Still Life Sunday: The Ten-Round Swimmer

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21 The Ten-Round Swimmer

After I’ve taken a shower, I put on my swimming cap that tightens around my scalp. I adjust my swimming glasses, and already I know that after I’m finished, they will leave marks around my eyes. I’ll look like an urban panda bear for the rest of the day.

When I have my glasses and my swimming cap on, I become anonymous. I become as anonymous as everyone else in the swimming pool. It calms me, makes it easier to focus on why I have come here today. I walk to the pool, take the steps down to the water. First, it feels almost too cool.

Then I start swimming.

I love how the chlorinated water caresses my body. How my ears fill with the steady rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, listening to the sounds both under and above the surface.

I feel my heart beating heavily, trying to distribute blood and oxygen to every cell and organ in my body, to keep me moving.

Sometimes I watch others, how they swim. Especially underwater.

I love seeing how their bodies move with ease, feet pushing the water, taking the body a little bit closer to the end of the pool.

But mostly I just count. The swimming pool is 50 meters. Swimming from beginning to end and back makes 100 meters. My goal today, and every other day, is to swim 1,000 meters, which means I swim ten times the pool from one end to the other and back. This takes me about 30 minutes but I never count time. Instead, I count the rounds.

So, I swim, and with every stroke I chant in my mind: one, one, one, one… It calms me. It also helps me focus, keeps my thoughts off certain things. For every round, I manage to ignore the negative, frustrating feelings and let them go as I focus on the rounds: three, three, three.

At the same time, as my body moves in a movement called breaststroke and my mind keeps on chanting (five, five, five), a process of some kind takes place. It’s the kind of process you are not aware of but when you step out of the pool you’ve somehow found a solution to a problem or decided on something you did not know the answer to before stepping in.

But first, I have to finish my rounds.

Eight, eight, eight.

The last rounds I do not think about anything else except the rounds. I am close to reaching my goal and as I reach it (ten!), I take hold of the edge of the pool and pull myself up. It always feels great. The feeling makes me think of female breaststroke swimmers who are so energetic and happy when they win the Olympics.

In the shower, I take off my cap and my glasses and with my fingers I trace the panda bear shape around my eyes.

From being anonymous for the last thirty minutes, I become an individual again.

This is me.

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.

On the Importance of Reading

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When I was little, books were my go-to whenever I had time. It was the life before smartphones, before screens were used to communicate, see, read and like. Instead, the minutes and hours were used to doing other things, and I loved to spend my time in the world of fiction.

To demonstrate this, I have an excellent example from my childhood that describes my love for reading:

In the end of third grade, everyone in our class were instructed to guess how many books they would read during the Summer. Our teacher wrote everyone’s guess down, saying that she would check with us in the Fall how many books we actually had read and compare it to our guess.

While others guessed something between two and ten books (no one was allowed to say ’none’ or ’one’), I estimated in a clear voice that I would probably read thirty books that Summer. It was an honest guess, I was dead serious about the number. I remember the look on my teacher’s face: the kind but doubtful smile and how she said, in a friendly voice, that maybe ”we won’t write down thirty books, but maybe ten or twelve?”

I guess you can guess the end to this story. In Fall, when we returned to school after Summer, I declared with a proud voice that I had read 35 books that Summer.

(It felt like a victory. And although this was supposed to tell about my love for books, I guess this example also tells you about my determination and perseverance.)

Fast forward to this day, my love for books continues to thrive and even though I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like to (will I ever?), I’ve still had a book in the process most of the time. Reading is also something I’m hoping to be able to hold on to for as long as I live – and if my eyes get bad, I hope I will have someone who reads to me or then I’ll opt for audiobooks.

For me, books have helped me escape this world and enter another. They have given me the possibility to see a life different from mine and learn to know new people. Today, reading books helps me become a better writer.

But this weekend I found out what kind of effect reading books as a child and a teenagers has had. In addition to offering an escape route, reading books (especially fiction) has had a huge impact on my personality and on how I see the world around me.

Let me tell you more about this.

Alluring, Delightful, Gorgeous

My secondary school Finnish teacher, author of three novels, wrote an article about teenagers’ reading capabilities. He talked a great deal about the problems: the short attention span that hinders them from reading longer texts about unfamiliar topics; problems with analytical reading skills; difficulties understanding words they come across less frequently and so on.

But my Finnish teacher also talked about the good things, telling about the many benefits of reading, which I’ll now share with you.

Did you know, that the amount of fiction we read as children and teenagers has a huge impact on our vocabulary, our fantasy and the ability to feel empathy? Reading helps improve ones perseverance: the long-term attention span, a skill many let rust in the winter rain. Reading increases the reader’s understanding that one cannot get everything at once: reading a book takes time, it requires effort if one wishes to know how the book ends.

A fiction-reading teenager can have a vocabulary of over 70,000 words while a teenager that doesn’t enjoy the world of books manages only about 15,000 (my mind gasped for air when I read this). This means that for someone there is only one word for beautiful while the other sees dozens of alternatives to it, from alluring to delightful, dazzling and pleasing. The world presents itself in a whole other way to the person who reads: it’s full of colors, different nuances, and the book worlds tickle the reader’s senses in different ways. For the non-reader the world is more black and white, simpler.

A person who reads has also better skills to empathize with other people. Because books let us in on other people’s minds, worlds, feelings and thoughts, readers are also more likely to understand other people better. Understanding helps us feel empathy and brings us humans closer to each other – something that social media doesn’t always manage to do.

Reading is so  i m p o r t a n t . It’s not just something a nagging teacher tells us to do just because. It really has an impact, and I am beyond happy today that I had the opportunity to read as much as I wanted when I was a kid.

However, lately I’ve been thinking more about what kind of books I read.

Finding Good Books as a Writer

For a writer, reading isn’t only about learning about other people, about seeing the world in colors, or only about improving one’s vocabulary. It’s also about finding my own voice, the style of writing, and helping to realize what kind of characters I like, what kind of plot twists intrigue me the most. Reading books will help me write better books.

As a child and a teenager, I just wanted to find books I liked: books with exciting characters, desperately romantic eternal triangles, books with adventure and dangers. I loved Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Alex Rider series, and the books of Enid Blyton, Astrid Lindgren and Marianne Curley. I could read them over and over again (and I did).

But today, I’ve become more selective. I’ve paid more attention to what I read. I try to find books by authors with a similar style to mine, books that swallow me into the story, and tried to learn from these books. But what I’ve found is that there isn’t actually that many books like that out there. Or, actually, there probably is – I just have trouble finding them.

I actually have trouble finding books that I like enough to read them from beginning to the end. Usually, I give them a few pages, most often 50 pages or so before deciding if the plot, the style of writing and the characters are interesting enough. I want to read good books, books that give me a feeling of satisfaction – or even better, make me feel energized and happy.

This year, I’ve opened probably more than twenty books only to return them to the library after reading a few pages. I’ve picked up both classics and modern literature, female and male authors and different genres, only to realize that I would simply suffer if I forced myself to read these books. I can’t help but wonder: am I being too picky? Too selective? Should a writer read any books as long as she’s reading or is there actually a guideline to what kind of books a writer should read?

And at the same time, I’m convinced that I don’t want to waste my time reading a book with only an okay plot or a boring style.  I want those well-written, capturing stories!

But how to find them? How to find good books to read?

***

So please, readers: how do you choose what books to read? Any recommendations, book tips? And writers: do you think all books are worth reading, or only the ones that help you become a better writer?

 

Still Life Sunday: The Difference Between Two Minds

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20 The Difference Between Two Minds

Assignment: A young girl stands on a road that leads to the woods. With her she has only a backpack, on her a pair of hiking boots and in her hand, she clutches a first aid kit. It is up to you to write a beginning to her story, in 200–300 words.

Student Z:

The girl walks in the forest. It is green, the leaves are hanging from the trees and the path she walks on is wet. Somewhere, a bird sings but the girl can’t see it, as it’s hiding in-between the branches. She walks forward and comes to a lake. It is dark blue and silent. On the other side of the lake she can see a deer drinking the water. It’s a beautiful animal. But when the girl steps on a stick, it disappears into the forest in the blink of an eye.

The girl continues her walk, listening to the birds that sing in the woods. Somewhere she hears noises, maybe a rabbit hopping away, but doesn’t see anything. She starts singing to herself a song she heard on the radio. Suddenly, she stumbles on a root and falls. Her knee starts bleeding. Luckily, she has her first aid kit, which she now opens to find a band-aid. She needs two for the sore. After that, she stands up again and continues her walk. Her knee hurts but she tries to ignore it even though it doesn’t help. Finally, she gives up and turns around to walk back home.

Word count: 200

***

Student W:

Sandra had tied her bronze colored hair into a bun so that her vision would stay clear through the journey. She held the first aid kit tightly in her hand, hoping it would help her when help was needed, and most important of all, keep her alive. As she took the first steps into the forest, Sandra could feel her senses sharpening: her eyes searched for anything unusual, her ears seemed to catch even the smallest cracks and rustling sounds. Even her nose seemed to catch smells that were new to her.

She could feel the nervousness in her stomach. It made her shiver, the thoughts of what was waiting for her. At the same time, she felt courageous, the strength of her body, her fixed mindset. She had promised her grandfather to find the little fox that had disappeared some days ago, and a promise was a promise. No matter how much she feared the forest, how disgusted she sometimes felt about the bugs or how she would have rather stayed at home reading a book – she had to keep her word.

The thing was, the fox wasn’t an ordinary fox. Sandra’s grandfather had a special connection with it, the brown-orange furry thing called Paw. Grandfather called Paw his spirit animal, although his family had always thought it to be some kind of joke. But Sandra had known his grandfather’s words to be true, when Paw had disappeared: her beloved, laughing and hugging grandfather had turned into a different person – a darker, grumpy, silent version of himself when he was separated from his beloved Paw. And that was why Sandra knew she had to find the fox, no matter how much she wanted to be somewhere else. She wanted her grandfather back.

And with this thought in mind she entered the forest, without looking back.

Word count: 306

Still Life Sunday: A Goodbye Said in Silence

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19 A Goodbye Said in Silence

When he closes his eyes, he can see it.

He can see the grey rock he is standing on and the small guest harbor on the other side of the silent bay. He remembers how he and his friend rowed on a small boat to the other side one summer to pick up two girls who were curious to attend their Midsummer Night Party. It had been a good night: the other girl was a good kisser who hadn’t been afraid to use her tongue.

Now, he can feel the late August warmth on his skin, the setting sun coloring the view into pastels. He hears a bird – the crow of the island. The old grump keeps an eye on everything that happens, sitting on a branch high up in a pine tree.

Taking a few steps forward, he is now standing in the exact place where the five-year-old he fell into the water. It was his father’s favorite story to tell how he had jumped in the water to save his son, and chuckled at how only a few minutes later he had been drying his banknotes on the rock. The son lived and so did the banknotes after a moment in the sun, he’d say.

This island is filled with memories. Everywhere he looks he sees something that reminds him of a project long gone, a day or a social happening from a few years ago. He has spent thirty summers on this island with his family and friends.

He loves that island, the trees that sway in the wind, the fish that jump in the water, the smell of the wood-burning sauna. But he will no longer visit this place – the summers here have come to an end.

Not because his family is selling it or because he is moving away, but because it is time for him to set himself free from his past.

In his mind, he turns around to look at the red cottage they repainted the previous summer. He wonders if the credit cards cut in half and the keys to his childhood home, that he put in an envelope and sent to his parents, have arrived. He left no note, letting the contents of the envelope speak for themselves.

However, he isn’t curious to know how his family will react to his actions. He won’t answer any of the phone calls he knows they will try to make. He has set himself free from the traditions, the norms, the expectations and the people he used to call family.

He is letting go of something to gain something. What his family represents is keeping him in place, holding him from getting onward, keeping him from developing into something else that could be better and more fulfilling.

It isn’t exactly easy to do what he is doing. Sometimes he thinks it would be easier to live his life as expected, without too many surprises or plot twists. Then there would be no conflicts, not too many questions. Only silent and satisfied approval. But that isn’t a way of life he can accept. How can he ever learn how he wants to live his life if he is constantly hindered from trying to live it?

And that is why he opens his eyes and says goodbye to the island quietly in his mind. Life is revealing itself to him in a new way and he is ready to welcome it with open arms.

The Benefits of Writing a Journal

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I’ve adopted a new habit: writing an almost daily journal. Almost, because I try to write it every day but Sundays tend to become the exception to the rule. However, I still call it a habit because it’s ingrained in my system: from Monday to Friday I wake up at 6 AM and after showering but before breakfast, I write my journal.

I keep my thoughts to two pages per day – I’m afraid that in the modern world the hand muscles aren’t what they used to be. But it’s a 30-minute exercise in concentration and a great way to start one’s day. Let me tell you why.

(But first, I’ll shed some light on my history as a journal writer)

An On/Off Habit

Ever since I was little, writing a journal has been some kind of on/off habit for me. I can’t remember why I began writing in the first place – I was probably inspired by some character in a book that kept a diary and I wanted to be like him/her. The first journals I’ve kept are from elementary school when I was in second grade. The cute, pastel yellow Winnie the Pooh notebook has lost many of its pages and is barely holding together. But the important things, the diary entries about my dance practices and who of my class mates I liked the most, are still there.

After that, I’ve written a journal of some sort through the years up until this day. I’d like to declare I have something from every year from my life written down, with a date and a few thoughts about life, but I’m not quite sure. Some years might be missing. But in that case, it’ll only be a few.

For this post, I perused my old journals. There are three different time periods when I’ve written actively, i.e. on a daily basis:

  • In 2010: I wrote three pages every day for six months or so. I have no idea where the idea came from – maybe I wanted to prove something to myself or be able to tell everyone I wrote every day. But I did, and held on to the habit for an impressive amount of time, considering I was a teenager filled with angst and confusion.
  • In the Fall of 2016: one to eight pages daily. This was the time I spent in Ireland. Writing about my exchange period kept me sane and also had the function of making the time there more memorable.
  • Now, in Fall 2018 (which I guess we can start calling Winter as we just got our first snow in Southern Finland and it’s less than four weeks until Christmas): two pages on a daily basis. It is an effort to try to document my thoughts and feelings, trying to dig deeper into what I know and feel, what I want and how I want it.

Analyzing my more sporadic journal entries from previous years, I seem to have picked up my pen and put black on white when I’ve been 1) overwhelmed by feelings, may that be love, hate, sadness or confusion; 2) feeling guilty about not exercising enough and only eating candy and chocolate, or 3) when I felt like I needed to get out all those thoughts about people, school work and life in general, and didn’t feel like telling about them to anyone else (or writing about them on my LiveJournal blog that has been gone for a long time).

Focus on Depth

Today, however, I have a different approach on writing a journal. Actually, I only recently realized that I haven’t actually been writing a journal all these years. I’ve been writing a diary – a book where I’ve recorded events as they happen and that have included feelings and moods. That I have done, for sure – all that foul language, teenage hate towards others and myself, crushes on cute guys… And a play-by-play descriptions about my plans and what I intend to do later that day or the next.

But now it feels like I have become a grown up – I’m writing a journal. A book where I record, not events or what other people say and do, but ideas and thoughts. I try to focus on depth instead of just telling what I did that day or how I felt. I’m actually digging deeper into those emotions, trying to concentrate on what’s on my mind and find out why it’s on my mind.

Writing for me has always been something I’ve had to force myself to do. It’s not a natural daily yearning for me to write down my thoughts and pick on them with a stick to find out what these thoughts really are about. Sometimes, I also find the process somewhat frustrating: it takes time to write by hand compared with writing on a computer which means the process is slow, while at the same time my thoughts are running around like the crazy dodos in Ice Age. It feels like I lose the track of thought before I’ve managed to write everything down.

(And let’s not forget about the hand – it does get tired which means the writing won’t be as pretty. A thing that tends to matter to me.)

But never have I regretted sitting down to write my daily two pages. Some days, I know exactly what I want to write about. Last week such clear thoughts were about self-care, thoughts on why I’m writing my thesis, and how I deal with anxiety that comes from school work. And on those days when I have no clue what I’m thinking about – I write about that and try to figure out why I don’t have anything to say.

During this new in-depth writing habit of mine, I’ve experienced some of the benefits of daily journal writing:

  • I realize new things about myself and my though processes that I might not have realized if I hadn’t written them down.
  • I take a moment to focus on what feels important in my mind at the moment: what thoughts are constantly there?
  • I listen to myself: how do I feel today? Am I anxious, motivated, tired, stressed or energized?
  • I improve my concentration by focusing on a single, manual task for thirty minutes or so. It helps me focus on projects at hand during the rest on the day.

Retrospective Reading

And one of the huge benefits of writing a diary or a journal, when regarded in the long run, is the retrospect one gets when reading old diaries and journals. As I’ve been reading those old entries, especially from 2009 onward, I’ve understood myself in a different way than I did before.

Of course, I remember many of the big things I wrote about (and forgotten many of those that felt so big at the time but that lost their meaning in a few weeks or months). But the events and the people aren’t that important – it’s more about how I wrote about them. I’ve realized how much built-in anger I had when I was a teenager, and how I had no way of letting it out. So I wrote these awful things in my diary, and yelled at everything and everyone on paper – instead of confronting them in person.

Reading old entries gave me a refreshed view of my younger self – what was I insecure about, what events and happenings did I consider being important enough to write about, and what did that mean, on a deeper level? My findings have been thought-provoking.

What I’ve thought about is this: what if I had never written a diary? What would I know about myself today, what kind of image would I have about my childhood and being a teenager? In his book Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari speaks about the experiencing self and the narrating self.

The experiencing self is the person experiencing the emotions, thoughts and feelings in the moment. The experiencing self is able to tell exactly how one feels, giving a realistic, although subjective, description of the current state of life.

The narrating self takes over when the experiencing self is taking a break – and builds up a narrative, a story, that tells how the situation was. The narrative self tends to bend the curves, put a filter on what the experiencing self just told and transform the memories into something else, something nice and less complex.

In one way or the other, the narrative self distorts the real experience and creates, in the long run, a not-so-truthful perception of oneself and the happenings that occurred.

This doesn’t help us understand why we have become the people we are today. What events formed us, who had a great effect on our thoughts and opinions? Here, the diaries and journals come to our help. They are the reality check we need every once in a while – how was the experience really, was it as good or as bad as I remembered? What did I think of this thing previously, has my thinking shifted?

Writing a daily journal helps to understand our own progress and who we are. This, however, requires patience and self-discipline: in order to have something to analyze, you need to take the time to write down those entries. But it pays off in the end, I’d say. What do you think? Is it worth your time?

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Why do you write a journal, if you do? Or what is keeping you from it? Can you relate to any of the benefits I mentioned in this blog post?