Tastemaker: Colin Wright

Every four months, author Colin Wright moves to a new country based on votes he receives from readers of his blog, Exile Lifestyle. Now, that’s how you turn your life into a choose-your-own-adventure book! Wright has managed to live the dream of making a career out of traveling the world while publishing books (he also started his own publishing house, FYI) and embarking upon amazing creative projects along the way. We caught up with Wright, who’s currently in Iceland, to find out more about his unbelievable life as a successful nomad.

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Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
I’m an author, entrepreneur and full-time traveler. I move to a new country every four months (or so), based on the votes of my readers.

My background is in design, and I started my first business (a culture magazine) in college, when I was 19. From there, I started and ran a series of small businesses, culminating with a branding studio in Los Angeles that made me a lot of money and gave me the opportunity to see where my priorities really were. My girlfriend and I were living together, and we both realized around the same time that things were good, but not great. We wanted to do more and felt the relationship was holding us back, so we planned a breakup party for four months in the future, taking the time in between to figure out what our next steps would be.

For me, it was traveling full-time. I wanted to set up shop in a new place frequently, so I could put down some roots, but still have a sense of urgency to learn all I could while I had the time. In the months leading up to leaving, I got rid of everything I owned that wouldn’t fit into a carry-on bag (it was a lot of stuff) and started a blog called Exile Lifestyle. Realizing that I had little idea of where might be a cool place to start (I had never left the US at that point), I asked my readers to vote on a country, and that process went so well, I continue to use it today – over four years later.

These days, I make my living off the books I’ve written and published, and travel where my readers vote for me to go, taking time in between to do book tours, give talks, and teach workshops all around the world. It’s a heck of a lot of fun.

How/why did you start Exile Lifestyle and what exactly is it (for people who don’t already know)?
Exile Lifestyle is a blog I started because I knew a lot about some things (branding, entrepreneurship, technology) and little about others (cultures around the world, travel, life/work balance). I wanted a way to share what I already knew so that people who didn’t might benefit from that knowledge, and in hopes that others out there in the internet ether would help me learn what I needed (and very much wanted) to learn. It seemed best to start these relationships by giving, though, so I wrote and wrote and wrote.

I write about a little bit of everything on Exile Lifestyle, and as such it’s become a nice sounding board any time I have some new idea to flesh out, or a philosophical angle I want to explore more fully. It’s a home base for writing of all genres and topics, though I do try to keep it thoughtful and concise rather than aiming for massive, bulky essays, or anything too trendy.

What have been some of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences you’ve had so far while doing Exile Lifestyle?
Oh wow, there have been so many.

Some are of the cliched, bucket-listable variety, like skydiving in New Zealand after an Air New Zealand pilot said he would let me sit in the cockpit during a flight if I would jump out of a plane in exchange. Others are a little frightening, like when I punched a guy in the face after he and a conspirator tried to mug me in Buenos Aires. I’m sure I didn’t hurt him, but I spooked him enough by being willing to fight back and yell at him in English that the pair let me walk away.

Still others are just bizarre, like when I was cast in a Bollywood commercial, dressed as a cowboy, doing all the crazy dance moves alongside a giant dancing flower, pyrotechnics, off-brand Power Rangers, and two Michael Jackson impersonators.

It’s all been crazy enough that I’ve written two ‘tales from the road’-style memoirs, and continue to write an ongoing subscription-based publication called Exiles. There are plenty of stories to tell with this kind of lifestyle; it’s just a matter of figuring out how to tell them, where, and what lessons (if any) can be derived once you’ve given them time to percolate.

Of all the places you’ve visited, what would you say are some of the most inspirational spots?
This is another tough one, as any place can be truly inspirational if you approach it the right way. I will say that Iceland has had a big influence on my aesthetics. Romania was pretty remarkable, in terms of old-meets-new, and seeing the remnants of a revolution only recently ended. The nature you can find in New Zealand is ridiculously, almost unfairly, stunning.

I also get a lot of inspiration from small towns in any country. Small town US, small town Canada, small town Thailand, small town Morocco. Big cities have had a lot of their rough edges worn off, in most cases, by globalization. There are a lot of positives to that, of course, but in the smaller towns you’ll find a lot of what makes a culture unique. That’s the stuff I love to discover and tend to take with me when I leave.

Any places you’re still dying to visit?
All the places! It sounds like a cop-out answer, but it’s true. I really, truly, immensely want to visit every single city in every single country in the world. I want to see it all. This is a big part of why I have my readers vote on where I’ll live next, because if I didn’t have someone else choosing for me I’m not sure I’d be able to decide for myself.

You’re one of the co-founders of Asymmetrical Press. What makes Asymmetical so unique as a publishing company?
We’re a publishing company founded by professional, independent authors. That means we understand what a good contract looks like from the author’s point of view, what a fair share of profits would be, what assistance we can offer, and what traditional trappings of the publisher/author relationship we can safely do away with.

We’re also small and nimble enough to make use of new and emerging technologies, which saves a heck of a lot of time and money. Our overhead is incredibly low, and as such we can afford to take more risks and experiment a lot.

The three of us who founded it also come from successful backgrounds in different fields. We’ve all been fairly well-off and know what it means to be successful in those terms, and as such we’re acutely aware that there’s more to running a company worth the time invested than just the numbers in the bank account. We want to publish great work, and be profitable as a result of that. We don’t want to be profitable at the expense of quality, then struggle to figure out a way to reconfigure the company into something that can deliver words worth reading.

We’re also based out of Missoula, Montana, which some people think is weird. It’s a tiny little town in the mountainous region of the US, just a stone’s throw from Canada. Not a traditional hub for international publishing, but we’re also not a traditional company.

You’re quite the author yourself! What pieces of your own published work are you most proud of and what tips would you give to other writers when it comes to tackling a book?
I’ll always say my favorite thing I’ve written is the most recent book I’ve published. If I can’t say that, it means I haven’t grown, and then I’d have to figure out what I was doing with my time instead of becoming better at my most beloved craft! At the moment, I’m in love with a couple of fiction series I’m writing.

My A Tale of More series opens with the book Trialogue, and features a small town kid with two voices in his head: one that narrates everything he does, and one that teaches him how to do things. He’s pulled into a world of plastic surgeons who are trying to build a super-race and rave-kids who are trying to make new technologies available to everyone in the world.

The other series begins with a book called Ordovician, which has a protagonist from an indistinct future called The Present: a utopia kept stable by a game in which historian athletes travel through time to play out the roles of key people during important moments in the past.

I wrote a book on curating, recently, called Curation is Creation, and my last big nonfiction book before that was a concise tome on philosophy called Act Accordingly.

In terms of writing a book, I’m a big fan of starting big and honing in, smaller and smaller. Figure out what you want to say, figure out how you want to say it, figure out what kind of world this story takes place in, then the characters, then the relationships, and smaller and smaller and smaller. The idea is to have a skeleton worked out, down to what happens in each chapter, so that you can see which plot points are weak, identify your cliffhangers and climax and such early on, and make sure everything flows well. And all this is before you’ve even started writing.

The main benefit of working this way is that after you’ve got this framework set up, you can just sit down and write. You don’t have to agonize over every minor issue, because all you have to do is get from point A to point B; the issues have already been worked out. This allows you to really focus on character development, description, language, and all the other vital points that define your writing style. Start with the scaffolding so you can focus on being an artist by the time you actually apply pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as will more likely be the case).

I’d also recommend establishing your platform way before you intend to publish your book. Start a blog, become known on social media, do something to let people know you exist. Otherwise, the chances of your (perhaps brilliant) works being lost in the deluge of noise is the most likely result, no matter how unfair it might be.

You’ve put your life in a backpack many times. What are three things you can’t live without?
A laptop is pretty essential. I’ve given it up a few times to see if I could do what I do from public terminals and such, but it’s far more enjoyable having my own rig.

A sturdy, understated bag is a necessary component, as it carries all the other components and helps you blend in (you don’t want to stand out as a tourist while traveling, or you’ll pay higher prices and be a target for scammers and pickpockets).

A notebook and pen is technically two items, but I’m going to cheat and lump them together. I design all my own book covers (and covers for some other authors as well), so I need to be able to mock-up and illustrate work from the road. It’s also nice to be able to jot down ideas and such when they come to me; I use technology where I can and where it makes sense, but sometimes — like when you’ve just landed somewhere and don’t have the right outlet adapter and all your electronics have no juice left — it’s amazing how valuable a little pocket notebook and pen can be.

How do we keep up-to-date with you?
Blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Colin.io and asymmetrical.co.

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