A revised and updated version of this essay can be found in The Misunderstood Minimalist: Essays from A Minimalist Abroad, now available at Amazon!
The first time I started a blog was in 1996, before the word blog had even been coined. It was simply a website that I started and updated regularly. I wanted to be a writer, and I thought that using a website would be a good way to publicize the book I planned to publish. It turned out that the site itself became the all-consuming focus, and I never even finished writing the book. It was a dissatisfying experience, because while I was having a lot of fun running the site, interacting with people, and basking in positive feedback, it wasn’t what I’d set out to do. I did not evolve with the medium or alter my expectations to match the circumstances. I chalked the site up as a failure because I did not have a bound copy of a book sitting on my shelf at the end of the process.
I found myself feeling trapped. There was only a finite amount that I had to say on the blog’s primary topic, and I’d planned to say it all in the book; it wasn’t something that was sustainable to write about day after day, week after week, year after year. I tried to expand to writing about adjacent topics, other things the audience I’d built were interested in, but I really didn’t have a passion for those things. I was faking it. Somehow I managed to do that for close to 14 years. I’d occasionally try to branch off into other things, but I would either lose audience (best case scenario) because the existing audience had come for the original topic and not for me, or (worst case scenario) I’d be met with rude, cruel, and willfully ignorant opposition to my venturing off-topic.
From Disillusioned to Inspired
The worst part was feeling that I’d become not only financially but emotionally invested in something that quite frankly was not on par with curing cancer or brokering peace in the Middle East. It was entertainment. Now, I’m not knocking entertainment or the people who create and/or consume it, but while it was occasionally a kick to be in that business, I personally did not find it to be fulfilling. I wanted to do something more. I wanted to create something that could at least theoretically help people in a meaningful way. When people came away from my blog, I wanted them to feel that they’d learned something useful, had picked up a piece of advice that could make their lives a little easier or a tiny bit better, or at least gain some sort of affirmation that they had the power to go improve their situation themselves. The topic I’d become married to was not particularly conducive to that.
Yet I still had the drive to blog. I love writing, and connecting with people. I was disillusioned with the topic, not the medium or the process. So I began to sort out what types of things I did want to write about. I brainstormed topics. When I had ideas for blog posts I thought I might like to create, I jotted them down in a notebook. I also kept track of the sort of things that I enjoyed reading, and why. Over time, patterns began to emerge.
Doubting My Focus
As happens all too often, I started thinking more about what wasn’t on the list than what was. It shouldn’t have shocked me that there was very little on the list regarding the topic I’d made my blogging bones on. There was nothing at all about the adjacent topics. A lot of things that I really loved weren’t represented. Was there something wrong with me? Was I missing something?
No, I just realized that enjoying something a lot doesn’t mean that I’m interested in writing about it. There are things that I adore that I don’t have anything to say about. I love looking out of our windows and seeing the birds in the trees, but that doesn’t mean I want to become an ornithologist or write a birding blog. I love to cook but have no desire to become a chef or operate a food blog. Narrowing the focus of what I write about doesn’t mean that there’s no room for those things in my life, or that I no longer like them.
Why I Write About Minimalism
My topic list ended up containing things that seemed to be all over the place, but felt connected. I felt that I had things to say about business and entrepreneurship. There were aspects of simple living that I wanted to pontificate on. I wanted to share my experiences with Buddhism, and simple living. I really enjoy bragging on my wife and her academic career. Although I’m not a well-known or prolific author, I wanted to talk about the process of writing.
The through line for all of these, I eventually realized, is minimalism. I get to be an entrepreneur and run my own business, which is being an author/publisher, because I am a minimalist. My wife not only gets to go to graduate school, but gets to go to graduate school in Finland, because I’m a minimalist. The aspects of Buddhism and simple living that I key into are all philosophically minimalist. Minimalism isn’t the what, it’s the how. My dreams, hopes, and ambitions may not be the same as yours, but you can take the principles I used to get what I want and use them to get what you want.
Since I’ve started writing about minimalism, sharing my personal experiences and offering tips on what’s worked for me, I’ve had someone thank me for helping them every single day. When writing on other topics, I was lucky to get a good review let alone a sense that I’d had any impact on someone’s life.