Saturday, November 4, 2017

Creative Anger: What Happens When You Lose It?

Susan Jane Gilman once gave a TED Talk on how anger inspires creativity. Writer Abroad agrees. In fact, many of her pieces in the last few years (Vox, Vice, New York Times) were inspired by anger. Anger fueled her writing and essays flowed. But now she's at a loss. Now she's answering the question: What happens when your anger is no longer inspiring?

Writer Abroad has now reached a point where she's beyond being angry. In fact, she’s so upset at the direction of the United States that she almost can’t write about it any longer. She’s been in a place of creative anger for over three years now (since returning to the U.S.), and for her, the anger has run its course.

The reality that nothing good (at least politically and policy-wise) will happen for the next few years—no matter what piece she gets published or not—has her in a writing slump.

Now she’s numb. Now she can hardly listen to the news. Now she’s got writer’s block. This is probably what the current leaders of the U.S. want. And she doesn’t want to succumb to them, but she is slowly succumbing to the endless deranged mental state that is life in 2017 America.

She’s also trying to be kind to herself. Trying to give herself a few months break from writing about everything that’s wrong in order to feel creatively all right. Because the reality is, outside of the decline of her country, her life is going fine. Take away the noise from the media, from the outside world asking her what the heck is going on here, from the voices in her head wondering if she made a huge mistake by moving back to this disaster waiting-to-happen when she was in a much more stable and reasonable country before–even if it wasn't her real home.

So for the next few months, there might be some quiet going on here, at least in the creative anger arena, as Writer Abroad focuses on some business writing and strategic work in order to remain somewhat sane.

Because Writer Abroad knows anger is a powerful creative tool. And she wants to give the anger room to return. And she hopes for the sake of her creativity, that it does.

Can anyone else relate?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Example Query or Pitch Letter

What follows is the query letter that resulted in the Wall Street Journal article, When American Expats Don't Want Their Kids to Have U.S. Citizenship. For more tips on writing letters, see this post on five steps to writing a great pitch letter.

Dear Specific Editor Name at the Wall Street Journal,

At a time when Americans abroad are renouncing their citizenship in record numbers, I have noticed another growing trend: Americans giving birth abroad are not giving American citizenship to their children. On purpose.

In fact, when my American daughter was born in Switzerland, which does not grant citizenship based on place of birth, I often wondered whether I would have applied for her to have American citizenship had there been another citizenship option. Emotionally, this was quite a sad thought for me, but practically, based on the way my husband and I had been treated by our own government as Americans abroad, it seemed right to spare our daughter, who might never have lived in the US, of American policies.

Many acquaintances of mine who did have citizenship options for their babies took them. One American, married to a dual German/Swiss citizen and living in Switzerland, gave only Swiss nationality to her daughter, who was born last year. “We figured we were living in Switzerland so our daughter should be Swiss. Also, I want to think long and hard about whether we give her American citizenship or not due to all the issues Americans abroad are facing now,” she says. Another American living in Australia, who is married to an Australian, chose not to give her son American citizenship for similar reasons.

But then there are still Americans who give their children American citizenship despite having other options—even without plans to return to America. An American living in Zurich and married to a German, has two daughters who are dual American and German citizens. “It just makes it easier to travel. And we come to the States to visit a lot,” she says.

In my 1,000-word article, “Not-so American Babies Abroad,” for your Expat Section, I would explore the growing trend of Americans abroad who decide not to give their children their own citizenship and why. This piece would include a short personal narrative along with interviews with American parents living abroad.

I am an American repatriate and freelance writer. My work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, CNN Travel, and many other publications. Thanks for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Writer Abroad

Friday, September 29, 2017

Five Steps to Writing a Great Query Letter

Writer Abroad is sometimes hired to help other writers shape an idea, edit an essay, or prepare a piece for publication.

Here's one of the first things she tells them: Pretend you're in sales. Wait, don't pretend. If you're a writer wanting to get hired to write a piece for any publication–from your local newspaper to the New York Times, you must learn to be a good salesperson.

Most big bylines start with a little letter.
Yes, if you want to place an article in a publication, you have to sell your idea. No matter what kind of writing you specialize in, you must also be competent at persuasive writing—or you’ll never get a chance to write the way you prefer to write. What follows are five steps to writing a great query (or pitch) letter. 

Get the address right.
Address your letter to the right editor. This is sometimes easier said than done. But it’s critical to address your letter to someone specific because it shows you’ve done your research. Never write: Dear Editor,

Do your research.
Speaking of research, you have read the publication you’re submitting an idea to, yes? This is also critically important. You don’t want to suggest a travel story to say, McSweeney’s, when they clearly don’t publish them.

Angle the piece correctly.
Angle your piece to the publication you’re pitching. Sure, you could sell a travel story about a festival in Switzerland many ways. But you must figure out: What is the right way to sell that idea for the publication you’re targeting? Read that publication (see step two) but also look at the way they title things. Then create a title for your piece that has the same tone and style. Just doing that will do wonders for getting your idea from pitch to publication.

Be brief, yet impactful.
Keep your pitch letter brief. Say 300 words maximum. If you can’t get across the idea succinctly, keep editing until your idea and prose are both clear and crisp.

Answer these two questions in your letter.
Be sure to answer the questions “why now” and “why you.” These are the two questions every editor usually cares about. Why should they publish your idea now? What is timely or new about it? And why are you the perfect one to write it? Be sure to include a short, one-paragraph bio at the end of your letter.

Finally, since nothing helps like an example pitch letter, stay tuned next week for a query letter written by yours truly, along with a link to the article that came to life because of it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Should You Incorporate Your Writing Business?

Writers usually think about characters, stories, and content. They don’t usually think about business entities. But when it comes to how you work, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of various entities you could create for your writing business. 

With this in mind, Writer Abroad has created a little cheat sheet for writers like her who are not business people. So read and consider, but then talk to an accountant or tax lawyer about your specific situation based on your country, city, and state to see what makes sense for you. Writer Abroad has been both a sole proprietorship and an S-Corp, so she knows first hand that there are advantages and disadvantages to having a writing business in either entity.

Become a CEO of your writing corporation–
and still wear your slipper boots.

Sole Proprietorship
If you write an article or do a project for someone and get paid for it, you are automatically considered a sole proprietor.

-It's the simplest entity: No official incorporation paperwork required (or fees to do so!)—just start working.
-You can deduct any expenses related to your work—including a portion of your monthly mortgage or rent payment if you work from home and have a designated office.
-You can create a Solo 401k and deduct up to 18k in retirement a year.
-You can deduct net business losses from personal income.

-Your personal and business lives are intertwined legally, meaning if someone takes you to court for something you wrote, your personal assets are also at stake.
-Self-employment taxes (U.S.) are over 15%. That’s on top of paying the tax in your income bracket. The first time you see your total tax bill as a sole proprietor, you will be shocked.
-Might not be the most tax advantageous entity if you make above a certain income (say 30k or more).

-Your profits pass through and taxes are paid personally.
-Your business is legally separated from your personal financials.

-More expensive to establish than a sole proprietorship (but worth considering for the legal protection it offers.)

An S-Corporation is a special kind of corporation where business income, as well as many tax deductions, credits, and losses are passed through the owners, rather than being taxed at the corporate level. You must meet specific IRS requirements to create an S-Corp. First you file regular corporation paperwork, then you apply to be an S-Corp after that.

-Your business will be legally separated from your personal finances.
-If you make over a certain income level, you will save money on taxes because you won’t be paying 15% in self-employment taxes like a sole proprietor does. So someone making 100k, for example, could save around 5k in taxes. But you have to consider the costs of increased paperwork too.
-You have more flexibility. You can decide how much salary you get, how much retirement you put away (in some cases, you can deduct as much as 52k a year), and you have a lot of the benefits a regular corporation has, but on a smaller scale and without double taxation.
-You demonstrate your seriousness about your writing both to yourself and to others with a corporation.
-You'll become both a writer and a CEO. Sounds good at parties.
-You can hire employees or contractors like editors, book designers, translators, and more.

-You will need to hire a lawyer to help you incorporate. This can cost around $700.
-Yearly filing fees of $100 or more are required to maintain entity with the state.
-You will have a lot of increased paperwork and accounting, which means you may need to hire an accountant to help you manage payroll (even if it’s just you on payroll), taxes, and quarterly filings as well as things you never considered, like state employment security paperwork, which is filed quarterly too (and can cost around $400-500 a quarter just to insure yourself against unemployment). Try to get a CPA as they are the most qualified to do your accounting. Figure an accounting cost of about $130 a month, including a subscription to Intuit.

For further reading

Writer Abroad found the following books useful when she was determining her business entity:

Other writers have questions or entity experiences? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Children's Book Writing: No More Creative Than Copywriting?

Writer Abroad always thought it would be fun to be a children’s author. It seems like such a creative career--at least in comparison to some of the marketing writing she does on a daily basis. But the realities of writing for children, as she learned from an author at the Chicago Lit Fest this month, seem otherwise.

This particular debut author/illustrator had to go through 70 revisions of her 200-word picture book once it got to the publisher—70 illustration revisions—in addition to text revisions. She said by the end, the only part of the book that was hers from the original version was the last page—and that she had had to fight to keep the ending less than happy. Percentage wise, she quoted 1 percent of the book was truly hers.

These kind of results, barely recognizing what you originally suggested, sound a lot like some of the advertising and marketing writing Writer Abroad has done for clients over the years.

There's a lot to learn at the Chicago Lit Fest,
which is held every June.
And there's a reason for that: Apparently the marketing department at this author's large publisher kept pushing for the characters to be more like a particular Disney character, since that character was popular the summer her book was coming out. Apparently the marketing department was in charge of basically everything.

Now along with being a freelance writer and author, Writer Abroad works in the advertising and marketing industry. She considers it a plus to do so because she normally enjoys it, and also because it informs her pure creative writing work. The reality is that knowing what kind of writing sells and how to sell it matters. A lot.

But if it comes to the point where a 200-word picture book has none of the 200 words or illustrations originally suggested by the author in it, then is writing a book for a big publisher no more creative than writing for advertising, where often every word is at the whim of clients?

It appears that in some cases at least, the only way to be completely in creative control as an author is to be your own publisher. Especially when you consider beautiful and successfully independently published children's books like the Lost My Name series (which Writer Abroad's daughter loves).

That’s why for the time being anyway, Writer Abroad is pretty happy with her balance of writing for business and writing for the pure creativity of it. Somehow, keeping her corporate writing separate from her book writing, yet controlling both via her own writing and publishing company—is the perfect balance of writing for industry and writing for pure creativity.

It’s something to consider when a writer considers her alternatives. And these days, there are a lot of them. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A decade of Swiss discovery. Now available.

Writer Abroad traveled around Switzerland for almost 9 years. Then she took 3 years to write this book. Needless to say, travel writing isn't for those who want quick results. But finally, it's here. Writer Abroad's Swiss travel book.

If you're interested in seeing the real Switzerland (or just interested in how a decade of discovery can be told in 326 pages with 69 photographs), order a copy for yourself.

The book is available by order at any bookstore or you can buy it from any online bookseller. Below are some of the places you can find the book:

Order your book on
Order your Kindle version
Order your book on
Order your book on
Order your book from
Order your book from Barnes & Noble
Order your Nook version

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Traveling like a local. It's never been more important.

If you’re the type that reads blogs by writers abroad, then you know that travel is awesome. And you probably also know that when Writer Abroad says travel, she doesn’t mean Cruise Ship. She means real-deal-get-on-a-public-bus-where-you-don’t-speak-the-language-and-just-go-for-it travel.

This kind of travel has never been more important. As countries go nationalistic in a world that’s ever more globalized, understanding people who differ from us can mean the difference between war and peace.

That’s why Writer Abroad has written her latest travel book, which is all about traveling like a local in the country she knows best–Switzerland. And she encourages other writers abroad out there to write their own versions of this book about the countries closest to their hearts.

Available next month, 99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local is one part travel book, one part culture guide, and total bucket list enjoyment. It allows you to say adieu to Lucerne and allegra to the place the Swiss voted most beautiful. It encourages you to cut the Swiss army knife from your shopping list and replace it with a rubber messenger bag. And it gives you the inspiration you need to stop following umbrella-toting tour guides (or books that act like them) and start following 320,000 well-dressed Swiss cows instead.

Whether you’re a vacationer rethinking your version of touring, an expatriate who wants to get to know your adopted country on a deeper level, or even if you’re Swiss—99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local is for anyone who believes that the best travel stories come from a desire not just to take a snapshot of a place from a train window, but to stop, smile, and disembark for a while in order to bring the meaning of that blurry photo into sharper focus.

To promote her new book, Writer Abroad will make special appearances in Switzerland in May. She’d love to see you at one of the following:

The Zurich Writers Workshop, May 14, 2:30 p.m. (Writer Abroad will join other authors to discuss how to build a writing career.)

The American International Club of Zurich TGIF, May 19, 6:30 p.m. (Writer Abroad will discuss American life after Switzerland (scary!), the benefits of traveling like a local, and host a quiz—with a book prize—to see who already travels Swisser than the Swiss.)

Global Book Fair, May 20, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Writer Abroad will read a story to children and discuss some off-the-beaten-path family activities in Switzerland.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

7th Annual Writing Workshop in Zurich

Back in 2008-9, Writer Abroad lamented the lack of writing events in Zurich. So in 2010, she joined up with two other Zurich-based American writers, bravely invited a couple of famous authors to teach in Zurich over a weekend, crossed their fingers that other aspiring writers would attend the weekend, and then they held the first Zurich Writers Workshop. It felt great: Instead of lamenting the lack of something, they were creating something. 

Now, eight years later, thanks to a Canadian and Swiss writer, who have also joined the planning committee, the Zurich Writers Workshop is still going strong.

In fact, it's time for workshop number 7. Yes, the 7th Zurich Writers Workshop will take place May 12-14, 2017 in Zurich, Switzerland this spring. And you're invited.

This year's workshop is divided into two sections: 

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 21.51.46
The featured authors' latest books.
Fiction Boot Camp with Susan Jane Gilman and 
Poetry and Prose with Jill Alexander Essbaum

Each section also includes the Sunday Panel: Career Paths in Writing. There is also the opportunity to register for the Sunday Panel only. 

The entire workshop is conducted in English. To register, click here.

More information:
–Eventbrite website for Registration
–Follow Zurich Writers Workshop on Facebook

May 12-14, 2017

Volkshaus Zurich
Stauffacherstrasse 60
8004 Z├╝rich

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Writers, Money, and Careers, oh my.

Writer Abroad is reading the most amazing book. It talks candidly about writing and money. Yes, money.

Money? Stop the press. Aim the camera. Point it at something completely taboo: A writer talking about money. Actually, 33 writers talking about money.


Writers never talk about money. And if they do, it’s usually in the vein of, Well, should I write for free? I mean, I’ll get exposure.

Stop with the exposure thing already. Stop.

Admittedly, Writer Abroad is only on page 29, but she’s in love with Manjula Martin’s new book, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Here’s the best line so far:

“People wonder when you’re allowed to call yourself a writer. I think maybe the answer is when you recognize that it (writing) is work.”

Wow, imagine that. Writing is work. And guess what? The writers who successfully write full time realize this. After all, do lawyers work for free? Do plumbers fix your water heater for free? Why do writers think they should be any different?

If you want to make writing a career here’s the hard truth: you have to talk about money. And you have to turn writing into work no matter how much you love it. And you have to also learn to say no. No to no pay. No to low pay. And no to bad contracts. Even if they mean publication. Especially if they mean publication.

Writer Abroad always turns down offers if they include no pay, low pay, or bad rights-grabbing contracts for work she knows she could use later. Working writers must do this. Why? Because they need time to write things for the publications and companies that actually respect the work they do. If writers write for people who don’t respect them, writers lose. There’s only so much time in a day.

In Scratch, there’s a great interview with Cheryl Strayed about how she had written a bestseller and still couldn’t pay the rent. These are things writers need to hear. Thank you, thank you, Manjula Martin, for this anthology.

Sometimes we need to stop talking about high art and start talking about how to live the life we want to live in order to create the things we want to create—even if, in the end, these things result in high art.

That’s why Writer Abroad is pleased to be on a panel entitled Career Paths in Writing at the next Zurich Writers Workshop, which will be held in May in Zurich, Switzerland. While on the panel, she hopes to expand on why writers need to think of writing as a business first and an art second. But for those who can’t attend—and even those who can—Scratch is the new must-read book for writers.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Travel Writing: The Best Escape for Writers in the U.S.

Happy New Year, Writers Abroad. Be glad, today, that you are abroad.

But for those in the U.S. like Writer Abroad is now, there is nothing like a strange new American presidency to make all Americans feel a little more foreign in our own country.

If there’s any consolation prize, the recent (and sure to be upcoming) American strangeness makes Writer Abroad feel less like a foreigner in her own country than she did after moving back two years ago from Switzerland.

When over half your country also seems confounded by its bizarre direction, it makes the last stages of repatriation a little easier somehow. Together, we are all foreigners in America these days. (This phenomenon is also making Writer Abroad’s upcoming book project, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, an even more interesting thing to write than she ever expected.)

Luckily, Writer Abroad often escapes into Switzerland, even from the United States. (Funny how that happens when you are writing a travel book about Switzerland.) Writing this travel book over the last three years has been a wonderful escape. After the book is published this spring, Writer Abroad will lose her daily excuse to escape into another world because she will be 100% focused on her book about American life. But she’s sure to find another excuse.

Speaking of escaping, here’s a piece she wrote this week for CNN Business Traveller about traveling in Davos, Switzerland. It was timed to run with the World Economic Forum, but really, Davos is a much better place to go when that conference is over. In fact, during the Forum, many places in Davos shut down for security reasons.

And for those of you who would like to escape to Switzerland to do a little writing this year, the Zurich Writers Workshop will be held May 12-14, 2017 in Zurich. Hmm…since Writer Abroad is both planning and attending this workshop, she actually will escape the U.S. for a little while once again. Care to join her?


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