11 Lessons From Writing A Book
“Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal…
During that time a while back of living on a bicycle, one of the best parts was talking to people about things like finding a path in life, being content, ambitious, happy, making big decisions and all that good stuff. Those conversations were a consistent positive in a state of heavily fluctuating moods, mentalities and motivations. There’s a few reasons why those moments stick out. One is that it’s cool to relate to people and realise that everyone, no matter who they are, deal with similar thoughts. Another is that sometimes other peoples views can affect our own, and offer insights that have perhaps been overlooked and may be useful/actionable depending on our current circumstances.
To be honest, it seems like an age ago now where talking about these topics was a regular thing, and I’ve been missing those conversations, as well as missing making images just for enjoyment. So I’ve been wondering about simple ways to rejuvenate that. That’s where a new blog project – Nights and Mornings – comes in. It’s pretty simple really, and involves teaming up with an individual or small group, or solo, going somewhere with fresh air, chatting about the stuff mentioned above and someone’s story / taking an unconnected time out, sleeping in a sleeping bag on some grass, waking up somewhere epic, taking a bunch of photos and posting it all here as and when. Hopefully it’ll be fun, a kick up the ass to get away from the computer and stop letting everything else get in the way, and maybe insightful to read. I’ve done it a couple of times recently and it’s been really helpful, so if you’re in a rut I would highly recommend grabbing a sleeping bag and getting outside. Doesn’t need to be anything fancy. (I’m a big fan of Alastair Humphreys’ #microadventure movement)
For the first one, I teamed up with Ben Robinson who’s been a good pal for years. We grew up in the same village in England, got into lots of mischief, rock climbed (he’s also a lightning fast belayer), bunked off school to rock climb, rode bikes, travelled to cliffs in the US and Europe, and generally spent a bunch of time in the mountains or on pedals. For a couple of years he’s been working in Thailand, as operations manager at an outdoor centre in the jungle, and before that he was living and working in New Zealand in a variety of roles. He is really good at going somewhere for a long-ish period of time and becoming fully immersed in that place and community. A couple of weeks ago he returned to the UK and for the first time in a while, we were in the same place at the same time, so on a whim threw some stuff into his van and headed to an old stomping ground in the fells. (ps. first person to identify the location gets a mars bar in the post.)
On the draw of going somewhere to start from scratch, and the challenges of returning.
“You can go away and be who you want to be. You can make your life what you want it to be without any external factors. And that’s really refreshing, but then when you come back, and you’re now set a lot lower than what you may have been in another country, and your job might not be as good, or you might feel more pressure, it’s difficult to come to terms with. Everyone gets on with their life, and if you go away for a year or more, everyone’s moved on. No-one stops because you’re not there, and coming to grips with that, at first, was a bit weird.”
On being shy and solving that.
“When I first left to travel on my own, I found it really difficult to go and talk to people. I was really shy at that time which I’d never really felt before, because I’d always been somewhere I knew or with people I knew. Now after a few years of being used to those situations, I enjoy talking to new people, anywhere, but it wasn’t easy. I’d never thought of myself as a shy person before. I lived in Bangkok for a few months, and a lot of that time was by myself, and I didn’t have a big friend base at that time. I felt like an alien. But all it took was time and confidence, even before learning to speak Thai, and now it’s really no problem.”
On escapism, progress, and perceived reality.
“At the moment I’m just really enjoying being back. Part of me feels like I should be developing here as well, so I’m not just always going away, then coming back to the same situation. Now it’s easy, in the grand scheme of things and logistically, to leave tomorrow and go almost anywhere with just a bit of cash. But maybe it is a way of escaping your situation, and maybe it’s an easy fix to go somewhere new. One time when I came home from Asia was because of the feeling that everyone else was progressing, and feeling pressure that I wasn’t living in reality, where in fact, in retrospect I was making my own reality, just in a completely different way to a lot of other people I know. And I’m not saying that what I do is a really good way to live. For most people it’d be shit never having anything set. But ‘don’t worry so much’ is what I need to tell myself. And I do get worked up about it still, having to have a plan and knowing the next step, but sometimes if you’re always worrying about the next step, then you’re going to worry yourself to death. Obviously you have to be driven and not get stagnant, but you don’t have to get stressed out.”
On ambition and contentment.
“I’ve always known people who have been very ambitious, about career or education or outdoors. I struggle with not knowing which direction to put my energy. I don’t have an ambition to be a doctor, or climb the highest mountain in the world. I think it’s important that you have things you want to do though.”
“If I think about what I’m ambitious for in life, it’s maybe a bit stereotypical, but I want to have a job that I like a lot, that isn’t like working but is something I’m happy to put energy into. It’s not like ‘oh man I’ve gotta go to work’. If you’re happy to do that everyday, that’s gotta be good. And good people to share my life with as well, and I’m not just talking about a girlfriend or wife, I mean everyone. I’ve learnt now, and it’s obvious looking back, but I’ve realised I thrive by being around other people. I’m not good on my own. So having good people around, sustaining a nice lifestyle, that’d be a happy life. And obviously learning to say the alphabet backwards.”
On giving advice to a younger self.
“Be happy with who you are. Don’t worry about what people think of you. Have the confidence in yourself to talk to people. It’s not a big deal, it doesn’t matter where you are. You have the power to spark conversations. You can’t wait for other people to do that for you. You’ll probably meet a few assholes, but you’ll meet a lot of wicked people too. There’s so much pressure now, but don’t worry if what you’re doing now isn’t what you want to do forever.”
On a quote that has been influential.
To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
“I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of “security.” And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.
What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.
The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?
– Sterling Hayden