Exercises for Immersing Yourself in Your Work: Brief Instructions for Creative Writing

In the series ‘Exercises for Immersing Yourself in Your Work’, artists and scholars working at the Saari Residence share their approaches to achieving a good workflow. Non-fiction author and art historian Antti Kauppinen was immersed in his work at the Saari Residence in winter 2018. He worked on a novel focusing on the treatment, persecution and survival of sexual minorities. We asked Kauppinen to share his best tips on creative writing.
Antti Kauppinen presenting his work and working methods at Saari in January 2018. Photo: Pirre Naukkarinen

The guidance given below is highly subjective. But it works for me. But there are probably many people for whom it does not work at all. Hopefully, these tips will be of help to someone.

The schedule

You wake up. Do not look at your phone, do not switch on the radio, TV, or the Internet. Do not read the papers.

Surrender to the silence and go with it.

It is difficult to form thoughts into sentences. Give them space.

Move to the workroom quickly, as fast as you can after brushing your teeth, making coffee and getting dressed.

Switch on your computer, read through what you wrote yesterday, shrug off your anxiety and start creating new text. Force yourself.

After three hours have passed, you are allowed to get up, walk and eat. Anyone who claims to be able to write good creative text for more than three hours in one go, is delusional. Or superhuman. I am not.

After lunch, you can focus on more trivial things such as reading emails, browsing Facebook and writing grant applications. Then you can switch music on, allow yourself to read news that builds anxiety about the state of the world, until it is evening again, a new morning dawns and you need to write.

How to push away anxiety and shame

You feel the approach of overwhelming emotion that will halt your work. Look up from the text, look ahead along the tabletop, start staring into the emptiness. Let the feeling come over you, accept it, do not dismiss the anxiety, study it as if it were in front of your eyes. Make it into a beautiful sphere that is glowing with white-golden light. Once the feeling has become a solid sphere, brace yourself mentally and push the sphere out of the window. It will disappear into the distance at an accelerating pace. Follow it go and feel how a clear, anxiety-free peace settles upon you. Look at your text again and continue typing.

When you have trouble grasping the whole

Take a stack of post-it notes. Write down important things on the notes. Events, venues, subheadings, characters, descriptive sections that add colour to the events. Attach the notes to a wall or table in any order you like. Force yourself to try combinations that seem wrong to start with: what if the narrator of that part of the story is not this person but that one, etc. Every now and then, even omit events that you think are important and see how the whole thing would work. Place empty post-it notes in places where the content is still unknown to you, but you know that you need something. Once you’ve played around enough with the post-it notes, you will have the contents of the book before you. From start to finish. After that, you still have to figure out how the story will progress, in a natural manner, from one note to another. Then you just need to write though the story.

When you have spent weeks on the computer and nothing gets done

Take a break and fly to Istanbul. Leave your computer at home. Sit in the hotel room bath tub for a couple of days and walk around the city at night, until your feet are killing you. Eat anything and everything and don’t worry about food poisoning. Upon returning home, start again with a new perspective.

Author

Antti Kauppinen

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