un-direction

by Steve

Arrow pointing by a pool

During my odd brain-breaks this week I’ve found myself heading down the internet rabbit hole of geofiction. Geofiction is essentially the art of drawing maps of imaginary places.

I wouldn’t find it too interesting if it was just fantasy roleplaying scenarios, although I love a good map enough that I’d probably find some joy in that. But there seems to a fair few maps of fictional modern cities and countries. The maps don’t look too far removed from a Googlemap or an Ordnance Survey map. There are motorways and train networks, infrastructure, various districts, the rhythm and flow you’d expect from real places.

Clearly the geofiction-ers have studied urban design and the trends of cities that have both pre-arranged layouts and more organic, historic patterns. It is all fascinating to me, and I kind of wish I had the time and the design skills to have a go myself.

But perhaps the real fascination is that geofiction is an activity that is wonderfully, beautifully pointless. I can’t imagine these sites get a lot of traffic. The practitioners are unlikely to ever further their careers or make money from their activities. They make maps and share them out of a sense of fun, satisfaction, and I guess, community, amongst all those other map makers.

I think most of us feel directionless at one time or another, if not always. We drift. We think we should be more constructive, productive. And those thoughts seep into our hobbies, our free time becomes our development time.

Yet this sort of vague ambition seems destructive to me. The very vagueness of it means we’ll never really succeed, we’ll just keep feeling guilty. I feel a real sense of horror around consciously using my free time to do something that will look good on my CV.

We don’t always have to grow. Sometimes we should just enjoy creating something for the sheer joy of creating something.

It is so easy as a blogger, or any sort of writer, to have half an eye on a potential reader. This makes sense up to a point, but I don’t think it makes the process of writing any more productive or enjoyable. What sort of potential audience is really helpful to bear in mind? If we’re aiming for a load of pagehits, or to make some money from our writing, then we’re already too far down the road towards horrible hack-ery.

If the motivation is purely monetary or minor fame focused, then we’re missing out. Not only will what we produce probably be second-guessed mediocrity, but we’ll have probably hated doing it too. Or will quietly hate ourselves afterwards.

As soon as we start creating product not only are we eating away at our own souls but we’re all creating something that is probably pretty terrible and likely to eat away the souls of those who consume it. And that is a pretty shitty pastime. And an even shittier ambition.

If the writing (or whatever other creative endeavour) is good enough then people will probably find it, will probably engage with it and if it is really good might end up paying you for it.

If the writing (or whatever other creative endeavour) isn’t good enough, then that doesn’t really matter either. We only improve by working at things, right? And while we are putting in the hours we might as well be producing what we want to produce, doing whatever gives us enjoyment.

I suppose all this is kind of obvious. But those geofiction-ers gave me enough pause for thought, that I might as well keep writing stuff that is all over the place, forget about finding a niche, and ultimately just write what I’d quite like to read.

Although I do wish this hadn’t just turned into one of those inward-looking why I blog-type posts.

I’m not so naive to think that public writing (even in a silly little blog) isn’t just a tiny bit ego-driven (I look at my lowly stats as much as any other lowly blogger), and I’d love to write for money (if the job was near-enough right, and I’m aware this is a highly unlikely scenario for any number of reasons). But if the act of creating something, anything, isn’t enough, then I’m almost certainly doing it wrong.

The map makers showed me you don’t need direction. Useless is beautiful.

Image from Aurdur, via Flickr

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