What do you feel were the most important actions you took to grow as a writer and develop your writing into a full-time career?
I’m very conscious of the fact that writing is rewriting and in order to rewrite you need new information. I’ve been a member of critique groups for the past 15 years and maintain personal-professional relationships with other full-time writers with whom I can discuss the larger picture of the writing life. It’s a solitary activity so I believe you need to be actively engaged with other writers and learning and growing alongside them.
I’ve invested in adult education courses like MediaBistro.com’s 10-week Journalism Bootcamp to pick up news skills and discipline. www.writers.com offers online courses that might be of interest to writers overseas. I’ve also worked one-on-one with a holistic writing coach on a weekly basis for three years. All of these endeavors and commitments have made me a stronger writer and a more effective captain of my writing career.
What qualities, skills and strengths do you feel are essential for a professional writer to have?
The ability to keep learning. The commitment to join writing and publishing communities as a productive, respectful member. To be able to work harmoniously with editors and consistently deliver clean, accurate work on deadline and in the exact style of the publication. To be able to dissect the work you see being published and figure out why the editor said yes to it.
How important do you feel a strong online identity or presence is to a professional writer?
For any writer it’s important to be able to have a place to send people to learn about your work but for an expat writer it’s imperative if your main markets are in another country. Being based in Turkey I know I need to continue to improve my online presence if I want to have more of an effect in English language markets. I’ve got an author page at Redroom which is a start.
It’s good to have an online portfolio with ‘clippings’ of your published work, as well as special content just for the web. I recommend a useful recent post at Tumblemoose that talks about an online portfolio tool.
What are your thoughts on blogging as a writer? Do you feel that aspiring or seasoned writers should blog? Do you see being a professional blogger as a viable writing career?
If the Internet had come ten or twenty years earlier I would have been a blogger from the start. Instead I am late to the game. There’s a lot to learn about being a successful blogger and I am not there yet. It seems like a great idea to exercise your writing muscles and weigh in on a variety of topics on a regular basis, as well as a method of building an audience and influence in your fields of specialty.
Getting to the point of making money on your blog, and drawing a livelihood is much more difficult regardless of what the spammers would like you to believe. You can certainly try, but devote at least some of your energy to researching the realities. At the very least a blog can complement your other work. I like the microblogging aspects of Twitter (140 characters a post or ‘tweet’) although it can also be restrictive. I maintain blogs in the expat arts network at www.expatarts.org and a few other sites.
You've been published in many impressive publications, such as the Asia Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice and National Geographic Traveler, and your work has been included in books like The Thong Also Rises and The Subway Chronicles: Scenes from Life in New York. What would your advice be to writers looking to be published in these sorts of publications and books?
My essay about a transformational subway ride which I was inspired to write and submit to an obscure website in 2002 not only led me to be quoted in the New York Times and brought me my literary agent but it also appears in The Subway Chronicles, alongside venerated New York writers like Calvin Trillin, Colson Whitehead, and Jonathan Lethem. A direct result of following a moment of bliss.
On the other hand, the alchemy of getting published is usually much more like this: If you study publications and follow their submission guidelines you may be able to break in with a good article pitch. It takes practice and research. Every writer goes through this gauntlet. Try to learn from your rejections, because if you submit your work you will most likely begin to receive rejections.
Before attempting the big publications you should try to work your way up with smaller accomplishments. You’ll need them to explain your credentials to the larger outlets. You’ll also need to hone your instincts for a good story or angle that hasn’t been already been covered, and on a topic that you are uniquely qualified to write. For the newspapers Asia Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice I pitched reviews of fresh books and upcoming cultural events that were of specific interest to their readership. National Geographic Traveler came to me and Jennifer for a Place of a Lifetime package on Istanbul because of our Expat Harem expertise. One of their other writing teams had recommended the anthology in a previous 48-Hours in Istanbul feature, so it was a natural step for them.
Once you establish yourself with a publication they often come back to you for more work. For instance, I’ve also written National Geographic Traveler’s Insider: Istanbul infographic map of the historic Sultanahmet district (April 2009).
The Thong Also Rises is published by Travelers’ Tales, which releases numerous collections each year. They often publish new writers. Check what’s upcoming and submit directly through their site, which is what I did.
Do you have any last words of wisdom for expatriates looking to writing as a career to support their life abroad?
I would say it’s difficult to support yourself anywhere as a writer unless you’re in great demand and can command high per-word rates. Not impossible, though, especially if you follow the advice of austere lifestyle designers like Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week. You can certainly supplement your income with writing and try to build from there.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book project? How about your other projects?
I’ll be finishing my second book this year, a forensic memoir of best friendship. As much as it departs from my expat, travel, culture subjects, it still revolves around the other central themes you’ll find threaded through my work: the feminine voice, the struggle for identity and issues of personal dynamics small and large. Along the way I’ll be detailing some of those hard knock expat life lessons I mentioned above since self awareness is often forged even more heatedly in the crucible of life and work abroad.
Other Expat Harem related projects in the pipeline include the development of a 2.0 website that reflects the wider spectrum of Expat Harem philosophy and activities. Jennifer and I have been expanding for a few years into a full-fledged cultural entertainment production company and a branded community -- characterized by the Expat Harem cultural aesthetic. We believe the state of permanent liminality that expats know so well is only going to grow in relevance in this globally mobile age, meaning our audience will increase beyond the expats, women, writers, Turkophiles, culturati , travelers, academics, diplomats, tourism organizations and multinational companies we already reach with the book.
Among long term Expat Harem projects we’re pursuing is a film adaptation of my Ottoman princess wedding tale from the book. Other ventures include external collaborations like the Spark Summit, an intellectual salon for mobile progressives I am developing to begin in 2010 with fellow expat in Istanbul and author Dr. Nassim Assefi.
If it sounds like a lot, you’re right! Not everything can happen and not everything can happen overnight, but when the right opportunity comes to make it real I will be ready.
Where can we find out more about you and your work online?
The Expat Harem website can tell you everything you might possibly want to know about the anthology: the table of contents, bios of the editors and writers, media and reader reviews, our events calendar, which libraries near you stock copies, the universities employing it as a text and the travel operators who recommend it, its bestseller list appearances, the recipe for the delicious Expat Harem martini designed by organic mixologist Joe McCanta, and a study guide for book groups. We’ve also compiled a page of expat resources for Istanbul, Turkey and elsewhere.
The Expat Harem blog runs short news items about the book, the editors and the writers.
If you’re on Facebook please join us at the Expat Harem Facebook page.
You can also find me at my Redroom author page.
I’m quite active on the microblogging service Twitter, streaming resources and tips that come across my desk. Besides email, it’s the best place to connect with me. I’d love to hear what other entrepreneurial expats are up to. Feel free to connect with me on Twitter.
Any other final words you'd like to share with expat readers?
Being an expatriate you’re naturally a person in transition. Your worst days can leave you feeling unmoored and alienated. Your best days bring a sense of your agile nature and the qualities that make you unique from the people who surround you and the people back home. Working toward an understanding of what it will take for you to feel your best in your environment I think is extremely worthwhile. Your answers perfectly define you and the more closely they are incorporated into your business plans the better chance you have of career success abroad.
One other thing: whether you choose to be or not, as an expat you’re an ambassador for your host nation and your homeland. We owe it to everyone we come into contact with to demonstrate the best qualities of both cultures. Being happy really helps. Make it a priority.
Good luck to all career by choice readers and everyone forging a life outside their home nation. Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit of my world!
Thank you so much Anastasia for taking the time to share your wisdom and experience as a expat writer. Please keep us posted to the progress of your upcoming projects - they sound fantastic and we look forward to learning more about them.
YOUR EXPAT SUCCESS TIP: If you are an aspiring or seasoned expat writer, explore the writing groups, websites and resources that Anastasia recommends that have supported her on her journey to being a successful expat writer. Recognize the importance of your online identity to your writing career. If you are an expat interested in learning more about the expat experience in Turkey, be sure to check out the collection of stories from foreign women in Turkey, Tales from the Expat Harem. Once you've read it, be sure to join the Expat Harem's page on Facebook.