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Today marks the first day of Spring! Despite Stockholm's cool and misty weather, a perceptible shift is in the air. Daylight is longer, the snow has melted, and the birds are chirping. I have much more energy and a renewed curiosity to do things beyond my four corners. However, before embarking on anything fun, I had to get the proverbial "Spring Cleaning" out of the way. Over the weekend, I filled five bags with items to donate and resell. It felt good to clear the excess and emerge with a less cluttered space and mind.

Luckily, there are many new and noteworthy happenings to fill the air. I wish I could see the Vermeer exhibit in Amsterdam, but tickets are sold out even if I had a trip planned. However, New York is on the agenda, and I’ll be checking out the much-lauded Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious at Fotografiska New York, celebrating 50 years of the most powerful cultural movement of our generation. The Karl Lagerfeld retrospective at The Met Costume Institute in May also gives every indication of being outstanding.

Last week’s Academy Awards reminded me how gripping cinematic storytelling is, unlike many drawn-out, inconsistent series. I’m excited to see two new releases generating buzz: the British rom-com Rye Lane and the French heist film, The Innocent. Speaking of French, springtime is practically synonymous with Paris, and I will be going there in April. A visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton for the Warhol x Basquiat exhibit is high on my list. Their collaboration in the 80s was groundbreaking and had lasting consequences for both artists. Warhol x Basquiat promises to evoke the energy of that era’s New York downtown art scene— my favorite time and place. On the culinary side, I would also love to snag a table at Septime and Chez Janou instead of going to the more scene-y restaurants I typically haunt.

Stockholm unfolds before my eyes this time of year. It may take a while, but the city comes alive once the air warms up and the first cherry blossoms appear in Kungsträgården. A springtime ritual is visiting Rosendal’s Trägård for botanical inspiration and a lovely lunch or fika. Some exciting musical performers are also coming to town. I'll miss seeing Beyoncé on May 10/11th, but I will be grooving to my favorite teenage band, Depeche Mode, on May 23rd.

Spring is always an exciting time for book releases. Not as heavy as Fall or Winter but less escapist than summer reads, spring titles seem to balance depth with relatability. Ann Napolitano’s new novel, Hello, Beautiful, is Oprah’s 100th Book Club pick. After reading an article about Napolitano’s writing journey, I was moved by her talent, humility, and perseverance. I’m also intrigued by Irene Muchemi-Ndiritu's Lucky Girl, a tale about a young Kenyan woman who comes to New York in the Nineties.

Finally, my biggest news this Spring revolves around major family events: a college commencement, a high school graduation, and a milestone birthday. Each celebration will be special—and bittersweet. Change is jarring, and the passage of time seems to march faster with every year. I find myself going down memory lane and having bouts of nostalgia, but I’m determined to be in the moment and not get stuck in the past. I want to savor these high points for our family with gratitude, joy, and optimism for what’s ahead—much like the dawn of Spring itself.

After a year’s hiatus, I’m back to blogging again. Why, may you ask? I’ve also asked myself the same question, which is probably why my last entry was in January 2022! We're inundated with so much content, particularly images (which can be worth a thousand words) and buzzy soundbites. Working on the sequel to Sommaren på Nornö for most of last year also zapped my blogging energy. I was totally focused on expanding the perspectives of Zoë and Linn Holmgren and creating fresh, complex voices for the new characters.

With such lofty literary aspirations, I had to put my blog on the back burner but realized how much I missed it. Writing in this format trains my writing muscles differently, allowing me to express things on my mind in my own voice rather than my characters’. I missed that freedom.

However, above all, I love words. I love looking for the right phrase or nuance to express a thought, feeling, or observation. But there are limits to wordsmithing when writing a novel. As much as I’d love to twist a sentence, employ esoteric synonyms, or have my characters talk like they’re throwbacks from the Victorian Era, that doesn’t suit my storytelling! If editing a contemporary novel has taught me one thing, it’s paring down and being real. What is my character genuinely trying to express? What am I ultimately trying to convey? It’s about finding that balance of vivid imagery, strong emotions, tight prose, truth, and purpose. I think my writing has evolved into something tauter and less flowery, and I’m pleased with that evolution thus far. But I also want to stretch myself and would love to write more essays and articles. Blogging will be good practice for exploring different topics, structure, and language.

So, I’ll be posting again about once a month. I hope you will take a few minutes to read along as I think aloud and put words to paper!

Photo: Kajsa Göransson

New Year, New Goals. Like so many others, it’s my natural inclination to compose a long list of the things I want to accomplish in 2022. Still, given the unpredictability of our pandemic lives, I’ve learned to be more flexible because the best-laid plans can change in the blink of an eye. Still, having clear-cut goals motivates me and holds me accountable. My professional goal is to write the sequel to Sommaren på Nornö, and I have a first draft deadline of April 1st. In the past, such a deadline would freak me out, but I’m still aiming for that date since perfection out of the gate is not my objective. Developing the characters, setting, and conflicts into a workable plot that I can then tweak and polish will give me the momentum I need.

However, regardless of what I say, I can still feel the stress and panic building. When I analyze my book-writing state of mind, I realize I'm often anxious, distracted, time-strapped, tired, overcaffeinated, and grumpy, trying to juggle my family, my writing, and my social life. But it doesn’t have to be that way! I have to find a more balanced mental and physical approach to managing my writing process. This dilemma led me to research information about healthy writer habits, and I found an eye-opening book by Joanna Penn and Dr. Euan Lawson: The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long Term. The book discusses the emotional and physical costs of the writing life; the stress, anxiety, back/shoulder/neck pain, sleep problems, digestive issues, and weight gain, to name but a few, associated with this sedentary, often lonely pursuit. I can relate to all of the above (!) and wanted to begin the new year--and my new novel--with a plan.

Penn and Euan’s book provides practical tips and inspiration, giving me a framework to think about how I structure my writing days. I’ve incorporated their advice and developed a strategy to address some of my issues. Many of these points may seem obvious, but while I’m very disciplined when it comes to writing, I’m prone to slacking off when it comes to creating a self-care routine, mistaking time not spent writing as time ill-spent. Here are some ways I’m trying to live a healthier, happier, more sustainable writer’s life:

  1. Six to eight hours sleep. I often wake up in the middle of the night and look at my phone, messing up my sleep cycle and setting myself up for a rough day. I feel so much more positive when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

  2. Morning stretch. My lower back and shoulders are stiff and achy from sitting in front of the computer for hours on end. A daily or twice-daily, fifteen-minute stretching program alleviates the pain, but I can get lazy and skip it, much to my detriment, so this routine has become non-negotiable.

  3. Exercise at least four times a week. I’ve never been an exercise fanatic, but I’m finally embracing it midlife, ha-ha. The mental and physical benefits are no-brainers.

  4. Fresh air every day. It’s so easy to stay indoors and work, work, work, but your air and brain cells will eventually get stale. A thirty-minute walk or outdoor break will increase the amount of serotonin in your system and make you feel happier, sharper, and refreshed. In fact, I actually like the cold, invigorating Stockholm air. If that Arctic gust doesn’t clear your mind, I don’t know what will!

  5. Limit caffeine intake. There was a period when I was drinking so much coffee, I wasn’t even sure it was working anymore. Plus, I began to feel jittery. Switching to herbal tea, taking a power nap, or going out for a walk is just as effective for me.

  6. Power Nap. For the reason stated above and for the psychological benefit of taking a break with no pressure or expectations. Sometimes, I don’t fall asleep, but I never regret trying.

  7. Healthy snacking. It’s so easy to munch on chips and sweets when I’m writing, almost as though I’ve earned the right to indulge in processed food, but my stomach always feels terrible afterward. Carrots, turkey slices, berries, nuts, fiber crackers, or protein shakes are nutritious, fill me up, and don’t irritate my stomach. Again, another no-brainer!

  8. Curate my news, information, online, and social media diet. Trying to stay plugged in about everything going on politically, socially, and culturally is just too time-consuming. Better to focus on creating my own stories!

  9. Break up my writing shifts. Working eight hours straight is not always the most effective. Some experts claim four-hour stretches are most productive, and I think that makes sense. Writing for two, three, or four hours and then going on a 30-60 minute powerwalk or a podcast/reading break gets my creative juices flowing again.

  10. Time allocation. This means guarding my time and not feeling guilty if I say no—to family, friends, or professional requests. Overpromising only leads to stress and guilt. If I’m going to meet my April 1st deadline, I have to prioritize, and people understand if you lay it out in those terms instead of pretending otherwise and not delivering.

So far, this new approach seems to be working. I feel much more alert, enthusiastic, balanced, and productive, which I hope will be reflected in my writing. What are some of your strategies for optimizing your workday?

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