Sunday, February 10, 2008

Moving Writing: Advice to a Relocating Writer or Do I Talk to the Naked Man?

While some people love a move, for many of us relocation (even temporary) comes with worries as well as opportunities. When a move to the U.S.-Mexico border sent me into culture shock, the sure cure was to start writing, so I did -- but it took me a while. Had I had the following advice, I would have started sooner:

Look around at what's happening where you are and think of who would be interested in that. A move to Costa Rica caught you off guard? Make the most of it by looking around with a newbie's eyes. What's weird, interesting, different, exciting? More importantly, what publications would be interested in that.

Think outside traditional lines. If your writing to date has focused on daily newspaper, make connections with U.S. papers interested in what you've got. If there's limited interest with the usual departments you write for, consider other paper departments -- travel, the arts, business, religion come to mind. Connect with those editors at different papers with your articles targeted to their departments. Since you're down there already, you have a unique perspective. Bring your camera -- pictures may enhance your article's value.

When I moved to the U.S-Mex. border area, I looked around and saw international news happening. I checked around, found a magazine and a daily paper interested in having someone there to cover it, and I was in business.

The magazine was doing a piece on illegal immigration, which sent me to cover a couple guys climbing naked out of the Rio Grande, clutching their clothes to their personal ads and asking in Spanish for a ride. At least, I think that was what they were asking for. Um, I don't think so.

But had I had the nerve to talk to them at all, other than the safely shouted questions (and perhaps an interpreter as well as a bodyguard -- it was a remote place, which was of course why they crossed there) I would have gotten an even better story. Later in my career I got more nerve and better Spanish skills, and would have handled it differently.

Another example: a couple Canadian publications (McLeans Magazine, the Dauphin Herald and the Winnipeg Sun) wanted the scoop on the Manitoba teachers coming down to Texas to get jobs because Texas didn't have enough and Manitoba had too many. Fortunately this didn't require me talking to anyone naked.

Work on developing contacts in everything -- radio, newspaper, magazine -- before you go. Keep those names, numbers, emails close. When something comes up that's breaking news, go shopping for a place to sell it.

Makes my family crazy sometimes -- at the main scenic outlook of the Colorado National Monument, middle of a thunderstorm, the darn thing is closed with a sheriff's tape anyway, everybody wants to get to a hotel.

What's Mum doing? She's on the payphone (this was before cell phones), calling major news organizations, because she asked what the tape was for and there was an AIDS-related suicide, and this was at the beginning of the AIDS hysteria. Finally, the Denver Post says they're in for a news brief, so I had to talk to a couple people in charge to get the basics.Worth it to me, as I wanted the experience and the paper's name on my resume.

While you're there, will you be doing a lot of touristy type things? Consider checking with travel guidebook companies. Read their guidelines online -- check guidebook sites like lonelyplanet and moon See if they need a new guide written for where you're going. Familiarize yourself with their guidebooks so you know what they need.

Just getting going writing but interested in getting your feet wet? Do a blog on the area. But make it a good one. For examples, look at,, or

Another idea: check with the country's English language papers to see if they need stringers. Freelance work doesn't always fall under the same labor guidelines full-time work does -- and if they're U.S.-based, that trumps all immigration concerns.

-- J. Louise Larson

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