Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays

Just wanted to say Frohe Weihnachten und ein gutes neues Jahr. Thanks for joining me on the adventure of being a writer abroad.

To honor the traditional European lifestyle of shutting down for holidays (versus my former American version included maybe two days off), Writer Abroad will be enjoying Christmas in the true European fashion by taking a break from posting until the new year. After all, what's the point of being a writer abroad if you don't take advantages of the new lifestyle? Especially if you live above a cafe where people do nothing except sip cappuccinos for hours on end. It's time to finally join them. Cheers.

How will you be enjoying the holidays? Will you be taking a break from writing like me or trying to get extra writing done?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Eight Good Things For Writers To Bring Abroad, Part One

Let’s face it. There are certain things that still make being a writer abroad harder than being a writer at home. Unfulfilled cravings for Kraft Mac & Cheese. Foreign keyboards where typing the “@” key turns into an all-day affair. Not to mention those pesky magazines back home that still request that queries be sent by mail.

But. There are ways to guard against all of these pitfalls. It’s called being prepared. So before you move abroad, or on your next visit home, here are some of the necessities you should consider bringing back with you: 

  1. A laptop. Yes, you can buy a laptop anywhere, but no, they are not all considered equal. (And I’m not talking Mac or PC here, although my husband might want to argue about that again soon). To make things easier (and most likely cheaper—at least if you’re from the U.S.), buy a laptop before you leave home. Then you can avoid things like umlaut keys and a Microsoft Office that speaks a language other than yours. Just make sure to disguise your new purchase going through the airport (i.e. don’t walk through customs with your laptop in a shiny shopping bag boxed in its original packaging.)
  2. Stamps from your home country. While it is almost 2010, some magazines, editors and agents are still requesting stuff by snail mail à la 1985. So you can either avoid these publications and people, or you can make your life easier by buying a set of stamps for those pesky SASE envelopes. The best bet, at least in the U.S., is to buy a set of FOREVER stamps. These don’t have a price printed on them, so when the rate for a stamp increases, these are still good. Thank God. Because I’ve been using my roll now for over three years.
  3. A home-country based phone number. Before you go abroad, make your life (and your current clients’ lives) easier by establishing a phone number where they can reach you without having to dial a scary “+” (moms like this too). Go to Skype.com and for about $30 a year, you can have a number with an area code (and country) of your choosing. With a 212 area code, for example, you can live in Switzerland but still never seem far away from your New York clients. By setting up Skype forwarding, your client can make a “local” call, and your phone halfway around the world will ring.
  4. Current magazines. If you write for magazines or newspapers, you’ll want to keep current with the latest. But depending on where you live, the magazines may be difficult to find and also extremely expensive (think $14 for one copy of Travel and Leisure at the local Kiosk in Switzerland). While subscribing to a few magazines is an option, international subscriptions can be pricey. So when I’m home, I visit my favorite half-price bookstore, and stock up on various magazines where they’re sold for $1-2 each.
Stay tuned for Part Two next week. But in the meantime, if you're a writer abroad, what things do you find necessary to bring back from your home country?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eight Good Markets for Writers Abroad, Part Two

Whether you’re living abroad or just dreaming of it, the following are good markets to consider for your work. For Part One in this series, visit my guest post over on The Urban Muse.

5) Expat Lit 

Expatlit is a new literary magazine designed especially for writers living abroad. The journal is published twice a year in the spring and fall and they accept short fiction, essays, poetry, and visual art. While they don’t yet pay their contributors, they do accept previously published work. 

6) Transitions Abroad

Transitions Abroad is a webzine for people living (and traveling) abroad. Besides sponsoring several yearly contests including the Expatriate and Work Abroad Writing Contest , they look for articles that provide practical information on living and traveling abroad. They are currently looking for articles on working abroad, studying and student travel abroad, living abroad, and budget travel. For more information, see the writer’s guidelines.

7) The New York Times Magazine Lives Column

Search previously published Lives essays, and you’ll see that a lot of them have an international angle—dealing with H1N1 in China, talking about being a refugee in Eritrea and Ethiopia, having a picnic in North Korea. These topics are all good signs that despite being a competitive market (they currently receive around 4,000 submission for 52 slots a year), as a writer abroad, you may have a slight advantage if your essay has an international slant.

8) English Language Publications in Your Country

Ok, this is vague because I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but it seems that many countries have magazines especially written for the expat/English speaking market. These are perfect publications for you to target because the writing competition will be lower. In Switzerland, for example, the population of foreigners is about 1.6 million, so the number of writers you’re competing with will be much lower than if you pitch a U.S. publication. Don’t forget websites and radio stations either. I can’t speak for other countries, but in Switzerland, some English-language media to consider are:

Swiss News (the National English Journal of Switzerland)

Inside Switzerland (Fashion and Style in Switzerland)

Hello Switzerland (general magazine with articles written by expats)

World Radio Switzerland (the only English radio station)

Swiss Info (news website written in about nine languages)

Keep in mind that some publications can't pay you unless you already have a valid work permit.

Are you a writer abroad? If so, what markets have you found accepting of your work?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to become more creative? Live abroad.

According to a recent study by a professor at INSEAD, living abroad can make you more creative. I can't help but agree. Because when you're in a new culture and dealing with an unfamiliar language, you are forced to be creative every day. Little things you took for granted before will suddenly become major creative triumphs--like typing the "@" key on a German keyboard. Even getting rid of your Christmas tree can turn into a major creative event when you've missed the one tree-pickup day in your town.

I also find that living in a country that doesn't speak my language makes me want to escape to writing in my English world all the more. Writing becomes not just something I want to do, but something I have to do to keep myself sane. Since living abroad, I've become more prolific, have more ideas that ever before, and am constantly feeling inspired by the weird things that happen to me in Switzerland that just couldn't happen anywhere else.

How about you? If you live abroad, do you think you've become more creative because of it?

Monday, December 7, 2009

How do you write an expat bestseller?

Toma Haines, an American writer and entrepreneur living in Berlin, sent me this link about writing an expat bestseller a few weeks ago and I wanted to share it in case, like me, you're working on a book about life abroad. While some of the information in the article seems a bit obvious, I think the most important point is that the book you're writing (or wanting to write) must have a universal take-away. Of course, it also helps (at least with a memoir), if you went through a lot of crazy stuff and changed as a person because of it.

I recently took a memoir writing class (through mediabistro.com) and we spent a lot of time trying to nail down the theme for our books. Sometimes this is tough to do because the theme may not be obvious right away. But once you do have the theme, it can help you decide which scenes should go in the book and which should come out.

But I think it's important to realize that you can write the book first and then go back and try to decipher the theme as you revise. In any case, I prefer not to analyze theme to death like was done in high school English, but rather let it show itself to me. Just a personal choice.

While the odds of publishing a book are tough, as best-selling expat writer Maya Frost told us last week, it's best to believe that you and your book will succeed.

Are you working on a book? If so, are you paying attention to the theme as you write it? Or worrying about it later?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Writer Interview: Maya Frost in Argentina

Maya Frost is an American writer living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her first book, The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education, has been featured in The New York Times and many other publications. If that weren't enough to make us all envious, she landed the book deal pitching only 10 agents, went from Facebook to fame, and has already finished her second book and is working on her third. Her success is definitely an inspiration to all of us writers abroad. Find out here how she achieved it.

Before you became a writer living in Argentina, you owned an export company, a retro/vintage clothing store and a snowboard/skateboard shop. What did being an entrepreneur teach you about writing and selling a book?

Being an entrepreneur really helped me trust my instincts. I was not part of a writers’ group and nobody even read my manuscript other than my husband before I sent it off to my editor—and she made very few changes. Being comfortable with my voice as a writer and being really passionate and confident about my subject allowed me to dig into the work on my own without anyone looking over my shoulder--and that’s a pretty key quality for a successful entrepreneur!

Having a business taught me that you have to keep coming up with new ideas about how to connect with your customers. Because I’d spent the last few years selling my mindfulness courses and consulting online, I had learned about tools I could use to connect with people virtually, and that was a huge bonus since I was doing most of the book stuff from Argentina! Even with a big publisher, you’re pretty much left to your own devices when it comes to pitching media and setting up a book tour. It’s all about being proactive and following through—but also knowing when to stop what isn’t working and head in a different direction. Between being an entrepreneur and being a mindfulness trainer, I think I had the perfect preparation for writing, publishing and marketing a book!

The New Global Student was your first book. Could you talk a little about the process of writing this book and how your life abroad inspired it?

In 2005, my husband and I decided to sell everything and leave our suburban American lifestyle behind in order to have an adventure abroad. There were some big challenges: we didn’t speak the language, we had no contacts where we were going, our income was in the mid-five figures, and we were staring at four nearly simultaneous college tuitions in the near future! We had to figure out how to usher our four teenage daughters through high school and into college in nontraditional ways. Fortunately, we stumbled upon some stunningly advantageous options that any U.S. student can use to leapfrog over their test-dazed classmates and get a great global education without spending a fortune.

I knew that there were thousands of families in the U.S. struggling with the college admissions process and dreading the costs, and I really wanted to share our experience in order to give them ideas and inspiration to do things differently. I decided I should write a book about the topic and have it published in the States.

More challenges: I had zero contacts in publishing, no relevant platform, and was living thousands of miles away from any English writers’ conventions or other schmooze-fests where I might meet an agent. All I had was email! So, I sent a three-paragraph email pitch describing my idea for the book to ten agents I’d researched online. Within 24 hours, I received five requests for a full proposal! Within a few weeks, I had an enthusiastic agent, an excited editor and a nice advance from Random House. It took me about eight months to write the manuscript. I navigated the entire process—from pitch to publication—entirely via email from Argentina. In fact, I didn’t meet my agent or editor until my book was already on the shelves!

I saw that in your book you have a “Snappy Comeback Cheat Sheet” for people that are naysayers of one’s international dreams. Could you share one or two of these comebacks for us writers abroad?

If you’re transferred abroad by your company, your friends and family will have a big party for you, wave you off at the airport and wish you well because after all, it wasn’t your choice to leave them. But if you move abroad simply because you want to, they are more likely to feel abandoned or judged. We need to deal with them (and the fear and criticism they throw your way) without getting defensive or snarky—and that can be tough! It works best to respond with information rather than emotion –“here’s what I’ve learned” rather than “I’m sick of this place”. And it always helps to preface everything with “I’m going to miss you like crazy, but I’m excited about…” They want to hear that you are important to them, but that you’ve just got this wild hair and you know you’ll regret it if you don’t give it a shot. It also helps to describe the move as being “temporary” or “a test”--even if you plan to stay abroad forever. Of course, all of this is easier if you already have a reputation for being a little flakey—they’ll be less likely to take your departure personally!

When it comes to writing, the same thing is true—you have to deal with the naysayers who will tell you all about the pitfalls of publishing and explain that the odds are against you. You cannot let them stand in your way. My advice: discount (or ignore) the opinions of those who have not been successful and find strength and inspiration in the stories of those who are published and proud! I think the best way to deal with negativity is to say, “I know it might be an uphill climb, but I’m putting on my boots anyway!” Avoid anyone who makes you feel like 1) a bad writer, 2) an incapable person and 3) someone too clueless to understand the risk of failure. Just lace up those writing boots and get moving!

In your author bio on amazon, it states that you’ve used creativity to shine in less than ideal conditions. Can you talk a bit about this and how you used your creativity to write and sell The New Global Student?

Those who spend time living abroad develop a great set of creative problem-solving skills. We have to—every day brings new challenges and we are constantly required to come up with new ways to handle situations when we’re not fluent or familiar with the local culture. And even when we do become fluent and familiar, we’ve got to adapt continuously in order to thrive.

I think that what gave me energy and motivation to write and promote The New Global Student was the fact that I’d already been successful doing things in a nontraditional way. My girls had very unorthodox educations, but they also managed to graduate from a US or Canadian college by 19 with outrageous global experience and no debt. I knew that the mainstream parents who are most attached to the traditional education path wouldn’t be likely to embrace my book, but that’s okay—I was focusing on helping those who were ready and willing to try something new! It’s paralyzing to try to please everyone--I was very conscious about writing the stories and tips that I felt would be most appreciated and of value to those who were most likely to buy and read the book.

Actually, I think it was a blessing for me to be able to write the book while living abroad. I couldn’t walk into a Barnes & Noble and freak out about the number of books on the shelves! And although I was reading a lot of blogs and other online resources on my topic every day, I wasn’t caught up in worries about what the critics might think of my book or whether the country was ready for my message or whatever. I just wrote what I thought would be useful and fun to read—and it ended up being a lot of fun for me. I loved every minute of writing this book!

Some naysayers like to remind us writers that it’s harder to publish a book if we’re living abroad. What would you say to these people?

Well, the reality is that it’s no harder to write and publish a book from abroad than it is from your own hometown—but it is more challenging to market it! You have to be willing to invest time, energy and money in the promotion process—and unfortunately, that can mean buying your own plane tickets (more of them if you live abroad), paying for your hotel and food costs, etc. Don’t expect a publisher to pay for things—those days are over, unless you happen to be writing about wizards or vampires. But it’s still very doable—it doesn’t matter where you live as long as you have a reasonably original idea, a great target market, and the motivation to make it all happen. Plus, there’s nothing like a book tour to give you an excuse to visit long-lost friends and family in distant cities! And it certainly feels like a bit of a triumph to return home as a published author. ;-)

Your book is selling quite well. How have you gone about promoting it from abroad?

It’s close to its fourth printing now—it was published in May—so that’s pretty thrilling. My husband and I went to New York for the “book launch”—basically, we just had a very casual party on my daughter’s roof and then focused on meeting with small groups of readers who were passionate about the book’s topic. I was given some excellent advice about a book party: never pay for one (publishers rarely cover it) unless you have 1) plenty of money or 2) a need to see lots of people drinking the champagne you’ve paid for. Also, think of your publisher as a book distributor and nothing more—they get the books in the stores, and your job is to get the word out. Sure, they’ll send out books to media, but these people get TONS of press releases and free books all the time, so you can’t count on getting their attention that way.

The trick is to find ways to contact media people personally and build a relationship with them. I got a half-page feature in USA Today because I had friended the journalist on Facebook a year earlier—I’d read his pieces on education, sent him an appreciative message, and it turned out that he had two daughters and was interested in my topic. If I’d pitched USA Today directly, I certainly would not have had that article published, but I corresponded with Greg for months prior to the launch and sent him an advance copy--he was genuinely interested and we had a nice conversation back and forth. Two days after that article came out, I was invited to do NPR’s fastest-growing talk show—“On Point” with Tom Ashbrook in Boston. Tom had spent time abroad—as had his producers—and they saw and loved the USA Today piece about giving kids a chance to learn more about themselves and the world. That show pushed us up to #100 on Amazon. And it was all because I friended Greg on Facebook a year earlier! Most writers (and others) who live abroad are already adept at making and maintaining connections virtually, and that is a huge advantage when it comes to publishing and promoting a book.

Do you think there is a thirst for books on international living in the United States right now? Why?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, EscapeFromAmerica.com has nearly 400,000 subscribers! There’s tremendous interest in living abroad and people are very curious about those who are doing it successfully. Some of it is pure escapism—they may never move abroad but they love the idea of it and want to read stories about those who do it. But more and more people are reaching that tipping point when it all seems possible and they run out of reasons to avoid going.

You mention that all of us have a bit of bold in us wanting to come out. What would you say to someone like me, who at one point was scared to give up her “secure” job in the U.S. for an international adventure abroad? (Thank God I got over that).

Find your tribe—even if it’s online. It’s so valuable to find voices of hope and encouragement outside your change-resistant circle and to connect with those who are also excited about having an adventure abroad. A single conversation or event can motivate you to take a chance, and if you already have your cheerleaders standing by, making a big jump is a lot easier! But please don’t forget that it’s entirely possible to make that decision without the support of others--and to be very, very glad you did. You don’t have to know the specifics about how it’s all going to work out—you just have to believe that it will.

Can you talk a little about your upcoming projects? You’ve just completed your second book about a group of expats from around the world who create new lives for themselves in Buenos Aires and you’re writing a third book.

I finished my second book a few months ago—a quirky fable about a group of expat solopreneurs starting little businesses in Buenos Aires. I had a blast writing it—I basically put all my expat friends in a blender (figuratively!) and created characters with interesting stories and business ventures. I wanted to give readers a realistic idea about the range of people who go abroad and the creative ideas they come up with for making a living. Some projects are successful, some are not—but that’s true for entrepreneurs everywhere! My agent is shopping this book now, and I’m working on another one that’s similar but based in Uruguay. I’d love to write more books with the same theme and main character but based in other places.

Because of the success of The New Global Student, my husband and I have been working by phone and email with American parents who want to avoid the angst and expense of the traditional college-prep process. But we’ve also become sort of the go-to guides for families considering an extended sabbatical or move abroad. There are a lot of “lifestyle designers” out there these days, and most are single and childless. We’re a little older (late forties) and wiser--we’ve lived abroad in several places at different stages of life and with kids of all ages--and we’ve had to figure out how to do the school thing as well as make enough money to support a family and pay for college! We love helping parents who are thinking about giving their kids—and themselves!—an exciting and challenging experience in a new place.

Maya Frost is an American writer, mindfulness trainer, parent educator and creative lifestyle designer living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Through her company, Real-World Mindfulness Training, she has taught thousands of people how to pay attention to what matters most. Her first book, The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education, has been featured in The New York Times and many other publications—The Boston Globe called it “funny, innovative and meaningful—a how-to guide with heart.” To learn more about Maya and her work, visit MayaFrost.com

Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest Post: The Oxford University Creative Writing Summer School

by Emily Lacika

There are many great things about being a writer based in Switzerland. The misadventure of daily life is fodder enough for excellent material, and the opportunities for travel, well, that speaks for itself. However, there is a lack of creative writing programs conducted in English. So, wanting to take some time to work on my craft, I started looking for options online, and that's how I discovered the Oxford University Creative Writing Summer School.

The program sounded fabulous: three weeks of creative writing while staying in one of the Oxford Colleges, miles away from such intrusive things like laundry schedules and language classes. Priced at two thousand pounds, the program was not cheap, but at least with Oxford's proximity to Zurich, there would be no jet lag to contend with.

To apply to the program, you had to (1) provide a statement of intent, (2) procure a letter of reference, and (3) put together a portfolio of your writing that was relevant to your first-choice workshops. (When I applied, there were six workshops to choose from. I chose the Writing Fiction and the Writing Lives workshops.) After a week of frantic editing, I pulled off a respectable application. Needless to say that I was ecstatic when I learned that I was accepted into the 2008 program.

The program was held at Exeter College one of the oldest colleges in the Oxford University system, and being based there was spiritual from a writing perspective. The call to write was just about everywhere. My room, at the top of eighty stairs, had the most amazing view of the town's famed spires. The dining hall inspired one of the settings in Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass and the father of Middle Earth himself, J.R.R. Tolkien, was an alum. In fact, a bust of the famous Inkling was illuminated under an incandescent halo in the college chapel.

The director warned us at the start that they planned to work us hard, and work us hard they did. Workshops were scheduled to meet Monday through Thursday, and each workshop met twice a week. Every day, there was a plenary lecture with topics ranging from readings and discussions conducted by writers in different media (novels, biographies, poetry, drama, screenwriting, etc.) to the business side of writing (publishers, agents and booksellers.) With all that on our plates, it was a wonder that I ever found the time to complete both the short and long assignments, as well as forming critique groups with the other writers in the program.

What I enjoyed most about the program was the camaraderie. Writing can be a lonely, existential-crisis-inducing experience, especially when living in a non-English speaking country. Going into the Oxford summer course, I expected lots of constructive feedback and lengthy meta-discussions about writing, but I did not think about the type of environment that would flourish when you threw thirty writers together from around the globe. For me, the friendships formed proved to be the most invaluable part of the entire program.

Emily Lacika moved to Zurich from Boston in 2005 and tries to maintain a precarious balance between writing and the other projects in her life: traveling, language learning, lindy-hopping, and trying to not irritate her neighbors when practicing the fiddle. You can follow her musings at her blog.

Have you participated in a writing program abroad? If so, Writer Abroad wants to hear about it. Please leave a comment or contact Chantal about writing a guest post.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Writer Interview: Paul Allen in Spain

When my husband was first given an offer to work in Switzerland, the first thing I did was ask the question, "should I move abroad?" Unfortunately, I asked Google, and Google didn't really have an answer for that. But British writer and journalist Paul Allen does. He's written a book called, "Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth about Moving Abroad and Whether it's Right for You," and I can't help but wish it would have been available four years ago, when I was first deciding whether or not to move to Switzerland. A writer abroad himself, Paul Allen now lives in northern Spain and joins us to talk about his book and about being a writer in Spain.

You're a British freelance journalist and writer living in Spain. How did you end up there?

My wife’s parents used to own an apartment here, and so my wife had been coming to this region on holiday for years. I first visited in 1997, when we spent five months traveling around Spain, which instilled in both of us a passion for the country. Then after living in the States for a year for work we both decided we’d like to try moving abroad permanently – and Spain seemed the obvious destination.

What do you like most about living in Spain? Is it a good place to live as a writer and journalist?

Coming from Britain, the climate was a big lure. The joy of guaranteed summers, knowing we can go to the beach and swim in turquoise waters, cannot be overstated. I like that there are definite seasons in this part of the country too though, with Pyrenean ski resorts just a two-hour drive away.

The warmth of the people, and especially the way they dote on children, is another great feature about Spain. As is the grip they retain on their traditional customs and celebrations. Spaniards have a keen sense of their history, and seem to have at least as much a foot in the past as they do in the present. So while it is a thoroughly modern country in many respects, ancient practices, crafts, festivals and beliefs remain much in evidence.

As for a location as a writer, the wealth of Spain’s culture, the colour of its people and beauty of its landscapes are, of course, a fertile source of material. Inspiration is never far away.

However, from a practical work perspective, location is no longer the issue it once was. Most of the publications I write for as a journalist are based in London or New York, while the people I interview for articles come from around the world. Likewise, readers of my book and Moving Abroad-opedia newsletter are spread across the globe. So with a phone line and internet access, writers now have the ability to work from anywhere, which is liberating.

You've written a book called "Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether it's Right for You," about the key areas people need to consider when contemplating a move abroad. Could you give us a hint as to what some of the important things are that we should consider?

By far the most important factor is how you will cope with being separated from family and friends. It’s an issue that comes up in surveys and anecdotal conversations time and again, and should not be underestimated.

Work options and opportunities are crucial too. Work defines how we spend the majority of our waking hours, who we spend them with, the housing and material possessions we can afford, and the opportunities available in our leisure time. Work also provides us with a sense of identity. So the income-generating possibilities you face will have a big influence on your living abroad experiences.

One of the interviewees in my book described how moving to Canada gave her the chance to rise to the position of CEO of a healthcare facility, something she didn’t think would have been possible if she had remained in Britain. At the same time, while many Brits have relocated to Spain, one Spanish respondent said she lives in Britain in large part because of the employment opportunities it offers compared to her homeland.

And ultimately there is the question of regrets. If moving abroad is something you still yearn to do after weighing up the other considerations I detail in the book, then go for it. Better to go and try, than wonder ‘what if.’

Any other projects in the works?

My Moving Abroad-opedia newsletter and blog posts are ongoing projects. I am also working on a corporate version of my Should I Stay or Should I Go book, which is specifically aimed at helping employees decide whether they should take up an international assignment with their companies.

In addition I am writing a screenplay ... so any movie producers out there please feel free to get in touch!

What's the best part about living abroad as a writer?

That you are taken out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. It forces you both to look at the external world around you more, as well as to look inside yourself for strength and motivation.

Living abroad also offers a certain mental freedom. Because people don’t know you from way back, you aren’t burdened by any weight of history or expectation as to who you are and what you do. You can be yourself without preconception or judgement.

What's the most challenging part about living abroad as a writer?

That you are taken out of your comfort zone. Navigating an alien country and culture can be hard work, and everything seems to take longer – time and energy I’d prefer to put into writing.

What would you say to other writers thinking of living abroad?

Do it. If it goes well then your life will be all the richer. And if it doesn’t work out you can always return home, and now you’ll have a head full of experience to draw upon. Writing benefits from a life embraced.

Anything else to add?

I think living abroad can be a wonderful experience. I’ve done it, and am immensely glad I did.

But the idea of living abroad seems to have become a panacea for many people, a hope that it will right all the things they see wrong with their current lives. It’s not the abroad bit that matters though, it’s the living. For all of us, finding a life that fills us with meaning, hope and happiness should be the real goal, wherever that happens to be.

Paul Allen is a freelance journalist and writer who has lived in northern Spain since 2003. He is the author of "Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth About Moving Abroad And Whether It's Right For You," a comprehensive guide for anyone seeking advice on whether or not to move abroad.

For more details about the book, and free information and advice on moving and living overseas, visit his website.

You can also follow Paul’s blog.

Friday, November 20, 2009

5 Ways to Establish Yourself as a Writer Abroad

In the previous post about the financial realities of working as a writer abroad, you’ll see that depending on the cost of living in your country, it’s probably best to establish yourself in the local writing community in order to make a decent living wage for the place you live. (Unless you live in Panama, where those $6 blog posts might actually make you rich).

Work permits and other legal issues aside (that’s a topic for another day--make that days), how do you go from rags to riches? (Sorry, you don’t. You’re a writer.) But here are some things to consider in order to establish yourself:

1. Keep a blog and keep it updated. This sounds obvious, but after I started posting to my expat blog One Big Yodel regularly for about two years (yes, it takes time--and you also have to promote it too), I gained a few of things: a voice, a loyal readership, and a few writing offers. A couple weeks ago, before I was about to be interviewed on a Swiss radio station, the director of the station told me, “Be as sarcastic as possible.” I laughed, but in a way, it was a compliment. It meant I had established a voice and people were starting to recognize it.

2. Learn the language. I’m still working on this one (three-week intensive German, here I come), but when you learn the language of your country you learn things about the people, the culture, and the surroundings that visitors and tourists just won’t. You’ll have insights that are fresh, honest, and unique. And most importantly, you’ll be able to make friends with the locals. I just pitched a Swiss magazine and got assigned a feature story about a fight for women’s rights that I never would have known about if it hadn’t been for a Swiss friend of mine.

3. Write for free. Ok, this sucks. But it worked for me so that’s why I’m mentioning it. If your country is anything like Switzerland, there’s probably some kind of expat magazine or newsletter that gets distributed a few times a year and needs writers like you. When I first arrived, I wrote for Hello Zurich (now Hello Switzerland) a couple of times. Then, when I interviewed to write for a paying magazine, the editor already knew my style and I was able to establish my own column.

4. Make business cards. Lawyers have them and they feel important. You can too. Plus it just makes you look serious about what you do. There are so many wannabe expat writers out there and you need to separate yourself from them. A website will help you do this too.

5. Network. (Hint: the more alcohol you drink, the better your foreign language skills will get.) But forget about that. Social networking makes it easier than ever for introverts like us to make ourselves known. If you want to write for a well-known blog, leave comments on the posts. To get your name out there, network with other bloggers and write guest posts that link back to your blog. If you admire a certain writer that’s already established in your country or city, email them and ask to meet for a coffee.

But enough about what I think. What have you done to establish yourself either as a writer abroad or a writer at home?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Financial Realities of being a Writer Abroad

You know how sometimes when you're in the U.S. and you call a toll-free number, someone answers that you can barely understand because you've actually just called halfway around the world?

Well, the reality is, that travel blog about London might be written by some guy living in Mumbai. That piece about the Paris metro? Written by someone in China. Why is this, when there are all of these wonderful writers living abroad in the cities people want to read about?

Financial realities. The companies running these sites (sorry, not naming names here) want the information about cities like Paris, Zurich, and London. But they don't want to pay the prices that writers living in these places need to survive. It's globalization at its finest. And sometimes as writers abroad, we lose.

For example, let's talk about living in Switzerland because that's where I live. Switzerland is an expensive place. If you don't believe me, try going to the Subway sandwich chain that just opened in my little town. The price of a foot-long value meal? $18.

Ok, so if I have to pay $18 for lunch, do you think I'm going to want to write about Switzerland for a travel blog that pays its writers $6 a post? No way. I'd make more money working as a cashier at the grocery store, because they make $20 an hour.

But if I write a blog post for a proper Swiss company, what can I expect? About $110 a post.

Before you start planning your move to Switzerland, remember: yes, you can make a decent wage writing for Swiss companies. But when you start freelancing for places outside of Switzerland, suddenly the wages you're making will barely pay for your lunch.

Something to consider before we all start moving to Panama.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Writer Interview: Celeste Brash in Tahiti

Celeste Brash is a travel writer in Tahiti and before we all kill ourselves with jealousy, let's hear what she has to say about being a member of the rare species, Writer Abroad Without A Need For Slipper Boots.

Can you tell us how you ended up in Tahiti and how long you’ve been living abroad?

I've been living in French Polynesia for nearly 15 years now but I had visited twice before I made the permanent move. My husband grew up half in French Polynesia and half in the States and after we'd been together about a year and a half he moved to a remote coral atoll to help his dad start a black pearl farm. We had an on and off relationship for about three years after that - him coming out to visit me in Indonesia (more on that in a minute) and me visiting him on the atoll. Finally I got tired of all the back and forth and decided to try and live out there. It worked! Before I moved to French Polynesia I had been living in Singapore and Indonesia and before that I went to Chiang Mai University in Thailand. So basically I've been living abroad now for about 17 years.

You do a lot of writing for Lonely Planet. Can you talk a little about how you ended up as a travel writer?

Another long story! I almost started working for Lonely Planet in 1999 but that didn't work out mostly because where I was living was too isolated and my kids were still very young. When I moved to Tahiti from that remote coral atoll in 2000 I started writing and getting stuff published - I've always been a writer so this was the obvious thing for me to do with that new-fangled thing called the Internet. Then in 2001, I went to the Book Passage Travel Writers' Conference in California and won a writing contest with Lonely Planet which should have gotten me a job. Unfortunately 9/11 happened shortly after and our pearl business needed my help in the tough economy so, again, I couldn't take it. It wasn't until 2004, when I ran into a senior editor from Lonely Planet who remembered me from the contest (this was in Mexico), that I officially started writing for Lonely Planet.

What projects are you working on now?

I'm leaving for Thailand this Friday to update Lonely Planet's Thailand's Islands and Beaches for the second time.

What’s the best part about living abroad as a writer?

You have an 'in' by being a local expert that makes it easier to get published and find work.

What’s the most challenging part about living abroad as a writer?

It can be hard breaking out of your destination specialty area and there's only so much you can sell about the same place over and over again. Also airfare from Tahiti is very expensive so it costs more to send me out on assignment than for people living in busier hub cities/countries.

What would you say to other writers thinking of living abroad?

It's a fun way to get deeper into the place you're living. I like that it gets me searching out strange little tidbits I might otherwise not find if I weren't looking for subject matter all the time.

Anything else to add?

Don't expect to get rich! But it sure is fun.

Living on a remote coral atoll for five years with no phone, plumbing and limited solar electricity prevented Celeste from getting an early start in her writing career - although it sounds idyllic, washing laundry by hand, digging your own well and sustenance fishing takes a big chunk out of one's day. Before plunging into French Polynesian life, Celeste traveled extensively and continues to do so, exploring nearly 40 countries. Her travel articles have appeared in Islands Magazine, Voyageur Magazine and she is a regular contributor to the widely syndicated newspaper column Travels with Lonely Planet. She has co-authored over a dozen Lonely Planet guidebooks including Tahiti & French Polynesia, South America on a Shoestring, Canada, Thailand's Islands & Beaches, Indonesia (2010), Malaysia (2010) and Travel with Children as well as The Lonely Planet Guide to the Middle of Nowhere and a slew of web content for Lonely Planet. Her real passion is travel narrative and her stories have appeared in the Travelers' Tales anthologies The World as a Kitchen and 30 Days in the South Pacific; her story "Mama Rose's Coconut Bread" won the 2007 Travelers' Tales Silver Solas award for best story about food and travel. The best way to keep up with Celeste's writing and travels is by reading her blog.

Are you a writer living outside your home country that would like to be featured on Writer Abroad? If so, please contact Chantal.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Welcome to Writer Abroad

Welcome to Writer Abroad. Over the course of this blog, I hope to find out as much as possible about the lives of writers living abroad as well as share opportunities and information. Because let's be honest, being a writer can be great. But it can also be lonely. Right now, I just finished writing Chapter 28 of my memoir and I'm sitting at home wearing my work boots (in other words, my awesome slipper boots that I bought from the GAP when I was visiting home a couple weeks ago). Every writer should have these. Unless of course, you live in a tropical place like Tahiti and then I sort of hate you because the sky here in Switzerland has turned grey for oh, the next six months and I'm already craving the sun. But I digress.

To kick off this blog thing, here's my story. I'm sharing it, so hopefully I'll get to hear yours eventually too.

I arrived in Switzerland in 2006, rather excited to find a country where people can actually pronounce my name since this was never the case in the U.S. After 28 years of “Shh, shhantell panahzoo” you sort of need to get away.

Anyhow, I’m a writer and copywriter and worked at an ad agency in Zurich for three years before being laid off, and that’s another story because of the strange concept (to Americans at least) of having to keep working for three months after being laid off.

Now I’m working as a writer, blogger, and copywriter. Besides checking email like there's no tomorrow so I can revel in responses like "thank you for your essay. We regret it does not suit our needs at the current time," I do things like blog, write a column for Swiss News, blab on Swiss radio, and write essays for American publications like the Monitor. I’m also working on a memoir about life abroad, and have recently had some stories published in a couple of best-selling anthologies.

I moved to Switzerland for my husband’s job—I admit it, I’m a trailing spouse. Even though I hate that term. But it was my choice to come here too, so I can’t just go around blaming the lack of cheddar in the land of cheese on him. And please, don’t call me "Frau". That word sounds so matronly and pathetic. And I don’t like that it means both wife and woman. Like we can’t be a woman without being a wife. German is so annoying sometimes.

But that's enough about me. If you really want more, you can always go to my website. Next up, tomorrow, an interview with Celeste Brash, a Lonely Planet writer living in sigh, Tahiti. She doesn't need those slipper boots. But she's still cool.

Are you a writer living outside your home country that would like to be featured on Writer Abroad? If so, please contact Chantal.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Coming Soon

Thanks for visiting Writer Abroad. 

It's a new blog that I'm starting especially for writers that live overseas and also for those who dream of doing just that.

The site is currently under construction. But until then, I've posted "Six Reasons to Become a Writer Abroad" below. 

Right now, I'm organizing interviews with writers (coming soon, an interview with a Lonely Planet author who lives in Tahiti) and working on expanding the site to make it the best it can be. 

Stay tuned. Writer Abroad will be officially launching soon. Hope you'll join me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Six Reasons to Become a Writer Abroad

I admit it. When I decided to move to Switzerland from Richmond, VA over three years ago, the prospect of being called a “trailing spouse” was my worst nightmare. Before I moved, I constantly wondered if quitting my job, selling my house and car, not to mention giving up my support network and favorite stores like Target and Pottery Barn all so my husband could pursue a work opportunity in a foreign land was really the right thing.

To keep positive, I tried to view the whole move as an adventure and opportunity for myself as well, and I wasn’t disappointed. Over the last three years, I landed a job as a copywriter at an ad agency in Zurich, expanded my freelance writing career writing essays for publications like the Christian Science Monitor, and was offered a job as a columnist for Swiss News, the National English Journal of Switzerland.

Needless to say, living abroad as a writer can open a lot of doors. If you need any more convincing before buying your one-way ticket to your writing dream, here are six reasons to become a writer abroad now:

1. You differentiate yourself. There are thousands of writers in New York City. But most editors want fresh perspectives. It's easier to be memorable when you can write about things from a different viewpoint. Not to mention, an international perspective is highly regarded by many publications.

2. Stories. You barely have to try to find ideas when crazy things happen to you every day. When you have to bring your Christmas tree home on a bus or your neighbor insists on power-washing your balcony for you (as have both happened to me in Switzerland), stories just come naturally.

3. Characters. If you're into writing fiction, there's no better place to live than abroad, where people have habits and styles of communicating that challenge what you're used to and create possibilities for characters you never would have thought of before. Like a 73-year old Swiss woman whose idea of being neighborly is to criticize your inability to clean the communal dryer’s lint filter properly.

4. You'll want to write all the time. Especially if you live in a country where English isn't spoken, writing becomes an escape and a daily drug that keeps you sane.

5. Travel Writing. Not only will you understand your surroundings better than a tourist, but it's easier to carve a niche out for yourself as a travel writer if you live in an exotic land. With slashed budgets, publications are more and more likely to hire someone that's already living in the local they want to cover so they can avoid paying travel expenses. If you’re between 18-34, you could also apply to be a Correspondent for National Geographic’s Glimpse publication, something that I was honored to be involved with last spring.

6. Less Competition. Chances are, wherever you decide to live abroad, there will be English publications. And if you're in a non-English speaking country, you will have less competition for those jobs. So if you're good, your ideas are more easily accepted and you'll most likely be able to find some steady work (for example, I was able to land a column in Swiss News, the National English Journal of Switzerland) while you keep reaching for those dream publications.

This post was originally written for the fabulous blog about freelance writing, The Urban Muse.


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