Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Five scary things about writing from abroad

In honor of Halloween, here are a few freaky things to consider about the international writing life.

Currency fluctuation. In the last few years, the dollar and the pound have tumbled. If you’re living abroad and getting paid in the local currency, you may not care. But you would care, for example, if you lived in Switzerland and wrote for U.S. publications. Four years ago, if I wrote an article for $300, that meant SFr 381. Now if I write that same article, I only get SFr 291. That’s SFr 100 different, and not in my favor.

Banking issues. A U.S.-based freelancer recently emailed me asking how I dealt with depositing U.S. checks from abroad. Short answer? I don’t. I let my mother do that (thanks, Mom). Why? If I deposit an American check into my Swiss bank account, I will be charged a fee (A large fee. This is Switzerland, after all.). If you live abroad and write for publications back home, make sure you designate a hometown banker to take care of your checks so you avoid unwanted charges and hassle.

Maintaining clients. For some publications, it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re located. But for others, you can't take it with you. For example, I used to write for an alternative newspaper in Richmond. But after moving abroad, being away from Richmond meant I couldn’t be on top of what was going on locally. So I no longer write for them. But luckily, other publications abroad have taken its place.

Interviews in foreign languages. The first time I interviewed someone for an article in German, it was absolutely schlecht. I recorded it, so I could transcribe it later, but it took me over five hours to type the half hour interview. What could be worse? Well, listening to myself asking questions in my bad German accent wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.

Finding a support group. It can be hard to find a group of other writers to encourage you and give you feedback. Sure, there are often groups of hobbyists, but serious writers can be harder to find. For the first three years I was abroad, I was basically alone, at least writing-wise. It took me three years to find two other writers and form a critique/support group, but now that I have one, it is wonderful.

What’s been tough for you about writing from abroad?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is it easier to write from abroad?

Sometimes I wonder if I’d be working on two books right now if I was still living in the U.S. I’m sure I’d be thinking about writing one, but I have a feeling life would have gotten in the way.

Before I moved abroad, I worked 50-60 hours a week as a copywriter, taught as an adjunct at the local university one night a week, contributed to the arts & culture section of a local newspaper, and also managed to find the time to sing in a choir.

Going abroad has taught me that other cultures are less work-crazy than mine. It has taught me to pace myself. That free time matters. While I sit down every weekday and write, I have learned to be a nicer boss to myself because otherwise I just end up feeling anxious and overwhelmed: in other words, I end up feeling American.

The culture, at least in most of Europe, is more relaxed than the United States. On Sundays in Switzerland, nothing is open except bakeries and cable car lifts. You are expected to either walk in the woods or linger over a coffee. I’m finally getting good at both. While I still get caught up in the whole American “if I’m not busy then I’m not worthy” sentiment, for the most part, I’m learning to take things one step (and one chapter) at a time.

When I hear from family back home that some stores will be open on Thanksgiving and that some offices are no longer honoring holidays such as Christmas, since their partner offices around the world may not also close on that day, I feel sad. I hope Americans will fight back. Maybe not as intensely as the French. But a little of the French “free time is sacred” spirit couldn’t hurt. Because if the U.S. is the land of the free, then why is everyone chained to their desks?

Did you go abroad as a writer or did going abroad make you a writer?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting some perspective

I like writing in the present tense. It gives a story a cinematic feel and it also helps me capture a moment in a way that shows, rather than tells. So I wrote most of my 87,000-word memoir in present tense. It worked, it flowed, but something was missing and I didn’t know what.

Thanks to some feedback at the Zurich Writers Workshop a couple of weeks ago, I now know exactly what was missing: the memoir needs more perspective. To achieve this, I am now going back and rewriting the chapters in the past tense in order to create more narrative distance and add a bit more reflection and cultural insight to the work.

It’s amazing that this little nugget of advice can make such a difference.

Any bits of advice you’ve learned at a class or workshop that you found immediately helpful?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paris Literary Prize for a Novella

One of the reasons Writer Abroad likes workshops is that she learns about opportunities. This past weekend, at the Zurich Writers Workshop, she learned about the 2011 Paris Literary Prize.

As part of this contest, writers are invited to submit their initial 3,000 words and a synopsis via ParisLiteraryPrize.com by December 1, 2010. The submission fee is 50 Euros. Shortlisted entrants will be required to submit their full novella (20,000-30,000 words) by mid-March 2011. The winner will be announced on June 16, 2011.

The prize is 10,000 Euros, a weekend in Paris, and a reading at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

The contest is open to writers who have not published a novella or full-length book. There is no limit to the subject matter.


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