I have never made the conscious decision to write for a living. To me there never was another option.
I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t making up stories. When my mum asked me to go get some milk from the shop on my bike, I was part of an expedition delivering supplies to the starving people of a faraway village. When walking to school through a wood, I was an ancient forest spirit that had seen the forest change throughout history.
To me, stories were natural, like how some kids on the estate were good at running or drawing pictures. It took me a long time to write these stories down, they floated out of my head faster than I had patience to write. I lived in a constant cross stream of stories and reality, both feeding off from one another.
I’m still not one of those people who has to have a notebook with them constantly. I don’t do first drafts, mind maps, plans or anything of the sort. I basically verbally vomit whatever’s in my head on screen or paper, fix any spelling mistakes and move on. None of the posts in this blog have taken me more than an hour to write altogether.
I wrote my first 300-page ‘novel’ at the age of eleven, even sending it to publisher’s. I got a very polite rejection letter, which at the time was crushing but I kept writing, finishing my second ‘novel’ of about the same length at age twelve. This time I self-published (or my mum did) and despite my attempts to destroy them, she is still hiding some copies somewhere at the family home.
At around that time we were asked to do a project about ourselves in school. One of the tasks was looking up an adult who was in a profession we’d like to do when we grew up, and interview them about it. I interviewed the editor of our local newspaper. His job sounded amazing. Getting to write all day! Also he told me about how he had once done a story about an ice cream factory and got to eat all the ice cream he wanted. In my head, it was a done deal. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
As I grew up, I was constantly writing. Once I had my own computer, typing out stories was basically how I spent the weekends and summer holidays. I loved writing at night time and would stay up until 4 or 5am typing away. My parents understood that this was my passion, and never once told me to stop and go to bed.
One time when I was at home from uni, I used my old computer for something and realised just how loud the keyboard was. My parents’ bedroom is right next door. They must’ve heard the constant noise made by the keyboard but they never once said anything. I’ll always be grateful to them for that.
I did enjoy one other subject in school besides writing, and that was English. In Finland you start your first foreign language at the age of nine, and depending on the school this can be either Swedish, English or German.
I was in a school that taught English, and I was immediately drawn to the idea of being able to express myself in another language. My grandparents couldn’t speak English, and I remember liking the idea of being able to do something they couldn’t. When Finns find out that I live in the UK, they often assume that I did a year abroad or had some intense classes from a young age but no. I just really liked it.
As I got older, the reality that I might not be able to write and make a living out of it was starting to loom around me. Of course I was dead set on becoming a writer but the rest of the world wasn’t. Career counsellors were encouraging me to become an English teacher but I had zero interest in anything other than writing.
So against my better judgement I kept pursuing it. I went on to an upper secondary school, which had the only literature course line in the country. I read more, wrote more, and for the first time in my life spent time with other people who also enjoyed reading and writing. That school was like a cocoon where I became brave enough to flutter out into the big world.
You can’t study writing as your major in a university in Finland, only as your minor. So I’d have to study a degree that I wasn’t really that interested in. Once again my parents encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and gave me the final push to go study abroad. So I ended up doing my degree in Creative & Professional Writing in Bangor, North Wales.
Three years of just writing? That was the dream come true.
But alas, as my degree neared its end the topic of career choices reared its ugly head once again. By that time I had been involved with the university paper for the duration of my degree, writing a column about being an international student, stories and now I was an assistant editor. I was hooked. I was in love. Things just came together in my head. I finally knew what I wanted to do.
Still, I was worried. I was the only second language student on my degree and journalism is a competitive field as it is. I didn’t know about any other Finns working as a journalist in a UK paper. Could I do it? Was it even possible?
Luckily I had a brilliant lecturer who took me under his wing. When I asked him about future studies, he told me to get my qualifications instead of doing a masters in journalism. So I ended up training with the Press Association in Newcastle. Those were the hardest 17 weeks of my life, but I also cherished every second.
I haven’t been particularly akin to making things easy for myself. I’m a second language English speaker, still I chose to work in the UK instead of going back to Finland. I’m dyspraxic, so symbols are really not my strongest suit. Still I’m a proud owner of a certificate which states that I can write shorthand 100 words a minute.
I got my first job straight from the course. Everything was supposed to be great. Then I got ill.
Journalism is a very high-pressured job, where you have to be on top of things constantly. If you mess up, it can result in a lawsuit. As I got more ill, I knew I couldn’t risk making my employer having to pay for a mistake that I’d make because I was too unwell so I asked for sick leave. Then came hospital.
Writing a blog is a lot different than writing in a journalistic sense. A news story has a certain structure that you have to follow. I enjoy it, but I also love being able to write just for myself. Also, when I write a blog I’m only representing myself. When writing news, I must bear in mind that the people who I write about are real, with families and careers of their own. So you better get it right.
Also when you write a news story, you’re merely a conduit. You’re a person who states the facts. Nobody gives a shit what Ida Väisänen thinks about the council budget cuts or the car crash on the M1. You just write what’s happened, and that’s it. Unlike in a blog, where I am basically the ruler of my own universe again, like I was as a child.
Still, I loved being a journalist. And I still am one.
Depression has deprived me of many things. A job I loved and had worked so hard to achieve was one of them. But it hasn’t taken my ability to express myself in written form, in another language. I’m facing the terrifying emptiness of the prospect of recovery but I’m still me.
That girl who pretended to be an ancient spirit is still with me, a companion on a long forest path towards recovery.