"I can go on the road–because I can come home. I come home–because I am free to leave. Each way of being is more valued in the presence of the other. This balance between making camp and following the seasons is both very ancient and very new We all need both."
–Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
Writer Abroad just finished a wonderful memoir by Gloria Steinem. The best part (sorry to spoil) was the above quote at the end. I think most travelers, expatriates, and repatriates can probably relate to it.
It wasn't until the end of Steinem's life that she actually had a permanent structure to call home. She traveled nomadically from place to place with her family and later, as an organizer. At the very end of her book she says:
"My father did not have to trade dying alone for the joys of the road. My mother did not have to give up a journey of her own to have a home. Neither do I. Neither do you."
In her repatriate way, Writer Abroad is discovering that you don't always need to live far from family to embrace the joys of traveling. Or to feel foreign (you can go to the local Asian grocery store for that). But what Writer Abroad is finding difficult in her home country is convincing her countrymen of the benefits of basic social programs that she enjoyed in Switzerland.
She tries to convince any American that will listen that really, it's ok to demand public transport that doesn't leave you stranded. It's ok to demand paid family leave. It's ok to demand a healthcare system that won't leave you in debt if you have a medical issue.
The hard thing (please someone explain why) is to find Americans who aren't afraid of a foreign version of better. Too many scream socialism in your face when they don't even understand its definition. This only shows Writer Abroad how badly some Americans need to travel. Because if you see the world, if you experience other ways of life, you come to understand that sometimes other nations have good ideas. America is not Denmark. Or Sweden. Or Switzerland. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't borrow some of their good ideas, does it?
After all, T.S. Eliot once said, "Good writers borrow. Great writers steal."
The same could be applied to nations too.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Writer Abroad has learned quite a bit about writing and democracy over the last few years. So much so, that she’s now shopping around a novel that deals with this very topic.
Unfortunately, much of what she’s learned, especially in the last few weeks, is very disturbing.
Most recently, there was this piece in The Nation: These Journalists Dedicated Their Lives to Telling Other People’s Stories. What Happens When No One Wants to Print Their Words Anymore? It talked about the end of journalism (and therefore democracy) as we know it.
Writer Abroad has experienced some of the things discussed in The Nation article and that’s why she really believes the end of journalism to be one of the most dangerous issues facing America today.
Here’s why. Once media companies (including some well-known newspapers you might recognize) force freelance writers like those mentioned in The Nation article to sign contracts that force them to be entirely liable for anything they write for that publication, you have basically ended journalism’s role in upholding democracy. Because how can any writer afford to write about controversial subjects and be held liable for their investigations—especially if they involve large corporations with huge pockets? They can’t. So the stories don’t get written.
This system is not fair to journalists and it’s not fair to Americans who rely on journalists to be watchdogs. What we have now is a media system that is owned by corporations and run by corporations and that only tells the stories the corporations want told.
What’s the solution? Well, instead of reading what the press has to say, we should try to read between the lines at what it is not saying. For example, even when Bernie Sanders wins a state in the democratic primaries, like Michigan, headlines about him are negative—he still doesn’t have a chance. To reinterpret these headlines without the corporate spin, they would probably read: Bernie Sanders takes his revolution to new heights scaring an establishment that depends on regular Americans to make up for their billion-dollar tax breaks.
What else tells Writer Abroad that something is wrong with journalism? Well, over the last year, Writer Abroad has published essays and articles on many topics and with many big publications. The topics that she’s been successful with are expat and repatriate life, work-life balance, and parenting, etc. But she can’t seem to get a positive essay about Bernie Sanders published anywhere. No. With those pieces come rejections and/or silence from the big media companies. It’s frustrating. And revealing.
What is the solution? Well, it may be up to writers and journalists to develop their own ways to get the stories out there. They can develop their own publishing companies, their own blogs or social networks, etc. For instance, Writer Abroad may post her pieces that are unacceptable to big media companies on her blog. Because while Writer Abroad would rather have a million readers than 10,000, she still thinks it’s more important that some of these topics get out there rather than having them sit, waiting for eternity, for the slim possibility that they will ever see the light of day on a corporate-owned publication masquerading as today’s American newspaper.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Writer Abroad loves being back in the U.S. for one main reason (besides being close to family): libraries. Writer Abroad loves libraries. Specifically libraries filled with English books (no offense to all the Swiss libraries filled with German books, of course).
Being an author, sometimes she thinks she should buy every book she reads to support her fellow writers. But the problem is, even though she has escaped her tiny Swiss apartment and moved into a big American house, there is still no place to put all the books she already has. Many are still sitting in their moving boxes in the basement over a year later. (God bless American basements.)
She could buy e-books, like she used to do when she was living abroad. But here’s a little secret: she’s old fashioned. She loves actual paper books. Holding them. Feeling their size and weight.
So sorry to any authors she may have offended, but Writer Abroad does use her local library almost every week. It’s a mere three blocks from her house. One of the main reasons she chose the location of her house.
She’s found some good books lately. Probably the best book she’s read this year is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It proves that you don’t need a long book to make a big statement. This book lets the reader see the world through the point of view of a black man in present day America. It is horrific, eye opening, and, if you’re not already a black American man, a way to see an outsider’s view of America without getting a passport.
Which is the dilemma, of course. It’s an outsider’s view of the U.S. told by an American in the U.S. No American should ever be subjected to such outsider status in their own country. But they are.
At one point, Coates says, “The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.”
That’s why, if you’re not an outsider in America, you must go outside of America to be able to write about your country in an honest way.
Moving to Switzerland was Writer Abroad’s solution to seeing her own country, which has inspired her next book, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, which she is working on now. She couldn’t be writing it without having left America. Sadly, Coates could have.
At one point, Coates makes a point about U.S. exceptionalism. He says we need to step outside of our country to see it for what it really is—often, a bully, both globally and locally. Going abroad, if you’re a white American, will probably make you come to similar conclusions. Or if you’re not going abroad, this book will give you an outsider perspective. It should be required reading for every American. For a majority of Americans, the book is a passport to another world: their own.
Have you read a good book about seeing America as an outsider lately?
Monday, February 1, 2016
Writer Abroad’s favorite kind of writing is the personal essay. When done right, a personal essay takes courage, honesty, and delivers the kind of power than only a real life story taken to the universal level can.
There were many markets Writer Abroad wrote personal essays for last year, and some of them were new to her. She’d like to share the places, both new and old, that she wrote essays for last year in hopes that they may help you find a new home for your work this year.
To help you decide where to send your work if pay and reach is important to you, Writer Abroad has also created this not-so-scientific pay and reach scale:
Pay scale: $ 400 and under, $$ 800 and under, $$$ 1200 and under
Reach: * Medium ** High *** Highest
(Reach was calculated based on the overall response from Writer Abroad’s articles and by how well the placed piece helped sell copies of her book. Obviously, this may vary based on the topic of your piece.)
New York Times Motherlode
The family section of the New York Times. From the personal to the political.
Essays should not be over 1,000 words.
Don’t spell Motherlode wrong!
Expect response within 2 weeks. If you don’t hear, follow up.
Need topics on teenagers. Needs more diverse writers.
Good submission: Unique views, strong voice, universal message.
More great info about what the editor is looking for at Beyond Your Blog.
New York Times On Work
A personal essay column about the working life.
About 1,500 words.
Appears online and in the Sunday Business section.
My example: An Alpine Antidote to Working Weekends
Washington Post On Parenting
A daily blog about parenting.
About 500-800 words.
My example: My daughter’s sick day means my sick day
Vox First Person
Personal stories that explain the news.
These were their favorites from 2015.
About 1,500 words.
My example: How living in Switzerland ruined me for America
An entire publication devoted to personal essays about motherhood.
Read their Submission Guidelines for more about the pitching process and kinds of pieces they are looking for.
My example: Why I’m Proud to be the Mom of the Mean Girl
Other good markets you cracked last year? Lave a comment with a link to your published piece and tell us more about it.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Writer Abroad has now been a full-time freelancer for a year. Therefore, she now has an accountant. As her accountant was finishing her estimated taxes for this year (this sucks, estimated taxes are the worst part of freelancing, people), she asked Writer Abroad if she would be expecting any bonuses.
Ha. Do freelancers get bonuses?
Well, here’s Writer Abroad’s bonus for the year: a pat on the back for braving the freelance world on a full-time basis. A pat on the back for being able to put the maximum possible into a solo retirement fund. And a pat on the back for turning down a six-figure job offer with a fancy title (an offer that was the result of a freelance job) when she knew in her heart that as tempting as it was, she wanted to work for herself.
It takes courage to be a full-time freelancer.
But wait. Should she call herself a freelancer? An article, Why I Stopped Calling Myself a Freelancer in Fast Company recently said that the term “freelancer” could be seen as unprofessional.
Personally, Writer Abroad believes calling yourself a freelancer is not unprofessional if you are a professional. If you’re working for yourself because you have a decade of experience and the connections to make it possible for you to work for yourself for a living wage, then why wouldn’t you? If you’re working for yourself because you want to work for yourself and not because you don’t have other options, then calling yourself a freelancer is something that should fill you with pride.
Nevertheless, Writer Abroad will be doing something about her “freelancer” title next year: she is forming her own LLC or corporation. This is another step towards cementing her love of working independently (and also a way to get rid of those horrific self-employment taxes the American government puts on people like us–why punish entrepreneurs, American government?).
In any case, Writer Abroad is thrilled to have built a career where working for herself is possible and especially thrilled to have chosen a career that fits her introverted tendencies perfectly.
So. Here’s to all writers who are dreaming of doing the same (have courage!) or are already doing it (congrats!). It really is wonderful.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
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.
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.