Creativity, Inspiration and Balance – Swedish Culture

& Tips from a Writer, Editor & Podcaster

Interview with Linnea Dunne from Clearly Nordic

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She’s a writer, editor, mother, and feminist juggling creative projects, podcast-fuelled seaside power walks, and quiet time on the couch with a book. In this interview, Linnea shares about her best-selling book, how she managed to start up a business and a podcast, while simultaneously home-schooling her two sons in an attempt to get out of the pandemic with everyone’s sanity intact. Next to that, she shares her advice to other creatives who want to pursue their dreams, and some tips on how to get featured in a magazine. Scroll down to read this open and honest interview with Linnea now.

We love that you inspire people all over the world Linnea. We’d love to know what inspires you?

I’m inspired by people with conviction and integrity, people whose resilience means they don’t give up when things get tough. That can be people who work towards similar goals as me or those who do something completely different but whose values and attitudes echo mine somehow.

That’s not to say that the goals need to be hugely ambitious; I’m also inspired by those who have the integrity to listen to their gut and not go after external validation and tick-box achievements just for the sake of it. It’s really about a strong sense of self, I think. And courage.

Are you a planner & list maker or more of a go-with-the-flow type of person?

I’m very much a list-writer, always have been. I go through phases of working with tools like Wunderlist and Trello, and I often love the clarity of the initial stage of getting set up on a platform like that, because you can’t get properly set up without a thorough shake-down of all your projects, tasks and goals. But I always come back to pen and paper. After countless years of typing on a laptop (I started keeping my diaries on a laptop when I was 15, because I wrote so much that it simply wasn’t possible to keep up by hand!) my handwriting isn’t pretty – but it works. I do lists, weekly planners, free writing and more, and I don’t see that changing, probably ever.

With so many Nordic words sneaking into our everyday lives all over the world, tell us a bit more about the word: Lagom and how it inspired you to write a (best-selling) book about it?

Growing up in Sweden, I never saw ‘lagom’ as a concept as such or a lifestyle. It’s a word we learn reasonably early on to be fairly typical of Sweden, but it’s not seen in Sweden as something to strive for. It was when interviewing the brilliant writer and playwright Jonas Gardell that I first started thinking about lagom differently, as he said something about it being Sweden’s greatest export (and this was before it was exported as a lifestyle concept, so maybe he was ahead of his time!). Then the Danish concept of ‘hygge’ became huge, and eventually I saw the word ‘lagom’ dubbed as the next trend, and the rest is history.

I was an editor of a magazine promoting brand Scandinavia at the time, and I’ve written a fair bit about cultural identity and place, so getting to delve into the origin and meaning of this oh-so Swedish notion was a real treat. It took me back to my childhood, through my school years and the experience of growing up to be a Swedish feminist, and onto my reality of being a Swedish emigrant, with all that that entails. I realised that lagom, while occasionally getting a bad rap back home, is central to so much of the success of brand Sweden, if we should talk about nations as brands.

Literally speaking, lagom means ‘not too little, not too much but just enough’, but there’s more to it than that. It’s about putting the time and effort into finding what works and what’s right, but not going over the top for the sake of showing off or winning arguments. It’s about buying one beautiful, functional thing rather than 20 average things you don’t really need; it’s about caring just as much about being dressed for the weather as you care about how you look, about spending on quality architecture for the sake of sustainability rather than winning awards. It’s at the heart of the social welfare state and the significant Social Democrat legacy; it’s central to the generous parental leave policies and state subsidised childcare, and it’s there at the core of a green, sustainable lifestyle and society. I grew to like a lot of what it represents, more than I perhaps thought I would – and so, it appears, did the rest of the world!

Hire a copywriter. It’s the tip no one wants, I know – but it’s important. Why take the time and make the effort to translate your content into English if you’re not going to do it properly? I can’t get over how often I come across website copy that says something it clearly doesn’t intend to say, and the people behind it don’t even know, because they don’t think in English, or they just don’t write very well.

A good editor (hi!) can go through it all with you and ask the right questions to get it right, and if it’s not loads of content, it won’t even cost you all that much… but you’ll reap the benefits over and over again. If you care about your brand, find someone who cares about your English copy.

You also started a podcast recently, Bits of Me. Where did the idea for the podcast come from?

I was very active in the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution here in Ireland, where I live, in order to make abortion legal and accessible. Throughout the campaign, I was part of a group called Parents for Choice, who organised around issues related to all aspects of reproductive justice, including pregnancy and maternity care. I’ve since experienced some complications of the events around and after the birth of my first son, and I found that the resources available to me were completely insufficient. Not only was I sent home to wait 18 months to see a gynaecologist, but as things stand, there isn’t even a surgical fix to my problem – something that happens to loads and loads of women who give birth.

To make matters worse, there’s a culture of shame and silence surrounding women’s bodies in general, and women’s healthcare problems in particular. It’s not just that the funding and research that go into these issues are insufficient – we’re also told that we shouldn’t talk about them. And I quickly realised that I wasn’t alone in feeling let down and upset about this, so I decided to create a platform for women to share their stories. I’ve since been contacted by countless women who are relieved to learn that they are not alone, thankful for the advice they’ve found through the podcast, and angry at the state of our healthcare system.

The podcast is now in its second season and has to date covered issues ranging from miscarriage and menopause to PMDD, cervical cancer and pelvic organ prolapse. It’s a project that means a lot to me and which I’m very proud of.

Linnea!
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Image Credits: Eva Beronius

What’s your advice to other creatives who have an idea that they would like to pursue?

Do it. Listen to your gut and do it. I genuinely believe that creative genius is 99% hard slog (although a lot of the hard slog can be very enjoyable too!). Just get started and do the thing. If you need to sanity check something or get advice along the way, ask someone whose opinion you trust – but think carefully before you ask, because input from people whose advice doesn’t mean much to you can be more confusing than helpful.

Depending on the project, you might need a plan. Set goals – clear goals, big and small; take the end goal and break it down into achievable milestones and steps along the way. In order to achieve your goal in five years, where do you need to be in two years? And to be there in two years’ time, where do you need to be next month, and what do you need to do today?

Know that there’ll be self-doubt along the way, and learn to ignore it. No creative escapes the self-doubt and fear and imposter syndrome, but no project will ever happen if you don’t start.

With many years’ experience as an editor, what would your advice be for brands that are looking at being featured in Magazines?

Think about stories, and think about people. Things are boring, even to people who like material things – it’s how the things make people feel, or why other people care about the things that matters.

How to get featured in a magazine depends on the product, the story, and the magazine, so it’s impossible to give blanket advice on how to do it – but perhaps that’s the most important piece of advice I can give: get to know the magazines you want to be featured in, understand why they do what they do, and whatever you do, don’t approach busy editors with pitches that don’t fit the bill for the magazine and never have done. (You’d be surprised how many people email the editor of a magazine promoting brand Scandinavia with ideas that have absolutely no links to Scandinavia…)

I would probably advise people to think less about how to get featured, though, and more about how to make the products the best, most useful they can be. Great ideas tend to get picked up eventually and get the coverage they deserve, but you’re rarely going to succeed and get a good placement in great magazine by hounding an editor about a lacklustre idea.

We know that you are proudly Swedish, but can you also name a few skills that you’ve learned from the Irish?

The Irish are very good at living in the moment, at least compared to Swedes, in my experience. I’m slowly learning from them, which is good for me, as I have a tendency to try to control things and have occasionally lived under a paralysing perfectionism. There are times when I find the tendency in Irish society to let go of things that aren’t yet right really frustrating – but other times, I think the habit of trying something, giving it your best shot and learning to accept it as it is and move on is something we could all do well to adopt.

Another thing I love about Irish society is the community spirit. It’s not perfect, and it’s not always there where I feel it needs to be, but generally speaking, there’s an amazing culture of stepping in to support each other, to bring food to people who are grieving, to make endless cups of tea for people, to collect each other’s children and to give to charity. Swedes can be quite private, and the community spirit tends to be mostly organised; it shows during communal spring cleans, in residents’ association initiatives and so on – but in those most difficult moments, it sometimes goes into hiding as Swedes don’t like stepping on people’s toes or intruding. The Irish community spirit in action is beautiful.

Finally, Ireland is great at minding its cultural heritage, for obvious reasons. The majority of Swedes can’t name more than one or two Swedish poets, and few can recite well-known poems. In Ireland, that stuff is a natural part of society – the literature, the traditional music, and so on. It’s given me a love for the Irish cultural heritage too, and made me more curious of my own.

Linnea Dunne has written two books that you can purchase here.

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Curious about Linnea’s podcast, Bits of Me? The podcast is available on all major platforms, including Spotify, Stitcher, iTunes and Apple Podcasts. You can follow the podcast on @bitsofme_podcast on Instagram or @bitsofme_pod on Twitter to stay in touch and keep up to date on any news.

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Love this Interview? Read more here:

www.linneadunne.com

www.clearlynordic.com

Follow Linnea’s journey here:

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