessions have looked like in the picture above.

Instead of writing at our white work/dinner table at home, I have been sitting at a brown table for two. Instead of drinking my morning coffee from the grey and blue Keep-Cup, I’ve been drinking a beverage made by someone else.

As you might guess, I’ve been out of town.

A Five Star Experience

I went on a short trip initiated by my mother, and I got to choose the country, as long as it was in Europe. I didn’t want to fly and I didn’t have a need to travel very far – therefore I opted for a spa holiday on the other side of the Gulf of Finland, only a two-hour cruise away from Helsinki: the city of Tallinn in Estonia.

The hotel we stayed at was a five-star Estonian-Russian hotel. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a five star hotel but I can tell you that the place was excellent.

When we arrived, a concierge carried our luggage to our room, telling about the hotel and where we could find the spa and the restaurant. The building was old and the rooms where small but high in ceiling, at least five meters straight up. Every day, there was a new pillow mint and a bottle of water waiting for us when we returned from walking around the city.

The service was amazing and the spa was great. Because I had wanted a spa holiday, I got to choose two different treatments. On Monday, I enjoyed a whole body scrub and on Tuesday, I fell asleep during a head massage.

The hotel breakfast was healthy and good, and the staff attentive and helpful. The hotel receptionist was happy to book a table for us every night in a different restaurant, saying politely: ”Consider it done.” And on the last day when we checked out, he gave us both a bottle of water to go so that we wouldn’t go thirsty on our way back home.

But none of these things listed above became my favorite parts of the trip. Instead, it was something else.

Caffeine Confusion

Every morning after breakfast, I took my journal, walked to the lobby and sat down to write down my feelings, thoughts and reflections on the day that had gone and the one that was ahead. The hotel was quiet as the tourist season starts later in the Spring and I wasn’t disturbed by any hustle or bustle of the usual hotel life.

Every morning, as soon I started scribbling down words, the same concierge who had carried our luggage to the room the first day, would walk up to me and ask: ”Can I get you anything, maybe a coffee or a tea?”

The first morning I was so taken aback that I just said no thank you and smiled, probably looking flabbergasted by the question. But the next morning I was ready, and asked for a coffee. The third morning, I didn’t feel like drinking more coffee than I already had, so I decided to ask for a cup of tea. The conversation went something like this:

The Concierge: ”Can I get you anything, maybe a coffee or a tea?”

Me: ”Yes, please. I would like to have a tea. What different flavors do you have?”

The Concierge: ”I can’t remember them all, there are so many. There’s green tea, Earl Grey, black tea…”

Me: ”Do you have something without caffeine?”

The Concierge (looking bewildered): ”Without caffeine…?”

Me: ”Yes, without caffeine, you know, like…”

The Concierge: ”You mean decaf?”

Me: ”Yes! Decaf.”

After a moment, the concierge is back with his tray and puts on the table some milk and sugar and…

Me: ”But this is coffee?”

The Concierge: ”It’s a decaf coffee. Didn’t you want…?”

Me (realizing the mistake I had made): ”Oh, no, it’s okay. It’s decaf, that’s the important part. This is okay, thank you.”

The Concierge (smiles and laughs, still confused by the situation): ”I hope you enjoy it.”

Well, I did enjoy it. It was the first time I drank a decaf coffee and I thought it was as good as a regular cup, and I told it to the concierge when he came to check up on me later. I’d say the whole thing ended well.

(And now I know how not to order a tea without caffeine.)

Lessons Learned

Although the trip was, well, interesting to say the least, the hotel made an excellent impression on me. On most of my trips, I’ve opted for the three star accommodation because the city and the activities have been more important than the place I’ve slept in. Isn’t the city, the architecture, the cafés and the cultural experience more important than the place where I sleep?

However, this hotel was one of the things that made the trip as good as it was. The people working there, the service, the spa treatments, the food… Everything was in its place. Although I was obligated to go on this trip I really had no need for, at least I learned this:

Sometimes it really is worth every single penny to invest in accommodation while traveling because it can become the thing that makes the whole trip into a memorable experience.

(Although this time it was my mother who paid for the trip. But you get the point.)

Writing In Good Company

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I’ve been quite cautious about my book project. For the past year, when someone has asked me how I am or what I’ve been up to, I’ve just told them about my thesis or, well, not told them much more than ”I’m fine, how have you been?”

There’s only a handful of people out there who know about Yellow Tails (if you don’t count Instagram and this blog, of course). You might wonder why I’ve kept quiet about it, and the answer is this: I believe in the idea of silent success.

Many people announce their 30-day detox from social media or from candy or from alcohol to their friends and family in order to keep them to their word. The silent success, however, is about starting, executing and finishing a project in silence, and telling about it first when you’re done.

There are at least two good things about keeping your success to yourself: 1) the pressure and expectations comes from you, and you only, and 2) you do not have to deal with the people who have difficulties being happy for other people’s happiness and development (something I have first hand experience on, unfortunately).

But silent success wasn’t precisely what I wanted to talk about today. Rather, I’d like to write about the opposite. Being successful – and telling about it.

(But only to a few)

The Happiness of Telling

Last Tuesday, a friend of mine called me. The last time we talked was a few years ago but in a few weeks we’ll actually be working together which why she called to ask a few questions about the up-coming work week. But those questions took only a few minutes. After that she asked how I was doing, what I had been up to for the past months. I told her about the thesis – and I told her I had written a book I was now editing.

And she was so excited for me!

The best part was that she told me she’s also a writer, that she’s been writing for years, but that it’s been only a thing, not a career or anything. For me, it didn’t matter. I was simply filled with some sort of calm happiness for knowing that I had a writing friend in the same city. We had a fun conversation comparing our writing routines and how we plot or not our stories.

It really is true that writing is a lonely job and that friends who write are golden. But I don’t think one realizes it before finding a true writing friend. For me, it happened last Tuesday, and I noticed how much I’ve desired for one.

Searching for Community

After I decided to take a longer break from Instagram, which was a few months ago, it’s been quiet on the writing community side of my life. On Instagram, there were so many writers, aspiring authors and writing coaches who were there every day to cheer you on and share the happiness and pain of being a writer. But as I’m not there anymore, I haven’t really been cheered on by so many.

However, as I’m not very excited about going back to Instagram and everything it entails, I’ve been thinking about what other options I have. A writing group? A writing forum? A writing course or an entire education?

I write this blog in English and write my Master’s thesis in Swedish. However, Finnish, which is my mother tongue, is the language I write my journal in and also, my fiction. Therefore, as I’m thinking about my options, I’m restricted by my language.

Finland is a small country with only 5.5 million people. This means, at least when compared to many other countries, that there are even less writing people and that the likelihood of me finding them is, well, small. Plus, that I have no idea where to start looking if I wish to hold on to my principle of silent success.

At the moment, attending a writing course or enrolling in University for another degree, this time in creative writing, isn’t an option. I’m busy with finishing my current degree and after that I have other plans.

That leaves me with writing forums. But I’ve been reluctant to return.

Considering a Comeback

There’s nothing wrong with writing forums – it’s just that I haven’t been on one since 2009 and hadn’t thought about going back. At the time, I wrote mostly fan fiction and was all about writing love stories between Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, Susan Bones and Terry Boot, and Lily and James Potter. Today, however, I’m not returning too eagerly to fan fiction because it feels like I’ve outgrown it. Therefore, I didn’t even think I’d have any business on those forums again.

But the call from my friend had a curious timing. Her excitement, encouragement and support for my book project gave me a boost of energy and motivation, something I didn’t experience getting from Instagram. This made me think that maybe I could return to those good old forums – but publish something original instead.

As I’ve noticed a longing for a Finnish-speaking writing group, this thought seemed to get wings the moment I decided to give it some actual thought. Ten years ago, when I was publishing at least one story per week on these forums, I got a good deal of feedback and cheers from fellow Finnish writers. But today, as I’ve been writing Yellow Tails by myself without publishing it anywhere or having anyone read it (yet), I don’t know how other people see and feel about my writing. It could do me good to write something shorter, try out different styles and in that way, develop my writing skills.

I haven’t done a comeback yet. But I did go and check if my old username still worked – it did. So maybe I’ll start drafting something in the coming weeks. Nothing too big, no full-length novels, but maybe a short one, something like the Still Life Sundays I’ve been publishing here, and see where it takes me.

After all, I’d guess a writer never turns down some feedback and writerly support from other writers?

***

Where do you publish your writing?

Choosing What’s Important

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I had been hoping I would be able to write a nice update on how my editing process is going. A month ago, I had just read my manuscript of Yellow Tails from beginning to end and was excited to share some facts about the plot and the main character, Jello.

I thought that the notes I took while reading the manuscript for the first time would be enough to start editing the story, but I decided to go a different way. Instead, I chose to focus on planning a more detailed storyline before diving into the editing process of the actual manuscript.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month: working through every scene, creating an external, plot-focused arc and combined it with an internal, emotion-focused one – trying to create a well-flowing, interesting story.

However, I haven’t come very far. This past month hasn’t been a glorious month of progress when it comes to editing Yellow Tails. Why? Because I’ve been focusing on my Master’s thesis. And that hasn’t been a completely conflict-free decision.

Work Before Passion

I’ve been beating myself up many times for not focusing more on my book project. For many weeks now, on my list of to-dos for the week, I’ve had a box waiting to be ticked off, saying Plan Act 2, Part 2 and the next day, Plan Act 3, Part 1 and so on – but none of those boxes have been ticked off. There hasn’t been any progress, which makes me incredibly disappointed, even a bit sad.

Instead of editing, I’ve been focusing on my thesis (and this blog, in order to allow myself to think about something else than qualitative research methods). One could say that I’ve been prioritizing work over my passion for fiction-writing for the past month – and that does not sound nice to my ears.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who puts obligatory to-dos first instead of things I’m passionate about. But as the deadline for my thesis is closing in on me… so are the thesis-related thoughts. I just have to make a choice and that choice is, this time, to work.

So, instead of an update on Yellow Tails, how about some facts about my thesis?

I’m doing qualitative research about a relatively unknown phenomena called digital volunteers. To find out what is known about the phenomena in my country, I will be doing semi-structured interviews with local authorities and then try to find some patterns in their thinking that describes their awareness.

The deadline for my thesis is in the end of April (or, if I don’t make it then, a month later), after which I will graduate.

(At the moment, I’m in the part of the process that is, for me, the most daunting one: I have to call people and try to find authorities who would like to participate in my study and give an interview. For some people, calling up unknown folks isn’t a problem but for me it’s something I always try to postpone as long as possible.)

After I’ve found enough participants, what’s left for me to do is to interview them (which I’m not that nervous about because of my background in journalism), transcribe and analyze their answers and write write write until my thesis is done.

So… Any wonder the thesis has taken over almost everything else?

Reminder of Balance

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with myself because the editing process of Yellow Tails has been standing still. Last week, I even noticed some thoughts on giving up on the whole thing. The questions of Is this still worth it? Many first books don’t get published (although this isn’t my first book but third), should I just move on to the next and forget about editing this one? where actively bouncing around in my mind.

I couldn’t believe myself.

I’ve been working on this manuscript for a year now – and so quickly, so easily, I was thinking of giving up? That’s so not me! I’m no quitter and most of all, I have belief in my own story! I think Yellow Tails has something great in it and I can’t simply give up on the story because of an academic, obligatory paper. Giving up would be an incredibly shortsighted thing to do. But still, I was having these thoughts. It made me realize that somehow, my balance was off.

And that forced me to reason with myself.

In the beginning of the year, I wrote about finding balance during the year of 2019 (and onward). It’s a journey of finding the right ratio of everything, between accomplishing things and taking it easy, in understanding when you need to give your best and when it’s enough with the nearly best. But I’d like to say that finding balance is also about prioritizing.

Until now, I’ve been pushing myself to work on three projects at the same time: writing this blog, writing and editing Yellow Tails and working on my thesis. The blog-writing process has been an uncomplicated one, something I have in the system, but balancing between the other two has been tough. When I am working on Yellow Tails, my mind is constantly reminding me of the to-dos with my thesis and I feel bad. And when I am working on my thesis, my mind keeps going back to Yellow Tails and wondering how much I am dragging behind those self-imposed deadlines I have decided upon earlier this year.

I am constantly feeling bad about not working on the one while working on the other.

Therefore, I have decided to prioritize. From now on, as my thesis has an actual deadline created by other people than myself, I will give more attention to writing (and finishing) the thesis. I will continue prioritizing it as long as needed, probably for the following two months. Hopefully, this will help me lower my stress-levels, keep me from beating myself up for not doing everything I’d like to do and also, focus my energy on one thing at a time because multitasking never did any good.

However, I’m also aiming to maintain my balance. Working on Yellow Tails makes me happy and calm, and that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate one hour every day to edit the manuscript. But instead of having amount-of-work goals, I am opting for amount-of-time goals. Hopefully, this will give me the best of both projects during these up-coming months.

Keeping it Positive

Although I don’t have a passion for doing academic research or writing only things that are based on something someone else has written before and not what I think about things, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude to the whole thesis writing project.

For instance, the thing I mentioned earlier about calling: I was extremely stressed out, nervous, even horrified about calling up those authorities and talking to them about a topic they probably didn’t know about. Trying to get them say yes to an interview about something even I don’t know if it exists in Finland, was like trying to sell a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t exist yet. Talk about taking a walk outside one’s comfort zone… However, everything went fine! I begun making those calls last Friday and although I’m definitely no sales woman, I managed to find four (4) authorities that were interested to participate! That sudden gush of hope and motivation was really rewarding.

And, if nothing else, writing my thesis and being forced to stay away from my true passion for fiction writing, has helped me see what I really love to do and what I’m passionate about. We get blind so quickly, we humans. We seem to need a reminder of things we love and respect, as often as possible.

I wish you an energetic Thursday!

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.

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

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.

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