What Now? – November 2012

MikeachimKindle, The Everyday, Travel, Writing6 Comments

I’m sat listening to a speaker at Travel Blog Camp, becoming increasingly irate.

I’m wandering round World Travel Market, fruitlessly trying to make sense of it all.

I’m trundling a suitcase through the streets of Stratford, heading for the Wimdu apartment I’m sharing with Kash of Budget Traveller while I’m in London.

In each case, there’s a part of my mind grappling with the problem I haven’t solved since I quit my dayjob in April. A problem that’s a variation of something I’ve struggled with for the last 20 years.

Um…what am I doing here?

Since April, I’ve learned that there are many ways to make a living if you have an internet connection. Some of them are exciting, some are depressing (ie. purely for the money), and others only have a fleeting chance of becoming something worthwhile if you’re prepared to give them a go, by way of initially working for free.

If you can handle massive amounts of uncertainty and if you can pluck up the courage to put your work out there, you can almost certainly find some way to pay the bills eventually. I’m still finding this incredible. My twenties were all about finding work that was relatively nearby and not being choosy about what that work was. Now I have a metal and plastic box with a glowing screen that magically communicates with all corners of the globe, and my employers, living in different countries, pay me through this box.

Boxes are amazing these days.

Note: I’m also working a hell of a lot harder than I was in my twenties. So much for my dreams of becoming a well-financed slacker.

The ultimate metaphor for chasing a successful career online: the annual Cheese Rolling, Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire.


I’m sat in Travel Blog Camp, listening to Matthew Teller give his speech about the importance of quality writing & storytelling. I’m annoyed at his tone, but I agree with one point in particular: the need to choose what you’re best at.

Unless you’re really, really lucky, the only way to become really good at something is to do it until you’re on the verge of a breakdown, and then to¬†have that breakdown, and then pick up the pieces and keep going (towards your next breakdown).

The people who are amazing at something have put in amazing hours, stupid hours, fanatical hours at it, and they’ve hit the wall enough times for the wall to fit them like a glove. Almost all of the time, success is about doing your thing until it fully becomes who you are, and until the world gets tired of pelting you with rejection and misfortune and just says “Yeah, OKAY, just…just TAKE IT, whatever“.

And getting to that point requires effort, but above all it requires choice. Choosing isn’t easy – especially if you’re a ditherer like I am. I’ve spent 2 years watching people doing a bazillion different things, and a surprising amount of those things have worked out for those people. This has led to me suffering a dilemma of choice. Do I want to follow this definition of a professional travel blogger? Well, yes and no. Do I want to be a travel journalist, pitching & writing for other people all the time? Well, kinda. Do I want to write that spoof scifi novel where the world is plunged into darkness and the only reliable source of post-apocalypse energy comes from meringue? (Book 1: Meringue Dawn. Tell your friends). Yes, I do, but not really or, for the sake of my reputation, at all. I have lots of passion projects that I could kickstart and roar wildly away on. I am not short on ideas. That’s not the problem here.

A few weeks back I wrote down everything I’ve done since April. and it’s scattershot. It’s worked – ie. I have not yet starved to death, which in freelance circles is something of a win – but it’s a whole heap of stuff flying in all sorts of directions. And looking over how wayward my moneymaking methods were, I realised that I needed to treat my job like my possessions: I needed to streamline, to focus and to keep only the stuff that will be useful in the long term.

So here was my plan:

1) Write for freelance publications, to pay the bills.

2) Write serialized fiction for Kindle, following the good example of these guys, and using Scrivener, as Christine recommends here. (I’ve been doing this for months, but I’ve allowed myself to get distracted by more direct income-making far, far too often).

3) Build up my storytelling consultancy work. (You read this, right?)

4) Write in this ‘ere blog.

5) Toughen up my singing voice and work on my guitar playing. (This is a side of me you don’t know about, and won’t until I’m completely ready).

And that was my shortlist. *Bam*. Everything else was relegated to “when I have time”, which is a modern synonym for “probably never”.

So, that was looking really good, and I felt comfortable that although it would be a long haul turning this into a decently profitable lifestyle that would allow me to travel and work location-independently, I was in it for the long haul. I chose this life, and I wanted it to become Who I Am.

And then suddenly I was joining the editorial team at WordPress.com as a trial Story Wrangler, as of this Tuesday.

(Yep. My plans have a habit of doing this).

What does this mean right now? Well, it means I’ll be squeezing my shortlist into my free time, and for the rest of my day I’m working (virtually) alongside amazing people, curating some of the quality blogging happening on the millions of blogs at WordPress.com, plus doing other absurdly fun-sounding things if they’ll let me.

So what am I doing here?

You know, I think I’m starting to find out.

Image: Mike Sowden

  • Hilary Ward

    Hi Mike,
    It sounds like an interesting move into a world filled with storytelling but I am curious what a trainee story wrangler actually does. I’d love to hear the inside scoop at some point if you feel like sharing some story wrangling secrets here on your blog.

    Just for a laugh you might want to check the sentence under “examples of storyteller” at this link. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/storyteller

    Best of luck with your new gig.

  • I love your writing style :) It’s honest, open, warm, and thought provoking.

    Regarding your post, I think that choice brings unhapiness, especially when you have to choose among options that seem to be great for you. You’ll always think later on about what you gave up in order to have the other option. I think that here is usually the problem. The best solution is to decide on one, and then stick to it until you hate it (if that happens). You can always change your life later on, if you really want it.

    Here are some interesting talks on ted.com related to your topic:

  • I was so happy to hear about your WordPress gig, it is perfect for you.

    What most people realize is that there are many ways to be a travel blogger, there is no one definition. People will make a living out of it in many different ways.

    Last night I had drinks with an entrepreneur who doesn’t blog at all. His perspective was try things and get feedback quickly, constantly refine what you are doing to address that feedback. You will have some failures but ultimately you will succeed at what you do best and what people want.

  • Abi

    Congratulations! Although, I think we need a few more words on what a story wrangler is…Otherwise minds may overflow with cartoon-like images of you squelching other people’s work into a giant vat of lime green acid brimming with sharks (can you tell I’ve just visited the 50 years of James Bond exhibition?!)

  • Woah! These are some amazing plans! Congratulations & Good Luck! That metaphor for chasing a successful career online: the annual Cheese Rolling is HILARIOUS!

    Loved it! :)

  • Congrats! It IS the perfect job for you. But the question is: how did you get the job?