The Traveling Writer, Pt. II

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(You can read part one here.)

I haven’t written about writing in a while because it has been… complicated.

The thing is, writing and traveling don’t go too well together. It’s because both forms of doing consume time and energy. It’s an either or situation where you have to choose what you want to focus on.

However, that has not stopped me from doing it. I mean, you’re reading this blog post that I’ve written while sitting in a rooftop tent in Kakadu National Park in Australia – so I am traveling and writing. It is possible!

But you have to fight for your writing time, for sure. Be prepared for compromises, for flexibility. Give yourself a little mercy for not being as prolific as you’d wish to be.

And realize that maybe traveling and writing don’t go together as well as you might have thought in the beginning.

When Your Focus Goes Elsewhere

While traveling, it is easy to just go with the flow, to be consumed by all the things that come to traveling: planning the route, the food, and where to stay the night. You focus on what you see, smell and feel. In the end of the day, you are tired and ready to go to bed – although you haven’t written a word.

In Vietnam, as we preferred our homestay rooms more than the touristic sites, I had plenty of time to write. I got into writing regularly and could keep up with my writing projects. But now, as we’ve changed country and continent (yay for Australia!), my writing time has decreased noticeably.

It has been on hold because we have been preparing ourselves for a different mode of travel.

As the best way to travel in Australia is by car, we decided to buy one. After a few days of searching, we found one that we liked and had a reasonable price, and bought it. Then, for a few days more, we prepped the car: cleaned it, fixed small things, got necessary kitchen equipment and a rooftop tent.

I didn’t have the time or the energy to write.

After that, when our traveling home was ready for the road, we started the engine and were off. (A side note: there is something very symbolic about starting the motor of your car for the very first time).

As it is in the beginning, new things take so much time and energy to focus on planning: where we want to drive, how long it takes, when do we need to fuel up or go to the grocery store. It takes effort to put up the rooftop tent, to cook food, to clean up and prepare for the night. It’s a full-day job to be on a road trip that will take a few months – it’s nothing you can plan too well before-hand.

So, even if we hit the road, I didn’t have the time, the space or the energy to write.

But I have noticed my feeling of restlessness growing from one day to the other – I want to write, I know I have to write. Get those thoughts, ideas, plot twists and character developments on paper.

Finding the Balance

I know I have to make traveling and writing work together – because I, as a writer, am most satisfied when writing. But how?

A week ago, I tried something: instead of writing in the morning, which is my best time for writing but also the best time for waking up and getting going in Australia, I changed my writing hours to the evening.

Why? Because when the sun goes down, the bugs come out from their hiding and take over the world. Therefore, at 7 PM, we pack everything in the car and take the steps up to our rooftop tent to take shelter from the blood-thirsty devils. But who wants, or even can fall asleep at seven in the evening? No one. It is the perfect time for writing.

Or… You’d think it’s the best time to be writing.

I’ve noticed that although it is the perfect time for writing, it’s not the perfect time if you plan on sleeping after writing. It’s the blue-screen-brain thing – sitting in front of the computer for an hour does not make you sleepy. After you’re done with your words, you lie in the rooftop tent literally for hours waiting for sleep to come. And you wake up tired.

It’s far from an optimal situation. But at the moment, it’s the best I’ve got. Otherwise I’ll be scratching my writing minutes together with blood, sweat and tears and it’s not nice. But I have to say – especially when traveling together with someone, it’s tough to combine both writing and traveling. You can’t be in two places at the same time.

I’ll keep on working on my writing and trying to find a way to keep going with this traveling writer thing. Sometimes I do remind myself of the fact that I have actually managed to put together over 25,000 words while on this trip and that is something to be proud of. But at the same time, I know I could’ve produced twice as much if not for traveling.

An easy choice would be to choose – for now – traveling over writing. But it feels like something I don’t want to do, it feels like I’ll be betraying myself if I just let my laptop rest instead of trying my best to write.

I can’t choose writing over traveling, not quite yet, but until then… I’ll just have to keep on finding that time for writing and find a way to see my situation in a better light, from another perspective.

I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

The Great Thing About Traveling Slowly

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We’ve been on the road for almost two weeks now. It isn’t a very long time, for sure, but it feels like we are now getting into the groove of traveling. We are finding our routines, figuring out how we want to spend our days on the road.

In the mornings, I write. It’s been relatively easy to get going with my morning routine of writing although I’m no fan of writing before I’ve had breakfast and a cup of coffee. However, nothing beats the feel-good after a rewarding writing session.

(Lately, I’ve been practicing writing adventure/action scenes – it’s tough because I’m more for the relaxed or deep-talk-kind-of scenes.)

After I’m done writing, the rest of the day is free for whatever activities we feel like doing. For the most part, we do what tourists do: walk around, say “no thanks!” to tuk-tuk drivers and when the heat of the midday gets unbearable, we step into one of the many 7/11 –shops with the greatest air conditioning, pick an ice cream flavor we haven’t tried before and eat it outside the shop before walking on. We visit temples, try new fruits like mangosteen and sometimes exchange a few words with other backpackers.

A New Perspective on Traveling

However, as we have travel plans into October which means we’ll be on the road for a few months more, the perspective on traveling changes. The days aren’t about wake up as early as possible to see as much as possible like they usually are on short city holidays because we have time. We have days upon days! We’ve been in Thailand for two weeks now and we still have 1,5 week to go before we hop on another plane. That means we can stay a few nights longer in every city we visit and take the time we need to get to know places.

In other words, we are in no hurry. And because we don’t have to count every hour of the day, we really get to see what we want to see.

What made me think of this was an evening a few days ago when we were still in Chiang Mai. We decided to visit one of the many temples of the city, a temple called Wat Chedi Luang. We went to the area, paid 40 Baht as a supporting fee to the temple and started walking around the area.

First we visited one of the viharns, assembly halls, which are usually the golden, colorful, pompous even, buildings – but which I rarely find fascinating. The reason to this is that the viharns are very often built in the 20th century which makes them very new and fresh and I am more for the old buildings and ruins.

Therefore, as visiting the viharn with all the other tourists was a small disappointment, I was beyond excited (I might even say I was momentarily breathless) when I saw the real thing. The Wat Chedi Luang.

Taking In The Quiet, The Calm

It was already in the evening and the sun was about to start setting when we came to the old temple. The ancient layers of stone, the carvings, the details put into the chedi were all beautiful – partly because it was well done, partly because the evening sun gave it a wonderful color and partly because I was awestruck by the fact that this temple was built in the 14th or 15th century.

Many of the tourists who also found their way to the chedi, were happy to just walk around it once, take a photo of it and then leave. We, however, decided to sit down and enjoy the peace and quiet of the temple area – we had the time.

An hour flew by as we sat on the white bench, watching other tourists walk by, take a selfie with the chedi and then leave. We also saw a young man sit down with his sketchpad to draw Wat Chedi Luang (he also took almost an hour to draw the temple), some stray dogs and many of the monks go on about their daily business.

We took in the quiet, the setting sun and the beautiful warm color of the chedi as the sun shined on it. As we sat there, it felt as if I could feel the temple, the serenity of it.

There were so few who took the time to actually sit down and look at the building, to take in every detail of it, I really wonder what they can remember of it. Of course, they have the photo to remind them of the temple – but can they feel it as I do even after days of seeing it? I wonder how many historical buildings, artefacts and paintings I’ve looked at (probably numerous) without really seeing them.

It’s time to change that.

As there is slow-food, there is also slow-traveling. It’s about getting into the groove, about feeling things rather than only looking – it’s almost like mindfulness, finding yourself in the moment of now.

 

The First Week of Travel – Heat, Traffic Jams and Empty Pages

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As I’m writing this, heavy raindrops beat the roof of our guesthouse room on an otherwise silent street. It’s the first proper rain we’ve had during this first week in Thailand – and I welcome every drop of it because rain helps calm things down: the traffic, the people, the mind.

Thanks to the weather, this is the first time I actually find the time and place to sit down and write how my traveling life has come to a start.

First Reactions to Bangkok

We arrived in Bangkok almost a week ago. The city was hectic. As a citizen of Finland, leaving a country of five million people to enter a city of eight million is somewhat of a shock. Especially the traffic jams felt insane: the way drivers have the courage to switch lanes although there’s no guarantee it’ll work out (but it always does), and how the scooters and motorbikes crisscross through the endless lines of cars…

It’s a lot to take in.

In addition to getting used to the traffic and the number of people, the heat has taken a great deal of energy. I know this kind of weather (the tropical heat of 35 degrees Celsius) is normal in Asia, but in Finland, it’s nothing we are used to. Therefore, dealing with the amount of sweat and the liquefied feeling of one’s body and mind has taken some time as well.

But even a Finn gets by in Bangkok. One simply needs a great deal of patience and the ability to stay calm in the heavy masses of people.

Finding Time To Write

So, I’ve become used to all of this: the people, the traffic, the heat, the way Thailand works and functions. But what I haven’t become used to, is writing while traveling.

Honestly, it’s been difficult to get any writing done. It’s a shame as I have been hoping to be able to record the whole journey in my diary and in these blog posts, maybe even let the experiences give some color to the stories I’m planning on writing. However, the pages have stayed empty.

During the few weeks of sailing, I was able to write during the windy and rainy days when we stayed in harbor. Here however, a little rain or wind doesn’t stop us from stepping to the streets and finding a nice café to order an iced latte from or find our way to a local restaurant. We’ve been active most part of the day – in other words, there hasn’t been any particular time of the day (or weather) that would have suited as writing time.

It’s been difficult. So many thoughts, vivid pictures of events, feelings and ideas that have been going through my head and nothing has been recorded – not properly. And that’s why I’ve realized that if I want to write, I simply need to decide when and where I want to write – and also what I want to write.

(It may sound obvious to someone but for me, it has clearly taken some time for the thought to become something worth to think about.)

Writing Routine for Traveling

So.

During this year of blogging, I’ve been an active advocate of routines as a skill for time management and efficiency. And I believe in those same routines even when I’m abroad.

If I want to stay in touch with my writing, I need to hold on to my writing routines. It was already difficult to get started with this blog post because it’s been over a week since I last opened a Word-file. For me, it’s a long time.

Writing is about routines, about persistence and continuity, and taking a week of from writing can be good but it can also be bad. Therefore, if I want to be a writer, I need to hold on to my writing routines and keep my ‘creative muscles’ active.

For me, it probably means writing in the morning either before or after breakfast but before we get going on our day and leave the guesthouse we are staying at. I will try to go for my usual 1,000 words per day five days a week and hopefully, in a few weeks, this has become a simple routine for me even though the cities, villages and countries will change every few days or so.

Dedicating a few hours five days a week to writing instead of exploring the cities we visit is a trade-off I’m willing to make, easily. This way I’ll keep up with my writing and let the travels influence my writing, something I’ll most likely value in a few years.

We’ll see how my plan works out. It’s a good thing I already have routine from the past year – now I simply need to learn a new twist to it: how to keep up with my writing routines while traveling.

 

A Traveling Writer

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Before I get into traveling and writing, an announcement: this blog celebrated its one-year birthday on Monday! Yay! Thank you, reader, for being here – it does mean a lot.

But now – let’s start the second year of blogging!

As we sold most of our things in June and packed the rest in four boxes and two backpacks, for the past month, I have been a writer without a desk. Or, at least I’ve been a writer without my usual desk – the white, steady desk of perfect height on which I wrote the last 30,000 words of Yellow Tails and my very first NC-17 fanfic, among many other things.

For the past three weeks, I have been a writer and a traveler.

But you know what? It hasn’t been that bad being a traveling writer. This was something I kept writing about in my journal every now and then for a few months before the Great Departure, wondering how I would keep on writing without my usual routines. Would I be able to keep on editing Yellow Tails? How about writing fan fiction I’ve enjoyed so much – could I still write and be active on that writing forum I decided to return to?

A Prolific Sailor

The first two weeks that were spent on a sailboat were the first test for me to try out being a writer while traveling. Sailing is usually the type of activity that keeps one continuously active – you’re steering, adjusting the sails, cooking food (which is a challenge on a rocking sailboat), navigating, fixing things or just focusing on the sea around you. There isn’t much time for anything else.

I was prepared for writing only in the evenings, maybe squeezing out a few hundred words on some current writing project. However, this sailing trip was somewhat different. The weather was almost always against us – most days the wind was too strong or from the wrong direction which meant that half of our time on the boat was spent in harbors waiting for calmer seas.

For the traveling (or the sailing) writer, this was excellent news.

I was surprisingly prolific during those harbor days! I started publishing a short (around 2,000 words) series of fan fiction on a writing forum and wrote about 3,000 words on a new one. In addition to that, I wrote a blog post and an article for a sailing magazine.

Although we were four people crammed in a small space, the wind kept howling in the mast and the boat was continuously rocking because of the waves, I managed to be creative and efficient in my writing. I did just fine.

An Hour A Day

This experience calmed my worries about the travels we have ahead of us. Many trips are filled with activities that begin early in the morning and end in the evening, keeping the traveler active 12 hours a day. We, however, won’t be in a haste while we travel – we plan on taking the time we need. This means that I can squeeze in at least an hour of writing time in the morning (maybe in a nice café?) or maybe an hour in the evening, depending on the day.

Of course, every day cannot be a writing day because of traveling from one place to another or because of something else – but at least I know I will have some writing time almost every day. This makes me happy because it means I’ll be able to keep my passion alive and my mind calm.

I hope to be able to make another update on being traveling writer in a month or two, just to tell you how traveling goes together with something that feels like the opposite of traveling (although, now when I think about it – I will be traveling both physically and mentally because isn’t writing always like taking a trip somewhere in your mind?).

On Sunday, me and my partner fly to Bangkok, Thailand. It will be a 15-hour flight and I plan on taking my laptop with me on the plane – I’ve never written fiction on a plane (only some academic notes for my studies) so we’ll see how that works out!

A Writerly Update

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

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

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

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

A Writer’s Day

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

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

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

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

Love for Every Moment

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

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

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

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

And that is something not just any job can give.

A Friendly Reminder from Tolkien

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Every time we open the first page of an unfamiliar book or sit down to watch a new movie, we are indirectly changing our own lives. How, we do not know quite yet, but it’s certain that something will happen.

I believe that is one of the reasons why we enjoy watching films, reading books or listening to music. We are changing our lives in some ways, tweaking it little by little into a more colorful, broader view on life and ourselves.

We might gain a new perspective on life, on the world history or on a value we hold dear or knew nothing of. We learn how other people think, feel and react to different things and where their reactions take them. We become more empathetic.

In addition to that, we are reminded of what in our lives is good, what to keep, value and respect.

For me, such an experience was seeing the film Tolkien.

I didn’t know what to expect after seeing only a short teaser trailer about the film, so I just went to the movie theatre with my two sisters, sat down and opened my mind.

The film had many beautiful scenes in it and in my opinion, the film crew succeeded in depicting Tolkien’s fantasy, to explain where he found inspiration and ideas to the stories of Middle Earth.

However, the most important and valuable thing I got out of the film was two friendly reminders.

The first one was about the courage writing requires. Taking action, taking the risk to abandon many other things to be able to write and write quite seriously, to aim to become a published author – it takes courage.

It is so important for a writer to take his or her writing seriously, to believe in them and in the fact that there’s currency in my creativity. 

According to the film, without his wife Edith, Tolkien might not have begun writing The Hobbit. I wonder how the fictional world of books would look like today if Tolkien’s stories wouldn’t have seen daylight.

And that was the other reminder: how important it is for a writer (or any person, for that matter) to be surrounded by a supporting network. People or even just a person who has belief in my work, words and imagination, and who don’t think my eventual success would come on their expense.

As we walked out of the movie theater with my sisters who were talking about Tolkien’s life and how they enjoyed the non-chronological order of the scenes, I had my thoughts on what the movie told about writing and what thoughts I took with me:

The beauty of words and the meaning they can give to people.

How lucky I am to be able to write daily both fact and fiction.

And, most of all,

How incredibly lucky I am to have a partner who encourages me to write and get my writing published, to cheer me on and be happy on my behalf when I succeed.

He got a kiss when I got home.

Why Fan Fiction Could Be Good For You

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

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

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

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

Developing as a Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Many Benefits of Fan Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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