Instead of stressing over my expat travel blog, I should be relaxing like this older couple on a bench in Siracusa, Italy. ©KettiWilhelm2017

Writer’s Block, Too Much Free Time & Living Abroad

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As I’m getting back to writing, I’ve been contemplating the blogging business, writer’s block, living abroad (most recently in Italy), and the elusiveness of ever feeling like I’ve got it all together.

The more I learn about the industry, the more I believe the most important factor in blogging – and maybe in any writing or creative endeavor at all – is confidence. Just blind, unwavering confidence. I’m not saying it’s the most important ingredient in a good blog, but it’s the common glue that sticks a lot of successful bloggers together.

Confidence allows a person to believe that, despite all the other writing on the Internet (and in books), whatever she has to say is unique.

Whatever story he has to tell is important and even worthy of staking a little bit of his reputation on, without any outside help. No editor to filter for typos (please, tell me if you find typos) or to guess whether anyone will, in fact, care about the ideas we think are brilliant.

And I’ve lived abroad for the past of years, in a couple of interesting countries – I’ve been lucky to actually be living an adventure that’s worth blogging about. But still, it can be hard to feel like anyone cares about what I have to write about, whether or not I live abroad.

If you think about art or blogging or writing from this perspective, as I have been doing lately and to my own detriment, the idea of publishing without supervision seems almost too narcissistic to bear. (Maybe that’s why so many travel bloggers are white men. On average, they’re a very confident group.)

More importantly, I’m beginning to think the true origin of writer’s block is a crisis in confidence. This is a pretty sad thing to realize so clearly and to recognize in myself.

But it’s also a starting point. What has been going on with me – in my mind, in my life, in the rest of the world – that has kept me from developing an idea enough to share it with people for the past seven months?

Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Who knows, maybe there’s something in here that’s been keeping you from something as well, whether it’s writing your own travel blog, moving abroad, or something entirely different.

  1. Distraction. Distraction caused by moving to another country for the second time in three years, by being more interested in my relationship than my work, and by learning a new language from scratch. But this is obviously not my biggest reason, and in all honesty it’s sort of a cop-out, because I have also had more free time in these months than maybe any other time in my life.
  2. Having Too Much Free Time. All freedom, no oversight. I can do whatever I want; but I can always do it tomorrow, too. Tomorrow never comes. That is what I am learning. I have read that procrastination lurks and works its evil ways in the minds of highly creative people, but that makes me very confused by museums and libraries being all filled with stuff made by people who actually did things. They finished their imperfect works of whatever they were doing, which ended up being much better than all the unfinished, perfect stuff.
  3. Being (Allegedly) A Perfectionist. It’s hard to click “publish” when the story is not perfect yet, but IT WILL NEVER BE PERFECT. This is another thing I’m learning. My mother and my dentist have both told me I’m a perfectionist, and of course I did not believe either of them. I was also slightly creeped out that my dentist would know such a thing. As far as I’m aware, the only evidence she has is that I floss (daily), and I always require heavier than normal doses of things to be calmed, numbed, or knocked out. “Better done than good.” – Elizabeth Gilbert’s mom. (She did a TED talk I enjoyed. She also wrote a book that I was highly skeptical about, but turned out to be a good read and a wonderful response to these feelings. You can order it here on Amazon, or here on Bookshop – both are affiliate links. See the of the article for more about this.) 
  4. Social Pressure. Hating social media is trendy, but I do have to say that seeing so many people in my past and present social circles moving forward with their lives – doing apparently random yet extremely cool shit, climbing mountains, publishing books, marrying, babying – somehow makes me feel I need to do the same. Or at least it makes me wonder, “Hey, do I need to do that?” But I’m also hoping most people just do things and do not give a shit what other people think. Most successful people, at least. (By which I mean, most people who are generally content with their lives.) They just do what they want, put things out there, and see what happens. 
  5. Everything Else Going On in The World Right Now, and how it all seems like a much bigger deal than whatever I might write. Part of this is probably what’s called imposter syndrome – the kind of thinking that makes people think they do not belong; they are not really writers or whatever other thing they want to be – other people are that and they are just kidding themselves by trying.

These things, plus the whirlwind-y ups and downs of living abroad have me in a weird mood lately. Being far from family and old friends, trying to rebuild another social life, learning another new language just to get by, not immediately finding work here – it adds up. It has bruised my confidence and left me not feeling like writing and sharing very much. 

But I’m also starting to feel hopeful again that this stress is all temporary.

This experience with uncertainty will eventually help me bounce back.

It will help me be more confident than I would be if I stayed home, with a normal job, and some boyfriend who shared my national and cultural identity, surrounded by a bunch of English-speaking friends who would understand just how smart and witty I think I am, plus all the craft beer I could drink. But that’s just me. What’s good and challenging and inspiring for you is probably different.

And here are my responses to these challenges:

  1. Making time (to write) but also filling time (with other engaging activities, so I don’t have excessive amounts of free time to think about all the writing I have not done).
  2. Generally just trying to care less about what I say and do, and what people think of it all, and what other people say and do, and what I think about all that. None of it is as big of a deal as it looks. (For example, the title of this article doesn’t really make sense, but as of this week, I don’t really care. The other title I had in mind was “Being Creative Tomorrow.” Maybe that’s better, but it’s too late now.)
  3. Remembering that we shouldn’t be serious all the time, and thinking too much about politics and other apparent disasters is probably toxic, and it is not my responsibility to only produce things that are hilarious or important or change the world. Vaffanculo. That’s a word Italy has taught me. It means fuck off; I do not care, I’ll do whatever I want regardless of what you think. And I think that will help, too.

The couple in the photo below, sitting by the dock in Siracusa, on the island of Sicily, looked to me like they just didn’t care.

2019 Updates!

Two years after writing this, I’ve moved to France for a spell, and most recently to Chicago. It’s been a busy couple of years, and a lot has changed.

Both the Amazon and Bookshop links are affiliate links, which means if you buy anything through them, I will likely make a commission – but at no extra cost to you! (Amazon and Bookshop just give me a small cut of the sale.) So if you want to buy a book, thank you in advance for your support! For more info, here’s my detailed privacy policy.

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