Having a way with words – Oskar Östgård

Meet Oskar Östgård, a creative writer with a pen between his fingers. Oskar tells us about his passion for writing, including his personal style and where he gathers inspiration from for his lyrical journeys.

As his novels are in Swedish, here is a true story about Oskar’s way with words:


I can’t imagine a life without it

I have been writing my entire life.I only started taking it a bit more seriously during my last year of high school. I was 19 and had just come home from an exchange year in Australia. One of the things I had wanted to do for a long time, but never thought I’d actually get around to doing, was to write a complete novel. I had never really finished any of my stories before, so this became my personal goal. Over the course of about a year, I wrote a Swedish novel about a high school student with a lot of anxieties. It was called Att flyta (“To float”) and was a dark comedy of about 100 pages. It was the first complete text I had written. I had reached my goal and didn’t think I would end up writing more.

A year later, however, I could feel that I still had a million things living under my skin that I wanted to get out onto paper. I started writing again. I drew inspiration from vague images and ideas, from dreams, old memories and books I had read as a child. The result was a longer and a lot more surreal story that was meant to be a sort of Kafkaesque fairy tale. I named it Invasionen (“The Invasion”).

Writing Invasionen was what truly made me understand that writing was something I would probably keep in my life. Working on the novel seemed to open the floodgates of my subconscious. I started writing many short stories and poems on the side. I’ve been writing pretty much every day since then. It’s usually small poems or a short story now and then. I’m currently attending Författarskolan in Lund, a university course for aspiring authors. As part of the course, I’ve started working on my third novel.

Writing still feels a bit new to me, although I also can’t imagine a life without it.

I have no actual achievement in mind when I write

What do I want to achieve by writing? I don’t know. I don’t think I write for any sensible reason. Although in retrospect, I have found that some of my writing has helped me understand myself better. It’s good to get things off your chest, but I have no actual achievement in mind when I write, besides eventually completing a text.

I doubt the way in which I write could ever produce a bestseller. I can’t fathom using my writing to make a living, or to become some famous author, literary rock star like Haruki Murakami, for example. It just feels unrealistic.

Come to think of it, I guess I would like to find the type of people that would be able to relate to my own thoughts. A friend told me that she had found herself relating (to a pretty uncomfortable degree) to the main character of Att flyta. This gave me hope that there were readers who would truly be able to understand what I wanted to convey in my text. That’s what is really great, when you can reach someone like that and it’s one of the things that motivate me to write.

I need to write like I need to eat and sleep

I’ve always liked reading, especially as a child. I am interested in words and language. What inspires me to write is just about everything that happens in my life. You can get a rush of inspiration from an event, a dream, a film, a song or even a book. Anything can start it. Then there is suddenly this strange need, an overwhelming desire to create something. I choose to create using words because they are fun to work with and it comes naturally to me.

As for why I like it, well, writing gives me something that hardly anything else does. I can’t fully put it into words. It’s partly therapeutic, partly a pastime or hobby. I enjoy the process itself, most of the time. It entertains your imagination and stimulates your mind. It gives you a good feeling, both the creating itself and knowing that you have created something. It makes you feel like you haven’t wasted the day completely.

I’m not an interesting person, but writing can take you to interesting places. It’s somewhere between dreaming and travelling, although not really the same as either. In writing you can have conversations with yourself, detail what’s bothering you and make your problems less painful by putting a distance between yourself and them. Although, the bottom line is that I just need to write, like I need to eat and sleep.

I draw inspiration from my subconscious and myself

Writing is a very free and undisciplined process for me. It can go wherever it wants to. I guess one principle I have is not to use foul language. I use foul language all the time in real life, but I think it sticks out, in a bad way, when it’s planted in a literary text. I also don’t write about sex, as in the actual coitus. It just doesn’t seem to belong in writing.

Since I draw from my subconscious, and myself I find it difficult to write about horrible things, like violence or murder. Also, just like with sex, I feel it can be more difficult to write a good text that has lots of violence and death. It doesn’t have to make it worse, but I think it has to be used carefully and with purpose.

I don’t write with a political message or agenda. And it’s not really a principle, but I’ve tried writing realistically and failed. It always veers off into surreal places after a while.

You will inevitably reveal parts of your inner self

I believe that writing reflects the writer, whether he or she wants it or not. Att flyta was about my own life, while Invasionen took place in a fictional world. However, both texts were definitely a product of myself, no matter what the story was about or where they took place. This I believe is an inescapable part of creative writing. It can be scary to think about how you will inevitably reveal parts of your inner self when writing. Some writers don’t write about personal experiences, but they still produce texts that reflect themselves in some way, even if they don’t intend it.

The most important element in writing


I like having a certain symbolic value

I write about what interests me, so it can be anything really. I write about psychological states – anxiety, depression. There are often elements of fantasy, although the text as a whole is not a fantasy story. The stories I write are mainly about people and their mental states. I like having a certain symbolic value in my texts. The subtext – what is read between the lines – is important. I also usually draw from my past, memories from childhood or later, books I’ve read and films I’ve seen. I use many references and inside jokes.

There is something surreal in most of what I write, I find writing 100% reality is boring. These are not things I have chosen to have in my writing, but things that have come naturally as I’ve written. So to say that I “persist” in having them, in a conscious way, would be untrue. Subconsciously, though, this is what I persist in writing about.

Trial and error

Usually I can’t transform the ideas or images that are very clear in my head, into a text that does them justice. But I think that I’m slowly getting better, with practice. For example, in my first novel, I had imagery in vivid colours in my head, but I couldn’t put these images into words without losing a lot of that colour and preciseness. It became more muddled than I had wanted. Maybe it’s impossible to fully put these images into words.

The hardest thing is to finish what you’ve started

At the beginning of writing a piece of text, I am usually brimming with ideas and anticipation, excited to enter a new inner world. As time goes by and the writing becomes more and more of a routine, the “new” world will eventually get a bit stale. In the end, it becomes nothing but hard work – editing endlessly, going over the same bit of text for the umpteenth time. There comes a point where it’s just not fun anymore, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself it is.

Anything can trigger inspiration

It can be small things, a nostalgic word that suddenly pops up in a book or magazine, the feeling a really great song gives you. Or it can be big, life-changing or life-defining events that kick start the whole process. Film and music is a larger influence than literature for me, simply because I have spent so much more of my life watching and listening than I have reading. The writing of Kafka, ancient Greek myths, and the sci-fi novels I read as a teenager inspires me. Musical artists that inspire me are the Venetian Snares, Aphex Twin, Radiohead, bob hund and Pink Floyd.

I often feel utterly uninspired, though. That’s when I just sit down and force myself to write. It is a waste of time to wait for that sudden rush of heavenly inspiration to strike you like a bolt of lightning. But if you can force yourself to sit down and just start writing, that usually is enough to trigger the imagination. Inspiration is born out of the work, not the other way around.

Boredom can also help. It is so easy to avoid boredom today. But if you want to get inspired, it might help to, say, be stuck in an airport by yourself for ten hours straight. Your brain can come up with some interesting ideas when it is left to itself.

My next story will be about a night out in a big city

The main character is a millionaire with bouts of insomnia, who calls up his chauffeur to take him for a drive in his limo. The story is about what happens during their drive. I will try to write more intuitively, with less planning than my previous novels. I don’t want to know where the story is heading beforehand.

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