Wednesday, September 24, 2014

‘On not writing

DSC08354 (1300x976)I started the Random Walks in October, 2007, two years after I left the US for a midlife renewal at Cambridge, and about ten months after I moved to Arnhem as a corporate expat.  In the 1530+ essays and nearly 10,000 photos that followed over seven years, I explored what it means to be an entrepreneur and an expat, describing the aspirations, doubts, discoveries and reflections that fill my busy days (and sometimes my sleepless nights) in the Netherlands and the UK. 

I never conceived of my blog as lifelogging.  I took this remarkable opportunity to make a fresh start and to create a new business. That is a life that needs to be lived, and documented only to the extent that there are interesting observations, ideas, tips and insights to share. 

The stories and pictures given me direct communication with my extended family and for significant people in my life, scattered across thousands of miles and seen too infrequently.   It also connects me to an everchanging community of expats living in the Netherlands.

The essays have, finally, given me an opportunity to reflect on the experiences. Writing invites comparisons with other people, places and times, connections with reading and conversations, makes me a better observer and listener.  The process of writing creates context and perspective around everyday events.

And so, at the end of July 2014, I decided to stop writing.

As daily life became busier, my essays were becoming more superficial.  Pictures substitutes for words, events for thoughts.

Writing was becoming an obligation instead of a passion.  I worried more about the frequency of my writing than the value of what I wrote.

I was losing my voice.  Call it the Facebook effect, crafting an aspirational image of myself,  rather than a true account of the ups and downs of my daily life.

WP_20140902_001I knew that I would start again, but that I need to make that break in order to improve.  For a month, I did more reading and more traveling, took fewer pictures at events, and kept lighter notes of thoughts.  And I came across some notable NYT essays that helped to frame my thinking:

Writing in the Here and Now.  Specifically directed to writing travel essays, Perry Garfinkel proposes Here and now I am…  as the right place to start.  I find that it gets me out of my own head and focused onto my environment with fresh senses.  Although there is an element of in-the-moment Mindfulness to the exercise, it’s a necessary step.

Introspective or Narcissistic?  David Brooks asks How do you succeed in being introspective without being self absorbed?   He advocates keeping a distance and focusing on narrative.  I especially like his emphasis on trusting feelings more than analysis, and on avoiding rumination as a motivation for feelings.

Doing things right.  Technique matters, so Keep it Short and Punctuation Tips are worth remembering.

Of Myself I Sing.  Self promotion poisons writing: it distorts the truth and bores the reader.  An impulse to be positive and reassuring can easily degenerate to branding and boasting.  Are you writing something people need or want to know…are you honest about your frustrations and able to laugh at yourself?  asks Rebecca Makkai.  She recommends maintaining a balance by writing about others and by mixing types of content.

On Not Writing.  Writing has analogs to fitness training, argues Bill Hayes: your creative fibers need stress, then rest, just like muscle fibers.  He recommends 2 days on, 1 day off, and notes that exhaustion from daily writing may require weeks to properly refresh.  I’ve described 5:2 feast-fast cycles and their more general applicability in organizing life.  It’s intuitively appealing to see it pop up here among Hayes’ Sis Rules of Writing.

CreateEventually, my topic notes and everyday snapshots spoke to me again, and I felt the familiar pull of thing to share.  I’m experimenting a bit, easing in: the first week was challenging.  The ‘lessons remembered’?

7th year breaks are vital for growth and renewal. 

A sabbatical opportunity made the move to Cambridge possible.

7 years among the Europeans was a good time for taking stock of life’s trajectory.

A month out, seven years in, feels well-earned.  And well-used.

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