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Happy ‘What Have You Done Lately?’ Day

Getting back on the path.

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ASTORIA, NYC- March 25, 2015 was the date that Ghost Cities of China came out. Nine years ago, Monday.

Part of the story of this blog is the behind the scenes of my projects. Bascially, the story of traveling the world and creating stuff.

While I don’t intend to bore anyone with posts like these, this is actually the kind of writing that I find myself most drawn to. Unfortunately, it’s a kind of writing that few writers are bold / dumb enough to partake in.

Honestly, I don’t really recreationally read well manicured, objectively written articles covering all the bases of X topic in Y location. That’s work for me. While I really respect the process of fiction writing, I have no interest in reading it. What I want is the story behind the story. I read the autobiographies / biographies of writers, often not any of the works they’re known for.

That’s just my preference.

Because people learn from other people.

Each March 25th hits like a brick to the head. It is my “what have you done lately?” day. A day for evaluating whether I’m still on the path … how far I’ve strayed from it … or if I’ve fallen off the horse completely.

My first book deal really came out of nowhere. I received a random email from a NY Times bestselling author and one of the most popular writers in China asking if I’d like to do a book for series that he edited.

I still remember where I was when I opened that email. It was one of those things that you spend years manifesting but somehow don’t believe could ever really happen. Well, it can happen. Because it did.

I didn’t feel much pressure when writing that first book because I didn’t really believe they were going to publish it. I took a few final trips for that project, did some more formal interviews, and then just wrote it.

I don’t remember the writing of that book ever being a struggle. I would just hang out in KFCs and McDonald’s in the middle of the night all around China pounding coffees and it all just kind of fell together.

The Silk Road book was different. It was an extremely difficult project to undertake — which I knew from the beginning. The geographical range — China to Europe and everywhere in between; the challenge of getting access — I had to visit places that you couldn’t just walk into; as well as the sheer number of different cultures, historic contexts, and languages amounted to some pretty unparalleled challenges.

But that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was that I went into it not with the goal of writing a book but with the goal of writing a good book.

I wanted it to be a classic of narrative non-fiction, as ridiculous as that sounds.

I put too much on my plate and, ultimately, I couldn’t finish chewing it.

I set myself up for failure. What I thought would be the difficult parts of the project I nailed: I went out and got what I needed. But because I set the bar too high. I’d read those pages over and over again and declare them not good enough. So I would rewrite it and rewrite it.

And get frustrated and take long breaks.

Eventually years passed by.

Throughout that time I would escape into film projects. It sort of worked out … I did some big projects with some big filmmakers, but not completely.

For the past five years I’ve had one foot in the writing world and the other in film, never doing one or the other fully.

As they say, it’s better to whole-ass one thing than to half-ass two.

I learned that lesson the hard way.

While I can’t say that working in film was necessarily a bad choice — I know of no other way that I can make $850 from three hours of work — it did diverge me from my path.

What I should have done:

Focus on one thing. Double down on writing books. I saw how they could benefit me. I loved the attention that they would attract, I appreciated the jobs and other projects that would spin off from them. I should have strove to get better, worked on perfecting my technique, all while getting it done … over and over again.

Because done is better than better.

But I feel as if that’s close to being over now.

I opened up Silk Road last week after taking a year off and it all just came together. Maybe the year I spent editing documentaries reconfigured my mind or something? But for the first time I could see how it all came together. A structure emerged and the rest just fell into place.

The fact that film editing also taught me how to cut mercilessly probably helped too …

Edit without mercy

I’m about a week away from it being done.

For real this time.

I believe the Bloomsbury ship has probably already sailed but, oddly, the book isn’t really too outdated. A benefit from the pandemic is that it froze all of those Silk Road projects in their tracks for years. So, maybe?

Other than that, this year I realize that I need to crank up the pace a little.

I want to get two books out.

As for a topic for the other one, I have something waiting in the wings.

It’s big. Even bigger than Silk Road. And I think I could do it well.

When people ask me what I write or make films about, I often respond with, “Big global changes.” After I say this their face inevitably scrunches up like they have no clue what I mean and that usually ends the conversation.

But I know what I mean and, really, that’s all that matters.


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Filed under: Books, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

2 comments… add one

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  • Liro March 28, 2024, 6:32 am

    Fabulous news! I can’t wait for this one and the other as I thoroughly enjoyed Ghost Cities. Happy March 25th to you, Wade.

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    • VBJ March 28, 2024, 2:04 pm

      Thank you, Liro! Very much appreciated.

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