Tuesday, July 27, 2010

3 Things the Alps Can Teach Us About Writing

This morning I woke up in my Alpine apartment and could hardly walk. After two days of solid hiking in the Alps, I was desperate to do at least one more hike. I went to the grocery store and bought a band-aid for my blister. But halfway to the lift station, I had to turn around. My foot hurt too much. The day before I had hiked over 7 hours. The day before that, over 4.

Which brings me to my writing. In hiking as in writing, I often push myself to the extremes. I need to work on pacing myself. So this week, no writing. And less hiking now too...

Here are a few things I've learned so far in the Alps.

1. Be patient. The fog will lift. You just have to wait. Maybe an hour. Maybe two days. The same goes for writer's block. Don't have a solution to a problem? Take a break. Wait it out. The answer will come. The fog will clear.

2. Pace yourself. A seven-hour hike one day may mean you can barely walk the next. Writing too much can be hazardous too. Last fall, I couldn't type for a week after working too much at my computer.

3. One step at a time. Yesterday I hiked to the bottom of the Aletsch Glacier. But then I had to hike back up. Over 300 meters up. It looked daunting. Until I stopped looking up and started looking across. Yes, with writing too, it's good to have a final goal. But if you don't take the steps in between, you'll never make it. You'll only dream it. That's why when I'm working on a book, I only write 1,000 words a day. One word at a time.

What has a summer vacation taught you about writing?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Zurich Writers Workshop

Sorry for the frequent mentions, but Writer Abroad is a little excited about the upcoming workshop in Zurich. Finally there is something in Zurich for people other than bankers, lawyers, and ladies who lunch.

Anyhow, yes. There will be a writers workshop in Zurich featuring Novelist and University of Oxford Fiction Tutur Amal Chatterjee and New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman. It will take place on October 1-3, 2010.

The workshop will be divided into two sections, fiction and memoir/creative non-fiction. Participants will receive over 8 hours of instruction in their chosen area as well as a literary tour of Zurich and the option to participate in possibly the first literary dinner ever that includes big bowls of melted cheese.

Today is the official website launch. Hope to see you over on www.zurichwritersworkshop.com. Click here to sign up for the mailing list so you'll be the first to know when registration opens in August.

Also consider joining us as a sponsor. Yes, we like money (we live in Switzerland, after all), but more importantly we love help with spreading the word. If you can mention the workshop on your blog, mailing list, magazine or website we'll be glad to include a logo and link to your business/website/blog on our website. Danke and merci vielmal!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Contests, Workshops, and Alphorns

It’s been awhile since Writer Abroad did an international writing round-up, but you’ll have to excuse her. Frau V, concerned neighbor, has been doing Writer Abroad's gardening in her high heels. Again. But now that Writer Abroad has survived Swiss Gardening Boot Camp, Part II, she’s had time to gather some thoughts unrelated to her Katastroph of a garden.

Paris-based writer Laurel Zuckerman just announced a contest for the Best and Most Delightful Stores about Paris. All authors are welcome to submit. There's a 10 Euro entry fee. Deadline: November 30, 2010.

Author Philip Graham writes about how reading books on vacation is an escape from an escape. He welcomes your comments on the Companionable Presence of a Book.

The Zurich Writers Workshop has announced its guest instructors for its October workshop: Coming to Zurich will be New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman and University of Oxford Fiction Tutor Amal Chatterjee.

Looking to connect with writers working on travel memoirs? Join Alexis Grant’s Travel Memoir Writers twitter list.

Finally this post wouldn’t be complete if Writer Abroad didn’t toot her own horn. Yes. She went to Swiss Alphorn School and wrote a feature story for swissinfo.ch, on the growing popularity of the alphorn in Switzerland. She gives the alphorn students credit. It’s a hard instrument to play. But one note will get you a loyal audience. The cows love it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Literary Snob

When I was growing up, my father read The New Yorker, had season tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and went out of his way to go to art films that were subtitled. When we were feeling brave, my sister and I would request to go to a Hollywood film at the normal movie theater, but my father would cringe at the mention of something so mainstream.

Instead, I was taken to museums on weekends and given quizzes, written in big, block Dad font, about what I had learned from the exhibits. I got subscriptions to Stone Soup while my friends read Seventeen. And I sang in a professional children's choir while my peers played in rock bands.

So now, to make up for it all, I read chick lit. And memoir. And mainstream novels. And ad copy. And the back of cereal boxes. And yes, The New Yorker. Sometimes. The humor parts.

I've been quite content since I left college.

But recently I went to a writing class that was filled with people like my father. It was filled with Dads.

During the class, I quoted Bill Bryson because we were discussing grabbing a reader's attention and I love the way his book, The Lost Continent, begins: "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to."

The Dads were offended that I would mention something so mainstream. Poor Bill Bryson. Where did he go wrong?

Then I said I liked how Augusten Burroughs writes in the present tense because it really brings you into the moment.

The Dads were not impressed. Augusten Burroughs? Please. Writing in the present is too affected; action always happens in the past.

Finally, someone else spoke up. "I've always liked Ayn Rand."

Ayn Rand? Now all the Dads turned their wrinkled noses from me to her.

"What?" she said. "What is wrong with Ayn Rand?"

"Nothing," I said. "If her books make you enjoy reading, that's great."

The Dads didn't agree.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Planning a Writing Workshop in Zurich

Writer Abroad has long lamented the lack of writing events in Zurich.

Geneva has its Writers’ Group.

Paris has WICE.

Shanghai has Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon.

Nuremberg has the Nuremberg Writers Group.

And Zurich? Well. Writer Abroad is not going to lament any more. She’s going to plan. Along with two other Zurich-based writers, she is co-founding the first ever Zurich Writers Workshop. It will be held October 1-3, 2010. The event will include a fiction workshop, a non-fiction workshop, a literary tour of Zurich (no, we are not all bankers here!), an apéro at the James Joyce pub and more.

Registration will open in mid-August. More details to come soon.

Have you ever planned a writing workshop? Or started a writing group in your new city? Writer Abroad welcomes your planning tips.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Paris for Writers

Didn't make it to the Paris Writers' Workshop? Pas de problème. Writer Abroad collected all sorts of insider information from fellow writers and is now sharing her wealth of knowledge on affordable apartments and hotels, great cafés, English bookstores, and more.

Where to stay

Here are a few websites where you can find rentals that typically cut out the agent (and the agent fees).

Immobilier De Particulier A Particulier

Viva Street


Because Writer Abroad didn’t know these great websites ahead of time, she had to pay for a hotel during her conference. C'est la vie. But this turned out to be the best hotel she’s ever stayed at in Paris for the price, so she recommends it for stays under 7 days (the minimum stay for most apartments in Paris):

Hotel Chatillon

Huge, newly renovated bathroom (finally a Parisian shower that you can bend down in!), quiet street (no traffic noise), price (between 80-90 Euros/night for a double), clean, modern chic.


Shakespeare & Company

37 rue de la Bucherie, 75005 Paris

They have readings once a week.

Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore

22 rue Saint-Paul, 75004 Paris

Tiny but charming, with a great selection of books on Paris written by expats.

I love my blender

36 rue du temple paris, 75004 Paris

Cute shop in the Marais with English and French books as well as cards and gifts.

Restaurants and Cafés

Bouillon Racine

3 rue Racine, 75006 Paris

Gorgeous art deco interior, this is where the closing dinner for the Paris Writers’ Workshop was held. I’ve had better food in Paris, but recommend this place for the décor.

Chez Papa

153 rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris

If you want southwestern inspired French food, this is a cozy spot.

New Jawad

12 av. Rapp, 75007 Paris

Avoid the overpriced cafes near the Eiffel Tower and eat reasonably priced Indian food instead. 8 Euro vegetarian dishes.

Creperie de Port-Manech

52 rue du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris

Just one of the many charming creperies on the rue du Montparnasse. When in doubt, eat the dessert crepe first. Crepes from 5 Euros.

Mamie Gateaux

66-68-70 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris

The best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten. The street itself is also worth walking down for its cute shops and cafes. Desserts 5 Euros.


32 rue de la fontaine au roi, 75011 Paris

Fantastic, reasonably-priced Moroccan food. Main dishes from 11 Euros.

Le Flore en l’Ile

42 quai d’Orleans, 75004 Paris

The best ice cream sodas in Paris. Ice cream from 3 Euros.


33 Boulevard Arago, 75013 Paris

Ginger juice, chicken and onion stew, and more from this fantastic Senegalese restaurant. Main dishes from 14 Euros.

Second-hand Stores

(shopping for writers on a budget!)

Freep ‘S’ Star Bretonnerie

8 rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie, 75004 Paris

Freep ‘S’ Star Verrerie

61 rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris

Other planning tools

A Writer’s Paris, by Eric Maisel

36 Hours in Paris, sans la Tour Eiffel: blog post from Zurich-based writer Kelly Jarosz

Other tips on Paris? Leave a comment.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Don't Wait for Success

One of the most valuable things I learned last week at the Paris Writers' Workshop (aside from tips on how to score an apartment rental in Paris for 200 Euros a week) is to not wait for success.

I have finished a memoir and am ready to look for an agent. But my instructor advised me to start on my next project in the meantime. This advice was also echoed by a group of first-time novelists. Most said it took them up to a year and querying 100 agents to find the one to represent their project. Working on another project in the meantime supposedly keeps you sane. The advice to start on my next project was also spoken indirectly by an agent I met, who wasn't interested in memoir at the moment, but asked me if I had a novel.

Sadly, I don't have a novel right now. But give me a year and maybe I will. Thanks to the workshop, I'm inspired to start my next project while trying to sell my current one.

What valuable piece of writing advice have you received?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Jealousy and Writing

By Diana Santelli

In life, we judge.

Consciously or unconsciously, we categorize people by the way they look or act or dress or speak. Or write.

Most often new writers are the guiltiest of this offence. We view everyone as a rival and decide our value as a writer based on whose works we’ve read recently or how many praises your work has received. After reading a new author, someone experiencing the Jealous-Writer Syndrome will often react in one of two ways. He will either:

A) Say “Wow, this is really good writing,” and then proceed to feel hopeless that he or she can one day too write at this level

Or B) Think, “Wow, I can write way better than that,” and allow themselves to experience a temporary ego boost.

If you too are guilty of ever harboring such thoughts—fret not. It’s ok. Sometimes jealousy happens, but from my own experience, it’s a whole lot healthier and a heck of a lot happier life when you’re not comparing yourself to everyone around you—and that includes your writing. Otherwise you’ll end up lonely and bi-polar.

Just don’t do it.

Because writing is such a hard business to break into, it is easy to see another writer’s win as your loss—but truth of the matter is, taste fluctuates. Many written works didn’t see the printer’s ink in their writer’s lifetime, but then lo and behold, many years later, are discovered to be rare and precious gems.

“Alright Diana, I see what you’re saying, but what if I don’t want to wait until I’m dead before someone will publish or read my work?”

That’s a fair question and to be honest, I’m not particularly fond of that idea either, but I will say, while there are few that make it to Elisabeth Gilbert or Dan Brown or Stephen King status, there are many, many more writers whose works gain fame or popularity on a smaller, localized scale.

There are so many outlets these days to “be a writer”. Either through entering competitions, or starting a blog, or writing for local or state anthologies or publications, or even joining a writers group (hint, hint). One has to start small. And not expect a big paycheck.

Instead, no matter how many stories you write or how many years you’ve officially dubbed yourself a “writer”, let yourself always be a beginner and allow yourself to learn from others. You’ll make more friends that way and you’ll give yourself more room to make mistakes and develop your art on your own terms.

Diana Santelli is a New Jersey expat living and working near Nürnberg, Germany. She has spent about three years abroad, working and living in places such as Slovenia, France, Switzerland, the UK, Belize and South Korea. She is co-founder of the Nuremberg Writers Group and recently won first place in her first short story competition for her story, Le Big Mac. She blogs about her American existence in Deutschland here at http://americanadeutsch.blogspot.com/.

Note: This piece originally appeared on the Nuremberg Writers Blog on 8.03.2010.


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