notebooks, pen and writing reference books

Some of you know that as well as writing about Portugal on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve been teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) for many years. Long enough that my automatic response to forms which ask for an occupation has been to write ‘teacher’.

Things have changed.

Recently, I checked into a hotel and described myself as a writer.

Because I am a writer.

I still teach part-time but over the last couple of years, I’ve been working on my dream of becoming a writer and I feel I’ve come a long way. Far enough to describe myself officially as a writer and to get paid freelance writing work, at least.

Update: I no longer teach English so I work as a freelance writer and translator as well as providing Portugal travel consultations and itinerary advice.

How I became a writer

My writing journey started with a love of words and creating far-fetched short stories when I was a kid. My scribblings ground to a halt when I entered the world of boyfriends and banking. A mid-mid-life crisis in my late twenties resulted in me leaving the bank and boyfriend behind to travel around the world with a backpack.

When I got back to the UK with a deep tan and a broader outlook on life, I realised that I needed a location-independent career so I could live somewhere warm. I also needed a degree. I chose one in Communications because the syllabus included modules on teaching English, creative writing and journalism. By the time I finished the course, I knew I wanted to be a travel writer.

I failed, dismally.

I wasn’t doing any travelling and although I’d kept a journal, I hadn’t made any useful notes during my previous trips. That made it difficult for me to do any writing, at least that was the excuse I made for myself. I realise now that I just wasn’t focussed or motivated enough at the time.

Having put the travel writing dream back in its box, I packed my rucksack, moved abroad and qualified as a TEFL teacher. Teaching English has brought me countless rewards and allowed me to live out my other dream of exploring other cultures by living and working in different countries.

Even so, my dream of being a writer began to resurface before I moved to Portugal. Once I was well and truly settled in Portugal, it was time to put pen to paper once again.

I bought writing books, took courses in feature writing and short stories. I wrote every day. I started a blog. I won a prize for one of my short stories. I sold a couple of articles. Success! Or encouragement, at least.

At this point, my writing still lacked direction so I decided to limit the focus of my blog to living and travelling in Portugal. If I wanted to write about other topics, I’d have to find somewhere else to publish it.

So what’s changed since I started blogging about living and travelling in Portugal?

Lots! In no particular order, here are some of the most significant developments in my writing journey:

  • I got to know other expat bloggers, in Portugal and around the world, especially through my Personal A to Z of Portugal, and discovered the benefits of being part of a blogging community.
  • I learned how to use social media for marketing and networking.
  • I started to get encouraging feedback from readers and the number of people using my site as a resource continues to grow.
  • My blog won several awards, including the Gold Award for best expat blog in Portugal.
  • I worked on my writing style and found my voice.
  • The way I travel has changed. Whenever I go somewhere now, I take lots of photos and notes and collect information that might help my readers.
  • I’ve attended two Travel Bloggers Unite conferences which have helped me to understand the value of my blog to other people and how to improve it.
  • Being part of a wider travel writing community has given me the confidence to accept press trips and work directly with travel companies.
  • Through my travel writing about Portugal, I started getting freelance writing work. I’ve worked on well-known guide books for Portugal, blog posts and travel brochures and set up a separate freelance writer website.
  • My freelance writing work isn’t just about travel. I’ve worked on other business communications and even done some translation, all of which has come about via my blog.
  • I’ve written and published an ebook, Money Saving Tips for Portugal and will be working on more books in the future.

Who knows where my writing  journey will lead but it’s encouraging for me to reflect on how far I’ve come over the last few years and even more exciting to think about what lies ahead.

This post is part of my rather neglected Personal A to Z of Portugal, a blogging challenge I started last year and aim to complete by the end of 2013. What has writing got to do with Portugal? For me, a lot, really. When I moved to Portugal, the elements I needed soon fell into place. I met my incredibly supportive husband here and our lifestyle allows me the space, time and freedom to nurture and develop my skills as a writer. Portugal is also a beautiful and fascinating country to explore, which gives me plenty to write about.

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13 Comments

  1. Julie, you are living my dream, and making a great job of it. Well done to you for making it happen. 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks Jo. I really appreciate your support 🙂

  2. Julie, thanks for telling us more about who you are by sharing your path. We have a lot in common: I just attended the annual Florida Writers Association conference, and rediscovered how support from the writing community energizes; my husband has a CELTA certificate, and we live in Portugal (near Coimbra). I always am happy to see your name in my Inbox. Best of everything!

    1. Author

      Thank you, Tricia. You’re so right about the benefits of being part of a wider writing community. Before I started making contact with other bloggers and getting words of encouragement from readers like yourself, it really was just me, alone in the spare room writing drivel. The drivel and spare room are still there but it’s a lot less lonely these days!
      What do you write? And is your husband teaching in Coimbra?

      1. I’ve written a memoir, a novel, and am working on sequels to both. I’ve had some short fiction published as well, and travel reviews/articles.
        My husband’s work is financial, so he’s not using his credentials right now. Thanks for asking!

  3. Best of luck with your writing career Julie, it’s wonderful when you can do what you enjoy doing, be it teaching or writing.

    1. Author

      I agree, Sami. I do enjoy teaching – it beats the pants off the admin jobs I did in the past – but I’m so pleased that I’m actually writing rather than just thinking and talking about doing it.

  4. good for you! I personally have always thought of you as a ‘writer’ – but I know how daunting it can be to finally give yourself a title! (I spent ages playing around with the name ‘artist’ in my head before I could ever dare to say it out loud …. or dare to fill in a form with that as a title!!)
    you are growing so much – it’s great to watch and read … and I look forward to seeing what you do next!
    here’s to a great 2014 for us all!

    1. Author

      Thanks Alyson! It’s amazing the difference a word can make, isn’t it? I’ve got several things in the pipeline at the moment – some of which will be revealed soon!

  5. Congrats on becoming a writer and finally starting to call yourself one! I’m struggling with that a bit myself. I’ve been blogging for almost 4 years now, but I’ve only recently decided I want to try freelance writing and I’m working on a fiction novel. We’ll see how that goes!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Ali. Best of luck with the freelance writing and the novel. I keep toying with fiction but never seem to find the time to get anywhere with it. I think I’m probably better suited to non-fiction anyway but I haven’t ruled it out.

  6. Great post Julie – so inspiring to hear about the journeys people make to find their ideal lifestyle. I’d say ‘charmed life’ but I know the trials and decisions that come with expat life make for anything but! Enjoy your well-deserved achievements.
    I would recommend your blog to anyone travelling to Portugal in a heartbeat.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your support, Aisha. I really do seem to have landed on my feet by coming to Portugal. It may not be plain sailing all the way but on the whole, I feel I’m in the right place at the right time and lucky to be able to explore my dreams.

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