Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to be a more productive writer

How to be more productive? New research says we should relax.

Not surprisingly, this new research on relaxation and productivity is American research. Europeans don’t need to research relaxation because they already practice it. Most European cultures already encourage things like long lunches and substantial vacation time.

Relaxation is so important to Europeans, that Writer Abroad has had her attempts at doing it criticized by her European colleagues:
Relax. You'll get more done.
“You’re only taking two weeks off and going to three Spanish cities? How will you have time to relax?”

One Swiss colleague in particular enjoys reminding Writer Abroad when it is noon and she is still at her desk instead of at lunch:

“Lunch break, it’s noon,” he’ll say, picking up his coat at 11:59 so he’s out the door exactly at noon and not a minute later.

Later, maybe 15 minutes later, Writer Abroad finally goes out too.

Of course, to an American, an hour for lunch or two weeks for one vacation is practically a lifetime. Exactly why they need to begin putting their newfound research into practice.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, Relax! You’ll be more productive, which discussed this new research on relaxation, we should incorporate things like daytime workouts, short naps, and longer, more frequent vacations into our lives if we want to get more done.

It also stressed the advantages gained from working in periods that last no more than 90 minutes.

If you need help putting the 90-minute work period into practice, have a baby. As Writer Abroad has previously written, having a baby can actually make you a more productive writer.

This 90-minute concept is exactly why.

In fact, Writer Abroad has been using this technique for the last year and a half—working during Baby M’s naptimes, which, coincidentally, means about two 90-minute periods per day. Just enough to pretty much get everything done she needs to get done and still have enough energy leftover to relax—or read Goodnight Moon 999 times.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Small markets. Big opportunities?

Writer Abroad has been following Alexis Grant for a couple of years now, cheering Alexis on as she tried to sell a travel memoir. Unfortunately, Alexis just blogged about failure. Although she landed an agent for her memoir about backpacking in Africa, it failed to sell to publishers. She mentioned that because it failed to sell traditionally, she feels there is probably still work to do on it if she wants to self-publish.

This might be possible. Writer Abroad is a perfectionist—so she would think the same thing. But there is probably another reason the publishers turned it down: they believed it had too small of a market.

Too small a market for traditionalists? There are other ways.
Writer Abroad is no stranger to this concept of small markets. She lives in and writes about one of the smallest countries in Europe—one that is a third of the size of her home state of Illinois. She’s been told by several agents and editors, "No one cares about Switzerland—oh wait, did you mean Sweden?"

Sadly, if you listen to some of the agents Writer Abroad has talked to, “they”—those pesky self-centered Americans we are trying to sell too—don’t seem to care about much beyond France, Italy, Afghanistan, Iran, and maybe China. And Writer Abroad admits she wouldn’t mind living in one of those places if it would make her writing more marketable.

But if most Americans don’t care about Africa, should Alexis Grant just forget her memoir? If most Americans don’t care about Switzerland, does that mean Writer Abroad should stop writing about it?

Writer Abroad doesn’t think so. After all, if she doesn’t write about Switzerland—who will? (Fine, Englishman Diccon Bewes will—he already has quite successfully). And anyway, despite the naysayers, Writer Abroad has published over 30 essays and articles about Switzerland to so-called traditionalists. To celebrate and to formally stake her little place in the middle of nowhere in the big American writing world, she’s putting together a Switzerland essay book.

Whoa. An essay book? These words might as well read, “death wish.” And a Death Wish about Switzerland? There’s a traditional publishing dead end with a capital D.

But Writer Abroad doesn’t want to go down a dead end. That’s why traditional publishing will probably be a road not traveled for this particular project.

Instead, the independent publishing route is looking better and better. Especially since the big publishers aren’t willing to publish true stories set in so-called "unimportant" places. All the more reason the independent writer should.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Writing Soundtracks

Clock tower dings. Street musicians. Elevator hums. These are all a part of Writer Abroad’s typical writing soundtrack. She usually prefers to write in this so-called silence because she likes to hear the rhythm of the words she is writing. Often, she is guilty of writing a sentence or two and then immediately rereading it in order to hear how the sentences sound together. Sometimes, though, she does use background music to set the mood for a particular project. Depending on the piece, this could potentially lead to a pretty strange iTunes collection. In these cases, Writer Abroad would like to say, God Bless YouTube, since it allows her to listen to entire songs without having to buy them.

Here are some of Writer Abroad’s recent writing soundtracks and its coordinating project:

Song: MacGyver Theme
Perfect for: Writing a One Big Yodel blog post about how to create a fondue dinner using cemetery candles, duck tape, and a pot.

Song: Abide with me
Perfect for: Writing a funeral scene in a novel.

Song: Far Away
Artist: Nickelback
Perfect for: Writing a television commercial for an airline on the theme of connecting people.

Song: China
Artist: Tori Amos
Perfect for: Writing a personal essay about distance and family.

Song: Alone in Kyoto
Artist: Air
Perfect for: General use. Writer Abroad often puts this song on a loop so she can concentrate in noisy environments like an ad agency or a train.

Does anyone else have a strange writing soundtrack?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Writing Weekend in Zurich this Spring

Seven years ago, Writer Abroad was lamenting the lack of a writing community in Zurich. In 2010, she decided to stop complaining and start creating.

Writer Abroad had no idea. But along with two other Zurich-based writers, she decided to figure it out. Together, the three of them formed the Zurich Writers Workshop.  Since then they’ve organized three writing conferences in Zurich featuring authors like Susan Jane Gilman, Diccon Bewes, and Janet Skeslien Charles. The result? Writers from over five countries have come to Zurich to be inspired. Many have come again and again.

This also inspires Writer Abroad, because contrary to popular belief, writers don’t like to be alone–at least all the time. That’s why Writer Abroad would like to invite all authors, writers, and those who are scared to call themselves either to join her group for their fourth annual literary weekend in Zurich. It will take place from April 12-14, 2013. 

Writer Abroad thinks that no matter what your story is, the Zurich Writers Workshop–along with its two authors in residence–is sure to provide inspiration. And if you’ve been looking for an excuse to visit Switzerland or Zurich, here it is.

Back by popular demand, Sam North will lead a course called Storytelling Fundamentals, perfect for those who are just getting started in writing. And Lee Weatherly will teach a course called First Draft to Bestseller, perfect for writers who have already completed a draft of a novel, memoir, collection of short stories or essays. Both authors will provide critiques, either written or in one-on-one sessions.

Registration is now open at
But hurry. Only nine of the 27 places remain.


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