A Window into My Writing Life

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A couple of weeks ago, my good friend and award-winning travel journalist and photographer Lola Akinmade Akerstrom invited me to participate in a writers’ “blog hop,” in which nominated writers talk about their work and what they hope to achieve. You can read Lola’s views on her writing life here.

I’m delighted and honored to be a part of this fun and timely project, as I head to a writers conference in New Zealand later this month.

In between trips to Guadeloupe, Belize and Jamaica over the past six months–from guidebook work to service pieces–I’ve reflected quite a bit on my writing: how far I’ve come, where I’d like to be, where I need to improve.

In addition to applying for and being accepted into Travel Classics (more on that soon) last Fall, I decided to invest in a writing workshop this Fall, to keep improving and keep learning from the best. I’ve been reading a lot more as well.

Below are my answers to what my (travel) writing life looks like at the moment and why I do what I do.

A week from today, three writers I respect–Julie Schwietert Collazo, Rosalind Cummings-Yeates, and Diana O’Gilvie–will share their writing process and answer the same questions, below.

1) What am I writing now?

I am in the editing and revision phase of my second title for Moon Guides, Belize Cayes, due out in November 2014.

While I never imagined my first and second publications would be travel guidebooks, it has been a positive experience in many >> ways. It gave me more discipline to sit and write, for one. Accomplishing all that work in six months for the first book, from revisions and new text, made me realize I could do the same with my other dream projects.

Hence my decision to finish writing and self publish a mini guidebook on Jamaica. I started in the summer of 2012, but Moon Belize took over and I had to put everything else aside. Now, on the heels of completing a digital Jamaica guide for AFAR, I was inspired to pick it back up and flesh it out. I am in the editing phase of the manuscript and the book will publish this Fall, in print and Kindle (with a lovely cover sketched by my talented fellow writer and friend, Candace Rose Rardon). It highlights the best of Jamaica’s major beach towns, from accommodations to local eateries and best nearby sights. The focus is on immersive travel and local experiences, even if it starts out by finding the best stretch of sand.

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On the freelance side, I have food and travel articles in the works, on Belize (online) and on Jamaica (print). And I continue to write for Viator Travel’s Belize site every month.

I’ve also been busy writing pitches for the editors I will be meeting at Travel Classics, later this month.

This summer, I will be putting together a plan for a project I hope to begin in 2015, that will focus on African countries. And even if not now, on the “some day soon” list is to finish a short stories collection I started in 2006, on the lives of African immigrants in the US (I started it when I signed up for an evening writing fiction class at Georgetown University).

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

My diverse upbringing–Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, England–and expat life experiences are ever present in my work, what I do and the topics that interest me (namely, all things culture). I am drawn to cultural stories or places that are being missed, misinterpreted or deserve expanded coverage. My work reflects the passion I have for traditions, from food to music, and for what National Geographic calls “geotourism.”

I think of this quote from Pico Iyer:

“I’ve always been something of a global creature: I was born in England to parents from India, and I grew up in California, though I live now in Japan—and so, for much of my life, I’ve been seeking out global places that are trying to piece together, as I am, disparate cultures and identities, to make a stained glass whole.”

I understand places like Belize, for instance–with more than eight ethnic groups and plenty of mixed heritage–because I, too, am a blend of cultures. And perhaps because I have a curious background–an Ethiopian with roots in West Africa, but with fluency in Spanish–I am curious about others. And so, as I write a guidebook or a service piece, I believe I bring this passion and fascination I have for culture in all its forms, in turn pulling in my readers.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I had a journal from the moment I could write and tell stories about the life around me. At home, I was immersed in a strong Ethiopian culture (my parents are Ethiopian, born and raised), yet lived in a different world once I stepped outside, in the francofile West African capital of Abidjan. I attended a French college (high school) and mingled with friends from all over the world. Who was I? And why did God give me such a diverse background, so many languages, what was I to do with it all? Those were questions I asked myself early on.

I knew that I wanted to make a difference by sharing this gift of travel and diversity. I realized early on that the written word was powerful and that I wanted be a published author one day. My first dream was to write fiction, drawing from the incredible experience of being born in your native country, but being raised at opposite ends.

Today, I write because I want others to understand and see, through my photos and stories, that the world is actually a safe (for the most part) and wondrous place to explore. I want to give back what has been given to me, as cliché as that might sound.

I write because there are lingering stereotypes about other cultures and countries (including my birthplace, Ethiopia). I aim to shed light in my own little way, and show what people are like across the pond.

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I write because I want to show that sharing or adapting to others’ cultures makes us better individuals, friends, family members and leaders.

I write because I’m aware that not everyone grows up traveling and seeing the world as I have, passport in hand at six. I am aware, when I write, that mine may be the only viewpoint a person trusts when I tell them about a place–I take that responsibility seriously.

When one of my blog followers tells me that my photographs make them feel as if they were “right there” with me–a compliment I cherish each time–that’s the same feeling I hope my writing evokes. A sense of adventure, curiosity and hope.

4) How does my writing process work?

When I need to really focus, particularly while writing an article, I need a peaceful place to write everything up. I usually start with a very rough outline or notes.

When I am out researching and writing for my guidebook, inspiration comes at all times, even in a crowded space. Guidebook writing requires a lot more planning and organization.

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I carry a notebook with me wherever I go; I scribble away only to piece everything back together later.

My photographs also help me relive moments and capture details I might have missed.

I think of the “why” throughout my writing to keep my message on track–a valuable lesson from a workshop with Don George two years ago.

I take breaks from one piece and walk away from it for a couple of days.

I write best when I’m inspired but I’ve also learned that deadlines help achieve that quickly!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small window into my writing life.

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And now, please meet my fellow “blog hop” writers…

About Lola Akinmade Akerstrom

LolaAkinmadeAward-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.

 

About Julie Schwietert-Collazo

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Julie Schwietert Collazo is associate editor of the travel anthology, No Foreign Lands; contributing author to the following books: The Voluntary Traveler, Fodor’s Puerto Rico 2010, Fodor’s Caribbean 2010, Fodor’s Puerto Rico 2012; and feature and front-of-book articles have been published in numerous magazines, including Budget Travel, National Geographic Traveler, Latina, Scientific American, and DISCOVER. Online publication credits include BBC/Lonely Planet, Centro y Sur, and a weekly travel and lifestyle column for FOX News Latino.

 

 

About Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

RosalindRosalind Cummings-Yeates is a freelance journalist, blogger and arts critic specializing in travel and lifestyle topics. She’s the author of Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside The Scene, Past and Present (History Press), a guidebook to Chicago blues history and landmarks. Her other credits include Woman’s Day, Hemispheres, MSN, Salon, Brides, Yoga Journal, Travel + Escape, Go Magazine, Relish, Time Out Chicago, Mojo, Allmusic.com, Get Lost, Rough Guide to Women Travel and the Chicago Sun Times, among other publications. She writes a monthly blues column for the Illinois Entertainer, travel blogs for various publications and teaches journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She’s based in Chicago, from which she manages to escape during the Windy City’s six official winter months. You can read more of her work on her web site, www.RosalindCummingsYeates.com and on her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl.

 

About Diana O’Gilvie

DianaAward winning writer-filmmaker, Diana O’Gilvie’s work is driven by her global curiosity and distinctive approach to authentic story telling. Armed with a Master’s Degree (L.I.U) in Film and Bachelor of Arts degree in English (York College), Diana coupled this academic knowledge with international independent film experience.

Her award winning documentaries (Best New Cinema award 2011 -Worldwide Reggae Film Festival) Chasing Daddy and Does Hair Matter? have been screened in New York and Kingston, Jamaica garnering much praise and audience selections.

As a writer, her work has appeared in CNN Travel, USA Today, The Jakarta Post, Parlour Magazine, Matador Network, Orlando Examiner and Dream Wedding Magazine. In Bali she writes regularly for premiere food and lifestyle magazines, Hello Bali, Bali & Beyond and Epicure. Diana’s submission has recently been accepted into the Expat Black Women in Asia anthology, slated for July 2014 release.

Diana speaks conversational French and Bahasa Indonesian. She is also a travel expert on her homeland, Jamaica and adopted home New York. Diana has written and filmed a range of topics like feeding reindeer in the Arctic Circle in Finland, going temple trekking in central Java, running away from an active Anak Krakatau volcano during a 5.3 earthquake and drinking freshly brewed kopi luwak coffee in the mountains of Bali.

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My travel photographs above were taken while on a recent trip to Jamaica.   

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma has contributed writing and photography to CNN Travel, New York Magazine, AFAR, American Way, Travel Channel, BBC Travel, and others. She’s the currrent author of MOON BELIZE for Moon Travel Guides and is completing a second title, MOON BELIZE CAYES. Lily is also AFAR's Jamaica Expert, and author of the AFAR Jamaica Country Guide. A serial expat, she's lived and studied on three continents, including Africa–from her native Ethiopia to Côte d'Ivoire–and Europe, and is fluent in four languages. A former attorney who ditched the office for the road in 2009, she favors all things culture, adventure and storytelling, and escapes Washington DC’s winters every year.

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6 Comments

  1. Erin 15 April, 2014 at 11:06 AM #

    Love this! It’s been amazing to watch you grow and see all your successes manifest in such a short time. I’m excited to follow your upcoming writing adventures and see how things pan out. You go girl! :)

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma 15 April, 2014 at 5:00 PM #

    Thanks, Erin! I appreciate your kind words. I’m excited about all of our journeys as well!

  3. Lola 16 April, 2014 at 3:23 AM #

    Was absolutely looking forward to your post Lily! Loved learning about your writing process and how your diverse background also influences your experiences. Just like Erin said, it’s been amazing to see all your accomplishments in such an amazing time! You’re so talented and I couldn’t be prouder :) Looking forward to what the future holds for you and have fun in New Zealand!

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma 23 April, 2014 at 6:01 PM #

    Aw thanks so much, Lola!! And for being such a wonderful mentor and friend over the years. I am blessed to have met you and Julie at the beginning of my journey. This exercise was fun to write. I’m excited to see what holds for all of us as well! I’ll be sure to have fun in New Zealand, now I just need to get some sleep and pack!! :)

  5. Biju Sukumaran 7 May, 2014 at 7:39 AM #

    Awesome post – I got here through Lola’s post for the “blog hop” – what a great project! Also you are the second travel writer who has suggested Travel Classics – I’ve never attended a conference, but it looks like it’s something I’ll need to look in to!

  6. Lebawit Lily Girma 8 May, 2014 at 3:58 PM #

    Hi Biju – Thank you! Yes, I just returned from Travel Classics and it was a fantastic experience. I highly recommend it!

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