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?


  1. Love the posting Chantal!! You hit every point and then some...but I would add that it's just as scary writing for people living abroad when you are living at 'home'! I have always felt I have a life I don't participate in....support group? First explain what an 'expat' is :-) Keep up the good work! (I re-tweeted of course!) Robin

  2. Gah! I don't dare dream of an in-the-flesh support network of fellow writers. I have friends and colleagues in other locations, but far as I've found, I'm all alone in my city (Copenhagen). In my case, I'd be content for people in my real life to understand what I do, let alone respect it! Whether or not it actually *has* been the biggest struggle working as a writer abroad, it often feels like it.

  3. I feel you on the currency fluctuation--I used to be able to take out $200 AUD and it would only be $170 USD. Not much of a difference, but still nice. I also lost clients because I was no longer stateside. I do the same thing with my American checks--my mom deposits them for me.

  4. Hi Robin, thanks for the tweet! I haven't had the chance to repatriate yet, but I can imagine that will be very scary...

    Hi B, I know what you mean about people in your real life trying to understand what you do. It can be a struggle. I hope you can find a support group of writers though. If I can find one in Zurich (city of bankers and lawyers) I would think Copenhagen has as much potential :)

    Lauren, glad to hear we both put our moms to work!

  5. I would add the lack of English-language libraries to the scary list. It's like I woke up in Switzerland, realized I needed to do research on the Chicago mafia, and - gasp! - all the libraries were gone!!! Sometimes the Internet just isn't enough.

  6. Kelly, that's a good point. I agree. It's hard to do research for a novel or research a publication that you want to pitch when you can't find the right books or even view the latest issues. And then, for some reason, if "gasp", I do find a certain magazine at the Kiosk, it will cost about $15...even pitching can be expensive in Switzerland!

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