Taking It Slow: Sometimes, You Just Need to Step Back and Reflect
I was chatting with a good friend of mine the other day when he asked me, “How do you find the time to write so much? How do you manage everything?” Well, managing everything is actually quite challenging. I often work late at night, when I’m most creative, and on the weekends. Many would argue that your professional life bleeding into your personal life is simply the way of the world, given our “always-on” society, and I agree, to an extent. Finding ways to use your creative energy after the workday has ended is critical if you’re a driven person, but even those of us who do so have to be careful that we don’t overdo it.
Thanks almost entirely to how efficient I am with my work, I’m typically able to complete tasks for my day job during standard working hours. However, I also write freelance for not one, not two, not three, but four organizations outside of my full-time job, and there are other opportunities constantly popping up. This puts me in that precarious spot where turning down work could mean that the customer will go somewhere else and not come back; a risk I can take, thankfully, since I’m employed. Still, the desire to consistently produce good content for those with whom I work is strong, especially as many of them are friends and former colleagues. In doing well for them, I help them shine. I lift them up in front of their bosses and employers by giving them a high-quality product. It’s a win-win situation.
Since I started writing for OGGN in February, I’ve published 17 stories on everyone from industry leaders and executives to product line managers and manufacturing employees. My goal in doing this has been to not only highlight the phenomenal ideas and innovations coming out of these folks but to briefly shine a spotlight on their personal lives. I believe there is clear value in allowing people to step out of the technical and business-focused conversations that dominate their interactions and focus on who they are, what they believe in, and what inspires them. I hope that through these stories, my readers can reflect on their own journeys through life and reconnect with what really matters: people, passion, and purpose.
Writing and publishing these stories is a labor of love. First, I have to identify the subject, approach them, convince them it’s worth their time to do this, and set up an interview. The interview takes about an hour, give or take. Then, I take that recording and re-watch it as I write the piece, pulling quotes directly from the interviewee and capturing their unique perspective. I go through the process of listening and transcribing while trying to balance my own writing with quotes and information from those with whom I speak. This isn’t an unusual process, but I’ve found that many people outside of the writing domain don’t really think about all the steps between point A and point B. You just do the interview and write the article, right?
It’s no exaggeration to say that any given piece can take 10 hours or more. Though I’ve certainly written some in less time, the reality is that human beings aren’t meant to hold their attention for such a prolonged stretch. Like most, I get distracted. I get tired. My mind wanders. I get bored and need to do something else. So, each story is produced across several sittings; and, as a writer, I find myself editing and rewriting as I go, refining the story until I get exactly what I want—though even then, it’s never perfect.
At the end of it all, I still have to pass my version back to the interviewee for final review and comments. While I prefer that the work remain largely unaltered, not everyone agrees. Some see this as a PR or marketing opportunity, which is not the intent, and want to take out the very things they spoke about in the interview. I’ve gotten several items back that had key information deleted and entire sections rewritten or removed altogether. This then opens up additional dialogue on ownership of the article’s content—i.e., does the writer or the person about whom the article was written truly own it?—how much can be edited, and so forth. It adds layers of complexity to an already long process.
These aren’t short articles, either. If you think about how human beings generally consume information, it’s in short bursts. Thanks to technology and our reliance on increasingly bite-sized snippets of information, reading an article that’s 4,000 words is quite an ask. I’ve insisted that I not dumb down or limit how much I write on a given subject, as that would defeat the purpose. If no one can make it to the end, so be it.
In looking at all the stories I’ve written so far, we’re at a grand word count total of 44,861. That’s a lot of words. If you’re in energy and read industry publications like World Oil or JPT, think about an article you might come across in those; such articles are usually between 2,000 and 3,000 words. You can imagine how much has gone into producing 15 times that amount. But why am I even writing this, you might ask? I’m writing this because it’s time for me to slow down, and I want anyone who follows me closely—whoever you may be—to have some clarity on my reasons for doing so. Hell, maybe you’ll even be inspired to look more closely at your own work-life balance.
I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that I’m a bit burned out from trying to adhere to a rigorous publishing schedule of two articles per month, in addition to the many other assignments I’m juggling. I want my readers to understand that it’s OK to admit that you’re tired and step back from a passion project. It’s OK to take a breath and focus on the most important things in your life instead of constantly trying to do more. It’s OK to say, “No, I’m good,” put down whatever you’re doing, and relax.
I’ll continue writing for OGGN, as I believe in the work I do, and I hope my readers do, too. I already have ideas for my next two subjects. You just won’t see, at least for a while, perfectly scheduled content from me coming out right on cue twice a month. If you made it to the end of this one, congratulations! I appreciate your time—I know it’s precious.