Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Live and Write in a Foreign Land (Part I)

For a long time now, fellow writers, especially newbies, have been asking me how to go about working as a foreign correspondent and/or how to go about writing for a living while overseas. The simplest answer I can give them of course, is to just do it. But short of beating the old Nike slogan to death, the answer is a bit more complicated than for which I give it credit. The good news however is, as freelance writers and journalists, we can pretty much live where ever, however we want while working for ourselves and enjoying the cash rewards for our labors (But listen, if you're looking to get rich, better that you stay in the burbs and go to law school). Free is the key word here and if you're like me, and do not like the idea of being tied and bound to any one particular community or job than the life of the freelance foreign correspondent/writer is the perfect palliative for the work-TV-bed syndrome.

But how exactly do you go about getting work and sustaining a life outside of your native land?  Since there's a lot of ground to cover, I thought I'd break this essay up into parts, this being Part I.

Part I. Preparation

1. This is the soul searching part. Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself what precisely is it you want to do with your life. Do you seek the security of a 9-to-5 gig? Do you like the idea of getting married, buying a house, and settling down in the suburbs? Are you satisfied with a couple vacation weeks in the winter and maybe another week in the summer? If you answer yes to these questions, than becoming a freelance foreign correspondent is definitely not for you.

2. Do you get fidgety standing in one place for too long? Do you not enjoy sitting down for long stretches in front of the television? Are you more prone to take a five mile run than head to the mall for some shopping? Do you find yourself fantasizing about seeing the Taj Mahal, or standing under the Eiffel Tower, or hiking through the Amazon Jungle with spiders under foot and monkeys overhead? If the answer is yes to all these questions, you are already on your way to living and writing in a foreign land.

3. How are your relationships going? Do you find yourself crippled unless you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Can't stand the lonely nights so much that you must always be in a relationship? We all get lonely. It's a part of life. I've been married twice and divorced twice and yes, I'm prone to loneliness. But in some ways, it's okay to seek out that loneliness. Loneliness creates an edge in your work which it might not otherwise have. After breaking up with Ingrid Bergman and spending a long, unendearing stretch in Los Angeles, Robert Capa, a man who loved to surround himself with friends and women, found himself back out in the field in Turkey. He wrote. "I'm a newspaperman again...I sleep in strange hotels, read during the night...It's good to work. It's good to be lonely." Novelist/freelance journalist Martha Gelhorn, even after adopting her son, found herself desperately seeking out places in Italy, Africa, and Mexico for months at a time where she could write her stories and books in peace, while at the same time corresponding with her lovers and preparing herself for the inevitable heartbreak. As he turned sixty, Norman Mailer woke up one morning as his 9th child was about to be born, and he lamented to his 6th wife, "All I ever wanted to do was live in Paris for a year and write a novel." This is not to say you can't maintain a relationship while you travel the world and write, it's just that your partner had better be very special and very understanding of your needs. You in turn must do the same for them. In the end, you should always travel as lightly as possible when living and writing overseas. This includes the lightest emotional load as well.

4. Finances. In the next part I'll discuss what kind of work is best for you. But for now, take a good honest look at your financial situation. If you're in debt up to your ears, the debtors are going to chase you down, even if you end up living in Kathmandu for a while. This is the digital age, and you're only a click away. If you're thinking that traveling abroad as a freelance writer is going to make you loads of cash, think again. More than likely, it will cost you money for a while. In fact, don't even think of buying a plane ticket unless you have enough cash to hold you over for three full months. 

(To be continued...)



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