One of the happiest moments of my life was drinking a cup of tea at 8am in a steamy cafe in the heart of Kirkwall, Orkney.
I was happy becayse I’d just spent the night trying to sleep in the middle of a field in the freezing rain, sans anything even remotely waterproof.
To my surprise, not only was I not dead, I’d also rather enjoyed it, in a horrible, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-me sort of way.
This should tell you a number of things about me:
1. I really like tea.
2. I’m easily pleased.
3. I’m a fan of the kind of unconventional outdoorsy experiences that involve a little bravery, a lot of stoicism, a hefty dollop of life-affirming misery, and anything that yanks you out of your comfort zone and gives you a thrilling new perspective on the world and your awareness of it.
4. I’m some kind of idiot.
Since that fateful morning (which you can read about here), I’ve used these four things to cobble together what I like to laughingly call a “new career” for myself (after having previously studied Archaeology and worked in a pottery, amongst other random indignities).
Here’s everything I’ve learned so far.
Welcome To Fevered Mutterings
It’s about curiosity, travel and wonder (and why all three help you live a happier, richer life). It’s also about how I make a living as an online writer, and about how to tell a good story.
Let’s look at all three of those.
Curiosity & Wonder
In early 2021, after a decade as a travel writer, I turned my focus to the practical skill of curiosity.
- how it can be learned and applied even when you’re not going anywhere much (partly inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns)…
- the cognitive biases and mental shenanigans that stop us from being as joyfully curious as we could be…
- the scientifically proven benefits of getting out of your comfort zone, and the knee-trembling fun of asking really annoying questions and embracing your inner adventurous weirdo…
And it’s also a thing that’s firmly about you.
Yes, some of this is me chasing my own specific nerdy interests – and as the designated crash-test dummy on this subject, I plan to put myself through the most spectacular indignities on the path to hopeful semi-enlightenment. As a reader, if you occasionally learn something new while laughing at me in a horrified way as I make a total fool of myself, I’ll be doing my job properly.
But it’s also challenging you to go do stuff. Daft quests to get out of your comfort zone, ridiculous calls to arms against the forces of apathy and boredom, heroic bouts of applied idiocy. It’s all optional, but I reckon it’s where the real fun is here.
If that sounds fun, I’d love it if you joined around 700 other folk by signing up for my newsletter. (It’s where I’m doing most of my writing these days.)
I grew up in Cyprus, so my heart is in the Mediterranean, and I suspect it’ll never leave.
Right now, the rest of me is roaming around Europe after having sold the family home in the UK (at the time of writing, I’ve been weathering the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland).
In the spirit of that first daft (mis)adventure in Orkney, I occasionally like sleeping outside in a sack, ideally without being murdered or laughed at. It’s all very British really.
Oh, and in 2017, I was writing about what I found when I went for a walk every day, to sharpen my blunted awareness of what was on my own doorstep (back when I had one). That was the start of the process of waking up my curiosity that led to Everything Is Amazing, my newsletter (above).
If you’re looking for tips on how to travel through Europe on a budget while negotiating the brain-numbing absurdities of Schengen, post-Brexit Britain and the like – well, sorry, this isn’t really that kind of blog. You’re best trying Nomadic Matt or Adventurous Kate for that stuff.
But if you want to become more curious and more questioning about the world around you, especially in these times where we seem under assault by attention-hijacking diversions and timewasters – that’s my chosen beat. If I can open your eyes wider and prick up your ears a bit, I’m doing my job properly.
Becoming A Professional Writer
I started writing professionally in 2009. Since 2012 it’s been my main source of income.
You’ll hear a lot in the media about how tough it is to make money as a writer in digital media these days. I take a different view (and so does this guy). Nevertheless, it’s still hard. It’s the toughest, scariest job I’ve ever done, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes – which is the fastest way to learn that I know of.
I’ve been a staff writer on digital magazines. I’ve written for tour companies, for newspapers and for a major credit card company – while I was up to my eyeballs in credit card debt, ironically enough. I’ve (unsuccessfully) interned at WordPress.com, and have spoken at travel conferences in Europe and Canada, where the audience laughed at me each time. Hopefully that was a good sign.
I’ve done a lot of things, many of them not entirely unsuccessfully.
(You learn a lot from the things you’ve not entirely unsuccessfully done. Maybe everything.)
These days, I’m writing books, the first of which is about rain – and in my newsletter, I’m forcing myself to learn a lot of things very quickly and very publicly, in a way that invites ridicule but might just trigger an “aha!” moment in you that helps you live a life richer in curiosity and wonder.
That’s the plan anyway. I may just be making an idiot of myself. Your call.
How To Tell A Good Story
Firstly, I’d suggest you check out my free introductory storytelling course. (I’m not kidding. 100% free.)
And then check out the intensive 8-week course I made for bloggers who want to tell amazing stories.
Storytelling consultancy (I know, I know – sounds weird to me too) was a big part of how I make a living, and I’ve spoken at conferences in The Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Canada on the subject. These days I’m more focused on telling my own stories, but if there’s anything I can do to help you, I’m up for it.
Here are some useful things I’ve learned about telling good stories over the last 5 years.
Once Upon A Time, AKA. Who Is This Idiot?
I was born in Germany (in a British RAF hospital), grew up in Cyprus, and moved to England just as I hit my teens. (Memory: sat at an newly-landed Boeing 747 window at Heathrow, looking out at the rain – and I turn to my parents and say, “Why have we come here? It’s raining.” They never gave me a good answer to this question. That’s parents for you.)
In Cyprus I discovered National Geographic magazine, hoarding copies like a curly-haired Gollum. I obsessed over them, loving the writing, mesmerized at how adults (adults!) could make the world sound so amazingly fun! The pictures were terrific – but the writing was what blew my mind.
At some point, I wondered how much fun it might be to become a professional writer, telling stories for a living. If people actually did that for living.
Was that even allowed?
Skip forward. My family has moved to the UK, and I’m not sure what I want to do with my life. I leave school, drift through a number of tedious jobs for very little money – and at some point I’m leafing through an old copy of one of those National Geographics. Something in me says I need an adventure to get me out the rut I’m in.
A few weeks later, I spot an advert in an outdoors magazine for a walking expedition through the Austrian South Tyrol – and off I go.
I come home changed. A change that leads to retaking exams, going to University as an archaeology student and learning to write with precision and clarity, and then to a series of office jobs in York while I experiment with my own writing as a side income.
Cut to early 2012. I’m an office-monkey by day, and thanks to a blossoming fascination with the wider world, I’m a travel blogger by night. My work has been read out as part of a big conference keynote, my blog posts have been linked to by the likes of Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker, and I’m selling decent amounts of my writing work – but somehow I’m still holding myself back.
I still don’t feel like a real writer. I still don’t feel like I’m allowed.
Then, one day, I think I’m having a heart attack. And a few weeks later, I quit my job – and stumbled my way into a new one.
It’s working out nicely so far.
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Cheers! Thanks for reading. You probably deserve some kind of medal.