Monday, 3 December 2012

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Travellers and Expats Write: Taking the Risk


Why do travelers, expats and cultural spelunkers always want to write about their experiences? Showing off? Seen so much they have to share it all? Too much time on their hands?

I’ll hold my hands up and admit I'm guiltier than most. I have no qualms about wanting to share my life, the places I visit, the things I get up to, people I meet, ups and downs, pros and cons, highs and lows. It's my necessary fix. Once I started, I found I couldn't stop.

Whether it's describing a life lived abroad in a far-flung post, unique travel experiences on the hiking trails of Nepal, or sharing how easy it is to jump on a train at New York, ride a bike in the south of France or book affordable flights to Lanzarote, lovers of travel and expat adventurers can’t help but write about it.

Today’s guest blogger, Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, is one such cultural spelunker. With a husband from Ireland, a daughter from Vietnam, nearly five years as an expat in Shanghai, China, and an insatiable appetite for place, how could she not be? She’s also an author with an MFA degree in fiction writing, 18 years of experience as a writing instructor, a writerhead passionista, and the curator of #38Write, a monthly series of online writing workshops for place-passionate culture junkies around the world.

I've known Kristin through the blogosphere for the past couple of years and have much admiration and respect for Kristin and her work, including her fabulous writing workshops. I'm extremely pleased to have her guest post on ISOALLO and hope to have her back here very soon. In this post, Kristin explores the traveler and expat desire to write and shares details of her next writing workshop...


Folks who have never lived as expats often ask me two questions:

  1. “Why does it seem like so many expats have such a deep desire to write?”
  2.  “As a writing instructor, why do you like to work with expats so much?”

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (HJgun)

The answers are easy:
  1. As many of you already know (preaching to the choir here…), expats long to write because when you move from your home country to a host country, you are (willingly) ripped from everything you know and trust and are hurled into a whirlwind of discomfort, cultural confusion, language challenges, brilliant epiphanies, self-discovery, revelation, hysterically funny stuff, a new sense of home, and so much more. Being replaced, displaced, and/or misplaced in the world stirs a wild desire to share story, to say to people (on the page), “Oh, my god, you will not believe what I saw/felt/heard/ate/did/learned/etc., today.” In other words, when your world pops, you want to write about it. 
  2. As a writer, I’ve been a place-passionate cultural spelunker since the beginning of time (which you can read more about at Poets & Writers magazine). My first novel, Thirsty, grew out of my relationship to my hometown in the U.S. (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’ve written an endless number of essays about a nearly 600,000-acre ranch I lived on in New Mexico (check out “On the Ranch”). And since living in China, it’s become a bit of an understatement to say that I’m obsessively writing about it (proof here).

For years, friends laughed because every time I opened my mouth, I started telling a story that began with “On the ranch…”

Now they laugh because every time I open my mouth these days, I start with “In China…”


As a teacher, I’m equally passionate about helping other place-passionate cultural spelunkers get their stories on the page, whether they’re expats, repats, travelers, homebodies, or astronauts. I’m also rather partial to working with writers who take risks in life because, at its core, writing is about taking risks. What could be riskier than sitting alone in a room with a pen or keyboard and your own imagination?

Six months, I started an online writing workshop series called #38Write with writers like you and me in mind—intrepid, curious folks with a bent for cultural exploration. It’s been a smash. Last month, 16 writers in 9 countries (including Russell!) wrote about habits. Some write fiction; others write nonfiction. Writers get feedback from me, as well as from each other. They connect and talk shop on Twitter. All, despite the miles, time zones, mountains, language challenges, and oceans that separate us.

In December, the #38Write theme is “At the Party!” and writers all over the world will be heading to parties in their home or host countries, whooping it up in a variety of ways, and writing about it.

Come join the fun, put your voice out there (la, la, la, laaaaa), and get a story on the page.

CONNECT: If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like to register for one of Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s #38Write workshops, grab a cup of coffee and pop over to her website and blog WRITERHEAD. Registration for December’s #38Write workshop is open until December 4.

You can also tweet Kristin at @kbairokeeffe, friend her on Facebook, and/or check out the #38Write group boards on Pinterest.

As an expat or traveller, do you find you have a deep desire to write? What are the kinds of things you do to help move your writing along - workshops, online courses, writing groups?


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16 comments:

Adventures said... Add Reply

Kristin's absolutely right: when your world pops, you do want to connect and share it with others. Not in a bragging sort of way, but with the sincere amazement and delight of a child. Achieving 'writerhead' is almost a state of grace, when the words come and the story pours out. Once it happens to you, you're marked for life and cannot wait to achieve that state again and again. Thanks for hosting Ms Writerhead herself, Russell.

FindingNoon said... Add Reply

I write for a living, but its not about being an expat. Zit creams, vacuum cleaners and laundry detergent are the subjects that may my bills, but lately I've started craving a Paris based writing group to share my more literary work. Anyone know of one? milles mercis.

Aisha Isabel Ashraf said... Add Reply

I agree with Linda, and would add that expats are often limited in who they can share their discoveries and amazement with; old friends feel you're bragging or that what what's good enough for them no longer is for you, while new friends have no knowledge of where your comparisons come from and quickly tire of them - to them this is normal life, nothing special.

Being able to pour it all out on the page helps and once you connect with others who share your outlook and experience, well... it's like catnip!

I'm a big Writerhead fan (Hi Kristin!) and all that's left to say is "Thanks Russ" for having Kristin over to ISOALLO!

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe said... Add Reply

So, so, true! Writerhead is addictive, isn't it? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on writerhead!

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe said... Add Reply

Hi Aisha! Love seeing you here! And yes, there's no eye-rolling from the page, is there? I get eye-rolling soooo often from friends and family who have tired of my ranch & China stories (doesn't stop me from telling them, of course), but I always have the page and the reader. If you do the work as a writer, you can depend on that.

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe said... Add Reply

Love that zit creams help pay your bills! I don't know any writing groups in Paris, but you can find many Paris writers on Twitter. Might be a good place to start.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Anytime, Linda. I think we might just get Ms Writerhead(!) back soon to give us a further taste of her writing teaching and know-how, if she'll kindly oblige ;-)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks to Kristin for coming over (particularly with my current predicament of being knee-deep in nappies/diapers and baby doo-doo). I'm a big fan too. Maybe see you at the December #38Write, Aisha? Would be great to have your Canada perspective (and will bring back lots of vivid memories for me!).

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe said... Add Reply

Thanks to you, Russell, for having me here. I love having the opportunity to talk with your tribe about writing. And I'm with you...I'd love to hear Aisha's voice in #38Write.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Aisha! Aisha! ;-)

Belinda said... Add Reply

Just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. I've nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger Award.

Keep up the good work,
Belinda from www.youthfulhabits.com

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks Belinda. That's great. Much appreciated - I'll head over to your site now :)

Chasing the Donkey said... Add Reply

Fabulous read as always. I think its also a matter of knowing someone is listening - I am imagining my soon to be expat life a little lonely.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks - although kudos to Kristin for this one. I hope your expat life isn't going to be too lonely - but having listeners on the end of the line certainly helps!

Pascal Inard said... Add Reply

We're a bit different in that we wrote a tribute to our home country, France, which is very appreciated in Australia and our book "Dear France, Sweet country of our childhood" has been selling quite well here (www.dearfrance.net has the details if you're interested).

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks for sharing this link, Pascal.

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