It was the year 1995, and I had just moved to Copenhagen, Denmark to finish my senior year of college in a study abroad program. Living abroad I needed some way to share my experiences with my friends and family back home. So I started an email newsletter called “Nate’s News” that I sent out about once a month. This was in an age when blogging hadn’t really taken off, and many still didn’t even have email addresses (gasp!)
What started out as a simple way to bulk communicate, turned into a regular publication with a loyal and vocal readership. The best part about writing Nate’s News was getting feedback from friends. Some wrote to give me tips on places to go when traveling, and others wrote to say that they were living vicariously through my adventures.
It changed how I spent my time abroad knowing that every experience could be crafted into a story in Nate’s News. I didn’t hold back in experiencing new things, knowing that good or bad, it would make for a fun story. I became more observant, taking note of what was happening around me, the conversations I had with the Danes and other expats I met.
In looking back, I’m thankful that I had Nate’s News as an outlet for documenting my experiences, because those moments likely would have been forgotten had I not been writing about them. I have an archive of those newsletters and some day I’ll post them here.
When I returned to the U.S. to study music at Berklee in 1997, I stopped writing Nate’s News. I don’t think it was a conscious decision – I just got busy with a heavy courseload, practicing 8 hours/day and spending the evenings jamming with other musicians.
I started getting emails from friends asking if they were still on the Nate’s News mailing list because they hadn’t seen one in awhile. That’s when it struck me that I had readers that were hungry for more.
As a consolation for not publishing a regular Nate’s News, I launched a blog, and announced that from now on, my readers could follow my activities there. But like many who start blogs, I was lousy at keeping it up-to-date, and after awhile it was abandoned too.
I was just back in Minnesota for the holidays and my mom implored me to go through the boxes in her basement and throw away some things. I found a box of stuff from when I was at Berklee, mostly course materials, but also notes from private lessons. This brought back a flood of disparate memories, but it was mostly hazy fragments.
I felt sadness that these two years of my life flew by and I had no record of what I was feeling at the time, or how I was incorporating all that I was learning into my playing. What insights may I have discovered, had I been writing about my musical experiences and learning process while at Berklee.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was only the two years at music school that I didn’t write, but once I stopped writing, I lost the momentum and didn’t write for another 6 years!
After I had been running my consulting business for a few years, I became very active in the Plone
community, an open source CMS, and started a blog in 2006 to document my activities around the Plone4Artists
Sadly, this too was short-lived, and by 2008, I had stopped writing in my personal blog. I did start writing in the Jazkarta company blog
, but the posts were sporadic at best.
My two Jazkarta colleagues at the time, Aaron and Sally really pushed me to blog more. Whenever I came back from a sprint or conference, I would tell them that I was going to write a trip report on the blog. But once I got back to the office, there was always lots to catch up on and the blog post would be deprioritized. Eventually, I had forgotten the highlights from the trip, and it was old news anyways, so I didn’t bother to write about it.
It became a running joke in the company that Aaron would do unheard of things if I would write a blog post. So strong was my aversion to blogging, that he could say he would do anything, knowing full well that he wouldn’t have to do it.
On multiple occasions, I had to ask myself, what was behind this aversion to blogging?
Guilt – There are emails to respond to, pitches to prepare for, leads to get back to. If I’m writing blog posts, I’m not attending to these seemingly more urgent activities. The myth is that writing is a luxury. But the reality is that writing enhances all of those other activities:
- fewer emails to respond to (“go read my blog post on that subject”)
- easier to craft a pitch (helpful comments from posted draft pitches)
- prospective customers coming to you (after they read your blog post and think, “I want to hire this person.”)
Fear – putting down one’s thoughts requires conviction especially when doing it in a public arena such as a blog. You have to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable. “They won’t know whether my ideas are brilliant or stupid if I just keep them to myself.” I remember Dharmesh Shah saying, “you don’t have to write prize-winning content, you just have to suck less.”
Hard work – crafting a well-written essay is time consuming. It’s so much easier to browse my Twitter, Facebook, Google+ stream to see what interesting things other people have written about, than to sit down and write my own original content. It’s like building a beautiful pot out of clay. Writing requires massaging the words until they feel right – eliminating all the unnecessary words.
An hour spent writing a thoughtful blog post will be read 100s or 1000s of times more than any email you may have spent an hour writing. I wonder how many of my emails could be repurposed as blog posts.
Turning over a new leaf
My girlfriend Anna said that since she started journaling, it has had a profound affect on her. Things that were confusing, began to have clarity. Anxiety fades away once the thoughts are out of the head, and in a place where they can be analyzed objectively.
When I re-read my blog posts from just a few years ago, it seems as though I wrote with wild abandon. Maybe you grow more cautious as you grow older, but I’d like to think that I am wiser, more sure of myself and what I believe in, and that will come out in my writing.
I’m out of the practice of writing and it’s painful. It’s like trying to play the saxophone after not playing it for months. My embouchure is weak and the sound coming out of the horn is atrocious. But like anything, the more you do it, the better you become.
Over the last few years, I’ve been squirreling away nuggets of material to be shaped into future blogposts. Every time I favorited a Tweet, starred an item in Google Reader, clipped a webpage into Evernote, I thought, “This will make an interesting blog post … some day.”
Well, that some day is today. I’m putting away the guilt, the fears, the laziness that has held me back for so long. I can’t guarantee that all of those nuggets are gold, but hopefully there will be enough fodder to conjure up a few good ones.
I ask for your patience as I put the training wheels back on, and attempt to put my thoughts into writing. I’m abandoning the junk food consumption of Twitter and Facebook and reallocating that time to creative producing activities
Instead of passively engaging with these networks, I’m building signposts and eventually billboards along the information superhighway to direct you to my little shack on the side of the road. Hopefully you’ll find something interesting during your visit.