Thursday, February 9, 2017

Writers, Money, and Careers, oh my.

Writer Abroad is reading the most amazing book. It talks candidly about writing and money. Yes, money.

Money? Stop the press. Aim the camera. Point it at something completely taboo: A writer talking about money. Actually, 33 writers talking about money.

What?

Writers never talk about money. And if they do, it’s usually in the vein of, Well, should I write for free? I mean, I’ll get exposure.

Stop with the exposure thing already. Stop.

Admittedly, Writer Abroad is only on page 29, but she’s in love with Manjula Martin’s new book, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Here’s the best line so far:

“People wonder when you’re allowed to call yourself a writer. I think maybe the answer is when you recognize that it (writing) is work.”

Wow, imagine that. Writing is work. And guess what? The writers who successfully write full time realize this. After all, do lawyers work for free? Do plumbers fix your water heater for free? Why do writers think they should be any different?

If you want to make writing a career here’s the hard truth: you have to talk about money. And you have to turn writing into work no matter how much you love it. And you have to also learn to say no. No to no pay. No to low pay. And no to bad contracts. Even if they mean publication. Especially if they mean publication.

Writer Abroad always turns down offers if they include no pay, low pay, or bad rights-grabbing contracts for work she knows she could use later. Working writers must do this. Why? Because they need time to write things for the publications and companies that actually respect the work they do. If writers write for people who don’t respect them, writers lose. There’s only so much time in a day.

In Scratch, there’s a great interview with Cheryl Strayed about how she had written a bestseller and still couldn’t pay the rent. These are things writers need to hear. Thank you, thank you, Manjula Martin, for this anthology.

Sometimes we need to stop talking about high art and start talking about how to live the life we want to live in order to create the things we want to create—even if, in the end, these things result in high art.

That’s why Writer Abroad is pleased to be on a panel entitled Career Paths in Writing at the next Zurich Writers Workshop, which will be held in May in Zurich, Switzerland. While on the panel, she hopes to expand on why writers need to think of writing as a business first and an art second. But for those who can’t attend—and even those who can—Scratch is the new must-read book for writers.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Travel Writing: The Best Escape for Writers in the U.S.

Happy New Year, Writers Abroad. Be glad, today, that you are abroad.

But for those in the U.S. like Writer Abroad is now, there is nothing like a strange new American presidency to make all Americans feel a little more foreign in our own country.

If there’s any consolation prize, the recent (and sure to be upcoming) American strangeness makes Writer Abroad feel less like a foreigner in her own country than she did after moving back two years ago from Switzerland.

When over half your country also seems confounded by its bizarre direction, it makes the last stages of repatriation a little easier somehow. Together, we are all foreigners in America these days. (This phenomenon is also making Writer Abroad’s upcoming book project, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, an even more interesting thing to write than she ever expected.)

Luckily, Writer Abroad often escapes into Switzerland, even from the United States. (Funny how that happens when you are writing a travel book about Switzerland.) Writing this travel book over the last three years has been a wonderful escape. After the book is published this spring, Writer Abroad will lose her daily excuse to escape into another world because she will be 100% focused on her book about American life. But she’s sure to find another excuse.

Speaking of escaping, here’s a piece she wrote this week for CNN Business Traveller about traveling in Davos, Switzerland. It was timed to run with the World Economic Forum, but really, Davos is a much better place to go when that conference is over. In fact, during the Forum, many places in Davos shut down for security reasons.

And for those of you who would like to escape to Switzerland to do a little writing this year, the Zurich Writers Workshop will be held May 12-14, 2017 in Zurich. Hmm…since Writer Abroad is both planning and attending this workshop, she actually will escape the U.S. for a little while once again. Care to join her?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Threaten to sue a newspaper and you threaten democracy. Here's why.

Donald Trump’s lawyers just threatened the New York Times.

As someone who has written for that paper and others as a freelancer, Writer Abroad has a problem with that.

As she’s previously written, it’s harder and harder to find real journalism these days.  And there’s a reason for that.

It’s because thanks to cuts, most newspapers have a very limited staff. They don’t have time to do investigative pieces—or the money to do them. Instead, they rely on freelancers to do, often times, a majority of their writing work. And guess what? Freelancers are more often than not, given horrible contracts.

Writer Abroad knows. She’s gotten lots of them. Fought them all. And won a few clauses here and there.

Now. Forget the terrible pay that most freelance journalists receive and think about the terrible contract instead. The contract that says, in a nutshell, “The freelancer is responsible for any legal fees arising from their reporting.”

Now think about Donald Trump.

If you were a journalist with a crappy newspaper contract, would you investigate him? Really, really investigate him?

Now think about democracy.

Can it really be upheld under these circumstances?

Our papers used to be the way we could read about issues without spin. The way we could investigate those who want to run for the highest—and even the lowest offices. We should know who is going to represent us and that’s why journalism is a big part of democracy. But if journalists are too legally and financially threatened to do their jobs, then we don’t have journalism. And then we don’t have democracy.

It didn’t seem like it could get worse. Trashing religions, trashing immigrants, trashing women, the list goes on and on in this year’s election. But when you threaten a newspaper, you are threatening a democracy that’s already fragile. That’s already mostly silenced thanks to a small elitist (and biased) group of media owners.

That’s why the threatening of a newspaper is the scariest thing that’s happened so far this election.

So if you do anything, writers, vote. While you still can.

That is all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When Articles Get "Internet Headlines"

Writer Abroad has had enough of the Internet lately. After going offline almost totally for a week and feeling much more at peace than she had for a long time, she realized that the Internet has been creating a lot of unnecessary angst in her life.

Sure, all the horrible events going on in the news lately are not helping. These things are not the Internet’s fault. But the Internet makes things horribly worse. Writer Abroad knows this inherently. It’s why she never reads the comments people make to her own articles. Because some of the articles she’s written have been given “Internet headlines” that purposely invoke strong emotions—whether the piece warrants them or not.

And that’s really the issue she has with the Internet. Today, any topic is dramatized. Drama creates sales. Creates likes. Creates sharing. Bias is in. Balanced, fair reporting, in most cases, is out. Today, with limited attention spans and unlimited information flying at us, it’s all about attention-grabbing, snack-able headlines. And not about much else.

How many times have you actually read an article and then read the comments? Most of the comments don’t even have anything to do with the article—they are just reactions to the emotional headline. And when headlines don’t match the article—or at least, the article’s tone, that’s a problem. As a culture, we’ve never had so much information, yet we’ve also never taken in so little of what we have.

Do you agree?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When a journalist becomes a content marketer

Writer Abroad just finished reading Dan Lyons’ book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble. The book was about Lyon’s journey going from Newsweek journalist to HubSpot content marketer.

Writer Abroad couldn’t help but sympathize. With Dan. With all journalists (and content marketers). And with the entire country, which is losing its journalists right and left.

But a journalist losing his job matters far beyond that individual. Because when journalists lose, all of us lose. If there’s anyone we don’t want being laid off or being treated badly, it’s our journalists. Because their treatment and success is tied strongly to the success of democracy.

So if presidential nominees can say they are banning entire publications like the Washington Post from covering their campaign, our country is in big trouble. Huge trouble.

No watchdogs. No democracy.

It’s bad enough already. Corporate-owned media dominates. Independent voices that get heard are few. Luckily there are some good ones, like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, which she founded in 1996 with the motto of “going where the silence is.”

Speaking at Lit Fest in Chicago on June 11, Amy Goodman discussed how the corporate media doesn’t cover the views of the majority. Instead, they are a tool to silence the majority. She cited Super Tuesday 3. On this day, instead of showing Bernie Sanders' speech in Phoenix, Arizona, which was more highly attended than any other candidates’ speech in the country that night, Fox News showed Donald Trump’s empty podium for 20 minutes instead.

“Media can be the greatest force for peace on earth. Or its greatest enemy,” said Goodman to her Chicago audience.

Writer Abroad thinks it’s pretty clear which version of the media the United States has right now.



Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Remote Work: Perfect for Writer Types

Writer Abroad has been working 100% remotely for 1.5 years now. And it’s mostly wonderful. In fact, it can be downright amazing to spend a day working on global projects with people from several countries without ever leaving your home office.

Now that Writer Abroad has her very officially incorporated company, Cross Border Content Inc., she stays local but works global. (And for those who are wondering: Writer Abroad had to legally put the “Inc.” in her company name but still doesn’t really like its corporate-ness.)

In any case, for those writer-types interested in remote work, Writer Abroad just finished a wonderful book called Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It makes two great points: 1) Great remote workers are simply great workers. And 2) great remote workers must be good writers.

According to the authors, remote work “gives back the edge to quiet-but-productive workers who often lose out in a traditional office environment. In a remote setup, you don’t need to constantly boast about the quality of your stuff…if you’re all talk and no walk, it’s painfully clear for all to see.”

This is especially important for writers working in countries where extroversion is the preferred personality type. Where go-getting and teamwork is the mantra—even for those writing copy. (I'm talking about you, America.)

Which brings Writer Abroad to her latest essay, which ran on salon.com last month: The unapologetic introvert—why I had to leave the U.S. to stop pretending to be an extrovert. 

Yes, it was quiet, introverted Switzerland that taught Writer Abroad there was nothing wrong with her personality. So now she celebrates her introverted-ness daily—even in America—by working remotely with the world. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

My editor was fired. And other American writing curiosities.

Now she knows: During her freelance writing career, Writer Abroad has been fortunate. She has never before had a piece accepted, edited, a contract signed, and then, after turning in the final edit after many hours of work, had a piece fall into a black hole only to find out via Facebook of all places that the editor of her piece was laid off.

It seems like a common problem in the United States, based on other writers’ experiences, but the entire situation—trying to email the publication’s other editors only to get no reply on the piece’s status, along with silence from the contract department—feels rude and unprofessional.

So many American publications rely heavily on their freelance writers, and yet, treat them horribly at the same time. It makes Writer Abroad wonder—why do we, as American writers, accept such treatment?

Why do American writers accept things like work for hire contracts, poor pay, no pay, or lack of respect? Because when one of us accepts that, it forces others to enter into these kinds of situations as well. And while Writer Abroad won’t write for free, always asks for a better contract, and doesn’t mind saying “no” anymore, the lack of respect situation, like the one she has just experienced, she has no answer for how to handle, other than to shrug it off and move on.

But here’s what bothers her: there is a lack of respect for many employees and contractors across the United States these days. The fact is, editor layoff situation Writer Abroad just experienced wouldn't have happened in other parts of the world. That’s why Writer Abroad thinks Americans need to fight back and realize that some of this horrible treatment is an American phenomenon. We deserve better.

In Switzerland, for example, if you are laid off, you have a three-month notice period. This means you can finish up projects and collect what you need for three months before you are simply cut off from your employment world.

When Writer Abroad’s editor at a Swiss publication was laid off, for example, Writer Abroad knew in advance and then could work together with her to finish up pieces that were in process. There was no silence. No piece half-done and left hanging. No rude lack of reply for a piece that she had put hours of work into. And while no system is perfect (since knowing you are laid off and still having to work for three months brings on its own issues), it sure beats the rudeness that comes from the immediacy of an American firing.

What do you think?





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