Expat Author Matt Krause on Writing

Cover of A Tight Wide-open Space by Matt Krause on Adventures in Expat Land


Is it any wonder that writers read and readers often write?

We enjoy getting lost between the pages of a book, drawn into the world created by the author. We’re enthralled with the intoxicating power of the written word.

One of the best books I had the pleasure of encountering this year was A Tight Wide-open Space: Finding Love in a Muslim Land by Matt Krause (Delridge Press, 2011).

As I read his evocative and quietly eloquent memoir about the life he builds after moving there with the woman he meets in a chance encounter, I knew that I wanted to share this beautifully written love song to Turkey with you.

Even more, I was dying to get inside Matt’s writing mind and see how he approaches his craft. He was so generous in sharing his thoughts that we get two posts in lieu of one! 

Today’s post focuses on how he approaches writing, and in the follow-up Matt will share his views on the editing/publishing process. In addition to A Tight Wide-open Space, Matt has also published the popular Soapbox, a compilation of more recent blog posts.

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Writers often complain about the tortuous route their book takes from inception to publication, with unwieldy plot twists, continual rewrites and writer’s block in between. Surprisingly, Matt doesn’t share this view. 

‘The writing process (for A Tight Wide-open Space) was fun,’ he shares readily. ‘I had been telling some of the stories in the book for a couple of years already, and I figured I could grow to be an 80-year-old man telling 40-year-old stories, or I could put the stories down on paper and then go make new stories.’

While Matt advocates getting the writing out of his head and onto the page before moving on to the next project, I know many writers out there will be heartened to learn that the process itself takes him a little time. 

‘Writing the first draft took about 300 hours spread out over half a year: a little on the bus in the mornings riding to work, a little on the bus in the evenings riding home, a few hours on a Saturday afternoon at a coffee shop, and so on, ‘ he explains. ‘I’m not a particularly fast writer; it takes me about 8 focused hours to write a single newspaper column.’

‘I see way too many people describing their perfect conditions for writing (antique mahogany desk, creaky wooden chair, birds singing, a particular kind of coffee in a particular mug). Since perfect conditions rarely exist in real life, their lack tends to serve as an excuse not to write more often than their presence serves as a reason to write.’

‘I say ‘love the product, not the process’,’ he reasons, warming to the subject. ‘Learn how to write while standing over the plums at the grocery store. Learn how to write while riding the bus. Learn how to write while standing on the street corner, and learn how to write while someone stands behind you banging on a frying pan.’

‘Personally, what seems to work best for me: I carry a notebook wherever I go, because the good ideas rarely, if ever, come to me while I’m sitting at a desk. I’ve got to be moving around — walking, riding in a car, watching a ferry cross the bay. I have to see people and objects moving in relation to each other. That’s when the ideas start coming.’

I found this insight about motion particularly telling. I know that I often solve plot problems or work through article ideas or certain passages as I walk the dog or am chauffering Daughter hither and yon, but I never associated gaining clarity with the actual movement.

‘I don’t like to work at home. I like to keep my workspace and my living space separate,’ Matt confides. ‘I work in public, whether it’s walking, riding the bus, sitting in a coffee shop.’

‘If an idea comes to me while I’m at home, I will usually scribble it down in my notebook so I don’t forget it, and then run out the door,’ he admits sheepishly. ‘I do more writing at the bus stop outside my apartment than at any other location.’

With two books under his belt and more writing projects in the works, it’s not surprising that Matt feels strongly about writers getting beyond the talking stage and putting their work out for others to see.

‘Don’t be one of those people who says, ‘I’ve been working on a book for [insert number of years here]’,’ he insists. ‘Whatever you are writing, get your words out there and move on.’

‘Finding a publisher is great, but finding readers is more important. A novel that has been collecting dust in a drawer for five years is not finding readers, no matter how hard you are looking for a publisher. So self-publish it, let the public rip it to shreds, listen carefully to their comments, and then make the next one better.’

Matt is taking his own advice to ‘go make new stories’. Naturally that involves more writing, but in the coming year he will also prepare for what promises to be an epic journey in 2013: a solo walk across Turkey, down through Syria and Jordan to Jerusalem, writing and reflecting along the way.

So for all of you writers out there – aspiring, would be, tentative, striving, working or otherwise – it seems only right to end with a final shot of encouragement from Matt.

‘Fail, learn, improve. Don’t shoot for perfection, because you will never get it. Make rapid iterations, each one a little better than the one before.’




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