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Helena Roth: Gentle Writing with an Edge

Helena Roth - doing gentle with an edge

Since the early days of social media, Helena Roth has been an active user. But she was mainly a consumer and bouncer. That means she’d read something interesting and share it. Slowly, she felt like she needed to add more of her voice. To put her spin on it. To share her opinion.

And that’s kind of how we met. When I shared a list of writing experts to follow on Twitter, she was upset that none of them were women. She was right. She challenged me to think about it. And so we started talking. After a while, I found out she had written a book. I had to have her on Coffee & Pens. Now, coincidentally and ironically even, she’s the first woman I interviewed. I still have a long way to go here too.

Anyway, in 2012, she started blogging. At first, she wrote about two blog posts per month. But in January 2013, she started a 100 days of daily blogging challenge. Not only did she complete the challenge, but she also went on to write a daily blog post until sometime in 2019. First in Swedish, and then almost entirely in English. 

During her prolific “career” as a blogger, she’s written more than 2,500 blog posts on her two blogs. Most of the English ones are available on her website www.tankespjarn.com.

Tanke-what?

Tankespjärn is a word Helena invented. It is made up of Tanke (thought) and Spjärn (which I believe means something like a tipping point). For her, it refers to those moments when you learn something that doesn’t fit into your current worldview. Something that makes you stop in your tracks and think. It’s not wrong, but it’s definitely completely new to you.

Helena’s comment on my thread was a bit of a Tankespjärn to me. I had not realised before that my thread had been so gender-biased.

Writing in the woods

In 2016, Helena was co-authoring a Swedish book. She just couldn’t get her chapter done so she needed some extreme measures. An escape. Something like a writing retreat. 

For two days, she stayed in a friend’s guest house in the woods. On the first day, she focused on finishing the chapter. For the second day, she had another plan: a series of blog posts.

Blog posts about being gentle. To herself. You see, Helena thought she was the most negative person in the world. It took her years to overcome this and start treating herself better. Step by step she learned to be gentle to herself, but with an edge. That’s what she wanted to write about. 

Helena wrote sixteen blog posts on that day and outlined ideas for another twenty. She completed the series in the course of the next year and didn’t do much with it after. 

Until early this year. 

Understanding that her content is evergreen and useful for many people, she wanted to be able to reach a wider audience. That’s why she chronologically bundled the blog posts into a book: “Doing Gentle with an Edge”.

The modern-day Tao of Seneca

Much of her blog posts remind me of the Tao of Seneca, but in a modern jacket. I’ve found a lot of likeliness with Tim Ferriss but he’s not one of her main sources of inspiration. 

She attributes the likeliness to common sources of inspiration, such as the stoics and other philosophies. Topics that are very human. If you think about these topics long enough, answers will surface. Many people come to the same conclusion but they put a different spin on it. They play in different arenas for different audiences. 

Some of these ideas are:

  • Not watching the news. She has no TV, she doesn’t listen to radio news and she hasn’t read a newspaper in over five years.
  • Be aware of whose rules you try to live by.
  • When something unexpected happens, don’t be upset, be fascinated like Benjamin Zander
  • There are only two musts: we must die and we must choose.
Doing Gentle excerpt. Helena Roth.
My favourite chapter of “Doing Gentle” by Helena Roth

Writing advice

You just need to start writing. It’s an upward slope. You may be waiting to find your voice before you start writing, but you only find your voice by writing much.

And when it comes to writer’s block, she agrees with Seth Godin. When you write like you talk, you should never get it.

Sathya talker's block
Quote by Seth Godin, visual by @Aurasky_

Feedback advice:

  • Find a community (writer’s club, forum, workshop, course, friends…).
  • Surround yourself with people who want to see you grow. 
  • Share ideas and feedback.
  • Don’t forget that feedback isn’t always right.
  • Be specific with feedback and questions. 
  • Ask if it evokes feelings. What kind?
  • Ask what’s funny or confusing.
By @Aurasky_ (More of these in The Yellow Visual)

Writing secret

She asks “What’s in it for me?” or “How does this serve me”. Think about it from both sides. How does it benefit you as a writer, and how does it benefit the reader? 

And she says not to publish when you’re still too emotionally entangled in the story. You can’t help the reader when you’re writing too much about yourself. When your wounds are still open. You don’t want to drag the reader into your problems when you should be helping them with theirs. 

It’s all about conversations

Helena is an upholder which means she doesn’t need anyone to hold her accountable. She holds herself accountable and aims to live up to her expectations and those of others. That explains how she was able to write as many blog posts without anyone holding her accountable.

But she does have some kind of support.

For eight years she’s been having regular meetings with her mastermind group. She doesn’t need them for accountability, but they have been a major influence in all aspects of her life. She has grown with them and her writing wouldn’t be the same without them. This group was so influential to her, that she recommends everyone to start a mastermind group.

Speaking of groups and conversations …

Before she even thought about publishing the book, she started a podcast to share her Doing Gentle series. First, she read all the blog posts but when that was finished, she needed another idea. So since then, she’s been having one-on-one conversations with friends. Five of them rotate to have interesting conversations about topics like but not limited to “doing gentle to themselves and others”.

The Future

Helena is currently working on a second book. She’s taking a deep dive into shame and she has written 95,000 words already.

“There is no such thing as a good or a bad feeling. It’s the story that we tell ourselves about those feelings that make them appear positive or negative.” 

Helena Roth – Doing Gentle

She shares her work in progress with a small community of writers but it’s not ready for the public yet. She’s still exploring open wounds. But whatever she’s writing, I’m sure it will be worth reading. 

Book Titles: Doing Gentle, with an Edge
Released: February 2021
Author: Helena Roth
Website: https://tankespjarn.com/ 
Twitter: @HERO_Respondi
Instagram: @helenaroth
Linkedin: Helena Roth
Buy book: https://tankespjarn.com/shop/ 

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