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?

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

 

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!

Still Life Sunday: The Grand Production

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24 The Grand Production

Hotels are like grand theatre productions. You have the life on this side of the curtain, the one visible to the audience, and the other side behind the curtain, where the magic happens. But the magic cannot be seen during the daytime buzz. If you want to see it, you need to opt your timing.

And when is that?

It’s when you wake up at six in the morning to go to the gym for your morning workout or to take a dip in the cold sea, the first rays of sun warming your shivering skin. That is the time when you have the best chance to have a look behind the curtain.

This is what you could see:

In the stairs, you meet a beautiful latino woman who works as a cleaner at the hotel. As she wishes you good morning, you notice her beautiful (she is like a secret talent of the theatre but works as a side character, yet to be discovered).

In the long corridors, you see the cleaning lady, forehead heavy with wrinkles. She’s focused on vacuuming and you do not get her attention (she would be the grumpy caretaker of the theatre, better to watch out for her).

In the reception, two men: one of them has been up all night managing the desk and the other one has come early this morning to take over the shift. Both sip their coffee and chat idly, trying to keep themselves awake (they are two actors from the cast, tired from rehearsals).

And then there is the busybody – a man who seems to be all over the place, organizing the flower setting or straightening up piles of plates and cups that are waiting for the conference guests of the day (he’s the director’s right hand, obviously).

This is something you get to witness at six or seven in the morning. The curtains are still open, the set still somewhat chaotic, the staff running around fixing small details. But when the clock shows eight and most of the hotel room guests wake up to enjoy their breakfast buffet, the curtains close and the magic of it all is left behind the velvet.

The grand show is on.

The cleaners disappear as their shift is over. The tired night receptionist gets to go home for a good morning sleep. The busybody has finished all the tasks that require running around and can take a break, disappearing somewhere behind the curtain.

All the workers seem to improve their posture, build up a friendly smile that never leaves their faces when they work, ready for a new day at the Grand Hotel.

For the guests who make their first appearance of the day at eight, the Hotel is simply like on this side of the curtain – they would never guess the hustle and bustle that happens behind it.

But the early birds who take a morning dip in the sea, a relaxing moment in the sauna or a refreshing walk outside on the grounds – they get to see the production process of the Grand Show: the hustling of making everything seem perfect, the power structures behind the roles, all of the magic.

Most people only come to enjoy the show. But for those who are curious to know how the magic works, what happens behind the curtain… they can see it – if their timing is right.

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?

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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

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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