7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Chantal Panozzo

This is a new recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Chantal Panozzo. Chantal Panozzo is a writer and copywriter based in Zurich, Switzerland. Her essays have appeared everywhere from The Christian Science Monitor and National Geographic Glimpse to the Swiss News.
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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Chantal Panozzo) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent -- by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

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Chantal Panozzo is a writer and copywriter
based in Zurich, Switzerland. Her essays have
appeared everywhere from The Christian
Science Monitor and National Geographic
Glimpse to the Swiss News. She is also at
work on Hausfrau: The Memoir, a story about
looking for an identity in a country where the
bells still ring at 11 a.m. to remind all women
to get home and cook their husbands lunch.

1. Make business cards. Lawyers have them and they feel important. You can, too. Plus it just makes you look like you take your writing seriously.

2. Live abroad. Think of it as an MFA, except you’ll differentiate yourself with more than a piece of paper. You’ll be able to write about things from a unique viewpoint. And you’ll find ideas for stories that you never could have imagined before. For example, if your Swiss neighbor wants clean your gutter until it’s so shiny you could drink out of it, let her. And then go write about it.

3. Tell the truth. I try to (sorry, Dad). But then again, I’ve got to make up for my career as an advertising copywriter somehow. So I write stories about the people I know, the places I live, and the things that have happened to me. As Garrison Keillor one said, if it’s something people are ashamed of, it’s probably worth writing about. And in my experience, this is true. For example, I was able to sell a story about being laid off in Switzerland to a radio station, a magazine, and a best-selling anthology series. People love when your life sucks more than theirs. And having to keep working for three months under the same boss that fired you qualifies for the ultimate in life suckiness.

4. Read books. There’s no excuse for not reading, even if, like me, you live in a country where paperbacks cost the equivalent of $30. To keep from going broke, I buy 50 books at a time when I’m in the U.S., and stuff them in my suitcase. Writers read. Some of us just have to deal with more back pain because of it.

5. Fight more. Assume the writing contract could be better because a lawyer wrote it and most people know that good English does not read like Sanskrit. So only use contracts as starting points. It doesn’t hurt to ask for more money or ask to retain more rights. Remember, when one writer prevails, we all do.

6. Read your stuff out loud. Good writing is usually about good listening.

7. Use the Internet to your advantage. This is especially important if you live in a remote location that makes networking in person difficult. I started the blog Writer Abroad so I could connect with other writers around the world and find out how they worked. I’m always looking for new writers to feature, so please get in touch if you’re interested.

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