Tuesday, October 27, 2015

8 Things You Need to Be a Successful Essay Writer

Grüezi, essay writers. Over the weekend, Writer Abroad taught a course at the Zurich Writers Workshop called Miniature Memoir: How to Write and Publish Personal Essays.

Here are eight things you need to become a successful writer:

Excellent command of language
This is obvious, but if you can’t write a sentence and don't care to revise it between 4-104 times, you need not apply to be an essay writer.

Do you sit your butt in a chair almost every day and write? There’s no lightning bolt, so if you wait for it, you’ll be one of those writers who always dreams of being a writer but never becomes one. Treat writing like a job and it will become one. Treat writing like a hobby and it will remain a hobby.

You must want to write more than anything. Why? Because almost anything else is easier, even bioengineering. A book (or sadly, even an essay) can take years to write. If you can do something else, do it. If you can’t, congrats, you’re a writer. Now sit in the chair and believe in yourself (see number four). If you don’t have discipline, all the desire in the world doesn’t matter.

Strong ego
When do others believe in you? More often than not, after you first believed in yourself. Don’t be afraid to call yourself a writer—as long as you’re writing almost daily and you consider it your job—even if you’ve yet to be paid for your work. Believe and it will happen. Wait for others to approve you and it won't.

Sorry, but rejection is a part of the writing life. If you’re not being rejected, you’re not putting your writing out there enough. And you must not only deal with rejection gracefully, you must bounce back from it. Often rejection isn’t personal, so move on fast. Rejected? Send the piece to someone else. Do it. Now.

Any kind of writing takes a lot of courage—but personal essay writing and memoir probably takes the most. Because you can’t hide behind the façade of another character when the main character is you. The more personal your writing is and the more you’re scared to tell a certain story, the better it probably is. Good luck with that.

Separation from the page
You must be able to separate writing about your life from your actual life. This is very important when it comes to personal essays. Remember: when you put yourself on a page, it’s a portrayal of yourself. It is NOT you.

An ability that allows you to never read the comments
Do not click. Do not feel compelled to click. You should not care what JohnBoy123 thought about your piece. Be able to talk to the world at the same time you ignore it. Then you’ll have the courage it takes to put the next piece out there because you won’t still be questioning the comment from HeyImABitchYo about the latest piece you wrote.

Friday, September 18, 2015

On Inspiration and Ogunquit, Maine

Breaking New Grounds
Writer Abroad does not believe in writer’s block or in waiting for inspiration to strike. Sure, sometimes inspiration does strike, but it doesn’t happen often and waiting for it would mean she would never accomplish anything.

Writer Abroad also believes you can be inspired anywhere.  In a dark room with no windows. On a train. Or in an apartment. But it doesn’t hurt to seek an inspiring place to write sometimes.

Which brings us to Ogunquit, Maine and the most amazing coffee shop for writing that Writer Abroad has ever worked in. It’s called Breaking New Grounds. The pumpkin gelato is as great as the view. In case you don’t believe her, the view is below. Add in free Wi-Fi and an ocean view and you have a great place for working—if one of the most beautiful spots in the U.S. doesn’t distract you, that is.
View from Breaking New Grounds

Ogunquit has a history of inspiration—artists have come here to paint for decades. It’s gorgeous. And there’s a 1.25-mile path along the ocean, called Marginal Way. Contemplate work or chat with a friend on one (or all) of over 40 benches along this path from Perkins Cove to Shore Road.

This morning, before going to Breaking New Grounds, Writer Abroad ran along the Marginal Way and then took off her running shoes to run on the beach. The cold water soothed both her feet and her spirit. Sounds cliché but it’s proof that clichés can be great for inspiration too.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Writers with day jobs: do we live up to our potential?

Can we live up to our potential as writers if we have day jobs? This question has always haunted Writer Abroad. So imagine her delight when she found the memoir How Did I Get Here: Making Peace with the Road Not Taken?

In it, the author, Jesse Browner, who has worked for the United Nations for 20 years while also writing novels, argues that perhaps our day jobs make us better writers—we never have to worry about money, for one, and we don’t have to struggle to find the next freelance job either. This frees up our minds to concentrate on our art when we do have the time.

The book is especially relevant to Writer Abroad, since this is the first year she’s experimenting with full-time freelance writing versus working a full or a part-time job. And she has to say–she’s more stressed out from full-time freelancing than she was when she had a day job.

There’s the constant invoicing, the whims of random clients around the world, the unrealistic deadlines, the time zones that follow her no matter which one she’s in. It’s all adding up to one thing: exhaustion.

Now sure, there’s exhaustion in a day job too. But it’s a different kind of exhaustion. There are no invoices, no constant hustle for new assignments, no following up for unpaid or under-paid bills. The schedule is constant for those who are fortunate. Sometimes there’s even writing time during quiet periods.

But then again, Writer Abroad has to say—she’s never placed as many essays in big publications as she has this year. Is it because she is focusing only on freelance writing? Is it because by now she’s finally put in 10 years of constant writing so she’s mastered some basic writing skills? Or is it because her network has expanded to a point that’s finally beneficial?

It’s hard to say.

So what’s the conclusion? Can we be the complete artists we want to be even if we have day jobs? What do you think?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Bernie Effect Opens Doors for Expat Writers

An encouraging thing has happened since Writer Abroad tried to sell her book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, to traditional American publishers.

Americans are starting to care about the way things work in the rest of the world. Imagine that. We’re discussing paid leave, work-life balance, free higher education, and many other topics that citizens of other countries call normal but Americans still call progressive.

But this is changing. And Americans seem thirsty to hear about how they can have it better too.
Americans needs to hear from American
expats about the rest of the world. And there's never
 been a better time to join the discussion.

Writer Abroad calls this the Bernie Effect.

And it is opening doors for expat writers.

How? Well, before the Bernie Effect, American agents, publishers, and editors would say things like, “Well, no one cares about Switzerland. This won’t sell.”

But now, expat writer friends, there are a lot of outlets excited for stories about what Americans don't have in comparison to citizens of other countries. And who better to tell these stories than people who have lived in other countries—especially the ones with strong social systems?

Writer Abroad didn’t set out to write semi-political essays, but lately they’ve been popular. The piece in Vox, about how Switzerland ruined her for America and its lousy work-life culture has contributed to a larger discussion on the issue and she couldn’t be more thrilled. This week, she was honored to be a guest on HuffPost Live’s work-life balance discussion.

It’s fantastic that Americans are finally interested in these topics. Because we have a long way to go to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world in our policy making. But we’ve got to start somewhere. And expat writers can be a big part of the discussion. Have you contributed to this discussion at all? If so, how? If not, will you?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Learn to Write and Publish Personal Essays

The 2015 Zurich Writers Workshop just opened for registration. Writer Abroad will be teaching a workshop called Miniature Memoir: Writing and Publishing Personal Essays, in case you needed an excuse to attend a workshop or to visit Switzerland.

Fall 2015 Workshop will be held October 23-25, 2015
Here's why Writer Abroad believes her workshop is important: If you can master the personal essay, you can launch a writing career. In fact, writing a personal essay is one of the best ways to break into freelancing and get noticed as a writer. During Writer Abroad's workshop, she'll take you from essay idea to international writing career, one miniature memoir at a time.

Emylia Hall is the fiction author in residence during the workshop. The author of three novels, including one set in the Swiss Riviera, she'll be teaching a workshop on the craft of fiction with a focus on sense of place.

Writing aside, October is a stunning time to visit Switzerland. The leaves peak about the week of October 20th and there are no tourists but still plenty of sunshine. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Separating real life from the writing life

Last night Writer Abroad told Husband Abroad that she was doing pretty well separating herself from her work.

He replied, “But you ARE your work.”
The Vox Article
Writer Abroad disagreed. “No, I am not my work. I emotionally detach myself from anything I write after I write it,” she said.

He didn’t get it.

Is Husband Abroad his IT? Does being Manager of Lots of People define his soul? No. So being a writer shouldn’t define Writer Abroad’s—even when she’s writing about real life. Her life. 

So Writer Abroad added, “I can’t worr
Which lead to the tabloid article
y about what half a million people reading my latest piece think. I have to ignore their comments. Ignore, in a way, that my work is even out there—while at the same time promoting it."

Finally he said, “I guess I can’t relate. I get 5 likes on my Instagram photos.”

Here's the thing: I don’t think anyone who is not a writer—especially one who is writing personal essays or memoir—can relate to how one must go about living with having part of their soul out there. The key word, though, is part.

The world knows a small part of Writer Abroad’s story today. Her photos and an exaggerated version of the story are once again in one of Switzerland’s tabloids this evening. Her latest story was tweeted 1600 times and counting since yesterday. 53,000 Facebook shares. And counting. Which in turn sold over 50 books that tell yet another story about her life. The cycle of a writer goes on and on.

It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. But luckily, Writer Abroad has learned how to deal with readers knowing more about her life than she knows about theirs (even if some of them tell her quite a lot about their own story in their emails) by separating her life as it is shaped on a page and her life as it is in reality. It’s a subtle difference. But it’s an important one.

Do you separate yourself and your work? If so, how?

Monday, July 6, 2015

3 New Memoirs on Expat Life in Asia

If you're like Writer Abroad and love a good travel/expat memoir–specifically one that deals with Asian cultures, go East, dear blog reader, go East. In June, three new memoirs by women writers were published. One of the books is by Tracy Slater, who previously contributed to Writer Abroad back in 2013.

The Good Shufu is a true story of multicultural love, marriage, and mixups. When Tracy Slater, a highly independent American academic, falls head-over-heels in love with the least likely person in the world--a traditional Japanese salaryman who barely speaks English--she must choose between the existence she'd meticulously planned in the US and life as an illiterate housewife in Osaka. Rather than an ordinary travel memoir, this is a book about building a whole life in a language you don’t speak and a land you can barely navigate, and yet somehow finding a truer sense of home and meaning than ever before. A Summer ’15 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, The Good Shufu is a celebration of the life least expected:  messy, overwhelming, and deeply enriching in its complications.
Putnam/Penguin, June 30, 2015
When a bookish 22-year-old follows her Eurasian boyfriend to his hometown of Hong Kong, she thinks their long distance romance is over. 
But a month later his company sends him to London. She embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer's journey through Hong Kong—alone. 
The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she must make a choice between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Blacksmith Books, June 7, 2015 
At 30, Californian Leza Lowitz is single and traveling the world, which suits her just fine. Coming of age in Berkeley during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, she learned that marriage and family could wait. Or could they? When Leza moves to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man, her heart opens in ways she never thought possible. But she’s still an outsider, and home is far away. Rather than struggle to fit in, she opens a yoga studio and makes a home for others. Then, at 44, Leza and her Japanese husband seek to adopt—in a country where bloodlines are paramount and family ties are almost feudal in their cultural importance. She travels to India to work on herself and back to California to deal with her past. Something is still not complete until she learns that when you give a little love to a child, you get the whole world in return. The author’s deep connection to yoga shows her that infertile does not mean inconceivable. By adapting and adopting, she transcends her struggles and embraces the joys of motherhood.
Stonebridge Press, June 2015


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