He’s an impressive guy. But what’s most impressive about Colin Wright is that he’s published enough for any writer to be proud of all while traveling the world.
Actually, that’s not the most impressive thing about Colin. And it wouldn’t be so hard to nail down what is the most impressive thing about Colin if he weren’t busy being such an all around badass. Because the cool thing about Colin—the other cool thing—is that he moves to a new country every other month.
Impressed? I sure was. Because so many of us writers have trouble staying on track even when we’re not traveling the world.
Many writers would be happy to call Colin’s body of work theirs. That doesn’t touch the traveling, the speaking engagements, or the workshops. For many, that would be enough. But not for Colin. I imagine he considered all of that cool factor and thought “Meh, let’s take it up a notch.” And then he did.
Colin doesn’t choose the countries he moves to based on sensible things like beach bunnies or fancy foo-foo drinks. No, he leaves his fate up to his readers who vote for his next destination like an episode of survivor in reverse. (Here’s hoping they like him enough to keep sending him to nice places!)
Did I mention he designs his own book covers and co-founded a publishing company with The Minimalists authors, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus? He does. And he did.
And, of course, Colin also blogs.
In honor of his upcoming non-fiction release Considerations, I talked with Colin about what it’s like being a writer on the road and how he manages to keep up with it all. He had a lot to say about building a writing career that works for your lifestyle.
Here it is.
How Colin Travels the World And Still Manages to Write
Every single day I’m not doing what I love is a significant portion of all the time I’ll ever have. For me, that’s all the incentive I need.
Mandy: Here’s the thing, Colin. Writing alone scares the crap out of so many of us writers. Yet, not only do you produce blog posts and novels and how-to guides, but you’ve also embraced this seat-of-the-pants, go-where-the-wind-blows lifestyle. Where do you find the courage to pursue such big dreams? And what would you say to readers who may crave your exile lifestyle and writing success but just aren’t sure where to start?
Colin: The thing that keeps me motivated—more than any of the other motivations—is the knowledge that if I’m not doing what I love now, I won’t have the chance later.
That’s not to say that when I’m older I won’t be able to write, travel, etc. It means that I have a very finite number of years in which to do every single thing I’ll ever do.
Let’s call it 100 years, optimistically. Of those 100 years, I want to spend as many of them as possible, as happy as possible. And for me, that means doing the work that I enjoy. If I allow myself to quibble and worry and put the work off, that’s time I’ll never get back. Every single day I’m not doing what I love is a significant portion of all the time I’ll ever have.
For me, that’s all the incentive I need.
Mandy: You’ve been traveling for awhile now. How long has it been?
Colin: A little over five years! It seems like several lifetimes, so that number feels too small, but also like an immense amount of time, simultaneously.
Mandy: That’s a long time to be traveling. What is it, exactly, behind your exile lifestyle? What keeps you on the road?
Colin: I’ve done the more conventional lifestyle, and though there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I wasn’t nearly as happy with that kind of set up. I do enjoy playing house every once in a while, but if I spend more than a handful of months in the same place, with the same habits, I go stir-crazy. I lose some of my creative drive.
[Enjoying this interview with Colin? Then you’ll like our interview with Dave Congalton, screenwriter of Authors Anonymous, starring Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco.]
How To Be a Writer On The Road: Colin’s Process
Mandy: So traveling keeps your creative furnace burning. That makes sense. But that’s just the first step in the creative process, isn’t it? There’s still getting those ideas out of your head and into words. Every writer does it differently. What is your creative process like?
Colin: I’ll usually spend a good deal of time thinking about a book before I sit down and write it. I like to feel like I can’t not write a book before I apply fingers to keyboard, and that tends to help me push through any doubt or difficulties.
Once I know enough about what I’m writing, I’ll put together what I call the ‘spine’ of the book, but which is really just an outline.
I use Scrivener and make notes about what I want to accomplish in each chapter. This way, by the time I actually start writing, I can focus on the words and character development without having to worry about where the plot is going.
Then I’ll hand the book off to alpha readers, usually somewhere between five and fifteen people. I find more eyes tend to be better, as everyone catches different errors and gives different types of feedback.
This is probably the most painful part of the process for me, because it forces me to acknowledge (publicly) all of my errors, while also going over the same book as many as fifteen times, each with one of these alpha readers’ notes in hand.
I’m so very sick of my book after doing this.
Mandy: Your alpha readers don’t travel with you. So how do you manage to get feedback on your latest work even while you travel?
Colin: I send alpha readers a copy of the book in whatever format works best for them and get feedback in the same way: sometimes as edits to a Word document, sometimes as notes in the body of the email, sometimes as a written summary of what they think worked and what didn’t with section numbers and phrases for reference.
It’s not terribly formalized, and that’s intentional. They’re helping me out, and I want to make sure they’re able to work in whatever way suits their schedule and process. I give the book a separate read-through for each of them, anyway, so it’s no problem having the edits in a different format each time.
How to Overcome Writing Interruptions
I’ll generally write for five to ten hours a day until I’m finished, sometimes longer.
Mandy: I’m sure being on the road complicates your writing process in other ways. So how do you overcome these interruptions? For example, how do you find your best writing time?
Colin: I don’t have a particular time of day I work best — I travel frequently, so any habits I might establish tend to be washed away as soon as I get set up in a new location.
I do find that I work best when I have nothing on my agenda; that is, when I have as much time as I need. It may be that I only work for thirty minutes before deciding I’m not in the right state of mind, at which point I’ll go for a walk, grab a coffee with a friend, or do anything except writing for a while.
If I’m feeling it, though, I like to know that I can just keep going, and ride that wave of productive energy.
Mandy: So you give yourself plenty of room if you’re not feeling it. That’s pretty different from the common advice to write even when you don’t feel like writing. I think the worry is that writers who wait for inspiration will never write. But that’s obviously not a problem for you. So how do you get so much done? How many hours daily do you write?
Colin: It truly depends on what I’m working on at the time. When I’m not writing a book, I’m usually writing a blog post or two, maybe a newsletter. I answer several dozen emails from readers every day, so that adds up as well. None of that takes terribly long though.
When I’m writing a book, I’ll generally write for five to ten hours a day until I’m finished, sometimes longer.
One of my short story collections was written over the course of maybe sixteen hours during a single day. When I’ve got a book partially written, I can’t focus on other things until I’m finished with it. So I tend to try and knock them out as quickly as possible, to get a first draft built up so I can start chipping away at it.
Find The Right Tools
Travel is a catalyst for creativity, because you’re bombarded with stimuli all the time and much of it is totally novel to you.
Mandy: I’m interested in the nuts and bolts of how you pull off working as you move through the US and abroad. How do you keep track of ideas and notes if you’re on a bus? Where do you compose longer works between train stations? Are you taking advantage of technology?
Colin: I take notes on whatever’s available, which in-transit tends to be my phone or a little notebook I carry. Writing, though, is on my laptop. Books I compose in Scrivener, and blog posts and other short work tends to end up in Evernote.
In general, I have no problem prepping endlessly while on the road, but I prefer to write—to really dig into a larger project, like a book—when I’ve got plenty of time and fewer distractions.
I’ve written a few books while in transit, but only because I enjoyed relative silence and non-distraction and had something like thirteen hours until the next stop.
Mandy: You’re pulling it off seamlessly. But there must be something that challenges you in working from the road.
Colin: It sounds strange, but probably the biggest problem is having too many ideas. Travel is a catalyst for creativity, because you’re bombarded with stimuli all the time and much of it is totally novel to you. That means your brain ends up in some weird places without you even trying.
How Colin Keeps Up With It All
A creative person is a creative person, and the media they use is less relevant. Put a paint brush in Mark Twain’s hand and give him some time to figure out the mechanics of it, and I think we’d all be wowed.
Mandy: You’re a designer, writer, traveler. Where do you find the time for everything?
Colin: I honestly don’t think I could not do any of these things; they’re all means of creative expression and inspiration-gathering. My designs would be comparably weak without the writing and travel to inform them. My writing the same without the other two. While traveling, I wouldn’t get as much from the experiences if I wasn’t viewing the world as a designer (and as such looking at everything aesthetically) and as a writer (narrating as I walk, describing what I see in words, not just images).
I’m of the opinion that a creative person is a creative person, and the media they use (for expression and collection of inspirations) is less relevant. Put a paint brush in Mark Twain’s hand and give him some time to figure out the mechanics of it, and I think we’d all be wowed.
Mandy: Do you have any productivity tips or tools you could share with readers who aren’t sure how to keep up with all the demands of writing?
Colin: I don’t use productivity tools anymore. I used to. But these days I’ve really calibrated my lifestyle around my work, so I have plenty of time to invest in it.
That would probably be my best tip for productivity: figure out which activities and expenses don’t add value to your life, or support your craft, and get rid of them. That frees up an immense amount of time to spend on the things that are truly important to you.
How to Stay Inspired
I like being surprised by authors I’ve never heard of and topics I never would have thought to investigate.
Mandy: So what inspires you as a writer, besides travel?
Colin: Pretty much everything and everyone. People ask me where I wouldn’t want to go—which town or city or country would bore me. And I can’t think of anyplace that would truly bore me; if I’m bored, it’s my fault for not seeing the value in whatever’s around me.
I think it’s a creative person’s responsibility to find the value and beauty in everything.
Mandy: Which authors do you look to for inspiration? Who are your favorites?
Colin: Oh, way too many to list. Recently, I read Lena Dumham’s book Not That Kind of Girl, which was fantastic. Kurt Vonnegut is a long-time favorite. As are the classic science fiction writers like Asimov and Heinlein.
I really enjoy narrative nonfiction journalism, like the books written by Jon Ronson, Jon Krakauer, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Eric Schlosser.
But I read anything I can get my hands on. I like being surprised by authors I’ve never heard of and topics I never would have thought to investigate.
Mandy: What do you always wish people would ask you, but they never do?
Colin: Are you left-handed, Colin? Why, yes. Yes, I am.
What He’s Up To Now
Mandy: And what are you working on now?
Colin: I’m preparing for the November release of Considerations, which is a nonfiction book meant to challenge readers’ assumptions and habits by asking a lot of questions and exposing them to uncomfortable perspectives (it’s a lot more fun than it sounds).
I’m also about halfway through writing a science fiction novel called Puncture Up, about simulated universes and life, told as an oral history by the people involved in a major event relevant to both topics.
And I’m always working on my blog, newsletter, and experimenting with the myriad social networks available. I’ve been having a lot of fun with the latter, in particular, working within a character limit or expressing myself through images rather than just words. It allows me to reach a completely different audience (people who don’t read books), which has been exciting and a lot of fun.
[You know what else starts in November? NaNoWriMo! Find out why NaNoWriMo isn’t really about novels.]
Mandy: Your most recent publication was pretty special to you, wasn’t it? Tell me about that.
Colin: My most recent publication, before Considerations, was a series of novella-length (about 80 pages apiece) books in a series called A Tale of More, which follows a protagonist named Cain who has two voices in his head: one that critically narrates everything he does and one that tells him how to do things and explains the world to him. He’s a small town kid who ends up being pulled into a conflict between groups of people with similar ambitions for humanity but very different ideas about how the next step should occur.
The series was particularly interesting for me because it was written to be consumed like a TV series. It was released in two ‘seasons’ of five books apiece, and the books were released one per week. It created a very different pace around the project and also allowed me to write in a different way, seeing each book as an ‘episode’ of a larger tale, while also trying to keep it encapsulated and enjoyable solo.
I focused a whole lot on building compelling, interesting, strange, and unique characters, as well. And a great deal of the story is told through dialogue, which is different from how I’ve typically approached such stories.[Do you worry about character-building, like Colin? Check out The Character Most Writers Get Wrong (And How To Fix It), and keep your characters on track.]
The feedback has been stellar, and I couldn’t be happier about that. I like the idea of writing for people who don’t consider themselves readers, and if that can be achieved by shifting the focus of a book slightly (more dialogue, for example, or shorter, more digestible books), I’m all about it.
Mandy: Thanks so much for sharing more about your work and exile lifestyle, Colin!
Note: This article has been edited for length and clarity.