Finally I can share why I’ve been sucking at this whole travel blogging thing for the last six months.
I kicked off 2014 with a bang, full of ambition and plans for killing it with Never Ending Footsteps. I was posting multiple times a week, traffic was higher than ever and I was starting to hit my financial goals for the first time. I was determined that 2014 was going to be the year where I attained the levels of success I’d been working towards.
It lasted until March, when I received an email that changed my life. It was an email that required me to immediately drop everything and focus my efforts into one project. I couldn’t spend time searching for additional freelance work because I didn’t have any time. I couldn’t justify writing on Never Ending Footsteps and dropped back to posting one travel summary each month. Worst of all, I couldn’t tell you what was happening. After starting the year on such a high, I had to disappear without giving any explanation.
Now, with contracts signed, I can finally share the biggest news of my life. I hope it will more than make up for my unexplained absence.
Is This Really Happening to Me?
I was looking at a dead body when I received the email. In the back of a Belizean bus, I stared through the dusty window in horror. A mess of limbs and a scooter mangled by the side of the road. Dark blood and organs smeared across the centre line. A dirty-looking towel tossed over the victim’s face. It was horrifying to witness, especially as someone who rides scooters all over the world.
I ignored the buzz of my phone in my pocket — there were more important things than staying connected. Whoever it was would have to wait. I had just seen a dead body.
Later that day, I sat on the bed in my guesthouse, dehydrated and dizzy. I opened my laptop and scanned through the notifications, hovering my mouse over an email with the subject line “Your Book”.
“Go away,” I mumbled.
I’d announced I was writing a book six months ago and was receiving several emails a week asking when I was going to release it. Despite convincing myself that it would be finished within a couple of months, I had yet to start. To tell the truth, I was frightened — convinced that it wouldn’t sell, that I was a terrible writer, that my story wasn’t interesting. I didn’t know how to respond to these emails and they always left me wrought with guilt over my failings.
I opened the email and read the first line. I screamed. I blinked and I gasped and I put my fingers over my eyes. Peeking through them, I read the words again.
“Dave,” I squeaked. “Dave, you need to come here right now.” He sat beside me on our bed as I jabbed my finger at the screen.
It was from an editor at A Big Publishing Company. She’d been reading my blog for a while and had seen I was writing a book. She loved my story and my writing style and wanted to know if I had any interest in working together.
She wanted to work with me?
It was too much to take in. Without saying a word, I handed my laptop to Dave, slithered off the bed and crawled to the bathroom. Locking myself inside, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Looking back at me wasn’t the face of an author. It was the face of a walking disaster — one who tripped and stumbled her way through life. One who had no idea what she was doing. The editor must have made a mistake.
She wanted to work with me on my book?
The Hardest Few Months of my Life
Of course, I didn’t have a book to work on with her.
At the time, I was travelling through Central America in a fast-paced adventure that had me changing location every two or three days. And, unknown to me at the time, I had just contracted mono.
Worst. Timing. Ever. But the timing is never right. If it was, I would have finished the book.
I shelved my plans to travel across Latin America and flew to Portland, OR because I needed to stop travelling. For the next month, I only left the house to eat and I worked for 16 hours a day. I had to come up with a plan for my book and I had to write it fast. I had to write it while suffering from the chronic fatigue that mono brings. I dismissed my exhaustion as a symptom of hard work and persevered. I was on the verge of a breakdown.
I take pride in the fact that Dave and I rarely argue (amazing, considering we’re together 24/7!), but the month in Portland left us close to walking away. We were fighting every day. Fighting over Dave typing too loudly when I needed silence, over me not being able to talk about anything but my book, over being in one of our favourite cities and me spending every second glued to my laptop. I was frustrated that my brain didn’t seem to be functioning and I didn’t understand why all I could achieve was sleep. On the verge of breaking up, I didn’t know whether to focus my energy on my book or my failing relationship. Was it worth losing Dave over a minuscule chance of career success?
Relief came when I found a literary agent who loved the sound of my book. Without any sample chapters to show, I told her and the publishing company that I needed a few weeks to write and edit the first couple of chapters.
Writing a book was harder than expected and I struggled to transition from blog-style writing. I sent the interested agent my sample chapters but she thought they were too blog-like. I sent a second draft and she felt the same way. I knew she was right but was still devastated when she passed on representing me.
My dream was slipping through my fingers, and I didn’t have the energy to fight for it.
From Portland, I flew home to the UK, where I planned to spend a month living with my parents and editing my chapters. I had a blood test while I was back because I had swollen glands all over my body and was convinced I had lymphoma. When I discovered I had mono, it was almost a relief. I had a reason for why I’d been struggling to write and why I couldn’t seem to stop sleeping.
What was I supposed to do now?
I’d been rejected by an agent, I was suffering from exhaustion and I knew my book wasn’t in any state to show an editor.
Pulling Myself Together
From the UK, I flew to Vietnam with the aim of basing myself somewhere affordable. I hadn’t written for Never Ending Footsteps in three months and my income was rapidly declining.
I emailed the editor to explain the delay, convinced she would rescind her offer after I’d proved myself to be unreliable. Instead, she encouraged me to put together a book proposal. I had to Google what a book proposal was. By this point, I had accepted I was probably going to fail. I was clueless.
An agent would have been able to help with this process but I was on my own and guessing all the way. I began to contact agents but couldn’t seem to get anyone to even read my emails. I sent out 100 and heard nothing back. No rejections, no interest, nothing.
In June, a few days before my birthday, I received another email with the subject line “Your Book”. It was from an editor at another publishing company. She’d discovered my blog and loved my story and thought it would make a great book. I was astounded.
I had two publishing houses interested in my book, I couldn’t find an agent and I had no idea if my book proposal looked like a book proposal should. But I finally started to believe this could happen.
With my optimism soaring and my mono subsiding, I disconnected from the Internet and wrote my proposal in a week. It was 60 pages and 20,000 words. Was it too long? Too short? Did I include all the sections I should have? Was it formatted correctly? I didn’t know.
I emailed it to the publishers, closed my laptop and flew to Nepal.
It was over.
I’d done all that I could.
The Final Push
I cried when I received positive responses from both editors. They loved my proposal, they loved the sound of my book and they both wanted to share it at future acquisition meetings. I was excited and terrified and relieved. But I still couldn’t relax.
I needed to find an agent. Both publishers were going to be making me an offer within the next two weeks and I really needed an agent. I couldn’t haggle with a bracelet seller in the streets of Kathmandu — how could I negotiate the terms of a contract?
It was with great delight that I found an agent who was passionate about my book and my story — within minutes of speaking to her I was certain she was the one. I signed with the agency that week.
I’m sure you’ve figured out the ending by now, given that being rejected wouldn’t be much of an announcement. Yes, I found the perfect publisher, too.
I’m absolutely delighted (and scared and anxious and nauseated) to be able to tell you that I have a book deal.
I have a book deal?
I have a book deal!
I have a book deal.
Can you hold my hair back while I vomit?
Introducing How Not to Travel the World
It was hitting rock bottom that convinced me to quit my job, sell everything I own and travel the world alone. After a devastating breakup led to me losing my home, my friends, my degree and my sanity, I packed my life into a 40 litre backpack and left for an enriching journey of self-discovery. After years spent battling with debilitating anxiety, an eating disorder and a lack of common sense, I was determined to find and heal myself.
Instead, my travels were full of bad luck and near-death experiences. I was scammed, assaulted and robbed, lost teeth and swallowed a cockroach. Instead of finding myself, I lost a laptop, a camera, $1000 and a backpack. I fell into leech-infested rice paddies, had the brakes of my motorbike fail while riding down a mountain and a boat started to sink with me on board. I was caught up in a tsunami, sat beside a corpse and experienced a very unhappy ending during a massage in Thailand.
Though I didn’t realise it at the time, I was experiencing a transformation despite the terrible things that were happening to me. My frequent panic attacks faded away as I repeatedly forced myself to leave my narrow comfort zone. I overcame my eating issues, evolving from a person who had never eaten Asian food to one who wouldn’t think twice about trying fried crickets. I even found love along the way, meeting Dave, a handsome New Zealander who taught me not to be afraid of living.
How Not to Travel The World is about following your dreams, no matter how many curveballs life throws at you. It’s about learning to get out of your comfort zone, finding the humour in messed up situations and falling in love with life on the road.
What Happens Now?
At 80,000 words, writing and editing the book is going to be my main focus for the rest of the year.
I’ll still be doing the digital nomad thing, and I’ll still be travelling — Burma, Taiwan and the Philippines are on the agenda for the next two months. Posting on Never Ending Footsteps is likely to remain infrequent until the end of the year but I’ll be writing whenever I have a spare moment. I’m aiming for one post a week.
Oh, and as for when it’ll be released? We’re aiming for summer 2015.