Wish it, believe it, and it will be so

Icarus is one

It started with a persistent thought, a tiny ember of an idea, really. An ember so fragile that the softest breeze would be more than enough to snuff out its light. A desire so improbable that to say it aloud in anything more than a whisper would be laughable.

One year ago, I moved to Vietnam with no real plan. A completed stint in Bangkok would allow me to not have to work for about a year, provided I was frugal with my pennies.

A year off seems like a long time, an unimaginable lifetime, to someone used to working the 9-to-5. A year off without a career plan seems like a scary void for someone used to a steady paycheck. “And in this economy?” I kept getting asked.

When friends questioned me about my “plan”, I inevitably mumbled something about exploring the country of my birth. What was left unsaid was that I wanted to be a travel writer. I mean, who sets out to earn a living by writing about travel? Other than Paul Theroux, I didn’t know of any. Certainly none within my immediate sphere.

I just knew that since taking a family trip to Mexico when I was 13, I’ve been hooked on travel – reading it, writing it, doing it. In the days before Al Gore invented the Internet, I’d arrange my trip photos into a collage, take them to get color photocopied and send them off to family and friends along with a travel story or two. My mom’s friends would coo, “Isn’t that nice? Little Jimmy wants to be a travel writer!” In fact, the last time I was home, my mom, as moms do, still had a tattered photocopied page of photos from a trip to Barbados I took more than 15 years ago.

Slowly, though, the wheels were set in motion. After settling down in Saigon, I worked with a friend to design Fly, Icarus, Fly which went live in April 2012. After 10 years of keeping a passworded blog for family and friends only, I was ready for my very own small place in the big, scary blogosphere.

Then, a couple of weeks later, completely out of the blue, I got an email to say that one of my photos had made the Top 25 in Conde Nast’s Dream Trip Travel Photography contest. I screamed. I hyperventilated. Then I coerced everyone I knew to vote for me.

Ransom note - flyicarus 2

In true blogger fashion, my entry garnered 158 comments (by comparison, the next most commented photo got 28 comments) and more than 2,000 votes despite going up against photos like these.

Conde Nast Finalists

In the end, while I didn’t win the $25,000 dream trip, I did win something equally valuable.

Belief.

Belief that maybe I could make this travel writing and photography thing work.

I started sending clumsy story pitches to anyone that would listen (or at least had an email address), without prejudice. Huffington Post got the same pitch as now defunct monthly magazines in the wilds of Canada. Some took the time to send form rejection letters. Most simply never replied. By the end of May, though, Vietnam Pathfinder accepted my story about getting my Vietnamese driver’s license. Then in June, Bootsnall published a story about pho. WordHCMC also printed an article I wrote about the songbird culture in Vietnam. For the first time, I was working with professional photographers to illustrate my very own story ideas.

Canh - Song Birds

I also enrolled in a godsend of a blogging course. With so much to navigate in the blogging world, from making your blog stand out to taking great photos to whether to advertise or do guest posts, I felt I needed to shorten the learning curve. And having a place where it’s totally normal to ask questions about SEO, critique other people’s work and learn from other creatives is a tonic.

Blogging Buddies - 2013-03 Oi Vietnam

Now that my one year is up, I can scarcely believe that I’m earning a living through my writing. Not necessarily a very good  living, mind you, but it pays all my expenses. Print media gives me access to people and events that travel blogging alone might not afford me. Blogging gives me the freedom to tell my personal stories. I love both worlds I inhabit.

Icarus Cake 2

Now that Fly, Icarus, Fly is one year old, it’s only appropriate that I again thank all the people who’ve come along with me on this journey. This week, the site got a complete redesign thanks to web developers extraordinaire Regis Terreaux and Carson Sharein. The beautiful watercolor illustrations you see throughout the site are courtesy of the talented Bridget March (stay tuned for more on Bridget’s work!). And the handwriting font was a gift from the amazing graphic designer Jeroen ‘JOEBOB’ van der Ham. And to all others who’ve contributed your advice, know-how, encouragement and stories, I thank you.

I can now echo the words of author Deborah Smith, “Wish it, believe it, and it will be so”.

Photo credit: Old man with bird cage (right) via Quinn Ryan Mattingly

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Comments

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13 thoughts on “Wish it, believe it, and it will be so

  1. Doris

    Well Jimmy, you have made my old age exciting. Thanks for your blog. I appreciate my personal copy so much.

    Wishing you the very best. Doris

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thanks, Cosmo! The site was long in coming. I wish I knew more about html so I could do more of the work on my own. The help on the net often assumes coding knowledge. I need a workshop!

      Reply
  2. Olivia

    Congrats on a successful year! You are living my dream too. Next time we meet I want a more thorough play by play of how this past year went.

    Reply
    1. James Post author

      Thanks, Olivia! As with everything, who knows how long this ride will last, but I’m determined to make the most out of every minute!

      Reply
  3. Dyanne@TravelnLass

    love it, Love It, LOVE.IT! The new look is FABULOUS! And most especially the new tagline: “Wish it, believe it, and it will be so.” I mean – that pretty much sums it up completely, yes?

    Love the watercolor bridge masthead and especially – am wondering… is that not the sweet bridge in Hoi An? Given that I just last week visited there (and took not one, but TWO wonderful photog workshops), just wondering if (coincidentally) that’s where the masthead bridge is from.

    Also love the full story on your FIF journey – most interesting to get the full details. For some reason I thought you’d been blathering long before my own TravelnLass blog. Congrats on turning one year – you’ve most certainly come a looooong way!

    Soar high, soar wide, and soar long, my friend!
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..The TravelnLass is an Asian Geo-Rockstar!My Profile

    Reply
    1. James Post author

      Good eye, Dyanne! The bridge is most definitely the Japanese Bridge in Hoi An… You took photography workshops? I’m totally jealous. Can’t wait to see some shots that came out of it!

      Thanks for the encouragement. Some of the earliest posts on Fly, Icarus, Fly, I edited / copied / pasted from my passworded blog, which is why the photos are all wonky!

      Reply
  4. Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans

    I applaud you, James. So many people are afraid to follow their dreams and pursue their passions and they remain stuck in mediocrity. Success is not about how much money you make, where you live, etc. True success is knowing your purpose in life and fulfilling it!

    This year I’ve started buckling down and getting back to writing which is why I recently started my blog and started freelancing. So far, I’ve had a few writing successes with more stories set to be published in print and online later this year. I’m trying to keep the momentum going! Keep up the good work!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Wanderlust Wednesdays: A Facebook Blog CarnivalMy Profile

    Reply
    1. James Post author

      Thanks, Dana! I’m a bit of a pragmatist, so the role of creative doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’m definitely enjoying the learning experience and trying out new things. All the best with your blog and the writing. BTW, what kind of volunteering do you do?

      Reply

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