Continuing our interviews with 2013’s Writers of the Future winners, this week we have third quarter winner, Leena Likitalo.
Stuart: Welcome, Leena, and again, Congratulations! Why don’t you start off by telling us a little about yourself.
Leena: Well, hello there! I hail from Finland, the land of thousands of lakes and at least as many untold tales. I have a delightfully twisted imagination and a real talent for breaking things – I earn my living by doing quality assurance for computer games.
Stuart: And how did you get writing?
Leena: I think I skipped the phase where one is supposed to stop listening to the chattering of one’s imagination – stories come to me and demand to be told. I started writing “seriously” only about four years ago. That is, I decided that I really, really want to see my work published one day. Now I’m addicted and there’s no turning back.
Stuart: So how have you evolved along the way?
Leena: First there was no patience, only persistence. I used to think grammar and correct spelling happened to other people, not me. Through piles and piles of rejection letters, I’ve come to realize that I have to nail both, lest my super-awesome stories remain unread.
Stuart: Do you plan out those stories or go the organic route?
Leena: After an epic fantasy novel that after 800 pages still wasn’t ready, I realized that I should try to control the creative chaos. I’ve learned from my days in the software industry that agile methodologies work quite nicely. These days, I create a detailed outline for both novels and short stories and then divide the work into tasks. I also set myself achievable deadlines.
Stuart: Tell me a little more about that.
Leena: Oh my, how to explain all this without resorting to a plenitude of buzzwords…
Basically, it’s all about managing my writing time and maximizing my productivity. I build iteratively around an existing outline. This helps me to concentrate on one part of the story at the time. It’s so much easier, so much faster, to polish one chapter than a whole novel. And this way, I know how much I still have to go before a story is ready for submission!
To begin with, I try and plan how I use my writing time. Then, I chop my work-in-progress into pieces of manageable size (chapter, section, paragraph) to see what I can get ready in the given time frame.
All my chunks go through three passes: design=outline/plot, implementation=writing, qa=poke holes into the stories, check spelling, etc. I repeat the cycle as many times as necessary to make the chunk shine.
Stuart: I see. Just like software. And where do you apply these principles? Where do you do your writing?
Leena: I can write practically anywhere. Me and my darling dear husband live in a rather tiny, positively crammed apartment where table surface is scarce. We had a party at New Year’s Eve and we haven’t quite got around to properly cleaning afterwards. As a result, my sacred writing spot at the kitchen table is occupied. Right now, I’m writing in the kitchen with my laptop propped atop of a box of champagne glasses!
Stuart: Ha ha. Kind of appropriate! Do you have any unusual hobbies?
Leena: For some reason, I always end up picking up the strangest hobbies – at the moment, my favorite sports are underwater rugby and polocrosse.
Stuart: Underwater rugby? That sounds like a scene from a James Bond film!
Leena: Ha ha haa! Underwater rugby is a lovely team sport played at the deep end of the pool. The objective is to take the ball to the opponent’s basket at the bottom of the pool. The ball sinks slowly and the opposing team will do their best to stop you. We wear fins, masks, and snorkels. And swimsuits of course. And yes, you have to hold your breath. And no, I’m not a terribly fast or good swimmer! I love the sport nevertheless!
Stuart: Sounds like fun. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Leena: Who says I don’t have one already? It’s been whispered behind my back that I have a destructive Midas touch.
Stuart: Ha ha. If, like Doctor Who, you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (scarves, fezzes, bow-ties), what would it be?
Leena: Give me a set of merino wool garments, waterproof boots, and a jacket that keeps me warm and I’m good to go anywhere! Also, pen and paper would be nice.
Stuart: Practical wins every time, in my book! Any closing thoughts?
Leena: Thank you for the interview, Stuart!
Stuart: Thanks for being here, and I look forward to seeing more of your work.
You can learn more about Leena and read some of her work at www.leenalikitalo.com.