This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Real Deal

     "I wonder why anyone would hesitate to be generous with their writing."

I find myself inspired by this quote, and by the article (linked above) in which Godin first articulates this.  Can you think of a time when you tried to commercialize, generalize, refocus or reconfigure something you do or create for fun, with the intention of making it more palatable for a target audience?  Did it work?  Did you end up happy with your end product, or disappointed that it had become diluted, unfocused, or uninspired?

I'm learning that it's one thing to be generous and another thing to be a people-pleaser. It's good to want to please people, but this can't be the ultimate driver behind a creative work. The more I work with potential customers, consumers and designers in the product development process, the more I learn that the customers & consumers usually have only a vague idea - if any at all - of what they need, and they have a hard time articulating what they want. Or rather what they think they want. In fact, sometimes they don't really know what they want, and as a product developer it's up to you to tell them. Better yet, show them. Deliver a product that is unexpected, functional, durable, and delightful.

It's the same with writing. Readers don't always know what they want, their interests are usually open to a bit of variation around a given theme or style, and they count on authors to enrapture them with new ideas and perspectives.  As a writer, however, it can be easy to forget that you're the one in the driver seat. You may become susceptible to catering too much to real - or fictional - demands from the reader.

I write because I love to write. It's how I translate all the information in my photographic, spatially-organized memory into more linear ideas that are easier to articulate.  And yet, sometimes I tone down my writing or stop publishing altogether for a while if I think it's getting to be "too much of the same," or too serious, or too trivial. My people-pleasing tendencies start to crowd my passion and creativity as my perceptions of what I think people want to read (which are perhaps unfounded to begin with) start to influence what I produce and give away.

I haven't been writing much on NJW lately, but I've actually been publishing a lot in other, more private places.
Why haven't I been more generous? Oftentimes just thinking of who is going to read my work influences the why and the what and the way I write, and it can become tiring. Now, there is something to be said for knowing your audience and catering to your audience IF - and this is a big "if" - IF your goal is to communicate some specific message to your audience.  But what if your writing isn't motivated by the imperative to get a certain message across at a certain time? What if you have a message, but it only needs to be reflected in each individual article? What if it's the collection of work which sends the message - and not any one specific piece in the collection? What if writing is your hobby and not your career?

In the very beginning I started writing for myself. Not for anyone else; just for me. Then I started traveling and began writing for my parents, to share my life's adventures with them and bridge the thousands of miles between us. The time I took organizing my thoughts into a coherent storyline and filling in all the details allowed me to paint a colorful picture of my experiences much better than I could have done in a phone conversation. My adventures came to life on the page and turned out to be wildly successful with extended family and then friends, and then acquaintances and even strangers.  People started to love my stories when I wasn't even writing for them.

In the process of growing up, starting a career, and trying to find the balance between maintaining a certain level of professionalism and allowing my own passion, whimsy and carefree optimism to come through in my writing, the style of what I publish has changed a bit. In the spirit of an economical 'time = money' perspective, I've cut out a lot of details and focused on getting to the point as quickly as possible.  It's been a good exercise in learning how to write for business, but I rather miss the freedom of writing for only myself.

I see now that this creative freedom and the raw, uncensored, unobliged and uninhibited realness that this freedom allows for is something I value and something I want to keep in my writing.  It's not that I want to exaggerate, but rather simply not feel like I have to "tone down" my views.  If I write strongly, then it's because I feel strongly.  If I write flowery, then it's because my enthusiasm for life is bringing everything I see into bloom.  Forget the rose-colored glasses, mine come complete with petals and pollen!

I appreciate all my NJW subscribers and I'm so glad that you've found something enjoyable here. However, I'm not going to be writing for you anymore. I'm just going to write for me - and for mom & dad, of course. It could be that you get bored and wander off, or offended and unsubscribe. But actually, I think for most of you it's just going to get better.

My travel philosophy has always been to keep a very open perspective - to accept practically any and every norm, practice, ritual, and system long enough to understand it.  I've felt that I should stop and  give genuine, wholehearted consideration to the how and why of things before making a final judgment. It's not that I'm wise or altruistic - this is a survival mechanism.  I'd be a very unhappy person if I let first impressions color my perception of the world as I hopped from place to place, culture to culture. I certainly make observations, notes, and bookmarks along the way. Sometimes I even raise little flags.  But I really have made it a habit to hold off forming an opinion until I've lived with, in, and under a system long enough to understand its logic, drivers, and evolution.

This is why, up until now, you'll find plenty of observations and analyses but few hard-and-fast judgment calls in NJW articles. I've always been a little bit apprehensive about young people who want to "change the world" though, in my opinion, they - like me - hadn't seen or experienced enough of it to truly understand its current state -- much less decide what or how to change it!  And so I've done my due diligence: After 4 continents, 31 countries, 7 years abroad, 10 years work experience, 6 languages, and 1.25 college degrees, I'm now starting to solidify some views and I'm becoming more willing to voice them when appropriate. I'm starting to feel more strongly about issues and feel confident in backing up my discretionary statements based on the empirical evidence I've collected.  Part of what's made these last few months in Finland feel so magical and empowering is this process of coming into my own.

I think it's time I started to share some of the things I've been thinking about these past months. A lot of ideas, dreams, goals, and ponderings have been swirling around up there - like a washing machine full of mismatched socks. But things are starting to coming together; patterns are emerging and connections are being made. I'm going to be more generous with my writing this year. 


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