Anna-Leena Harkonen


Dina Belenko / Alamy 


Worked Up about Work

I’m engaged in what is known as a passion profession—even two of them. When I was a little girl, my dream was to become an author and an actress. I have since discovered that life doesn’t always flow like a dream.

I’m passionate about acting because the work is more occasional than writing. In writing, I have more freedom to express myself—I only need to consider the publisher’s opinion.

Nevertheless, freedom is not the right word to describe the profession of a writer.

FOR A WRITER, the most concrete aspect of freedom is that you can sleep as late as you wish in the morning. And this freedom is relative: writers don’t usually loiter in bed until noon. Their work ethic and feeling of guilt are too high for that.

“In terms of productivity, peace of mind is an undesirable state,” as someone has put it. Sounds cruel. Why should we feel anxious if we cannot always be productive? Is it so outrageous to sit down in a comfy chair and read a magazine for a while?

Writers tend to suffer from a guilty conscience, even about taking a coffee break. However, idleness is part of creative work. We need a lot of free time, empty space, solitude.

WRITERS DON’T NEED to worry about bullying in the workplace. We are our own bullies, scolding ourselves for laziness, even when we are exhausted. On Fridays in particular, we feel we need to tire ourselves out to earn a free weekend.

Sometimes I dread Mondays and engaging in writing again, so much so that already on Sunday I’ve opened up my computer. This may make me seem like a workaholic. Perhaps workaholism is actually angst about work? Perhaps the bar is too high?

It’s good to keep in mind that books don’t need to be larger than life. Life in itself is enough.

THE CONSTANT LACK of self-confidence is what makes this profession so complicated.

If a surgeon practices their profession for twenty years, they probably know they’re on top of things. A writer, however, starts from zero with every new book, worried that they no longer know how to do it—that the next day they will be even more tired and unable to concentrate.

The chaos is probably the worst part. The writer has a general idea of the book, but putting all the elements on paper in a structured manner is painfully slow.

I’M CURRENTLY STRUGGLING with the structure of my work in progress. It involves flashbacks, and it seems impossible to combine them seamlessly with the present. Among other problems.

“What’s your next book about?” a friend asked a while ago.

“I’d like to know, too,” I replied.

© Anna-Leena Harkonen 2023

New Terrain Press 2024. All rights reserved.

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