The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Taking time off to look backwards on how far I’ve come…and forwards to the next goals

Diary of an Expat Writer
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young. She actually gave herself a break this summer—and as soon as she came back at it, pieces started falling into place…

Dear Displaced Diary,

Did you have a nice summer? Mine was a great mix of family time and travel. Highlights included hanging out with my adorable nephew in Arizona, visiting my grandparents in Oregon, catching up with old friends in New York City, and riding a moped around Bermuda with my husband.

After the intensive work of the previous six months, it was a much-needed chance to clear my head and remember how to be a human being again.

As I shared at the start of the year, I needed to kick into high gear in the first part of 2016 or else start searching for a new day job.

As a consequence, I barely looked up from my computer for six months, during which I wrote and launched the first two books in my new YA Steel of Fire fantasy series, within six weeks of each other.

After the intensity of the winter and spring, the summer break gave me a chance to step back and take stock of how far I’ve come along the journey into a writing career.

From travel writer…to fantasy author

I started my career writing about Hong Kong. I envisioned myself as a travel writer because that seemed like the natural path for an American girl abroad. But the more I’ve written, the more it has become clear that my interests and skills are better suited for fantasy and science fiction. Those early projects were important practice for the kind of work I’m doing now.

It’s common for writers to draw inspiration from the world around them even if they’re not travel writers. I’m sure you expats know what I’m talking about. You encounter a natural wonder or a style of clothing or a cadence of speech. It works its way into your brain, whether you write it down in that moment or not. Eventually it comes back. It may not be in the same form. You change it to align with the needs of your story world, or you remember it a bit differently than it was in reality. In fiction, you get to write from the inspiration rather than describing exactly what you saw—and that’s what makes it so much fun.

Living abroad has helped me to write fantasy because I get to see so many different places and meet people from all over the world, even if none of them wield magic or ride dragons (so far). It has also helped me look at the place I came from with fresh eyes.

MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for fantasy writing?

MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for Shannon’s swashbuckling fantasies?

From teacher in Arizona…to writer in Hong Kong

While I was in the States, I took a few days to finish the second draft of Dance of Steel, which will be the third book in my five-book Steel and Fire series. I completed the draft on my 28th birthday in my favorite coffee shop in my hometown, Gilbert, Arizona. I used to spend hours grading essays at that very coffee shop during my first year as a teacher.

At the time I was applying for jobs in Hong Kong, both at schools and with publishers, and it hadn’t even occurred to me to try writing books.

It was fun to mark my progress in a place where I could see how far I’d traveled, both physically and in my career as a writer.

MARK OF PROGRESS: From the coffee shops of Arizona to the Starbucks of Hong Kong

MARK OF PROGRESS: No longer grading papers in an Arizona coffee shop, Shannon is drafting fantasy novels in a Starbucks in Hong Kong.

From vacation mode…back to the grind

I’m writing a five-book series, so I’m always thinking about where my story is going. A long project requires stamina and a steady course, but sometimes moving out of your usual routine can help to get the creative juices flowing again. Having already planned to finish the final draft of Dance of Steel upon my return to Hong Kong after a month off, I was already thinking about what would happen in the next book.

My husband and I took a meandering road trip through Oregon and California before catching our flight to New York. Whenever it was my turn to drive, I’d pass the time on the road thinking through what would happen in the fourth book. I’d write notes in the evenings, but it was helpful to let the story unfold like a movie as I drove. It made me appreciate how much writing you can do when you’re not actually writing. You have to let those ideas develop and see if they really have legs. (Not to worry, I didn’t crash into anything!)

Once we were back in Hong Kong, I hit the ground running to make my editor deadline for the final draft of Dance of Steel. After a month away from the computer, I spent about 100 hours at Starbucks over the course of 12 days.

Hong Kong cooperated by being furiously rainy and dreary for all 12 days.

At 136,145 words, Dance of Steel has ended up being my longest book by 40,000 words.

It was a great way to get back into my routine—and it warned me to budget more time for each draft now that my books are getting longer. Finishing a book is a always a marathon, but I need to continue to work on my pacing.

From aspiring…to official full-time author!

The good news is, six years after I left Arizona, I’m officially making a living as a writer(!!). The month of May was the tipping point, when I published the second book in my Steel and Fire series, Duel of Fire, and my sales began to take off. This series has done exponentially better than my previous (Seabound) fantasy series.

Dance of Steel is the sixth novel I have published under my Jordan Rivet pen name. In the four months since, I’ve met or exceeded my previous day-job income.

And one more exciting piece of news: I signed with a literary agent to represent the auxiliary rights to the series and have now secured a three-book audio deal!

I will have to keep working hard and publishing often to maintain this momentum, but for now, it’s an exciting milestone to celebrate.


Onwards and upwards…

It’s good to be back at work after the time off. I’m now 80,000 words into the fourth book in the series (not counting thousands of words of notes).

My goal is to finish in time for a Christmas or New Year launch. I’m also working on getting out to writing and social events more often and establishing a sustainable working pace that allows me to put out a book every three or four months.

I’m in this for the long haul now. I want to keep learning, stay excited about the process, and make each book better than the last one:

Thank you, my dear Displaced Diary, for all your help and encouragement along the way!


Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

* * *

Shannon, I was watching an interview with the playwright Edward Albee, aired to commemorate his death earlier in the month, and he said that whenever he was writing a play, he would “see and hear” the characters in his mind and wait for them to tell him where his story was going. Your road-trip method sounds a little like his! Thanks once again for sharing your latest news. It’s uplifting! ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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