Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Writer Abroad isn't doing much of anything this year between Christmas and New Year's. Well, not much of anything except eating a lot of cheese. See, this year, she stayed in Switzerland for the holiday. The result? According to Mr. Writer Abroad, "I have such a big ball of cheese in my stomach that it is radiating heat like the sun."

Now that's the way to celebrate the season, Swiss style.

Alles Gute zum neuen Jahr from Writer Abroad.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Writing conferences, blogging, and more

With a whopping 6.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep last night, Writer Abroad can almost think straight. So without further ado, here’s the latest news from the international writing community:

The Geneva Writers’ Conference will welcome over 200 writers from around the world for a weekend of workshops in Geneva, Switzerland, from February 3-5, 2012. Registration is now open.

The Zurich Writers Workshop is organizing critique groups for writers living in Zurich and the surrounding areas. To join, submit your contact info before the end of the year.

Looking for writing training that’s not location specific? Over at the Urban Muse Writer, Susan Johnston has compiled a list of 5 Sources for Free Online Writing Training.

Want to make money as a blogger? Visit ProBlogger’s job board. You have to read the ads carefully to make sure it’s a good deal (i.e. decent pay instead of just ad revenue), but Writer Abroad once found a gig from this site and ended up blogging for that company for over a year.

Finally, Writer Abroad just completed something that makes her proud: her first assignment post-baby. She wrote the destination feature on Zurich this month for Serendib, the inflight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines.

Anything you want to share that’s going on in your area? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Five Great Books About Life Abroad

There are a lot of books about life abroad out there.

But many of them romanticize the experience rather than tell the truth: life abroad is hard. Contrary to popular belief, the world is not just a place for Westerners to eat, pray, or fix up a holiday home. It can also be a place where a person with a Master’s degree doesn’t even know the word for beef.

Below are five books that paint a more accurate portrait of life abroad when you’re really, really living it for the long haul. If you're looking for a Christmas gift, I recommend any of these. And if you order them by clicking on the links included in this blog, you’ll help support Writer Abroad as well.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

By David Sedaris

Ruthless French teachers. Fears of speaking a new language so strong you wish meat were sold in vending machines. Trying to explain a holiday such as Easter in another language (Jesus shaves, anyone?). In these stories and more, Sedaris pretty much sums up the difficulties (and surprising rewards) that come from trying to make a life in another country. C'est bon.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

By Susan Jane Gilman

A recent college graduate, Susan Jane Gilman was ready to conquer the world. She had romantic visions of backpacking abroad. But then she went to China, which in the 80s, had been open to tourists for about ten minutes. Between ant infested hotel rooms, broken down vehicles, and Chinese men who don’t know a word of English but can recite John Denver songs by heart, Gilman proves that “real travel” doesn’t get much more real than this.

Tales from the Expat Harem

Edited by Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Goekmen

Before I traveled to Turkey last year, I read this collection of 32 essays about women who live there. One of my favorite essays was about a Christian evangelist from Iowa who was rescued by the very Turkish souls she hoped to save. Gotta love the theme: An American goes out to save the world and the world saves her instead.

Moonlight in Odessa

By Janet Skeslien Charles

What happens when a woman from the Ukraine becomes so tempted by the American dream that she becomes a mail order bride in order to attain it? This novel, written by an American expat living in Paris, has the answers. See the United States through the eyes of a Ukrainian as the main character, Daria, goes from being wide-eyed over things like garage door openers to finally becoming skeptical of the very materialism she dreamed of obtaining.

Kabul Beauty School

By Deborah Rodriguez

This is the true story of an American woman who goes to Afghanistan to teach women how to open their own beauty parlors. But teaching becomes interwoven with living as her students share their stories with her. From the woman who faked her virginity on her wedding night to the 12-year-old bride who was sold to repay family debts, this is an interesting look into the lives of Afghan women and also the affect they have on the American woman who came to empower them.

What are your favorite books about life or travel abroad?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Babies, Writing Conferences, and more

It’s official. Writer Abroad is now also Mother Abroad. Her little daughter was born a couple weeks ago and now her time management challenge between writing and mothering begins.

Not surprisingly, Writer Abroad has been inspired by Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal Of My Son’s First Year. So while taking a break from both her memoir and her novel, she’s decided to try a similar kind of journal, but with a living abroad twist. So far, the most she’s written at one time without being interrupted is about 1300 words. But the average seems to be more like 200 words. But at least she’s never searching for inspiration…

Speaking of inspiration, there’s an interesting literary festival going on in Lisbon next summer, July 1-13, 2012. It’s called Disquiet: Dzanc Books International Literary Program. The program features workshops in poetry, fiction, nonfiction and photography. It also features Philip Graham on faculty, who was interviewed on this site last year.

At the end of this month, Zurich’s first weekend-long book festival will bring more than 100 events to the Switzerland region. To add some English-language spirit to the festival, the Zurich Writers Workshop and the Nuance Words Collective have arranged an event at Widder Bar on Saturday, October 29, starting at 18:00. The event will lead you to Orell F├╝ssli for its ‘Welcome to the Night Circus’ event at 20:00.

Well, that’s all the news for now. If you have any links to share or news about a writing conference or event, please leave a link below or contact me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do you write for free?

Lately, I’ve been getting a stream of emails from editors of online magazines asking if I would like to be a contributing writer.

These emails have a few things in common:

They often praise my blog or other articles I’ve written.

They say I’d be the perfect writer for their website or magazine.

They offer no mention of payment.

When and if I inquire further, the answer is usually, “Well, we hope to pay our writers in the future, but for right now, we pay in links.”

My response?


My feeling is, you want a professional writer? One that would be perfect for your website or magazine? Then you should pay them.

Would you approach an IT professional and ask for free services? Or a lawyer?

Case closed. This is an overused topic on most writing blogs, so I won’t say much more. Except to encourage all writers to know your worth. It’s not necessary to write for free even if you’re trying to build a writing portfolio. There are local newspapers. There are trade magazines. And yes, there are even websites that pay.

What’s even more amazing is that editors are even asking established writers to contribute for free. I’ve been writing for magazines and newspapers for seven years now, and the requests to write for free still keep coming in. Luckily though, to balance out these requests, there are real assignments that get offered as well.

Have you gotten requests to write for payment in links? If so, how do you respond? Should writers write for free?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Writing Character Sketches the Modern Way

I’ve discovered a new way to really get to know a character: write their Facebook profile.

Start with the basics: their job, where they went to school, what languages they speak, where they’re from and when they were born.

Then you can move on to their philosophy, the books and movies they like, their political views and their activities and interests.

Also revealing can be the photos they might post of themselves. And who are their friends? And who are the friends that are pending that your character might reject?

Are there events coming up in their life? What websites does your character link to? And how would they describe themselves in an “about me” summary?

Probably the most fun is their wall. What do they write in their status updates? Do they write their entire life story? Do they just post links to interesting stories? Write a page of status updates and find out.

Answer these questions and more and if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be well on your way to creating an in-depth character. Now that's a definite Like.

Do you have an interesting method for writing character sketches?

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to become a travel writer

Guest post by James Ullrich

People ask me all the time how I became a travel writer. It reminds me of the story about the guy who stops a stranger on the street and asks, “Excuse me, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and the man answers, “Practice.”

My answer is: “travel.”

The full explanation is more involved but also more interesting. I believe there are three keys to being successful: First, find out what you love doing; something you’d do even if no one paid you. Second, become really good at it. Third, figure out a way to monetize it by finding the right audience/market.

My road to becoming a professional freelance travel writer began with an interest for exploring the places I’d seen on PBS travelogues as a child. Images of cathedral spires soaring toward the heavens ignited my interest in history. Gauzy shots of half-timbered villages laced with cobbled alleyways captivated my imagination. I wanted to go there and see it all for myself.

After college I got a passport and went. I never looked back.

The single best thing I did was bring a journal with me. It was the first thing I packed. The clothes came second.

After scouring Europe over many long trips I’d amassed journals full of observations and adventures. More importantly, I tried to make meaningful connections with the cultures I’d come so far to see. I struck up conversations with strangers in trains, busses, bars, and anywhere else I found myself.

It could be frustrating. Sometimes they didn’t speak a word of English. Sometimes they just weren’t interested in talking to a bedraggled traveler. But more often than not I found a new friend and gain some insight into their world. That’s the thing to remember: Everyone has a story you’ve never heard before, and everyone knows something that you don’t—and it’s often worth knowing.

My point: Readers don’t want a travelogue. They want to make an emotional connection to the place. Make them feel it. That’s your job. The essence of a good travel writer is one part anthropologist, one part vagabond and one part journalist.

You’re ready to do this when you realize that the best souvenirs are the discoveries, memories and friendships you make.

Seek them out. They’re worth the trip.

Feel free to contact James Ullrich at

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The European Summer

Hello. I’m an American and I was going to do a lot of things this summer.

I was going to finish one last edit of my memoir.

I was going to make sure my entire novel was outlined.

I was going to pitch additional inflight magazines after finally breaking into one.

I was going to keep up with this blog.

I was going to work full time as a copywriter.

I was going to keep up with my magazine column.

I was going to tell everyone that asked how busy I was.

But the only thing I accomplished on this list over the summer were the last three.

As an American, I feel like a slacker. And I hate this “if I’m not busy then I’m not worthy” thing that still haunts me, even five years after being abroad. So I’m trying to embrace my European status instead. Key word, trying.

A European would feel fine about my accomplishments this summer. After all, many small stores and restaurants in Switzerland close completely in July and August. I think as creative people (and especially as Americans), we can learn from this. So I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for not accomplishing everything I wanted. After all, it is summer. I am in Europe. And with the little free time I have, the pool is calling my name.

Anyone else trying to embrace their European side this summer?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

International Writing Round-up

Andrew Richardson, a writer from the UK and an October attendee at the Zurich Writers Workshop, just published his first novel, Innocence Unbound. As one of the co-founders of the workshop, I’m always thrilled to hear about the success of our participants. Congrats to Andrew.

The Society of Women Writers & Journalists has announced its Life Writing competition. Submissions are by email only and the entry fee is £7. The writers retain all copyrights to work. First prize is £3000. However, only the top three winners get prize money, but all shortlisted entries are included in an anthology and there is no mention of payment for this.

Over on the Urban Muse, there’s a nice post on where to find freelance jobs.

I’m not a big short story reader, but “The Accident”, by Andrew Roe, in The Sun this month was simply stunning. What a fantastic writer. I highly recommend it.

In other news, the dollar has reached a new all time low against the Swiss Franc at 1 USD only being worth CHF .79, which means I’m not exactly motivated to write for U.S. publications right now. Has the currency situation where you live affected your writing from abroad?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The importance of planning

How many times have you started a novel or memoir, gotten about 20K words in, and then realized you had no idea where the story was going?

Hopefully only once.

However. Speaking from experience and from talking to other writers, it’s all too easy to do multiple times. Sometimes I get so caught up in making sure I’m writing a certain number of words every day that I fail to realize I should check that it’s all going to lead to an ending that makes sense.

This happened to me with the memoir. I had about 30K words and then decided to outline, the result being a complete redo.

Then I started a novel, this time writing the synopsis first. It was a valiant effort, but alas, the novel is now 20K words and I’m realizing I really need to reevaluate where the story is going and how it is going to get resolved. However, at least this time the realization is more about the fact that I need to do a lot more research on some of the topics relating to the novel to ensure that the ending makes sense and is probable. But at least there is an ending.

So now, instead of writing, I’m reading, watching documentaries, and outlining. And I know it’s still writing work, but without the word count ticking upwards, it often feels like I’m barely accomplishing anything.

Anyone else have a word count obsession too? Or participate in NaNoWriMo only to realize everything you wrote during that time had to be redone?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Workshops, Decently priced magazine subscriptions, and more

Writer Abroad has been busy. So she'll quickly apologize for the lack of posts over the last month by saying "sorry", since that is a very American thing to do. (And talking about being busy is too!)

So sorry. She can't help it. Even though today is her five year anniversary of living in Switzerland, she'll always be an American.

Anyhow, without further apologies, here are a few things that might interest some of you internationally-minded writers:

On October 1-2, 2011, Zurich will once again be a prime location for writers of fiction and non-fiction. Nuance Words will be bringing expat author Amanda Hodgkinson as well as ghostwriter Andrew Crofts to Zurich for an intensive writing workshop.

For several months now, Writer Abroad has been enjoying her international subscription to The Sun, a literary magazine based out of Chapel Hill, NC, which is one of the few publications she knows of that actually doesn't make it financially insane to subscribe from overseas. Just $59 will get you an international year's subscription.

If you couldn't attend the Zurich Writers Workshop in May, a fellow attendee blogged about the ten things she learned at the Zurich Writers Workshop.

Lesley Lawson, a Geneva-based writer is seeking submissions for an anthology about "falling in love over forty." Interested writers can reach Lesley at for more information.

Finally, Writer Abroad just wrote for her first inflight magazine. Her article on Zurich was published in the June issue of Serendib, the magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines.

Any news or links of your own that might interest other writers? Writer Abroad wants to know!

Monday, May 23, 2011

5 Ways to Get the Most out of a Writing Conference

When you attend a writing conference, will you get your money's worth? Sure, a lot depends on the instructor, the topic, and the students. But a lot also depends on you. As both a seasoned conference planner and attendee, I've noticed several ways to get the most out of a writing conference:

1. Research your instructor or speaker. Read their book(s). Read their blog. Find out everything you can about them. This way, you'll have relevant questions but also understand where they are coming from when they present a topic.

2. Do the assigned readings. How are you going to participate in a workshop, especially one that critiques student work, if you don't actually read the work and think about it ahead of time? Learning to write is as much about learning to read. If you're going to put in the money, why wouldn't you put in the time?

3. Bring business cards. Lawyers have business cards and they feel important. You can too. Not to mention, they are important for maintaining contacts with the fellow writers you meet. A big part of going to conferences is networking. And cards make it that much easier. And they make you look professional.

4. Follow up. If you've met people you clicked with, including the speaker or instructor, make sure you send them an email or connect in some way afterwards to seal your bond. Maybe you interview them for your blog. Maybe you follow them on Twitter. Like every business, publishing is one too. And who you know counts.

5. Write. After you attend a conference, ideas and critiques are fresh in your head. There's never been a better time to sit down and experiment with your writing.

How do you make the most of the writing conferences you attend?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

9 Reasons Successful Freelancers Abroad Get a Real Job First

Recently, I was freelancing at an ad agency in Switzerland when we needed another English copywriter for a project. A staff art director asked me to call a copywriter based in Tuscany. Why? He had worked with him before.

So this writer in Tuscany made good money writing remotely from his Tuscan villa. In other words, living the writer’s dream.

But how does one successfully accomplish this lifestyle?

By taking a real job first.

The big question for most freelancers is how to get work. And the big answer? Through contacts. In my experience, the best freelance jobs have come through people I’ve met in Switzerland—local people in my industry.

But when you move to a new country, you probably know very few people (if any). And while some freelancers who live in relatively inexpensive countries can afford to live in a bubble and write for contacts back in their home country, those of us in expensive places like Switzerland (and with home countries whose currencies have been declining in value) need local jobs that pay in local dollars to make ends meet.

So where to start? How about with a real job? Below are nine reasons someone who wants to be a freelancer abroad should get a real job in their desired country first:

1. You’ll obtain industry contacts and get to know the locals on a first name basis. When you go freelance, it will be these very people who recommend you for jobs.

2. You’ll have a proven track record—and not just in your home country. You will be known as the local, international writer.

3. You’ll get a work permit. Many countries have policies that only issue work permits to people who have employers willing to apply for them. Switzerland is one of these countries. If you find a real job, you’ll get the coveted work permit you’ll need to freelance later.

4. You’ll build up a nest egg in local currency and be able to guard against exchange rate fluctuations. For example, if I had only been depending on income/savings in American dollars, I would be in trouble. The dollar has declined about 37% against the Swiss Franc since I moved here five years ago. Ouch. (And another reason to not depend just on jobs from your home country.

5. If you land the job before you move, your moving expenses may be paid for.

6. You’ll understand the local business culture before you go out on your own. For example, do you address people by first names or only very formally? Do you come to the meeting exactly on time or fashionably late? Do you shake hands? How fast do people work? How does one answer the phone?

7. You’ll know what to charge. Chances are, you’ll have worked with other freelancers and have a knowledge of salaries and day/hourly rates. For example, an American just moving to Switzerland may think the equivalent of $25 an hour sounds pretty good. Until they learn that’s what the grocery clerks earn.

7. You’ll understand how people market themselves and how to present yourself both online and with your CV-resume. For example, in many European countries, you are required to list your birthday, nationality, and also include a photo of yourself on your CV.

9. By getting a real job, you’ll learn the local language in a way that working from your apartment all day long just won’t let you accomplish.

What do you think? If you’re a freelancer abroad, did you get a real job first? If so, did it help you later as a freelancer?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Guest Post: What to do if you lose a passport while traveling overseas

by Ripley Daniels

Losing your U.S. passport can truly be a nightmare but imagine how much worse it would be to lose it while vacationing overseas. Every year, thousands of American travelers misplace their passports while traveling abroad so it's best to have a plan of action just in case you lose your passport on your next international trip.
  • Step #1. Find out where the U.S. Embassy is located in the country where you are currently vacationing. A quick way to find out the locations of the various U.S. Embassies around the world is by visiting

  • Step #2. As soon as you figure out the location of the U.S. Embassy, you need to make an emergency appointment to get a replacement U.S. passport. Most U.S. Embassies don't allow walk-in appointments.

  • Step #3. In order to expedite your emergency appointment, be prepared to bring with you or fill out the following documents; a completed DS-64 which is the form for the lost/stolen passport and a completed DS-11 which is the form for the new U.S. passport. If you have access to the internet, you can download these forms and fill them out before your appointment. In regards to supporting documents, you will need to have a valid U.S. Birth Certificate or a U.S. Naturalization Certificate and a form of identification i.e. driver's license, state ID, US Government ID or a Military ID.

  • Step #4. Most American travelers don't travel with their birth certificates so it is best that you make sure your birth certificate is somewhere close where a family member or friend can locate it and Fed-Ex it to you for overnight delivery.

  • Step #5. After you have submitted all of your documentation, you will need to pay the appropriate fee in order to obtain the limited U.S. passport. The fees for the limited US passport are as follows:

    • U.S. Passport New - $135

    • U.S. Passport Renewal - $110

    • U.S. Minor Passport - $105

    • Add Visa Pages - $85

    Most U.S. Embassies takes all major credit cards, cash, traveler's checks, money orders and banker's drafts, however no personal checks are allowed.

  • Step #6. Depending on the schedule at the U.S. Embassy, you may receive your limited validity U.S. passport on the same day or within one business day. This passport is only good for one year and will need to be renewed and replaced with a traditional 10-year passport once you have returned back to the United States.

    Ripley Daniels is an editor at Without The Stress, a passport, travel visa, and immigration advisory firm located in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Writer Interview: Alan Paul, Big in China

Writer Abroad is excited to welcome back Alan Paul, award-winning Wall Street Journal columnist and author of Big in China. He interviewed here last year, discussing his “rock star” fame in China and also how he reinvented himself abroad. Since then, he has published his memoir. Now he answers questions about how to go from blog to book deal and how to promote that book once it hits the shelves.

You kept a blog while you lived in China, which you claim you treated like a job. How did writing the blog ultimately lead to your column in the Wall Street Journal? And how did it help you write Big in China?

To be clear, I treated it as a job in terms of the serious effort and intention I put into my blog posts, not in terms of working on it for 8 hours a day. Before moving to Beijing I had the vague idea of writing a column about my life there and the editor of the Wall Street Journal Online had agreed to consider them, but he was completely non committal and I really wasn’t sure how to focus them. Because I was writing so much and with such focused intent on my blog, I began to synthesize my experiences and get great feedback from people, which boosted my feeling that what I was writing was interesting and worthwhile. I took three of my favorite posts, edited them and submitted them. These became the first few Expat Life columns, so the connection was very direct.

The leap to the book was not as direct, but without the columns I doubt it ever would have happened. The blog posts also helped me as I was writing the book because I was able to go back and insert some great details, some of which I had forgotten and certainly would have been lost. I read through the blog for inspiration and again to make things more specific, but I tried to write the book from scratch and then go back and burnish. I didn’t want it to feel like an expanded, stitched-together blog.

Your book is ultimately about reinvention. Can you talk about your path from “trailing spouse”—a term you describe hating as much as I do—to Chinese rock star?

The first step was viewing the blank slate that being a “trailing spouse” presented as a wonderful opportunity. I thought the term was insulting and sort of laughable but I didn’t dwell on it; I was more like, “Trail this!” Once I plunged into life there, one thing led to another. It was all about being open to new people and opportunities.

By the time I met my band-partner-to-be Woodie Wu, my confidence was high enough to seize the moment when he asked me if I wanted to play with him, even though I thought he was above me musically and I had to swallow some fear to jump on stage together.

You turned a personal story about living in China—a place not many Americans will ever go—into a universal story about reinvention. Do you have any tips for other writers on turning the personal into the universal?

You have to work hard. I don’t mean to be flip, but it was a lot more work than I had anticipated. I thought with almost 100 columns and over 1,000 blog posts, the book would come together more easily, but you pinpointed the precise thing that made it so difficult; turning the personal into the universal.

To do this, I think you have to really be self-critical and try to step out of yourself and think about what part of your experience is interesting and why. I had to leave some of my favorite stories and pieces of writing out because I didn’t think they worked in this way and it was really important to me.

I think that you have to have really good details to make the writing come to life and then you have to be able to pull back and see how whatever you are writing about fits into a larger narrative.

Since this site is for writers, can you talk a little about how you plan to promote your book? Are you going to perform on your book tour? Do writers even go on book tours these days? Or is everything via the Internet?

I have a big publisher, Harper Collins, behind me, and they have really helped – especially with big media, like getting the book reviewed in USA Today and the Washington Post and getting me on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC in New York. But you can’t just rely on them. You have to hustle and be ready to plunge in and do a lot of things for yourself. I have spent a lot of time reaching out to blogs like yours that I respect and read and thought were a good fit for the book.

I am writing this from the plane back from a week-long book tour of the West Coast. We still do them, but in a more limited way. I am mostly going to places where I have a reason to go – great friends in Seattle and San Francisco and Berkeley; my hometown of Pittsburgh; my college town of Ann Arbor, where I will also meet with writing students taught by my old professors. And I am doing a lot around New York and New Jersey. I’m fortunate enough that I can make this pretty much my full time job right now. I am writing guest blog posts as fast as my fingers can type and I have really enjoyed doing so.

How did living abroad liberate you as a writer? Do you still feel that liberation now, even back in the States?

It liberated me as a person in many ways, most of which I do still feel. I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to do something as a writer I sort of knew I could do but had not had the opportunity to put into action very much for a long time: connect with readers across a wide spectrum while exploring family life and big-picture personal issues. I had been a bit frustrated because I sort of knew I could do that, but I was mostly writing about music and basketball – and finding ways to fit everything into those contexts, unsure if anyone was even noticing.

But now that I have that confidence, I am not going back. And I feel the same way about my music. I went months without performing while finishing up the book and getting ready to promote it. Since it came out, I have been able to play with two great bands at launch parties featuring guitarists who are heroes of mine and they have gone really well. I feel like I am singing with just as much passion but better control and more authority than ever. I have crossed the river of doubt and now I start out a show knowing it will be okay and striving for it to be great.

One of my favorite lines in your book is a quote from your wife at the end of Chapter 1, where she says, “We can spend the next three years in China. Or we can spend them talking about kitchen renovation.” You describe feeling a growing restlessness towards life in American suburbia. Now that you’ve returned, have you found that living in China has cured this? Or are you secretly yearning for that next adventure?

Good question and one I am scared to answer. I am not currently yearning for that next adventure, but I’m not sure how much of that is due to the excitement of getting a book deal, writing a book, seeing it come out, and now promoting it. We haven’t had a lot of boring days. And we also did get around to that kitchen reconstruction and we did it without talking about it for three years. We actually gutted our house and did a major addition while I was writing this book. It was an insane thing to do, but after our exhilarating time in China, we sort of crave craziness and don’t fear chaos.

I do fear having a crash when I finally ride this book as long and far as I can – but I won’t give up until I’m sure that I have done so. I’m really proud of Big in China and happy to stand behind it and try to get as many people as possible to find about it. I hope it can inspire some people to take off on some adventures of their own whether in China or their own backyards.

What is next for you?

Ah, the million dollar question. A lot of my more marketing and pr-oriented friends told me I had to have the next move planned and ready to go during this window when people were paying attention to me, but I guess that’s why I’m a writer; I don’t work like that. I have my eye on this ball and every experience I have tells me not to lose focus. It’s how I succeeded with the band and the column and Guitar World and Slam…besides I’ve gotten pretty far by winging it with serious intent.

There is also some pretty serious movie interest that I am exploring right now, so who knows how long and how far I will ride Big in China? When it’s time to move on, I am confident that something will have presented itself.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for your time and interest. As I have told you before, I think your site is a great resource for so many of us current, former or future writers abroad. It’s good to recognize one another as a community.

Alan Paul’s book, Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Rock Star in Beijing, is now available.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Writing workshops, calls for submissions, and working abroad

Since coming abroad, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to get a job overseas. I’d say more on this here, but Greg Christensen, who recently moved back to the U.S. after working in Switzerland as a copywriter, has already written a fantastic (and free) eBook called “Makin’ Ads Abroad.” It’s definitely written for those who are career-focused and ad-centric, but it’s a great resource to look through for anyone considering moving abroad.

The fiction portion of the Zurich Writers Workshop is almost full but there are still places available in the memoir/creative non-fiction section. The workshop takes place May 6-8. Registration closes in April.

If you're on the other side on the pond, from March 31-April 18, Susan Tiberghien, founder of the Geneva Writers’ Group, will be giving workshops in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Schedule and titles are on her website.

The Bellevue Literary Review is looking for creative nonfiction. For more information visit for guidelines.

The International Women's Writing Guild will hold their summer conference at Yale University from June 24-July 1.

Finally, Writer Abroad would like to invite anyone with writing news to leave a comment and a link. And now, sadly, she has to go because her Swiss neighbor has insisted that she read the user manual (in her choice of German or French) for the new communal dryer. The dryer just arrived yesterday, but she's already been given a personal tour of every part that must be cleaned after each use.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How does culture affect creativity?

If you've lived abroad for a few years, do you find that country rubbing off on you? After living in Switzerland for almost five years, I can hardly travel without becoming severely disgusted by the rest of the world. There's a leaf on the sidewalk, there's bird poop on a bench, the approaching train is dusty, oh my.

How does culture affect creativity and what can you learn from another culture as a creative person? I think a good example of Swiss creativity is represented by Ursus Wehrli. He demonstrates how the Swiss mindset makes it possible to "tidy up" anything. Even great art.

How does the culture you're living in express itself creatively?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writing Workshops in Switzerland this Spring

For those writers living in Europe (or those just looking for an excuse to visit), there are several writing workshops coming up this spring in Switzerland that should give you the inspiration you need to either get started as a writer or take your writing to another level.

First off, yours truly will be teaching a two-hour workshop at the American Women’s Club of Zurich on March 26 on how to make a living as a writer abroad. The course costs CHF 30 and you must register by March 15.

Secondly, The Zurich Writers Workshop has announced its spring workshop and registration opened today. The workshop will take place May 6-8, 2011 and is divided into two sections, memoir/creative non-fiction and fiction. Guest instructors include New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman and award-winning Novelist Janet Skeslien Charles. The workshop costs CHF 250 and includes 9 hours of instruction, a literary tour of Zurich, instructor readings, coffee/snacks, and more. Registration is limited to 15 writers per section and is filling fast so it is advised to register as soon as possible.

If you have any questions about either workshop, leave a comment. And if you know of any other writing events going on in your part of the world, please let me know. I'd be happy to post them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The secret to making a living as a writer abroad

A lot of people want to know: can you really make a living as a writer abroad?

It sounds so glamorous, after all.

Well, last week, writer Alexis Grant challenged the myth that it’s possible to make a living as a travel writer. It’s about time someone did this. For instance, the travel website Matador pays $25 for stories, but that will barely buy you lunch in Switzerland. And I’ve pitched enough higher-paying publications to know that a reply is so rare that I cheer even when I get a rejection. Of course, if you’re a writer abroad, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a travel writer. In fact, I hope for your sake, you’re not.

Next month, I’m teaching a course on how to make a living as a writer abroad. But here’s a secret—there is no secret. It's not easy to make a living as a writer, abroad or at home.

Most writers can’t just write novels, can’t just write travel articles, can’t just blog. In most cases, if you want to do those things and make a living wage, you must do all of those things. And more.

For instance, in the last five years, I have done copywriting, blogging, journalism, essay writing, PR writing, translating (bad English into good), radio writing, memoir writing, novel writing, teaching, and more. Sometimes I do all of these things at once, at other times, I concentrate more on just one or two of them. Over on the Urban Muse, you can see which kinds of writing were the most profitable for one writer last year.

But let’s hear from you. If you make a living as a writer abroad, what’s your secret?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Writing Conferences, Competitions, and more

There will be a lot going on in the writing world this spring. So without further ado, here's the latest international writing round-up.

The Zurich Writers Workshop will be announcing its spring writing conference next week. To be the first to find out the details, join the mailing list.

The Bridport Prize, an international creative writing competition for poetry, short stories, and flash fiction is now open for entries.

The American Women’s Club of Zurich will be hosting a workshop week from March 21-26 and Writer Abroad will be teaching a two-hour seminar on, what else, How to Make a Living as a Writer Abroad. The class will be held on Saturday, March 26 from 10:30-12:30. Stay tuned for registration details.

Brighton Cow (COW stands for "community of writers") will run four short story competitions in 2011. The next deadline is the end of February. Entries cost 4 pounds.

If you’re interested in how to go pro as a blogger, Writer Abroad was interviewed in the article Expat Bloggers are Going Pro over on Expat Women.

Great post by writer and journalist Alexis Grant a few weeks back on how to write a press release for your book.

It's not too late to register for the Amsterdam Creating Writing Weekend, held April 15-17, led by Amal Chatterjee, Fiction Tutor at the University of Oxford.

Writer Jenny Rough posts personal essay markets on the final Friday of every month on her blog, Roughly Speaking.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Writer Grows Up

Becoming a writer is like going through puberty. Both involve confusion, social awkwardness, and uncertainty. Both involve other people reassuring you that you are normal. And both involve writing things in your journal such as “I feel so rejected. I am so depressed.”

But becoming a writer abroad is like going through puberty and childhood. At the same time. On the one hand, you’re this little kid, barely speaking the local language and on the other hand you’re this teenager trying to define yourself and your place in this new world.

Writer Abroad has emerged from both puberty and childhood (although she still has her moments in both worlds) and has learned that it helps to do an adult thing, like make business cards. These will make you look serious and feel professional. Lawyers have them and they feel important. Why shouldn’t writers?

If this is your first time, take it slow and make the cards yourself. Sites like allow you to choose designs or upload your own. You can even order ten test cards to make sure you like your new self.

Once you get a little more serious and committed to your literary identity, it’s time to pay an experienced designer to help you brand yourself. Or offer to trade services—you write copy for her and she creates a card for you. Writer Abroad just did a trade like this with a Switzerland-based British designer and is thrilled with the results. She now has a new logo, new business cards, new letterheads, and more. She really feels all grown up.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Writer Abroad is 16 days behind, but here it is: Happy New Year. Thanks to everyone for making Writer Abroad’s first full year on the big wide web an adventure. I’ve enjoyed meeting writers from around the world and exploring how to survive and thrive as an international creative person.

Speaking of surviving while thriving, maybe it’s just Switzerland, but the economy seems to be exploding lately. I’ve been so busy since the New Year began that I’ve had to forgo a ski trip, leave a Sunday brunch early, and turn down a writing opportunity. But I’m not complaining. I love what I do.

Freelancing is always tough because there are usually two situations: way too much work or way to little. Neither is ideal. Right now I’m dealing with the former, trying to balance copywriting projects during the week with magazine deadlines, agent queries, novel writing, blogging, and workshop planning on the weekends. Which doesn’t leave me with much of what normal people would call a weekend. But somehow, I’m still having fun.

I first became a mother of a multi-tasker as an undergraduate in college, when I double majored in music and advertising. I once had an advertising class on one side of campus that left me only five minutes to get to the other side of campus for my opera workshop. My opera instructor was never happy that I didn’t wear skirts and high heels to class like all the other sopranos, but it was either tennis shoes or tardiness.

Things haven’t really changed much since.

On that note, I am always interested in guest bloggers. Please contact me if you’re interested in writing a post for Writer Abroad.

How do you handle multiple projects?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Happy Americans

I can't understand what everyone in America is so happy about. Unemployment is high, the government (and many people) are in debt, and foreclosures abound. But still. The Americans smile, grin, and greet you loudly, happily. Maybe I’ve been in Europe for too long now, but I was shocked at the friendliness of my countrymen during a recent visit to Chicago. No one can be that happy to clean my teeth. Or rent me cross-country skis. Or serve me root beer with extra ice.

On one hand, the friendliness was a pleasant change from all the straight-faced Swiss. But on the other hand, it was kind of disturbing. It took 4+ years of living abroad, but I can finally understand why the Swiss thought I had mental issues when I used to exude enthusiasm over anything—even work.

Which naturally leads me to writing. This experience, learning to see things from a different perspective, is great for writers. I am now seeing the United States through the eyes of a European. That’s priceless. Unlike a new arrival or vacationer, I no longer gape at the Swiss when they ignore my smile, I go back to my country and stare at my smiling fellow citizens instead.

And then I grin. Because every writer should be so fortunate to see themselves this clearly.

Maybe that’s why research at INSEAD demonstrated that going abroad enhances creative thinking. Living in Switzerland has definitely made me a more creative person–at least I know I've become more empathetic to other cultures and ways of living. What is your experience with creativity and going abroad?


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