I’m in south-east Turkey and I’m swimming. That sounds kind of funny because there’s not much sea around here, but what I mean is: I’m swimming work-wise. I have this huge project under my hands that has no deadline and no word limit (well, 80 to 90,000 words can’t be called a limit, right?), and no very specific work plan yet. That feels like being in the middle of the ocean with no sense of a direction to go to.
For more than twenty years I have been writing articles of between 300 and 3000 words, always with a very specific angle. Especially since I’ve been freelancing, which I started in 2000, I had to make all the ideas that popped up in my head as specific as possible to be able to interest a magazine in them. I even had to inform the magazine beforehand of which direction the article would take and what kind of people I would interview, all to whet their appetite. Then they’d set a deadline and we’d define the number of words, and that was that.
How different is it with the project I’m working on now! The project is actually a book and a website in several languages about the Kurdish issue. The great thing about it is that all the things I have been doing for twenty years are not necessary now. I don’t need to limit myself to usually 1200 to 2000 words, I don’t have to finish the whole thing within two days or maximum one month, I don’t need to find interview candidates that fit the profile of a magazine.
The freedom that gives me as a journalist is absolutely wonderful, and it’s one of the reasons I am applying myself to doing this. The other reason is of course that I somehow feel connected to the Kurds in Turkey and that I find it utterly shameful how they have been treated in this country which is now trying to show itself to the outside world as a true defender of democracy and human rights. People outside (and inside, actually) Turkey may easily get the idea that the suppression of Kurds is over, and through this project I want to show how untrue that is.
But now that I am on my first long trip (5 weeks) to the south-east to find stories for my book, I am confronted with the difficult side of being able to work this freely. I really have nothing to cling to. What kind of stories am I actually looking for, and where to find them? I have some idea, of course, but the danger is that I might preconceive things too specifically, which might block the open view that I need. I had no idea, really, that working in a certain way for twenty years can make it so difficult to do something else. Luckily, I’m not the kind of person to panic easily. Panicking while swimming in the middle of the ocean would definitely make me drown.