I found a flaw in my achieve anything plan:
Too much consumption, not enough creation.
In other words, too much reading and not enough writing. And not enough creative writing at that.
Some might argue that creative writing—the kind where you let your mind wander—is a waste of valuable time when trying to start a business, that any activity not directly related to launching and growing and marketing should be scrapped, but I see it differently.
Writing has brought me immense insight in the past. To not practice writing is to throw away an opportunity to better shape how I see and interpret the world. In the prison-like conditions of my North Dakota man camp, the act of writing is sanity itself.
Yet writing is and always has been difficult for me because there is no turn-key solution. What should I write? How should I write it? Nobody, not even me, knows the answer until the answer appears. This process of creating something from nothing fills the mind with confidence and a desire to innovate upon past ideas. And this same process can be applied to generating business ideas, building value, and solving problems for paying customers.
In short, writing is good for business.
With Practice, Bad Writing Becomes Good Business
Each night before bedtime I’ve been writing anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes. A poem, a blog post, web content—anything that forces me to organize and express my thoughts. This is a detour from my previous routine of reading fiction or poetry to ‘erase’ the day from my mind. Personally, I’m more productive before bedtime and didn’t want to waste my best hours on other peoples’ ideas.
This week I wrote paragraph-long descriptions of random travel moments that I’ve never shared with anyone—or with very few people—until now. The below descriptions are completely unactionable and have nothing to do with starting an internet-based business beyond having improved my writing skills by .003%, but it was fun to relive these moments.
Wet Socks in Paris
On a business trip in Paris I once met a French girl with whom I went out for drinks until the wee morning hours. Having lost track of time and with a plane to catch at dawn, I frantically ran through Paris’ fourth arrondissement in search of my hotel. Hopelessly lost, I imagined my plane lifting away from Charles de Gaulle, the e-mail I’d have to write my company, the cardboard box I’d use to clean out my desk drawers, the eviction notice, my homelessness. I ran faster through the empty streets. At one point I paused below Notre Dame Cathedral, awed by how it blocked out the sky, then ripped off my dress shoes and sprinted across a bridge that spanned the Seine river, my socks soaking up the 4am dew.
Little Debbies and Shotguns in the Deep American South
The Spanish moss didn’t arc like a tunnel on this stretch of highway, it was cut square by the tractor trailers that moved oranges up from Florida. An almost perfect square. An unleaded nozzle in hand, I wondered if the moss maintained its tight and high through some evolved intelligence, or if it was sculpted, little by little, by each passing truck.
Opposite the gas station, a chain gang was clearing brush from a ditch, their tools slowed to lazy mechanical motions by the Louisiana sun. The imagery was movie-like, dreamy. Never in my life had I seen a chain gang, much less an all-black one in the deep South. It was a flash of slavery, a page from Roots, a moment disconnected from any reality I had ever known in the United States.
I walked toward the nearest orange jumpsuit, pulled a Little Debbie from my pocket, and was about to offer it when—“Stop right there!”—thundered from somewhere to my left. From the shade of a moss-draped tree I turned to see a shotgun pointed at my chest, a wide-brimmed hat, a khaki uniform, and a gold star. The law had spoken. Before turning back to my car I looked at the prisoner’s sweaty face. His expression was neutral, expecting nothing, wanting nothing.
“If this had happened in Iraq or Afghanistan you’d be locked up right now,” he stated, half-yelling, half-assuring me that we were still in Costa Rica. Correction: on American soil within Costa Rica’s borders. After an hour of interrogation he was satisfied that I was not a national security threat, just a kid who found a cheap ticket to Curaçao to shore dive with strangers.
On Bleeding in an Alley in the Guatemalan Highlands
“Here we are,” yelled the driver as a flurry of chubby women wrapped in colorful clothing grabbed at baskets and burlap sacks before disappearing into the night. Outside the window, one street lamp half-illuminated a gravel intersection. Black swallowed everything else. The driver said a different bus would continue onward in the morning, then he drove away. Just like that. I had no clue where I was, but the stars were bright and crisp, the mountain air cleaner than in Guatemala City.
Earlier that afternoon, after putting my girlfriend on a bus back to Costa Rica—perhaps never to be seen again—, I had found myself suddenly alone for the first time in months, and more alone than I had felt in years. The littered-streets angered me; Spanish tasted bitter in my mouth. I had no patience for the vendors who quoted inflated prices, first for lunch, then for bus fare to Chichicastenango, an indigenous market three hours away where I planned to buy quilted blankets to resell in Mexico. By the time I boarded, I wanted to sleep the day away, and did. Awake was now blurry like a dream.
The next nearest light—a fifteen minute walk down a dirt road—turned out to be a cement-block labyrinth of narrow corridors, like a Rio favela in the middle of a potato field. No signs, no signs of life. As soon as I entered a guard dog’s snarling barks sent me back to where I came: through a four-foot wide alleyway, whose entrance was now blocked by three men. This was the only time in my life that I believed I would fight and bleed, or fight and die. Adrenaline-coursing, I slowly walked toward the men, pretending to know where I was and what I was doing there, gauging their intentions with a “Buenas noches” from ten feet away. No answer. I continued forward, tenser now, as they advanced in my direction. Then they silently parted to one side to let me pass, and the dog went silent too.
Upon returning to Hanoi after an overnight boat tour in Ha Long Bay, a British couple and I decided to split a taxi to the airport. With a few hours to kill, we agreed to meet on that same corner at 5pm sharp before going our separate ways—they to souvenir shop, I to eat a plate of spring rolls with a Dutch traveler.
“I bet the Brits are freaking out,” I joked while we waited for our to-go desserts to appear from the kitchen. It was 5:04pm. When I arrived to the muster point two minutes later, I understood, through a taxi driver’s hand gestures that appeared a mix between an airplane taking off, a Heil Hilter salute, and a toddler about to wet his pants, that the young couple had indeed freaked out and left without me. Typical, I thought, then asked the man if he’d take me to the airport on the back of his motorcycle. He smiled, and we pushed off into that endless sea of motorbikes, into that collective conscience of Hanoi that seemed to stretch from the city’s beginning well into its future, all at the same moment. The next hour was a whirlwind of back roads, pedestrian bridges, warm wind, and rich smells from sidewalk food vendors, always surrounded by bikes, never far from a young girl nestling her cheek into her man’s nape or a child wedged between parents. I was a foreigner, but I was part of the collective, and we pushed toward our destinations without disrupting the flow.