Why I Write

It feels a bit wrong to make my first post after a long silence one about why I write. Maybe I should call it “Why I no longer write so regularly” and talk about things like work-life balance and learning to give myself time to process tricky emotions and adapt to big changes, and about having so much to say after such a break that I don’t know where to start. This seems as good a place as any though, participating in a blog hop that my friend Lauren tagged me in.

Lauren writes a little about food and a lot about coffee. She’s also a something of a social justice champion and creator of the $35 food challenge, in which I have always been too scared to take part. Maybe I’ll do it this year, where AU $35 will buy me about PEN S/90 worth of groceries, which means I can maintain my fine dark chocolate habit… Anyway, if you live in or travel to Sydney and care about your coffee, go read Lau’s blog. She’s aces.

Anyhoo, I’m supposed to answer a few questions to elucidate why I write, so I’d best get on with the questions:

What am I working on?

As always, I have a huge list of blog topics awaiting creation. It’s actually worse than usual due to so much going on of late; both in environmental politics back home in Australia and things here in Peru. To top it off there was my trip to the Amazon and a weekend up in the Andes that have my head full of thoughts I need to get out (not to mention a huge number of photos I still need to edit), plus some big personal changes going on that are changing my perspective on things.

More than the topics to write about, which are more lessons on living sustainably and working in sustainable development, I’m working on the how: I’d like to do something more with my writing, so I’m focussing a little more on technique. I’m playing with different writing styles, trying to incorporate a little more humour, and generally strengthening my voice. I’m hoping to strike a good balance between reporting on reality and providing facts, and being a voice of hope that inspires change. I’d love your help to get the balance right, so please let me know how I’m doing and which posts have really hit home!

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?

Wait, there’s a genre for this stuff? Seriously, a big reason I started this blog was to fill the gap between entry-level green how-to’s and the full on scientific stuff. When I first made the choice to live more sustainably, I was already doing the basics of recycling, using energy-efficient light globes using fabric shopping bags, etc.. I went looking for information on what to do beyond the basics and drew a blank. Once you get past keep-cups and composting there’s not much out there until you reach the hard science or the hard-core survivalists, so I decided to try to fill that gap myself.

Since then, I have found a handful of others on similar journeys: my friend Van of Speed River Journal in suburban Canada, the delightful Snail of Happiness in the UK, Eddie  who’s building a straw-bale house in Poland (currently distracted by recent parenthood), and the amazing Rohan at Whole Larder Love, who’s living the kind of life I hope to emulate, somewhere in rural Australia.

What makes my writing different to theirs? My environment, my experiences and my background. Like the Snail of Happiness I’m an ecologist, like Rohan I’m Australian, and like Eddie I’m living in a foreign culture, but my journey is personal and my voice reflects that. The combination of scientific training, developing world experience, industry knowledge and personal perspective is mine alone. No one else can tell the stories I do.

Kinsa View

Kinsacocha, in the mountains above Pisac in Cusco’s Sacred Valley, where the villages plant potatoes and herd llamas & alpacas, as they have for centuries, but now also herd sheep, and with the aid of irrigation and the work of the Parque de la Papa, grow different potato varieties with improved yields and nutritional profiles.

Why do I write what I do?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s a quote attributed to Gandhi that one day made sense to me:  if I wanted to live in a better world then I needed to get out there to make it happen. Time to stop talking about the problems and start solving some of them, and to bring as many people along with me as possible. So I started making changes to the way I live and interact with the world, and I started writing about it.

I write what I do because I believe in it: that the world can be a beautiful and amazing place and that we owe it to each other, to the other organisms we share it with, to our children, and to ourselves, to take care of it and work towards the best future we can. I believe it’s important to push back against the short-term, selfish ideals pushed on us constantly by marketers and governments focused on maximising short-term profits with no care to the long-term costs. I believe that borders are meaningless lines on the map of a planet that we ALL share and thus ALL hold responsibility for, and I know that what one person chooses to do in one corner of this remarkable planet can have an impact far beyond that person’s life and location.

I write what I do because I want to use my own journey to inspire others to re-evaluate their own choices and to make changes that benefit all of us. I want to break through the disempowerment and disenfranchising that modern capitalistic democracy takes advantage of and to remind people that there is power and meaning in every little choice they make.

16 months ago I met a man in Cusco who told me he was trying to revolutionise his country. I smiled and replied that I was just hoping to raise consciousness in mine, but perhaps he was right: perhaps I write in an attempt to revolutionise the way we think and act, the daily decisions we all make, in the western world.  I write because I really do care.

A circular vision

These circular ruins at Moray were once the agricultural research centre of the Inca empire, where new crops and varieties were trialled in terraced microclimates representative of different parts of the vast empire..

How does my writing process work?

Process?! Hahahahah! I should probably get me one of those. Please don’t hate me, but I’m one of those horrible people for whom writing comes easily, and all I generally need to do is to sit down in front of the computer with the seed of an idea and an hour or so of free time. Write, give a quick proof-read and edit, and then publish. Done!

Ideas are the easy part. Time is the struggle.

Admittedly the posts that deal more closely with science or policy take longer – up to two weeks for a tricky one – as there is research to be done. Facts are critical to making sustainable choices and my sense of integrity means that I must have my head around them before publishing. I’ll generally start with a few key points I want to make, then go check through the at-hand literature to check the veracity of my arguments and gather supporting evidence. This can be straight-forward or rather complicated depending on the topic and the sources I’m dealing with and a few times have even changed my position based on the evidence I unearth.

I am trying to work up more of a process, however, because I read back through old posts and spot embarrassing typos, awkward analogies or wiffly waffling and cringe. I’m aiming to hold off on clicking “post” straight away and give myself a day or two to gain some distance before a final critical review and edit, and I’m going to start with this post,. Look out!

Sentinels of centuries

The ruins of Pisaq show that even complex, scientific civilizations can fall: this Andean citadel was sacked by the Spanish over 500 years ago, yet the irrigation system still flows and the terraces they farmed still hold the steep mountainsides together.

Ironically, none of the above points actually address the question of why I write.

I write because if I didn’t I would probably go mad. I have a very busy brain: it likes to think a lot and to connect ideas and compare bits of data with each other constantly so it gets pretty crowded and noisy inside my skull. Writing allows me to take some of the thoughts that are scurrying around up there and exorcise them on paper, where they stay neatly pinned and quiet until I need them again. Writing helps me to sort through the noise to clarify my ideas, providing a cohesive narrative that helps me to make sense of my world. Writing for an audience works best as it forces me to really explore my ideas and perspectives and check that they make sense to others: it’s like mental filing, really!

Sharing the love!

I’m a little late to the blog-hop party, but part of the deal is that I tag others to write. I’ve already mentioned the other bloggers I love who write in my “genre” (as it were), so instead I’m tagging some people I love to read, for whom a sustainable future is part of their lives but not the focus of their writing:

Bob of the Cold is a real-life friend from way back with whom I have shared some memorable adventures. Bob is currently on a mission down in Antarctica providing technical and communications supports to the researchers at Davis Station and writing about the experience, including posting photos that regularly blow me away.

Dirk Flinthart: author, raconteur, martial arts teacher, fellow adopted Tasmaniac and all-round smart and funny bastard, is also a real-life friend and a brilliant writer. Mostly he writes about writing, being a professional one and all, but occasionally he wields his wit in defence of sensible policy and a decent future for us all. You should read him.

If anyone else wants to play along too, please do so and leave a link to your post in the comments!


A path walked by many others will still be unique to each walker on each new journey. There is always value in a different perspective, in listening to another voice. I have climbed these ancient stairs twice now and learnt new things both times.

* More accurately “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – it seems the famous quote is a modern re-phrasing of this more complex message.

Top photo: The modern village of Pisac, hugging the Vilcanota River valley above which Incan Pisaq stood, until the Spanish conquistadores came.

7 Comments on “Why I Write

  1. Hi Toni, fantastic post. I’ve ignored your temporary ‘expat’ status and have included your blog on a new Facebook page for “Australia’s Best Ecology Blogs” at http://t.co/1H8Gq2gb6U The page is new and doesn’t have a lot of followers yet, but hopefully it may bring you a few extra readers. Best wishes Ian

    • Thank you so much Ian! I am humbled to be included with such company. I will have to get cracking on the posts I have planned on Peru’s bofedal and lomas ecosystems.

  2. Pingback: Forget Tasmania, where is the snail of happiness? | The Snail of Happiness

  3. Pingback: Why I Write | The Last Bastion

  4. Pingback: Why I Write | Bob of the Cold

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