My option to change into a semi-bike


An ode to what you love

“I had no idea what I was doing at first.” (Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

I've always been curious about how writers, artists and other creative people “found their voice”.  I've heard and seen dozens of interviews with writers, actors, musicians, and artists over the years, and I never get tired of hearing the stories of their travels.

But occasionally someone asks me if I should find my voice and I never know exactly what to say.

Because I don't know whether I have the feeling that I have

As much as I keep wandering around looking for it, with a couple of little hits along the way.

(I'm sure it's very different, for example Drake)

Ten years ago this week I put a website on the Internet so that I can publish my own writing.

That was the beginning of a lot of great things for me (at some point), but I think the real beginning was a little further back.

This is a photo of my 7th grade geography teacher, Mr. (Jeff) Button.

Mr. Button was the first to encourage me to write for the school newspaper, which he published on pastel copy paper and distributed in the hallways of Red Oak Community Middle School.  Writing articles about field trips and track meetings as well as a monthly humor column gave me two things: (1) An outlet for the class clown energy that I showed in Mr. Button's geography class

(2) A creative extracurricular[1] Activity, something that would come back up as a creative

(My mom still has copies of all of my columns from Mr. Button's newspapers, and I hope they stay in a box forever)

My high school only had a small, one-page newspaper (all the news, no columnists) so I expressed myself by seeing how much I could get away with writing assignments in my regular classes.

My senior year, I was kicked out of my creative writing class (I forget the exact reason, but I'm sure I deserve it).  My mother met with the teacher, who agreed to let me finish the semester.  (I think my mom said something like

In college, I struggled to find direction by going through five different majors before finally giving up and settling into marketing.  My salvation came in my senior year: the campus newspaper hired columnists.

It didn't pay a lot, but it allowed me to write for an audience.  Every now and then someone would come up to me at a party or stop me on campus or email me to say what they thought of my column.  It was my first real experience of taking my writing to the

The column didn't get me a job or a scholarship or anything, but it convinced me to get a degree in journalism.  I was only admitted to two programs and chose the University of Montana, although I had never been to anything about mountains and knew next to nothing about them.

I've learned a lot about writing, but perhaps just as importantly, I've started climbing mountains.  At first, I had no idea what I was doing - I just loved finding places that made me feel small.

After graduation, I worked at a couple of small weeklies from 9 to 5 to pay my rent - but I really wanted to be an adventure writer.  After work and over the weekend, I tried to figure out how to do that.  I had ideas for articles and made them available to magazines - climbing, backpacking, outdoors.  Sometimes I wrote them in emails, but back then you often actually wrote letters.  These were these documents that you printed out and sent through the postal service.

And then, a few weeks or months later, you will receive a letter back stating either acceptance or rejection of your proposal.

I have collected a lot of rejection letters.

My first three years as a freelance writer were as follows: Year 1: $ 40 Year 2: $ 150 Year 3: $ 1900 In 2006 I finally got a story in one of the publications I really respected: funky, grainy, soulful and legendary Bergblatt.  It wasn't a big paycheck, but it was a big endorsement.

I kept trying, writing regularly for the Mountain Gazette and a few small websites and publications, but no bites in the shiny outdoor magazines.  I had tried for six years in early 2010.  This February a friend invited me to cycle with him through the USA.  I was sure this would be amazing, but probably wouldn't get me any news in a climbing magazine.

Without thinking about any kind of

I went on every day of the trip that we had wifi and it didn't exactly set the world on fire, but a couple dozen people ended up reading and commenting on it.  A few months after our trip, I had coffee with my friend Josh who worked in branding.  I told him I'm thinking about it called a blog

So I decided it had to be regular.  I couldn't do something every day, but I could do something every week.  I thought I would post every week until something happened or I'm tired of it.  So I had to work.

I wrote about things I thought were funny, enjoyed (and made fun of) the way we see the world as climbers, skiers, hikers, and cyclists.  I wrote satirical

It was a great success practically overnight.  .  .  .  Just kidding.  That didn't happen at all.  In the first month, the site received 646 page views.  1,810 page views in the second month.  Then 2,000.  It went on for a while.  A few people noticed, including Steve Casimiro, who asked me to write for his website, Adventure Journal.  I said yes and it started getting my writing in front of a much larger audience.

Quite by accident, some of the glossy magazines I'd listened to for years gave me the opportunity to write feature stories within a few months of starting my website.  I started contributing biannually, but kept my weekly contributions up on my website where I could do what I wanted.  I never felt I could deliver exactly what magazine editors were looking for.  At some point I phoned an editor and discussed a story.  He said,

Eventually I got enough regular paperwork that I decided to quit my job, with only 49.9% sure I had made a big mistake.  I was

One day in 2013, I was sitting in a coffee shop and drawing a flowchart about pooping in the forest.  When I put it on my website, it became the biggest thing I'd ever published.

Realizing the appeal of simplifying a joke and drawing it on a diagram, I started incorporating drawings into my writing and Instagram posts.

It was a way to try something new (which I guess I was very unskilled at) to keep things fresh for myself, readers and followers.  Nowadays, far more than when I learned newspaper writing, it seems like the media is changing so quickly.  When you want to create, you have so many options that can feel happy or dizzying.  I know editorial and marketing concepts like

But every week feels like another blindfolded slap on a piñata to me.  And the only real

I think if I had some kind of career strategy it might be: try to do a little thing.

And try often.

And at some point it becomes a big deal.

This is exactly the same formula people use to climb a mountain, run a marathon, or finish a really long bike ride: lower your head, walk, look up, adjust as needed, lower your head, move on.

After six and a half years of weekly work, an editor at Outside had the idea to make my semi-wheel blog a column on Outside's website, which in 2004 was pretty much a dream for me.

But it's not like it was an award that had a badge and an oversized check on it that was issued to me for enough money to sit back and take it easy for 25 years.  It's more like the saying: the reward for hard work is more hard work.

Which one is fine with me.  After 10 years I've written about 800 posts for Semi-Rad.com and drawn about 1,500 diagrams and illustrations.  It's a dream job that, like any job, is sometimes fun and sometimes annoying.  But it's still a dream job, so I'll be swinging the piñata every week.

And I'll keep wandering around in the lifelong search for my creative voice.

But I could take next week off if that's all right for everyone.

Brendan Leonard’s new book, I Hate Running and You Can Too, is available for pre-order now.

Main illustration: Brendan Leonard

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