I’m not the biggest fan of the term digital nomad, but I’ve used it before and it does apply to me most of the time, so I’m kind of stuck with it. It actually fits most writers—we can write from wherever as long as we’ve got a laptop and the occasional Internet connection to send our files along to beta readers and agents and editors.
But so few fiction writers are into this digital nomad subculture. Bopping around cafes and coworking spaces in Asia, I rarely run into anyone involved in fiction. There are always a few characters who want to write a book, but few are actually making a living writing—most do marketing, social media, tech, design, or other businessy things I can’t explain in less than a paragraph. The writers are almost always bloggers, freelance editors, or travel writers who are into more of the non-fiction side of life. Which isn’t to say that fiction nomads don’t exist…they just don’t necessarily use the same labels or advertise themselves as such.
This puzzles me, but I somewhat understand. Writing fiction isn’t as reliable as say a freelance graphic design business or as official sounding as a tech startup, and advances and royalties are low, especially when you’re just starting out. It would be a terrible idea to fly to Chiang Mai or Ubud or Medellin or wherever the kids are going these days with a book idea and plans to start writing and making a living. You’d run out of money before you left the airport. But established writers?
This is the life, man. Even for a writer firmly at mid-list, what you earn can go so much farther in Asia or South America. My Thai apartment with cleaning service costs less than $300 a month. It’s not glamorous by any means, but it’s clean and located in cafe central, so it checks all my boxes.
Most fiction writers just aren’t plugged into the idea of going mobile. It’s fine for me to galavant around—I’m single and my parents let me crash with them when I’m stateside as long as I keep them swimming in homemade pasta and quiche. I know a lot of other writers, and few of them are in my demographic. Most have kids and/or spouses, house payments, and are otherwise locked into wherever they are. Or they think they are. I think more could make the switch to this kind of lifestyle, but haven’t considered it, or just aren’t interested.
I wish more fiction writers would branch out and hit the road, partially for selfish reasons. I’d love to have a buddy or two to write around with and join in my cafe-hopping habit.
Given, being away from home isn’t the greatest. I can’t contact my family that often and I’m perpetually out of the loop with what my friends and relatives are up to in their lives. Even so, I think giving that up (at least temporarily) is a fair trade for what you can get out of the nomad lifestyle. I’m so much more creative when I’m on the road, and experiencing other cultures always gives me new insights into what I’m putting on the page. And for a foodie like me, this is heaven. Yeah, I can get Thai food at home, but little roadside buffets that sell MSG-coated Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese/Thai fusion food can’t hold a candle to the real thing. I’m getting so spoiled by curries cooked to order and perfectly mixed Thai teas.
This lifestyle isn’t for everyone and it’s not forever, but I’m digging it in the short term. If you’re out there wondering how to make it work, drop me a message. I’m all for getting more you genre fiction peeps out into the world, and I’m happy to co-sign the decision to leave the country if you’re having doubts.