I need your help. Yes you. Seriously.

See? This is a photo I took almost A MONTH AGO in Death Valley and have been meaning to put up as part of a series of photos I've made -- and still haven't.

Some of you have probably noticed that my blog has gone a little quiet lately. I could blame it on being busy: I spent the last few weeks putting my life in storage, leaving my first and only San Francisco apartment, hanging in Seattle for a week with 13 of my best friends from college, and then flying home to Ohio to pick up a car and start my life on the road. But that’s kind of a cop out.

It’s a cop out because the whole point of this traveling thing was to help me see a bunch of people and get inspired and figure out what makes me really happy and write about it all. But here’s the thing I’ve realized over the last few weeks: Having no home and no routine actually makes it damn hard to do something like writing that requires concerted creative effort. Well, shit.

Then, lying in bed this morning I remembered a little epiphany about this blog that I had months ago when I was just laying it out in my head. This doesn’t have to be one of those blogs where I have all the answers. In fact, it can’t be. I’m not an expert here. I’ve never done this before. But hopefully through my experience people can learn a little about their own.

But if I don’t have the answers, where does the insight come from? (OK, so hopefully I have a few insights of my own, but you know what I mean.) Yep. From you.

I’ve seen the stats on this blog, it’s not like there’s a million people out there 😉 This is mostly friends, family, colleagues, people I’ve met in my travels, and a few awesome people who apparently pay attention to what I do although I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting them yet. But that small group of people (again, this means you) is packed with brilliant, talented, insightful people — many of whom have tons of experience in this whole traveling-while-working-and-being-creative-thing.

So here’s my central dilemma. If you have any advice PLEASE LEAVE IT IN THE COMMENTS. (And then you’ll be helping other people, too, not just me 🙂

I’m a fairly adept traveler, but this is the longest I’ve ever done it, and it takes up most of my energy just to find where I’m going, get settled, figure out what I should be doing, contact people, find an outlet for my charger, find food that doesn’t put me in a coma, figure out a new shower, find a towel…you get the idea.

After all that, there’s not a ton of energy left for writing. I’m actually a pretty slow writer (great trait for a blogger to have, I know), plus I have this new deal with myself that I’ll only write things that I feel like I simply HAVE to write. Things that give me butterflies. Things that keep me awake at night. Sometimes getting to those things actually feels harder when I’m on the move. Like there is so much stimulus coming in that I can’t process it enough to record it.

So, if you have any tips or suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Do I need to force myself to write every day, even if I don’t publish it? Do I need to write shorter things more often? Do I need to just lower my damn expectations? Or should I just expect this will all get easier as I get used to it and try not to stress so much? Help me out. I know you’re out there.

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28 thoughts on “I need your help. Yes you. Seriously.

  1. Great question. I'm sorry to tell you that I failed miserably at blogging when we are traveling… this was due to many factors, including lack of confidence, listening to imaginary critics and never pressing “publish,” and a growing sense that the more I learned while traveling, the less I knew (like that should have kept me away from the blogosphere! Ha!) And of course, the home and food finding, getting lost, getting there, etc., that you describe can easily take up twelve hours a day.I suppose I am empathizing, rather than advising here ;)I should also say, that although I wasn't a very good blogger, I did learn how to produce multimedia storytelling projects on the fly in high pressure, very foreign environments. I learned how to establish trust with strangers, and new things about myself and my relationship to the world. I learned how to work with my partner, and how to balance that relationship. I gained confidence. Two years we have our own company and I love what I do. I'm doing what I hoped I would be doing when we started our journey! (This still blows my mind). So, even though my blogs were pretty lame and infrequent, things are working out. I'm sitting here and thinking hard about some concrete advice I could offer you… and I don't think I have anything concrete. Just keep at it with your goal in mind, every day, and eventually you will end up doing what you mean to be doing. Be patient with yourself, but don't stop. Sometimes the end of the road doesn't look anything like you thought it would when you started the journey. That's okay, and sometimes better. Have fun! I support this.

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    • Thanks Jessica. Your travels and subsequent multimedia success are a huge inspiration for me. And it's nice to hear you didn't do everything perfectly the first time around either :)I've had several people warn me that the end of the path usually looks different from what you expect at the beginning, so I appreciate the reminder. I'm a pretty goal-oriented person, so keeping myself on the experimentation path instead of the “this is what I'm working toward” path is hard. But I'm learning. And you're right, as long as I end up doing something that I love, I will have achieved everything I started out to do.

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  2. No matter how tired or busy you are, you can always spare an hour if it's for something important.Since you won't have the same place to work every day, make something else consistent. It might sound stupid, but maybe you have a work hat or a scarf or something that you only wear during this time. The consistency will help you get used to the routine. It might help to have some lead-in and wind-down exercises (physical, mental, or both) that help you get into it, and let you ease out of it. Maybe some sun salutations or somersaults, whatever works.Lastly, I would say publish everyday.While I would also say that your composition should be composed on the same medium every day – your favorite word processor or your favorite notebook – the publishing medium doesn't need to be the same every day. Maybe one day's work is more appropriate for tumblr, maybe one for facebook or the blog, maybe an inspired day will fill all your outlets…It's important that you still make it uninterrupted time, even if you stare at a blank canvas for the entirety of it. Even if you have to interrupt a phone conversation with your mother. Even if you have to ditch out on happy hour. Especially if you are too tired.Anyway, hope it helps.Best of luck always, Miki!

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    • Thanks Aaron. Hm, I do love scarves 😉 Several people have mentioned having a place you only use for work, which of course is hard when you have no home, so I like the idea of a work article of clothing. Exercises are also a good one: I need to meditate and do yoga way more too.I think the most helpful part of your advice is to recognize that “creative output” comes in all forms. Even when I'm not “blogging,” I'm definitely still Tumblring and Facebooking and Flickring and journaling. If I can set aside specific time for that each day, I feel like I'll be on my way 🙂

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  3. I find that either my Dissatisfaction for where I am in life or my Vision for where I want to be in life needs to be so great that I am Driven to change my life. Work on your Vision or think about your dissatisfaction, they are the forces which will drive you forward. I have found in myself, and in people I know, that those who have momentum are either highly dissatisfied with where they are at, or they know exactly where they want to be. Either way, they are just itching to be somewhere else in their life and they can't sit still. When the motivation becomes strong enough you will find how and what you need to do. I don't think anyone can tell you what to do specifically as your world is different to mine. You need to find your own answers as to what and how. However I can say that those answers will be found in knowing where you want to be and in how badly you want to get there. Work on that first.

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    • Thanks Steve. That's an interesting way of thinking about it. I think I'm stuck somewhere between dissatisfaction and vision. Dissatisfaction was what made me quit my job in the first place, and it's still the driver. I certainly have visions of where I want to go, but right now I have too many. That's part of the “problem.” Which is not really a problem so much as the thing I'm trying to figure out during this sabbatical. Which vision makes the most sense for me and is the most likely to help other people? I just have to keep focused on that 🙂

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  4. Questions without answers. Any advice of the how to write while traveling, while busy, while having a job, while living kind….I'd be surprised if you or I or anyone else came up with an epiphany here. I know when I was good at writing about cilantro hate consistently every week it was completely based on time and place as opposed to willpower or discipline. I thought once a week would be a good doable goal for me (generally I do better setting my goals on the low side of what I'm capable of and overshooting as opposed to setting them too high, falling even a little short, and feeling like a failure) and for a bit I totally did it. Of course my blog is more of a collection of something more like essays than blog posts, not really conducive to the burn and churn daily grind of “real” blogging. So that time for me was right after I'd quit a job and personally needed to write regularly, whatever I wanted, with no editor or company or anyone telling me how I could write, what I should write, that I couldn't say “fuck” at will or really anything at all. There were no advertisers, money wasn't part of it, just me and this cilantro hating constant, at a time when I was freelancing and very little was constant, it oriented me, gave me a real and true and silly and fun place and way to write when I wanted it and needed it most. Of course in those days no one read it and I didn't care. Then some notable newspapers picked it up and by that time, I wasn't in that time or place anymore. So I still try to write once in awhile, but the once a week is long gone and who knows, but it's certainly possible it will never return. Anyway, this isn't advice, but I don't really believe in advice (that sounds untrue as soon as a type it, but I think I at least kind of mean it so I'll leave it in) so much as sharing stories. I guess my story is that as much as there are plenty of times now when I say “I need to write more” or “I should write in my cilantro blog more–I used to love doing that” or whatever it is, I've had a lot more success writing regularly because it just sort of happened than because I tried to deliberately make it a habit, but there a lot of writers more successful than I, Stephen King comes to mind, who swear by writing every single day no matter what. Ultimately you'll do what you do and I doubt you'll look back on it with any regrets.

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    • Oh Erin, this is why we've been friends for so many years. The less it feels like advice, the more I like it. And ultimately, you're right, I'll do what I need to do and that will be ok. I always thought you were very smart about your blog, setting reasonable goals and giving yourself a narrow but vast topic. Part of the problem with this blog is that my goal for it is changing all the time. But this post has actually helped me narrow it down a lot. P.S. I can't wait until you start writing a lot again. I'm guessing it will finally be that novel the next time, and I'm dying to read it 🙂

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  5. When I was in Korea I kept a notebook with me at all times, but I mostly would write during or at the end of a new or interesting experience of my travels. Some of them were personal, but some of them were not (or not TOO personal), and these I shared with my friends via email…you probably were on this list! It was a good way to share my stories informally, but I always wrote them as journal entries first. Don't know if this helps, but it helped me while I was there and I think it helped break down some cultural assumptions between Asia and the U.S. as well.

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    • Thanks Molly. I have gotten really into having lots of tumblrs lately, several that are private and then I migrate stuff I feel comfortable with to more public spaces, which include other tumblrs that only have one audience member. But the fact is, I've always kept many journals at one time. A small moleskin with me always, the notes in my iPhone, a journal by my bed for more emotional outbursts, a copy of The Unabridged Diaries of Sylvia Plath with resonant sentences underlined….I've actually fantasized for a while about pulling them all together one day into one facsimile that tells my life story in bits and pieces…the way we ultimately remember it. Anyway, I was on that email list, and it's a great idea. I've been meaning to get going on my email updates from the blog, and I think I'll have to renew that effort 🙂 (Tell me again, you're leaving Madison at the end of July?)

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  6. Hey Miki,I know in the past, I've had to ask myself: “Self, is this a work trip or a vacation?” If it's a work trip, then I needed a routine, which went something like this: wake up early, photograph, come back late, download, caption, edit, file. Hang out with friends on the weekend (unless there is something to shoot). If I don't have anything to photograph, then make phone calls until I find something. Hang out with locals, but make sure you have your blogger/photographer hat on. Or just go out in search of inspiration. Which brings me to another humble piece of advice, which is don't worry about writing the most amazing things. Just write what pops into your head, the more you do that the easier the inspiration will come on its own. Stay in one place for a while – four days or so at the very least, weeks or months are better. Or find a base, and take day trips around coming back every night. You can see a lot of territory but still stay relatively settled. Ok, that's all I can think of right now. Have fun!

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    • Hey Nathan. Good tips. I think one thing I'm struggling with right now is weather this is a work trip or a vacation. It's a vacation from some parts of my life, but ultimately I'd like it to lead me to a new career that fulfills me deeply. I'm happy to say that I've planned this trip to, at least at the beginning, be in each city from 4-7 days. I know I don't do well if I don't feel like I have at least one day where I can just sit around in some cafe and decompress 🙂 I'm also spending all day tomorrow arranging my car into a home on wheels. Can't wait.

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  7. Write something every day. Actually it doesn't even have to be writing…*create* something everyday – even if it's just a single photograph, or a doodle or a blog post.Don't get hung up on whether it's good – I've found if you just start, the inspiration will come. It won't come if you hold off doing anything until it arrives. So get your hands dirty, make something happen, and soon your brain will be awash with ideas.The worst thing ever is that feeling of paralysis where you know you need to make stuff, but can't bring yourself to do it (that's where I am right now as it happens!)Happy travels!

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    • Inspiration won't come if you wait to create until it arrives. That's really great advice, Adam. Must have gotten that from one of your brainbuster books 😉 Thanks for the support and frequent idea bouncing!

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  8. hey miki – so mad i couldn't make it to the cascades – sounds like it was incredible. the only thing i have to say about your very understandable dilemma is that I can only get to writing after spending too much time alone. ive always found that if im around other people im more interested in what they're thinking than what im thinking – i can always think whatever im thinking later, right? so if i want to write while traveling i try to set aside some unreasonable period of time that i'll be on my own. the problem with this is that it can get very depressing and lonely. the upside is that after 2 days of talking to yourself out loud, you have a great sense of how your thoughts sound & feel once they leave your brains – i think not having that sense creates that paralysis that so many people have experienced…so i guess like most other people i don't have as much clear advice as i do personal experience i felt like sharing…hope it helps though. i have a few questions for you though – on a scale of one to ten how random is my participation in this conversation? do you ever find yourself in the southwest? im in Durango, CO now…it's awesome out here and if you need a base for some incredible mountain/desert adventures i've got an extra room and two dogs who like new people…

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    • Dave! We totally missed you at Moosewood Manor. I'll be posting pics soon. Thanks for the commiseration. Your participation isn't random at all. I think you'll recognize plenty of names in the comments above. This blog is really just a place for me to communicate with lots of people at once…and that includes friends, work colleagues, family, and internet acquaintances. I've been trying to decide if I need to spend more or less time with people lately. I find myself swinging between craving space and craving attention several times in a day. I don't know if that's normal, but I think it's normal for someone going through as much change as I am.Finally, great to know you're in Durango. I love that Dylan song, and I love dogs, so you've got that in your favor. Send me some details in email. If I came through it would be in early/mid August probably. Would love to see you 🙂

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  9. As someone that has had a photo blog for going on six years now, I'd say post when you feel inspired to. If it starts to feel like a chore then hold off until you have something to say. From a writer's block standpoint, I'd approach blogging like a “brain dump” and let it all out like you would in a conversation then edit later if you have to. Editing too soon in the process can be a creative killer.When traveling, maybe it would be better to jot stuff down in a small notebook then transcribe it on the computer at night if carrying a computer is cumbersome.

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  10. First of all I'll say this — I'm a horrible writer while traveling. I've tried to keep a travel journal many times, with the goal of both remembering the things I've done and trying to capture my mindstate at the time. Inevitably, I get lazy and let a few days pass and then try to go back and recover everything at once, which means the eventual output reads more like a grade-school journal entry (“first I did this. and then I did this. and then I met up with my best friend and my other best friend and we watched a movie and ate hot dogs.”) than any kind of worthwhile commentary. As my two Moosewood Manor missives showed, I have not improved much in this respect. But I can offer some advice from almost a couple years of full-time freelancing from my apartment. It was always a challenge to find the time and/or motivation to write the things that I wanted to write (say, a blog post or a column) because I was usually preoccupied with more professional writing/editing projects, or stressing out about, you know, not having a “real” job that would require me to interact with people who didn’t work at Jewel or the coffee shop down the street. I found that forcing myself to write a fully formed piece every day only stressed me out further and I became less and less satisfied with my output (I’m a slow writer too) – but I did find it helpful to create an ongoing document in which I would jot down notes – a phrase that came to me in the shower, a few reactions to a song/article/commercial, etc. Sometimes it’d just be a word that would jog my memory, just something to make me feel like I was making progress and capturing thoughts so that they wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of everyday living. Every so often, I’d return to this document and make some connections among these things and realize that I had plenty of material to write about and the task of putting it together did not seem nearly so daunting. I’m sure you already do this as a writer to some extent, but I guess my main point would be that you shouldn’t discount anything as a topic just because you don’t immediately feel you NEED to write about it. Save it and come back to it later and you may find it was something useful. And Dave, I say 8.5.

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  11. M, having traveled a bit and written about it I must say, I think writing while traveling is important, vital even, but the real elbow-grease writing (the kind you post on your blog, say) should come after. Look, the reason writers write is to try and make sense of the things around them, and poke around for some notion of truth within this confusing fog we live in. The reason people read good writing is to share in the writers experience of going after that beast, the truth (a vague and big enough concept to include all writing, fact and fiction and poetry too). So I think it is near impossible to expect to craft good writing while traveling–you're experiencing too many things in at once, how on earth can you pause to make sense of it all? Take notes, good ones, then write it up later on. I realize this is all against the sprit of blogging. Call me old fashioned.

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  12. Hi Miki,I spend 5 months a year traveling (and guiding) in the Himalayas…and blogging about it. It's taken a while to find what works for me in terms of keeping my life (and writing) fluid while finding an outlet for my computer, figuring out where I'm going to stay, feeding myself, doing fun stuff, etc., etc. Yes, all of that takes a surprising amount of energy. Yes, it has also gotten easier over time–mostly through finding my own rhythm of what works. It's been a conscious effort in structuring my travel to work for me. You've solicited some great comments here. Vision and frustration are both important drivers for me–I liked that comment. Also, the line between work travel and play travel gets blurred as you pursue your passions. Everything I do is now somewhat both–and the structure I create in my days is there to serve me, not to burden me. I do, however, understand all too well about the inconsistent and irregular nature of life while traveling (which is different from just being too busy or not making time when at home), so I thought I'd add a few ideas, less about finding your voice and more about finding your space. –The #1 thing I do: Build a writing day (or half-day) into my schedule. Don't be in a hurry to move on to the next place or go out into the world. Stay a few days. Once you have a place to stay and an outlet that works and you've caught up with your friends, take a “free” day where you aren't concerned about seeing something new but can just catch up on writing, images, etc. Do it while it's fresh.–Corollary: If you're feeling inspired, keep writing. Don't go fill yourself up with new experience until you've captured what's in you trying to come out. Don't hesitate to cancel or postpone the next activity if you're writing and writing.–Carry some paper (i like index cards) and note down ideas of things to write about and some of the small details of your experience so that when you sit down to write, you have a list of things that moved you. Might write about them, might not, but it's great not to lose them. I have notes like: chicken in the office, creative living, motorcycle ride: clothes-road conditions-fruit-soundtrack. They're triggers and easy to come back to even a few weeks later.–Write out the opening lines of what you want to blog about when it comes to you. It's a lot easier to start with this later, too.–I sometimes drink coffee when I sit down to write and only when I sit down to write. Cliche but effective.–Do you need to write every day? I did write every day for a few years (long before I was blogging) but these days, I think it's more important that every day I'm *thinking* about what in my experience is something I'd like to translate into a post and holding on to it.–Once I have an idea, I don't talk to people about what I'm going to write about. Spill your thoughts into the post, not into conversation, because that build up of energy and words is going only one place or the other. It's like a pitcher of water: you can pour it out only once. Choose where. I do use conversation to think through ideas, but it's either well before I'm clear on what I really want to say or it's after I've drafted a post and want to refine it. Lately I don't even journal about it because the tone and structure is different. I try to make the blog-style post my first draft–then it might turn into something more personal instead of going the other direction.From your comment replies, I'd say some of this you've already hit upon in your own experience–the key is building it into your days and really doing it. Not an epiphany, but a practice. Keep going–you'll find the way. Good luck!Deana(http://www.parahamsa.com/blog)

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    • Thanks so much Deana. These are really helpful tips. Especially about not hesitating to cancel something in order to give yourself time to reflect on and capture what you've already seen. I also like the idea of writing the first lines of a post. Totally the hardest part to write. Nice blog yourself 🙂

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  13. i think the most important thing to do when you write is ask as many questions as you answer. your blog is great because you face a lot of big ideas head on. you touched on this in your post.. but you dont necessarily have the answers.. its unfair to assume you do, and if anyone expects that, they are looking in the wrong place. “we” are the answers – what we choose to the do with the way things are right now. we are the proof pudding. I know amazing things are percolating in your head.. i saw you shine at lookbetween and i admire your big swanging balls. lower your expectations .. be real .. write simple, short sentences and ask poignant questions.

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  14. Pingback: an open letter to miki johnson. : Lou Lesko

  15. hey miki! you're a great communicator…..just let it go (the stress and thinking about it) and it (the stories) will come. all things you see, taste, feel and share. you'll begin to translate these experiences on the blog. let go!! and just share like you always do! have wonderful travels!! looking forward to reading and seeing more….~ Lianne

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