*even if you live in W. Lafayette, IN
I was getting really excited last night.
I was looking at some of my contacts on Twitter and checking out their profiles– so many of them are right here in New York! We could get together! Do coffee! Talk about projects we could collaborate on! I was SO LUCKY to live in the center of the universe!
And I am. There are incredible opportunities in NYC, but there are incredible opportunities everywhere. Why didn’t I think about how I could help you learn to use the place you live–wherever it is–to advance your writing career?
Francisco poured me another drink and that’s what I did.
Maybe this all felt particularly relevant because earlier in the day I’d been reading “Sticking Around Lafayette, Indiana,” an article in Smithsonian Magazine written by novelist Patricia Henley. A friend of mine actually lives in Lafayette and pretty much thinks it’s a hole, so I was interested to read Henley’s defense of a town she expected to be “repressed and unimaginative,” but which she has found to be quite the opposite.
The take-away–and this shouldn’t be any surprise but I hope it helps you feel better when you wonder why you don’t live in the center of the universe (ahem)–is that you can be a writer anywhere. You can be an excellent writer anywhere. You can connect with people from anywhere. And you can use wherever you are as a means of advancing your writing career.
Let’s talk about a few ways to do just that:
1. Become a bona fide destination expert.
Maybe you think your little corner of [insert Podunk, Wherever name here] isn’t highly marketable. You may be right… for now. But more and more editors and publishers are looking for destinations they can market as “off-the-beaten-path,” and if you’ve made yourself the sole expert on your region, who better than you to write about it?
2. Become a champion and evangelist of where you live.
Do you know how many writers are tripping over one another to snatch up contracts to write about New York?
If you don’t have any competition, consider yourself lucky. A few thousand writers would love to be in your shoes.
Develop a persona for yourself and for your place. If it’s authentic and if you can genuinely find reasons to be fired up about where you live, you’ll interest people in it.
3/4 of the attraction of anything is its story. Write that story.
Better yet, BE that story.
3. Create the network.
I think this is even more exciting than “networking” (and by the way, I don’t use this term in the self-interested sense)– creating the network. Don’t sit around and lament that you live in a creative wasteland, because I assure you that you don’t.
Take my hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina as a superlative example.
When I was a teenager, I was pretty sure my hometown ranked low on the “World’s Hotbeds of Creativity” scale. There weren’t a lot of existing activities or resources for writers and artists, a fact that my friends and I complained about ceaselessly.
All that started to change in 1995 (too bad it was just as I was leaving Spartanburg to go to college in Atlanta), when a few local writers started to get together for morning coffee and found that their daily conversation was the lamentable lack of identity of my hometown. Rather than sip away, complain, sigh, and go about the rest of their day, they actually decided to do something about it. They founded the Hub City Writers’ Project, which has become a little empire of creativity.
In the past 15 years, they’ve managed to produce 36 books through their independent press. They rehabbed an old shoe store and turned it into a welcoming space that offers a residency program for artists and writers, as well as performance space for the community. One of the founders, John Lane, decided all that wasn’t enough, and so he raised the funds and got permission to rehab an old textile mill down by the river and turn it into a site for an environmental writing program offered by Wofford College, where he teaches. (You can read more about that project in my interview with John.). Right now, they’re in the process of setting up an independent bookstore in the old Masonic building downtown.
And that’s just the beginning. I could (and probably should) write a whole article about Hub City.
But I think you’re getting my point, which is this: Don’t sit around and complain. Or complain. But just for a minute. Then get off your ass and do something about it.
It’s so exciting to have a totally blank foundation upon which you can build anything. Take advantage of that opportunity.
Create the network.
4. Use expat status to your advantage.
I lived in Puerto Rico for 2.5 years and in Mexico City for 2 years. During that time, I was able to land a number of assignments because, quite simply, I was in a place where editors wanted an English-speaking writer.
Though there’s some luck in the timing, and proven experience with respect to my writing, being in these places was key to my getting two assignments for Gayot Guides, one writing a 72 hour guide to Mexico City and the other writing a business guide to Guadalajara, which I could easily go and check out because I was already “in-country.”
Don’t think being an expat pushes you out of the publishing game. In fact, it makes you all the more attractive.
These are just four ideas that occurred to me during a quick brainstorm. What suggestions would you add to the list?