On writing and not writing
In this series, authors discuss the difficulties of their trade. Jari Järvelä finds it difficult to stop gathering source material which then gets piled in towers on his desk and in sacks around it. He knows that it’s got to stop though – for when it does, the stories will finally emerge, and life is a bliss… for a moment
When I was younger I thought that writing a novel began with the moment when I sat down at my desk and pressed a key for the first time. A. Hmmm…no, H. No, let’s make that S. No no no, I need a more original beginning…Z!
That’s not the case. The writing of a novel begins between two and twenty years before the choice of the first letter and the first word. Sometimes longer.
In the case of my novel Särkyvää (‘Fragile’, 2014), I know the exact moment of its birth.
Before I began to make a career as an author, I spent a year as a teacher at Hamari school in Porvoo. It was the beginning of the 1990s. Hamari was an old sawmill community on the sea, full of wooden houses more than a century old and motor boats put-putting toward the horizon. The headmaster looked more like a sea dog than a teacher; one morning he announced that it was his fortieth birthday. After that he sat down on the staff-room sofa, fell into deep thought and suddenly ejaculated, ‘Why the hell does a person have to gather so much junk in their life?!’ More…
In this series, Finnish authors ponder the pros and cons of their profession. Alexandra Salmela operates in two languages, her native Slovakian and Finnish, which has become her literary language. Adventure and torture alternate as she attempts to shape reality into writing
I had started to write before I knew how. With fat wax crayons, in big stick-letters, I scratched my stories in old diaries. There were lots of pictures. From the very beginning, I wrote both poetry and prose. At 11 I didn’t finish my great sea-adventure novel, but at 12 I was already writing my memoirs. They, too, somehow remained unfinished.
Writing is… I wanted to write fun, but in the end I’m not quite sure about that. Writing is adventure and liberation and terribly hard work. Torture of the imagination and the pale copying of real events. Reading is a way to escape reality and at the same time a route to the sources of reality. By writing, you can shape reality in your own image: it’s your own character fault if the result is ugly and depressing.
If I were to write a pink world, it would be so sugary that it would make everyone sick, me and other people. More…
In this series, Finnish authors ponder the complexities of their profession. Susanne Ringell describes her work as sailing on sometimes stormy seas – without a skipper certificate, but with conviction
We are such stuff as dreams are made on; / and our little life is rounded with a sleep. (William Shakespeare, The Tempest.) In Swedish – my mother tongue and the language in which my pencil writes – the play is called Stormen, ‘The storm’. There are a lot of storms on the sea of dreams. The sky suddenly grows dark, and deceptive whirlwinds blow up, there are cold shivers and tornadoes, there is the Bermuda Triangle and the mighty chasm of the Mariana Trench. In its southern part is the world ‘s deepest marine environment, Challenger Deep, 11 kilometres. Our boats are small and fragile, and it ‘s a miracle they haven’t capsized more often.
It’s a miracle that in spite of it all we still so frequently reach our home harbour, that we arrive where we were bound for. Or somewhere else, but we do get there. We come ashore, we come ashore with what we set our minds on. More…
If you want to write, you need to do it every day, says the author Monika Fagerholm. Trial and error are necessary for her – and so is not being afraid of getting lost in the woods in the process, because only then can amazing things be found
Writers write and writers write every day. I remember seeing this in one of those inspirational guides on writing I enjoy reading – even if they don’t necessarily help you in pursuing your daily writing as much as you would hope. At the worst, they give you a kind of exhausting energy which just leaves you drained. And yes, turning to these kinds of manuals almost always involves an element of desperation; you don’t need advice when everything is going great. More…
Olli Jalonen’s latest novel, 14 solmua Greenwichiin (’14 knots to Greenwich’, 2008), was 19 years in the making. He ponders the joys and tribulations of such a slow maturation
When you spend years or decades writing the same book, what is the drive, passion or compulsion that keeps the cogs turning through the quieter months? Or are the months when you don’t write silent at all? Isn’t it the case that the core of a text or a book is born out of a state of peaceful nothingness?
More often than not, the most important ideas, the strongest details and the sturdiest structures of the art of writing come into being somewhere other than at the computer keyboard. One of the greatest benefits and pleasures of a writer’s work is carrying that work around in mind and body. At these times the writing machinery is whirring, quietly, calmly, freely and unpressured. More…
For the writer, not being able to write is just one of the profession’s occupational hazards, says the author Eeva Kilpi. She recalls a particularly debilitating attack of the affliction, and offers suggestions for escaping it
I had no idea I was currently suffering from writer’s block until I was asked to describe the condition.
Now I feel – as I sit at my oId, muscle-powered, Facit typewriter – that a horror of words is the first and normal reaction every time I have to begin a piece (let alone a book). Words dart into hiding like a frightened flock of birds that has barely settled to rest. (And now I hear successful, prolific colleagues rushing to explain how easy it is to use a computer to correct mistakes and move entire paragraphs even from one chapter to another, but I am paralysed by the very thought of a flickering screen, ready and waiting, and of the fateful key by pressing which one may destroy an entire immortal manuscript, as I have heard has happened to some people.) More…
What should you do when writer’s block strikes? Lie down and wait for inspiration to return, Petri Tamminen suggests
All autobiographical depictions of writer’s block are fundamentally flawed and false. If you happen to be suffering from writer’s block, these accounts make for painful reading.
The wittier, more carefully crafted and closely observed an account the writer gives of his affliction, the more gut-wrenching it feels. It’s like treading water and preparing to drown and having to listen to someone in dry clothes standing on the deck of a ship recalling a close call he had back in the seventies.
On the other hand, when you’re suffering from writer’s block everything annoys you. Good books seem overwhelmingly good, so much so that you realise you can never achieve that level of greatness. Similarly, bad books seem so overwhelmingly bad that you wonder why anyone bothers reading books and realise that it’s pointless trying to write one. More…
The Finlandia Prize-winning author Kjell Westö recalls his literary adolescence, and the moment – of a dark January night – when he stopped worrying about writer’s block and began to write
When I was in my twenties, my urge to write was very strong. I was driven, almost consumed, by this ever-present zeal, which tore me apart nearly as inexorably and effectively as love did. But I wrote precious little. Now, some twenty years later, I have a general idea about the traps I so unknowingly walked into. More…