Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing about the old country

Writer Abroad is working on a travel book about Switzerland and it often makes her wonder—is writing this making her attempt at repatriation easier or harder? On one hand, it is therapeutic to write about the country she spent the last eight years living in. It keeps her connection to the country strong and will help maintain the author platform she built there. But on the other hand, it’s terrible to write about hiking around the longest glacier in Europe and be stuck in the flat American Midwest where no one hikes, let alone walks.

Missing the old country these
days…especially in spin class.
Writing this book is actually giving her strange side effects. She is physically aching for the great outdoors. And she didn't know it was possible to actually do that. It was especially acute this morning, when she went from writing about snowshoeing in the Alps to an indoor spin class--where riding up a hill involved a small click to the right of the bike's tension knob, instead of the winding castle-topped hill she used to ride up every week when she lived in Baden.

In any case, this travel book (one of four book projects at the moment—yes, Writer Abroad is crazy) is a kind of love letter to Switzerland since it includes over 100 things to do and places to go that Writer Abroad experienced as extraordinarily beautiful—or just very typically Swiss—during her many years wandering around with her GA, or country-wide train pass. It’s a book she hopes will inspire others who are in the country for a few days—years—or even a lifetime—to see Switzerland in new ways. She's learning to, without even being there. 

If you're a re-pat, does it help you to write about your "old" country?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Art of Slow Writing

Writer Abroad is reading a great new book called, The Art of Slow Writing, by Louise DeSalvo. But to be honest, Writer Abroad is surprised she likes it.

This is because Writer Abroad finds a lot of books about writing tiring or a waste of time. Why? Because reading them takes away time from writing. In her experience, a lot of people spend more time talking about what they do than they do actually doing it. Writers are no exception. That’s why if Writer Abroad is going to read, which she does consider part of her job, she wants to read books in the genre and/or on the topic she is currently writing about—these typically provide more inspiration to her than a book about writing.

Writer Abroad’s passion for doing rather than talking about doing stems from her days as an advertising copywriter when her colleagues spent most of the day playing ping pong and talking about advertising—instead of creating the actual television commercial or print ad. And then they’d start working at 6 p.m. when Writer Abroad was ready to go home. It drove her nuts, mainly because she was seen as non-productive if she left at 6 p.m., despite having worked at least eight hours more than many of her colleagues at that point.

Now that she has more control over her time and is beginning 2015 by finally becoming a full-time freelancer, she vows not to waste a minute of her work time. Luckily, The Art of Slow Writing doesn’t waste her time. Each chapter takes only a couple minutes to read and gives a lot of good information in that space.

So far, highlights of the book include a discussion of the process journal, which is a journal writers keep to track what we accomplish and how we accomplish it—and our feelings about everything. A process journal is an ongoing conversation with ourselves about our work. By reading past process journals we can understand how we felt during different points in our projects—and remember that our current feelings are normal. Writer Abroad is now inspired to begin a process journal.

In the book there is also a discussion of the importance of another kind of journal, called a “notebook” by Joan Didion, where the writer writes down “how it felt to be me” at a particular time. This kind of journal helps us remember who we used to be, and we can later draw on it for essays, memoir, or even for a character in a novel. Writer Abroad doesn’t usually keep a notebook, but she is now convinced she should, especially when she reads over the notebook she did keep, which was during her daughter’s first year. She can see now that it is hard to remember who she was as a new mother emotionally, even if she can remember specific incidents—like wishing she were a man during that time since they had it so much easier!

Another chapter in Slow Writing talks about taking time off, which is also important for creativity. Time away from work is so important for everyone, and yet Americans don’t seem to understand it—or if they do, they aren’t given the proper amount of time off to truly relax.  Instead, their “time away” is ping pong at the office (or worse, “pajama day at the office”). But sorry, anything at the office isn’t a vacation no matter how much fun it supposedly creates. After living for almost a decade in Europe, Writer Abroad vows to continue taking at least a month of time off each year. The difference it makes in her work is real.


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