Trains, Plains, and Rising Suns: Adapting the Writing Life to Foreign Lands
When I was a kid I prided myself on my ability to do my homework anywhere. This usually meant on the school bus, since I had an hour ride both to and from school each day. And as somebody who always claimed that tiny one person seat in the back, where every bump in the road meant a literal lift, I had to learn how to keep handwriting legible while writing on the back of my history textbook. (Huh. Maybe this is why I failed math a few times.)
This ability to adapt to my work environments meant I learned a crucial skill at an early age: how to block out distracting sounds and feelings in order to plow through my work. I had no idea at the time how beneficial this would become in my later years, such as when I went to college and was surrounded by neighbors who didn’t know stereo volume could go below “11”. Or how to sit in the campus bistro and study Japanese kanji while a surprise open mic night exploded a few feet away. Or, my personal favorite, how to adapt to a literally foreign environment when those times came.
Thus far in my life I have lived in Japan on a total of three occasions: for a summer in high school, a semester in university, and a year after graduation. Each time I’ve lived in a different place as well, from the low-paced life of Shikoku Island, to the Tokyo suburbs of Saitama, and the Japanese Alps cutting through the Heart of Gifu. But whenever you live abroad like that, you’re going to get hit by the same bouts of homesickness, culture shock (which for me was always blessedly minimal), and a sheer sense of “when will I have the time for writing?”
|Pretty rural, right?|
The second time I lived in Japan I was a student. A university student, to be exact. I had host family and real friend woes, the usual 20yo angst, mountains of homework I didn’t understand, and the budding blooms of a bout of depression that would haunt me for years to come. This time, however, I did have a laptop. Two, in fact! I would hole myself up in my room on Sundays when I had a little breathing time and just type. Type type type. Woefully angsty stuff. I’m the type of person who makes her characters suffer as much as she is. Real suffering!
The third time was a different story (ha!), however. This time I lived completely on my own in Japan, with a (legally) part-time job to cover the expenses and save on the side. I had free time in which I could do anything I wanted. No homework! No host family squabbles! Just me and embittered loneliness out in the middle of Nowhere, Japan. So I returned to my writing again to fill that void, and it was amazing.
I was very fortunate to live in the Nagoya City area, which was home to a thriving (foreigner) writing life. While I never joined any of the actual writing circles or critique groups (Nagoya was over an hour away from where I lived, so not exactly time or economically feasible), I did have the great privilege of discovering the local NaNoWriMo group when that time came. The ML was even from Nagoya! For the first time ever I had a support group of some kind in Japan – well, for writing, anyway! I became casual friends with many of the people in that group, and even took up the ML’s hospitality on one occasion. Progress!
Well, maybe not on the top of Mt. Everest. But I’d be lucky to survive to the top so writing would be moot, anyway!
Have you ever lived abroad for extended periods of time? How has it affected your writing habits and drive?
A bit about Hildred: Hildred Billings is a full-time author and freelancer from the southern Oregon coast. Although she has a degree in Japanese Studies and has lived and worked in Japan on numerous occasions, her true home is Oregon and her true career is writing. She makes up for the lack of Japan in her current life by writing about it whenever she can. Her debut F/F romance novella, "DAISUKI", will release this September!