Tag: Writing Life

Writing Is a Job

Writing is a job-text on the background of a notebook.

Writing a book sounds romantic, gazing over the roofs of Paris in a chilly attic room, slowly sipping hot black coffee. Fluttering curtains in the golden sunset. Sometimes it can even be that. 

But writing is, above all, a job. It’s work and routine. Toil and exhaustion. 

You have to go to work like everybody else and do the time on the chair. It means having a set time and place – be it a home office, a café, or the kitchen table. So you put on your working clothes, sit down at the set time, and start writing. No exceptions, no excuses, just doing. Every day.

Sometimes the words will flow, pouring of you so quickly you can hardly keep up typing, the pages filling effortlessly. You’re a gift to the world. Working is easy and pleasurable, and you can keep at it for hours.

Other times, you stare at the blank page and can hardly resist the urge to run. You write a few words, decide they’re lousy, and delete them. You start again. How could you ever think you could write?


Time drags on. Lunch cannot come soon enough. Or any interruption, really. You’re almost glad if something breaks. Then, suddenly, you’re happy calling the plumber or the electrician for an emergency repair. Or grateful if the delivery man seems to have time for a chat. Anything to avoid looking at that blank page, the blinking cursor a silent countdown to an inexorable deadline.

But you keep at it, how uncomfortable you may be. You’ve learned discipline. You’ve learned that if you sit there long enough, something will happen. An idea, even a kernel of an idea, will appear, seemingly out of thin air. An image that triggers long-gone memories. Scenes from a distant past or a shimmering future. And you’re in again. In the zone where fantastic things happen and writing is easy.

If you’re not able to write, write about not being able to write. For a writer, everything is writing material. Even not being able to write.

Like this text.


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Writing Is an Exercise in Humility

An Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) Photograph by Mihaela Limberea, in tones of green, lavender and orange
Intentional Camera Movement (ICM)* photograph of one of my flowers beds.

One thing anybody could tell you about me is my patience. Or lack of it. It’s a paradox, really. While I can be still for hours when stalking birds to take photos, for instance, most of the time, I have no patience. None. I’m the kid who ate the marshmallow immediately (and went looking for another one in the corridor; no nice waiting for me!).

Gardening has been a lesson in humility for me. It simply takes time for plants to grow, and a fully grown garden takes several years. Even then, it does take time for flowers to bloom or for butterflies to appear in the spring. By creating and tending a garden, you learn patience along the way.

After creating my first garden in Sweden, tending to another in Switzerland, and then creating a new one when back in Sweden again, I thought I’d mastered patience. 

Ha! So easily fooled we are! Especially by ourselves. 


Writing a book takes a lot of patience. Sitting at your desk day after day after day, toiling away a page at a time, with no end in sight. 

One day you think you’ve made good progress; you only have to keep going, and you’ll get there. The next day, nothing works. You write 500 words and delete 400. You start doubting yourself. Do you really have what it takes? Patience and perseverance to sit there every day and build a cathedral by yourself, one brick at a time? To compare the wondrous vision of the building in your head and the lone low wall in front of you that you managed to erect so far?

Someone said that the only thing you need to write is a good chair. That’s a good point. You’ll need a good chair because you’re going to spend a lot of time in it. Sometimes writing, more often staring in space or scouring the internet for the best slug repellent (true story!).

I killed off all distractions on my computer, turned off e-mail and notifications, deleted games, and so on. Closed all programs, except for Scrivener (going off-road now, I know, but if you need anything to write, in addition to the said chair, you’d also need Scrivener, believe me! the best writing software, ever). And the internet browser. 

It’s a risk, I know. An internet connection while writing it’s an open invitation, a free-for-all buffet of distractions. 

I decided to take the risk. Looking up synonyms or the name of a bird I can’t bring to mind is worth it. Worse case, I’ll know more about the mating rituals of penguins or find the best slug repellent (I tend to be practical in my distractions; wasting time, yes, but at least I’ve got something for it).


So, I sit on the chair and stare at the Scrivener binder. Every morning. I try not to think about the number of days required to write a whole book. I try to have faith that if I show up every day, do the work, do the best I can, I’ll produce a book in the end. And maybe learn some patience on the way.

Writing is an exercise in humility. Day after day after day. Brick after brick after brick.

If you’ll excuse me, I have more bricks to lay now. Rome hasn’t been built in one day, and so on. Ta!


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  • If you’re interested in ICM photography, here’s a good guide.

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Dreams Are Involuntary Fiction

Close up of a skyscraper in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Close up of a skyscraper in Tokyo, Japan.

Last night I dreamt of … Bear with me, please. I know, reading about someone’s dreams is as exciting as watching your computer progressing through system updates—even well-written ones. 

I guess it has to do with their purely fictional character. We know they’re made up. Fiction pretends to be real, and we call it out when it’s not working. We’re willing to listen to the tale that is disguised as true, but not to the dream we know is not.

Dreams are second hand, involuntary fiction.

So, I had a dream. I won’t bother you with the details. But being through a scary experience (being lost in a city I didn’t know, walking very determined to nowhere), I did what all writers do: wrote about it in the dream. I had, apparently, decided that I could at least get a story out of that scare. Never let a good crisis go to waste, and all that.

And when I woke up, I wrote about the dream. As any writer would do. 


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What Should I Write About?

Close up of a vintage style typewriter with the paper in it saying "Chapter I".

Every morning it’s the same. I’m ready to start writing, and I’m just paralyzed by the white page in front of me. What should I write about? How should I start? 

I read about writers who stop working for the day when the writing is going well, in the middle of a paragraph, and I never understood it. I felt compelled to finish whatever I was working on, wrapping the day’s work nicely, put a bow on it. I couldn’t leave anything unfinished. 

But lately, it dawned on me that leaving the work when I knew what I was going to write was the perfect way of ensuring I would get started in the morning – because I knew exactly how to continue. And in writing, the hardest part is to begin, at least for me.

The problem is me, of course. I don’t always follow my own advice. This is why I’m back at “What should I write? How should I start?”.


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Being an Artist Is an Act of Daring

Withered grass in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
“Is this good enough for my portfolio? Should I try taking more photos tomorrow?”

Being an artist is an act of daring. Daring to bare your soul to the world.  A creative person does his work at home and keeps it at home, away from critical eyes. An artist sends it out in the world for all to see, to enjoy it, and criticize it. This is what separates amateurs from professionals.

You know all those modern art pieces you sneered at, saying, “I could do that!”, “I could do that better!”. Well, why didn’t you? Why don’t you? 

Maybe you could. But that artist didn’t stop at talking about her art, how she was going to create this great piece, how innovative it was. She didn’t dream about creating that beautiful artwork while waiting to have more time or take another course. She acted on it. Intention and follow through. That’s why they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions and roofed with lost opportunities.” 

Good intentions and great plans will get you nowhere very fast. You get an excellent idea and think, “I have something here. This would be a perfect start for a novel.”. And so, you toy with the idea, dream about writing that novel, maybe even find it a catchy title. You can see the cover, with “a splendid debut”-blurb splashed over it. You write the opening lines.

The morning the first undead burst into the city, Mats woke up in a dilapidated garage, his head pulsing with the mother of all headaches. A dog stared at him, tail wagging furiously back and forth. Where the hell was he? What was he doing in this, this…place? With a terrier? If it was a terrier, Mats didn’t know much about dogs and, frankly, didn’t care. Of course, had he known about the undead, his view of things may have been slightly different.

The new genre-renewing zombie novel! And you will write it! As soon as you’ve finished that new book about writing horror, and you have a little more time to think about the plot. Days, weeks, and months go by, and you’re still re-working the first paragraph, slowly turning into Joseph Grand in the process. 

A field of ice. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Field of Ice. Good enough?

The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. (C. S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters).

A true artist dares to send out her imperfect creation in the world. She wasn’t ready to; no artist ever is. But at some point, she’s made her peace with the work. It’s not as brilliant as she can see it in her mind’s eye, but she accepts that this is the best she can do right now. 

There’ll be criticism; there always is, of course. While nobody is ever ready for it, she moves on; she releases her soul’s child to the cold eyes of critics. Her work is done.

Creative people keep their creations close; anguished, they protect them. Artists release them to fend for themselves.


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Progress Report. Or Lack Thereof

So much for building my research database. I didn’t make as much progress as I thought with it. I did get started as planned, but it’s slow-moving.

Oh, there are reasons. Of course. There are always reasons.

We had to pick up the artworks we left for framing and pick frames for the next ones. Because of the pandemic, there’s no drop-in, you have to make an appointment, and we cannot always control the timing. It seems everyone is framing pictures on Lidingö these days; the place is bustling.

A framed picture of three drawings by Keith Harrington.
Exhibit no. 1: one of the framed pictures I had to pick up.
It consists of three large Keith Haring postcards from the Haring exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne 2019.

The new desks for the home office were finally delivered, too, and I had to vacate the office to have them assembled, then re-decorate the room.

The cat had her final X-rays for her broken paw, and we had to go to the vet one more time.

We had a lot of home deliveries too.

The deer knocked off the bird feeders.

The dog ate my homework.


Life happens. There’s always something, and if I have to wait until everything is in order to write, the right planets and stars aligned, I will get nothing done.

I have to work through all this. Despite all this.

I’m also plodding, like competing-with-a-tortoise. Once I pick up speed, and I’ve got going, it’s smooth sailing, but I have a long start sequence. Too long.

The smallest disturbance or interruption derails me, and the re-start is slow. I need to work on my attention and my focus. I was spoiled by working at home alone for over ten years, comfortable in my routines, and free to work and take breaks as I pleased.

With my husband working from home too now and sharing an (albeit large) room, I find the smallest interruption disruptive. I need to shift my mindset to allow that I’m no longer working alone instead of trying to recreate those ideal conditions that no longer apply. I realize now that I was set in my ways, trying to force this new life into the mold of my old one.


The last couple of weeks have been better, in fact. I try to compartmentalize things and think, “oh, new compartment,” when there’s an interruption. Then I get back to work by switching to the “work compartment.” It does take a few minutes to shift my focus back to whatever I was doing, but it’s better than the muttered resentment and the longer focus loss. It’s still work in progress, and I think I like the progress, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Anyway. I’ve started building my research database. Yawn. Before I started, I was looking forward to work on the reading list, because, you know, books! But once I started, the boring emerged, and I started to fantasize about reading the books, not merely write a list. Why is the promise of future work more appealing than the work you’re currently doing?

Close up of a vintage-style typewriter with the words "Just do it" typed on the page.

Mindset. It’s all about the mindset. I need to work on the list so that I can read the books. As simple as that. Just do it.


By the way, do you know where that Nike slogan comes from? It’s a pretty morbid story. Facing execution for murdering two people, Gary Gilmore’s last words were, “Let’s do it.” That was 1977. A decade later, Dan Wieden, an advertising executive, pitched the slogan “Just do it” to Nike and, eventually, succeeded. The slogan, inspired by Gilmore’s words, aired in 1988 and, at the time, struggling Nike became the sport and fashion giant we know today.

And here’s another example of me going off on a tangent instead of working on my list. I admit it was far more rewarding checking the internet for a murderer’s last words than working on my Excel file. Now I understand why people kill their internet and delete all the apps on their phones. I’m not sure I could go that far, but I’d better go back to work.

Do you know what happens if you type “go back to work” on Google? You’d see all these Covid-19 related regulations about returning to work after a lockdown.

Results of a Google search

Right, I’ll go back to work. For sure. Right away. Just give me a sec. Any time now.


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Time Cannot Exist in the Zone

A little more than one year ago, my life was a frenzy of conference calls, online meetings, e-mails, projects, and what have you. It felt like being on a bullet train, the landscape whooshing by at such speed that all you could see was a blur. Time was speeding up more and more every day. It was Monday morning; then I blinked, and it was Friday again. I was barely aware I was living. Weeks and months flew by, growing into years faster than I wanted to admit. 

And I was wondering whether this was how my life would continue, years and years flying by faster and faster, and me barely able to tell them apart.

I managed to jump off the hamster wheel of my corporate job eventually. I had realized I couldn’t continue living at lightspeed. 

And you know what? Life slowed down. I slowed down. Time slowed down.

It did take a while, and a lot of soul searching. But once I’ve done that soul work, looking at my values, thinking about what was important for me, and deciding on a course of action, everything changed.


Living intentionally, with a purpose, based on values that were important to me, slowed down time. 

I’m in my bubble every morning, writing my morning pages as soon as I’ve completed my morning ritual (I’ll write a separate post on my ritual). The outside world ceases to exist. It’s only me and the sound of the pen moving across the paper. I lose all track of time. Time ceases to exist. Time cannot exist in the zone

I lift my eyes to the oak tree I see from my window. A woodpecker stares back at me. The little red squirrel that comes by every few days flies graciously from branch to branch. This irritates the woodpecker, and it flies away. 

I go out and put out walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds for the squirrel who was waiting for me. She’s stopped raiding the bird feeders. She waits for me. The camera is irritating, I know, so I try to give her time to eat before I start clicking. I toss her a few nuts, and she walks, ever so cautiously, closer. No more than 1.5 meters for now, but my 300mm lens gets the job done at that distance. I didn’t invest in a wildlife telelens; I’m not a wildlife photographer. But there’s magic happening in my backyard, and I’m trying to catch these ephemeral moments.

Another bubble wraps around me. I forget the time when I’m taking photos. I have to set the timer on my Apple watch to remind me to get back for lunch.

Writing (morning pages, blog posts, poems, my book), taking or editing photos, gardening, reading, watching the birds and small animals in my backyard – this is my new life.

Marveling at this amazing world makes time disappear. Time doesn’t speed up; we do.


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The Perpetual Tide and Ebb of the Creative Process

I had a good workday yesterday, keeping to my to-do-list and ticking off all the items. That’s the power of a list, that sentiment of accomplishments that fills you up when you’ve crossed all points. (Here’s a good read on the subject of checklists).

But it was more than that. I was pleased with the work; I was pleased with myself. I looked at my day and congratulated myself. 

It doesn’t happen often. Life usually happens. An unexpectedly early delivery, computer breakdown, a distressing phone call. There’s always something, and I’ve learned to juggle priorities. As long as I focus on my priorities, I can handle disruptions. If I’ve done my top three priority items on my list, I’m happy about my day.

Crossing off all the items and feeling good about the work, that one chapter, or those two photos, now that’s a rare combination.

Because creative work cannot easily be judged as, say, a piece of …

A red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

Speaking of interruptions, the little red squirrel came by, and I ran out to take photos. Now I have to re-focus and return to my text. 

It’s easy to decide if a product such as a toaster meets the quality standards. But how do you decide whether an artwork is good? Herein lies the difficulty. The doubt creeps in. Small mistakes or minor flaws are enlarged until you only see them. Is this really the best I could do? Maybe if I had more time, I could have … I should have … 

Euphoria and doubt, back and forth, the perpetual tide and ebb of any creative process.


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How to Write a Book

How to Write a Book

I admit that “How to Write a Book” sounds like clickbait, but it’ll come to that – eventually. I’m planning on documenting the process of writing my first non-fiction book here, so you’ll see how to do it, post by post.

Or, to be more exact, how I do it. There’s, of course, no silver bullet, no handy manual on how to actually write a book. If anybody claims that, they’re lying. Or delusional. Sure, you can learn some of the technicalities: show, don’t tell; kill your darlings*; beware of adjectives and adverbs. And so on. But there are no shortcuts or miracle solutions; you learn how to write by writing and reading a lot. There’s no way around it.

I’ll document what I do here, on the blog, and I hope you’ll find it inspirational, if not instructive.


My Winding Path to Writing a Book

So (gulp) writing my first non-fiction book. It’s the book I needed to read myself, a (not always so) gentle push to live my creativity, let go of the fear and just do it. Write the book. Create the collage. Take the photo. Just do it!

I always thought that I didn’t have enough time or energy to be creative, to do the things I wanted to do while I was climbing the corporate ladder. Given enough time, I’d dazzle the world with my art.

And, lo and behold! November 2019 came and I resigned my fancy job at Microsoft. “Now I’ll show them!” Or not.

2020 was NOT the year my books would be written, or stunning photos exhibited. True, Covid-19 made everyone’s lives a misery, but even so, I thought I’d do more with my freedom. Instead, I agonized about every word, every photo; nothing I did was good enough, and the fear paralyzed me.

It took most the 2020 to figure it out. I dragged myself out of the hole I had dig myself in, found new routines and created a plan. Hence, the non-fiction book.


Close up of a vintage-style typewriter with the words "Just do it" typed on the page.

Getting Started

To start with, I need to do some research. I’m sorry I cannot say more about it. I don’t like being secretive, and I’m not afraid of somebody stealing my idea. Ideas are dozen a dime; it’s the execution that counts. No, what I’m afraid of is jinxing it. (It seems I haven’t conquered all my fears, after all.) I may share more later if I start feeling more comfortable.

Before diving into that pile of books (and it’s a symbolic pile since almost all my books nowadays are electronic), I do need to have a proper reading list. I’m sure my future me will thank me.

Cal Newport has a great article on building a research database, and I think I’ll keep it simple with an Excel file. There are more advanced ways, but I feel an Excel file meets my needs. I don’t want to over-complicate things; I like to keep things simple.

That’s it for now. I’ll cover the research phase and building the research database in the next posts.


* About killing your darlings. The saying has been attributed to many authors, from Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner to G.K. Chesterton, Chekhov and Stephen King.

King leads this attribution game nowadays, very likely due to this sentence from his excellent book On Writing: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Most scholars point to British writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’”, he wrote in his book On the Art of Writing.


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The Theory Of Willlessness

A pine tree top against a background of dark storm clouds.
Before the storm. Photo © Mihaela Limberea

Nothing can be willed into being, only waited on, for, or waited out.

A.K. Ramanujan from “Journeys: A Poet’s Diary”

I often find myself thinking of Ramanujan‘s words, especially when the blank page stares at me, the cursor steadily flickering its accusatory blink. I delete more than I write. The inner critic is always on duty. But write I do, in the end. After all, “you can always edit a bad page; you can’t edit a blank page.” Jodi Picoult would know.