The Foreign Service Journal - November 2017

26 NOVEMBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL When I left the Foreign Service, I pitched The New York Times about returning to Tuktoyaktuk to write a travel piece about this road. I emphasized that when finished, it would be the only road in Canada to reach the Arctic Ocean. Happily, the newspaper agreed. The piece became my first real break into nonfiction writing, and it happened because of my State Department back- ground. Connections also help. Getting a coveted onward assignment in the Foreign Service often relies on them. Writing is no different. Whether it was fiction or nonfiction, using my network of writer and editor friends was crucial. Of course, the books or articles I wrote had to be interesting; but having landed on a reviewer’s desk through a networked connection, they were considered seri- ously, which is a huge first step toward being published. For those in the Foreign Service interested in getting published, does my own winding path yield any tips or lessons? I think so. First, take advantage of the fact that your Foreign Service expe- rience is filled with interesting stories and experiences. Whether your interest is fiction or nonfiction, you have rawmaterial that few people have. It’s a huge advantage. Keep a journal and take pictures to make sure you remember it all. Second, focus on writing and editing—not publishing—while in the Foreign Service. Promotion and publicity, key components to being a published writer, are difficult to carry out within the strictures of a State Department career. After all, you’re supposed to represent the United States, not yourself. Third, tend to your connections and friendships. This maxim applies to your Foreign Service career, but it’s vital outside diplo- macy, as well. Expatriate communities around the world are filled with people interested in writing—not just journalists, but also Fulbright grantees, academics, businesspeople, international aid workers and Peace Corps Volunteers. Most of these people will return to the United States, and some may be able to help when you’re ready to start getting published. I have a final piece of advice that will feel especially relevant to those who took the Foreign Service exammany times before getting in. Push through rejection. Writing is filled with it. Pulitzer Prize–winning writers still get rejected. However, there’s an upside to rejection. It helps develop a critical eye, which is the key to writ- ing nonfiction or fiction that everyone wants to read. People are entranced by diplomacy and the Foreign Service. The peripatetic, global life provides no shortage of material. For those with this background who are interested in writing, the opportunities are out there. Mine your experiences, write con- stantly and maintain connections. Your chances of being pub- lished are better than you might think. Q