The Terrors and Pleasures of a Writing Life


Part terror, part pleasure, a writer’s life is complicated. Like a gripping adventure tale, it’s a pulse-pounding journey that never lets up, with danger lurking everywhere. It can set your heart soaring one minute and break it an instant later.

So why do we do it? In my own life, writing is how I make sense of myself and the world around me. I suspect it’s like that for many of us. 

Earlier this month, travel journalist Judith Fein, my co-founder over at YourLifeIsATrip.com, invited me to participate in a “blog hop” where writers share their views of the writing life. You can read Judie’s thoughts on this facebook page (scroll down to find the entry among the recent updates).

Next week, at my invitation, three writers I greatly admire—Caren Osten GerszbergAmy Gigi Alexander and Lola Akinmade—will publish their responses to the following four questions on their respective blogs.

Read on for my thoughts on the terrors and pleasures of a writing life…

1) What am I writing now?

I’m at work on my first book, “I Could Live Here”, an intimate memoir of discovery set against the vivid backdrop of expat life in Latin America. 

At a personal and professional crossroads and plagued by a lifetime of doubt and fear, in the spring of 2011, together with my husband, Hank, I set off in search of a new home and a life I couldn’t yet articulate. Though the story ventures from the warmth and vibrancy of a Mexican village to the luxurious comforts of hotel-living in Nicaragua and the high Andean mountains of Ecuador and Peru, the real journey is an internal one: one that inspires the realization that home is more than a physical place on a map. It’s something we carry within. 

“I Could Live Here” chronicles the perils and pleasures of our nomadic adventures and asks the question I grappled with as we wandered from one country to another: How can we feel rooted, deeply and firmly, no matter where we live?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As a writer and photographer with just enough geek in my DNA to have a brain that’s hardwired for technology, my fifteen-year freelance career has been an eclectic fusion of narrative and service journalism, editorial photography, commercial blogging and multimedia storytelling.

Most recently, I’m tapping into a more experiential form of storytelling. In both “I Could Live Here” and my newest blog series, The Internal Traveler, for example, I write not only to recount the visceral details of travel but also the lessons embedded in the experiences. I try to weave a sense of place with personal insights, humor, sadness, struggle and joy into a deeply personal narrative that feels universally human. 

3)  Why do I write what I do?

I had no intention of writing a memoir, so I was as shocked as anyone when I felt the calling to write one. The service-style travel journalism that defined much of my work as a freelancer enabled me to keep a good deal of myself off the page— an emotionally withholding stance that felt safe and comfortable.

But out of an emerging, yet powerful, imperative to digest, understand and put words to my experiences, I finally acknowledged that I had something more to say. 

Slowly I found my voice, and just as I’d accepted that I wanted to write a book, I also saw that to do so I’d have to transcend my biggest fear—that I didn’t have the courage to go beyond myself and write with passion, humanity and, above all, raw honesty.  

In the end, writing this memoir has been a real game-changer, taking me ripping and roaring into terra incognita. It’s like learning to ride a bike. You fall, get up, fall again and skin your knees a lot until you learn to trust the process. But once you find your balance, you can go anywhere. Your world expands. 

4) How does my writing process work?

The process of crafting a story, for me, is like putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle with my field notes, research and spiral notebooks filled with longhand musings and observations forming the random pieces of the puzzle. And like the box cover with its pictorial rendering of the finished puzzle, I use my photography to help guide and shape the haphazard fragments into a cohesive story. 

It’s an enjoyable and engaging process that ignites my writer’s curiosity and triggers a delicious rush of delight when it comes together, if I can manage to keep the demons of perfectionism at bay.

But often what emerges is a painful process of frustration and dead-ends that lead me down a pitted and circuitous road of self-doubt and shame.

Writing, it turns out, is a storehouse of contradictions. Just when I think it’s about perfect prose, clever metaphors and authentic dialogue, I remember that ultimately it’s about telling a story that connects writer to reader and, in the process, alters us both. 

What about you? What’s your relationship with writing? Use the comment box below to share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Meet my fellow “blog hop” writers…

Life is a Trip

About Judith Fein

Judith Fein is an award-winning international travel journalist who lives to leave.  She resided for more than ten years in Europe and North Africa and has a passion for adventures that are exotic, authentic, quirky, historic and immersed in local culture. She has written travel articles for more than 90 magazines, newspapers and internet sites, including The L.A. Times, National Geographic Traveler, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Sierra, the Utne Reader, Hemispheres (United Airlines), Travel Age West Magazine (for travel agents), Robb Report, Art and Antiques, Intermezzo, Continental, The Denver Post, New Mexico Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, Executive Traveler, Dreamscapes, TravelandLeisure.com, Just For Canadian Doctors, Hadassah Magazine, Wine Enthusiast, Organic Spa, Native Peoples, Islands, MSN/UK, AAA Traveler, The Christian Science Monitor, ConsumerTraveler.com. 

About Caren Osten Gerszberg

A freelance writer, blogger, editor and frequent contributor to The New York Times, as well as many national magazines and websites,

Caren Osten Gerszberg

blogs regularly for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She also blogs about travel for

Embark

, a blog focusing on family and adventure travel. She is the co-editor of “

Drinking Diaries:

Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up” (Seal Press), and the blog of the same name. For two years, she wrote a bi-weekly column, “Mom U.”, for the New York Times education blog, “The Choice,” about the parents’ perspective of the college admissions process.

About Amy Gigi Alexander

Amy Gigi Alexander is a writer of essays, storyteller and soon-to-be-novelist. She writes about all sorts of things. But her favorite thing to write about are stories from her travels around the world. She doesn’t consider herself a travel writer; rather, a writer who writes about the world she finds herself in. Her story, “From Lost to Love in Bihar” recently won first place in Traveler’s Tales 2013 Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing in the Love and Romance category. 

About Lola Akinmade

Award-winning writer and photographer Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström has photographed and dispatched from six (6) continents for various publications. She worked as a field journalist on the web team during Eco-Challenge’s Expedition Race in Fiji and has volunteered as a photojournalist with the Swedish Red Cross and World Hope International and C.H.I.E.F – an NGO based in Nigeria that promotes grassroots health development, HIV/AIDS awareness, and the empowerment of women. She also owns and runs Geotraveler Media and is the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm – an editorial site which encourages travelers to explore Stockholm deeper and slowly.

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".