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?


  1. This is SO true of North American culture (I'm canadian but our cultures are very similar so they can be lumped together in cases like this). I've been to various places in Europe and a big thing that struck me is that people just enjoy life more in general - they not only work less and are less concerned with being busy, they take more time to appreciate the little things like good food and good friends. NA's could learn a thing or two from them!!

  2. Going abroad definitely made me a writer. There I blogged extensively about our experiences every day, with pictures to boot. Now that I'm back in the States, it's all I can do to write a quick paragraph or two in my journal every day!

    While abroad, I wrote to keep myself company. At home, I miss my writing time more than anything else about living overseas.

  3. Kim, glad you agree.

    Zedque, that's an interesting point about writing to keep yourself company. I think maybe that's why many writers abroad are so prolific.

  4. Great post. I came abroad as a writer and was just having a convo with my partner, who is American, but has been living in Australia for two years, about still feeling like I need to "do things" all the time. He told me I need to chill out and slow down and "rest," but it's still a foreign concept to me. I'm working on it, though :)

  5. Lauren, I know what you mean. I have my calm, European days and then I have my desperate American ones. It only makes their differences even more pronounced...

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  7. I lived in the USA for 15 years but returned to the UK a year ago. I think the UK is just as hectic as the USA though.

    What controls my desire to write is really the differences that I see between cultures, the different ways of life, different foods and customs, and things that I find unusual or good about home and where I have been.

    I love to write about travel, or what happened today, or what's been in the news.

    Definitely we all need inspiration for writing though. I would have thought Switzerland had a lot of interesting topics, but then maybe it's just too laid back, and we tend to adapt ourselves to our surroundings.

  8. The differences between cultures definitely brings a lot of inspiration to my writing. It's another reason that I enjoy living abroad. I'm never lacking for something to write about.

  9. This post was very encouraging. I have thought about going abroad to write. Great information.

    Veronica from Installment Loans

  10. Thanks, Veronica. Glad you enjoyed it.

  11. I agree with Zedque. Though I wrote before I moved abroad, going abroad made me writer because I blogged about my experience more than I probably would've blogged back home. Moreover, I volunteered for a local NGO where I had a chance to travel around Armenia (the country I live in now), interview villagers and write human interest stories — which were published in online and print media. And now I feel like I writer ;)

  12. Hi Adrineh,

    That's great that you were able to travel and interview people around Armenia.

    I think all it takes to turn a maybe-writer into a real writer is to stick them in another country with a notebook (or MacBook).

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