Monthly Archives: April 2015

A stormy brain learns to trust her first drafts

I am a big fan of brainstorming. I even used to talk about brainstorming with myself. And I do brainstorm with myself a lot. Generating plenty of ideas before being able to develop them further. “I could do this, and I could do that. And that would be great. Or maybe that!” Does this sound familiar?

Last week I read an article that made me stop and contemplate. The article was about how and why the “Brainstorming Does Not Work”.

The idea in this article is that when you brainstorm in a group, you have a pressure of a group with no space to contemplate and develop this particular idea. Some studies and experiences revealed that the quality of the ideas, or rather ideas with solutions are better when developed by a solitary person having time to ponder on the idea and solution.

At the same time of this discovery and a light-bulb-experience, I observed something interesting about my way to write my second book. I did have the same experience during the first book, but I became very aware of it now and saw how it changed when I started trusting my initial creation. That is to trust my very first draft.

I write my books by hand. This was true for at least half of my first book and true for the second book in its full, or at least what I have written so far (about 3/4 are written). Then after some time, I type what I have written by hand. For example, I am writing Chapter 29 by hand now and typing Chapter 23 (having some of the later thirty-something chapters hand-written already as well).

What I noticed is that while typing, my brain generates new text prompted by sentences I type. I start modifying my first draft on-the-fly. Typing further I often discover that I had this same idea already, but in different and often better shape. Or that there is some other piece of text, which makes much more sense than this new idea.

Now, having discovered this article about brainstorming not being always that good, I start to understand what could be happening. My inner critic suggests subtly that my first draft is bad and that something new has to be generated. But this new text doesn’t have enough time to ripe as the initial, very first and hand-written draft, which flowed in one piece at the time of writing.

All these simultaneous revelations made me become curious about my first drafts and not to correct them too much. I still do slip into the correcting mode time to time, like today, having this brilliant idea to refer to old Italian movies with Sophia Loren, only to discover that I did this already in the first draft, but a bit later in the scene. The solution to this was getting the referee in my brain, who found the third option bringing peace between the inner critic and the initial originator of the first draft.

But in spite of this slipping, or maybe because I am aware of it now, I start being more detached and less personal about what I have written in the first place. Less proprietary and less worried, more curious about what was written and what kind of story emerges out of the first scribblings.

I must say, I enjoy the writing process more and more after discovering this. I now trust my first drafts to contain some gems, however hidden.

Picture: Talking of hidden gems. My sweet Emma loves falling asleep with her favourite cuddly toys close by.


Driven by curiosity

Last week I noticed that I loved the word “curious”. And this week I discovered a whole post about curiosity by one of my favourite authors.

I am a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. Both as a writer and as a person. I read almost every of her posts on Facebook and share many of them.

This Monday’s post was about a quote from her upcoming book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”, to appear on September 22 this year. This quote is about passion versus curiosity.

“Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times – a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses, and to those who are specially touched by God. But curiosity is available to everyone.”

I can confirm this. I remember deciding many times in my life what my one and only and definite passion was, only finding out that I was searching for something else.

Here is what Liz wrote in the chat on this post:

“I feel like the word “passion” is yet another word (like “balance”) that women are using as weapons against themselves these days — I think that word can fill people with fear that they aren’t living their lives right. I always prescribe a search for curiosity, instead…it’s so much kinder!”

Yes, curiosity is much kinder. And now as I think back, it is definitely driven me on my way. Although, I used to think it was my passion. Now I am sure, it was curiosity.

I have tried many different hobbies and occupations. For hobbies I tried painting, cooking, knitting, crocheting, hand-crafting fashion jewellery, learning and teaching languages. Always driven by curiosity and eagerness to try something new, where the latter has it roots in curiosity, too.

And I loved all of these activities as well as many of the different jobs I done along the way. They covered among other teaching, marketing, physics, electronics engineering, consulting, quality assurance, programming and technical writing.

I discovered that I loved many aspects of the housework as well. I discovered I loved ironing and tidying up, finding new ways in arranging furniture, books, things around our home.

Curiosity led me to try new recipes. After finding out about my food intolerances, curiosity was the one to guide me out of initial despair. First, I wondered what other people did in my situation and started researching this. Then I became curious to find and be able to create something tasty and something new in what was acceptable for and by my body.

Now I understand, we can have varying passions, some with long and some with short lives, as well as several or many passions simultaneously. Passion for family and friends, passion for music, passion for art, passion for work and housework, passion for nature, sports, tasty meal, reading, writing, and many other.

And curiosity is the guide on our multidimensional way.

Here is another quote from Liz’s post:

“A curiosity-driven life is a beautiful thing. Following your curiosity begins a scavenger hunt that can lead you to amazing places…

It might even lead you to your passion.”

Curiosity ignited my passion for reading. My sister is eight years elder than I and as a young adult I was eager to try and learn many of what she did. I started reading the books she read. “The Ladies’ Paradise” by Emile Zola was one of them. It hooked me immediately. After this book I wanted to read more by Zola. I was both in awe of his virtuosity with story and words, but also disappointed by darkness of some of his short stories. So, I switched to other authors and found many that captivated me. But “The Ladies’ Paradise” and my curiosity to find out why my sister liked it was the start of my reading addiction.

Reading made me curious and wondering whether I could write as well. And I discovered I could. I discovered I simply loved writing and that my curiosity was ever growing about this very special and exciting world.

Pictures: Here is the fourth quote from the post, which impressed me in its entirety:

“Curiosity is the little voice that asks you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a bit closer at something.”

I took these photographs as I turned my head a quarter of an inch to the right and looked at the side-mirror on the way to our Easter vacation to Germany this year. I discovered a beautiful multiple reflection of a cloudy sky.

IMG_0291 IMG_0293


An interview with a reluctant character

In my current work in progress I have a few talkative characters, including my protagonist Hannah. I am talkative myself, so it is a lot of fun to shape all these lovers to talk. It is not as easy as it may seem, since I have to make each of them sound different from me. I am learning a lot by doing so. But one of the bigger challenges for me, I found recently, is to shape a less talkative character.

While Hannah started talking to me all by herself, I had to challenge Liam to talk. Our dialogue turned into an interesting experience. See some of my conclusions after the dialogue below.

I, Vica (V): So Liam, let’s get to know you.

Liam (L): OK.

V: Tell me about yourself.

L: Why don’t you do it?

V: Aha, I found your first quirk.

L: If you say so.

V: I don’t say it. I know now! You are short-tongued and closed except when you are with Hannah. You aren’t as talkative to Hans or other people you know.

L: Maybe.

V: Oh, you don’t want to confirm. But I’ll find out anyway. Latest when Hannah will observe you interact with other characters.

L: You probably will. (Curious smile)

V: Do you always smile curiously or do you have also other types of genuine smile?

L: An interesting question. (Grin widening, still curious)

V: You mean quite strange. After I’ve written it, I see this now myself.

No answer from Liam.

V: Aha! Another observation: You’re polite and kind but you are not flattering. If somebody says something you consider stupid, naïve or obvious, you don’t say anything.

More silence in return.

V: Aha… But I feel that you are somehow different with Hannah than with others. I just can’t figure out how exactly.

L: Three.

V: Pardon?

L: You said three times “Aha”.

V: Aha, another interesting trait! You like changing the subject.

L: You might be mistaken.

V: How so?

L: I’m a researcher. It’s in my nature to make an observation.

V: Hmm, maybe.

L: Four, by the way.

V (suspicious and waving away his last comment): No, you’re tricking me somehow.

L: Tricking?

V (reluctant to answer, pondering instead; then a light-bulb experience): I’ve got it! You turn my attention back to myself, to my thinking process.

L: If you say so.

V: I do say so. But look, I really need your help here. How are you different with Hannah?

L (pensive, but still with curious and amused smile): Well, I really like her, and she is indeed special. Surprising and quirky. You did well, on that one.

V (pleased, but at the same time realizing another trick): Thank you, but I asked how, not why. (Excited) Ah, I know! You are truly engaged into the moment when you are with her. You’re detached, disengaged and distanced when you are with most others. As with me now. And… And you are protective of her. (I didn’t expect that.)

Liam says nothing, instead smiles gently and in a melancholic way.

V: Your silence is very expressive.

Liam’s brows raise.

V (ignoring his mimic): Thanks for being honest. But you seem to be sad somehow. Is there a reason?

L: There always is.

V: Not when you fall in love for the first time.

L: If you say so.

V: Is Hannah your first love?

No answer from Liam.

V: Is she your love at all?

A frown joins the raised brows on Liam’s face.

V: All right, all right. Let’s stop for now and finish this interview.

L: OK.

V: Thanks.

L: Don’t mention it.

This is what I learned about Liam from this dialogue. His answers are brief and he doesn’t put many questions himself. Probably in order not to get drawn into a lengthy discussion. His silence is more expressive than his words. He likes saying: “If you say so”. With the brief answers he is giving, he tries to escape the question without really answering. He tries not to be caught. Even if there is no risk or a trap in the questions being asked. He is definitely someone who hides something. Or many things. I am quite curious what I will find out about him. I might know more than you, the reader, but I definitely don’t know everything yet. What I did find out through this exercise, in addition to learning Liam an ounce better, is that the relationship between Hannah and Liam is much more complicated than I have anticipated. I’ll keep you posted.

Picture: I was glad to discover these flowers. They seem to hide their beauty and softness below the rough dry branches. I wonder whether Liam is like that. In respect to softness. He is good looking – I could no avoid that – but he hides his inner truth from others. I am curious to practice expressing this.

P.S. A discovery about myself. I love the word “curious”. 🙂


Let’s enjoy the ride

We came back yesterday from our Easter vacation in Germany with my husband’s family. It was a wonderful vacation: colourful, vibrant, engaging in a house where five children and six adults gathered to see each other after a long time.

Today, while taking care of my sweet baby Emma, I switched on music, to which I listened before we took off for Germany. This was The Greatest Hits by James Taylor, Volume 2.

A short back-story: A friend introduced me to James’s Taylor music many years ago. I fell immediately in love with his soothing music, gentle voice and wonderful lyrics. Since discovering his songs, I wanted to see him live in concert. In the beginning of the last year, I found out that he was coming to Denmark, to Århus, just a bit more than one hour car-drive away from Aalborg, where we live. I am the only James’s Taylor fan in my family, so no one was keen to come with me. Earlier I would then decide that I couldn’t go alone, be bitter and blame the others for me not being able to do what I wanted to. But that time was different. I already discovered by then that taking responsibility for my own life can be real fun and that no one can live my life for me except myself. So, I decided to go alone.

Actually, I wasn’t quite alone. I was pregnant with Emma: big, round belly nicely showing. I attracted many curious looks followed by smiles when I met the gaze of people passing by or neighbours in the row where I was seated. I danced, sang along and enjoyed the concert immensely. Since this concert I have a key-chain with the title of this concert’s tour and a picture of James Taylor. I bought it to remind me that it is up to me to achieve or not my dreams. That I can go wholeheartedly where my instinct and my life take me instead of resisting and spoiling the adventure.

Last week, while packing for our Easter journey to Germany I recalled that babies recognize sounds and music they hear in their mother’s womb. So I made a test and played James’s Taylor music to Emma. I was delighted to discover that she stopped crying, looked around, as if trying to remember, and then slowly drifted into sleep while I was gently dancing with her in my arms to James’s music.

Today, while listening to the album again together with Emma, the following words caught my attention:

“Isn’t it a lovely ride?
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.

The secret of life
Is enjoying the passage of time.”

From Secret O’ Life

I smiled, searched the lyrics on-line, pinned it to my favourites bar, and wrote this post.

Picture: Niklas enjoying a train ride at a fun fair in Magdeburg this Easter Sunday.