Friday, April 8, 2022

How I Came to Writing

My career has been a series of startups. Some went well, others not so much. Between startups, knowing I would have little or no vacation after the next startup unpredictably came along, I made sure to take time away. Sometimes the next startup came along in weeks, sometimes months.

Early on, I raised money for EntertainNet, a video distribution site. It was like Youtube, only a decade too early. Video content was still too expensive and online advertising practically non-existent. I had to shut it down. Because this was during the dot com boom, I figured I could travel for a couple months and there would be something waiting when I returned.

In fact, there was something waiting. The day I got home, I was stepping into the shower and the phone rang. As much as I needed a shower, luckily I answered. An Internet incubator asked me to raise money and run one of its new companies.

So, you're wondering, what does the unpredictability of the next startup have to do with why I started writing?

Well, after a startup failed during the 2008 financial collapse, I found myself in a startup freeze colder than the dot com bust. With investors hibernating, I expected to wait much longer than usual for the next gig. It was an opportunity for personal development, but what kind?

I wanted a skill for later in life, something I could do anywhere so I could travel, something that would keep my creative juices flowing, some way to engage with the world. I played violin, but traveling with a fiddle and finding fellow musicians didn't fit the bill.

After some omphaloskepsis (my father's favorite word), I realized I'd always liked writing. Up to that time, most of my writing was reviews (theater, film, video games) and marketing copy. The act of making words mean something satisfied me. With time on my hands, I enrolled at a creative writing school in San Francisco, The Writing Salon. The teachers were practitioners and practical. Even though I have an English literature degree, I had to adjust from critiquing to creation. Boy, was I nervous when I read my early efforts.

Learning to write, it turned out, was like learning to play violin—many solitary hours working and re-working a phrase or a passage. It wasn't always enjoyable, but payoffs came as I shared stories with friends and fellow students. I started Dear Mustafa while I was working in New York. Now I'm writing while I live in Barcelona and travel around Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

The next step is publishing my words. Like music conservatories, writing schools focus on craft, not on building an audience and generating income. That's the phase I'm entering this year. It's a big step from writer to author. If there's anything I've learned from startups, something good won't happen if I don't try.