I would have to say reading. As the only child in my family for several years, I was read to frequently and taught to read early – both of which were amazing gifts. As a total book nerd child, the stories I read voraciously really transported me to other places, times, people and adventures. I felt always that I had stories inside me, too.
As with anything worthwhile, parts of it were challenging, yes. I didn’t become a professional writer, as a career, until my 30s. For some reason when I entered into adulthood, the idea of writing for a living just never occurred to me. I got into real estate, and only after years when I realized I was not passionate about the work, did I go back to school and reawakened my love for writing. My career took off from there.
Even when things are difficult, you know you are on your purpose when you still wouldn’t choose to do anything else in the world. I don’t have a “job” that is separate from the rest of my life – it is my life, it is me. Everything is organic and intertwined together, and I believe that no matter what a person’s calling is, their life’s work should reflect that, should truly be part of who you are and not just something you do.
I really like faraway places, and inspiring people who have overcome odds. Actually, isn’t that sort of the basis of most great stories in human history? My second passion, alongside writing, is global travel. I am infinitely curious about the world, and how other people live. So to write about different cultures and places is exciting to me. I also get a real thrill out of finding out about some incredible work a person is doing, and sharing that work with a broader audience. Whether it’s giving orphans in India a future, or helping the homeless right here in Austin, I love writing about the human thread that ties us all together.
I first went to India in 2005 with The Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit based here in Austin that funds and manages several orphanages there. It was during that trip, getting to know the children and the stories behind how each of them had wound up in the orphanage, that I decided to begin writing a book about their lives. I had assumed they were all orphans in the true sense of the word – their parents had died – and was shocked by how many of them had been “orphaned” by poverty; their parents had left them at the Miracle Foundation home because they were too poor to feed them. I simply couldn’t go on with my life as if they didn’t exist. My sole purpose in writing this book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.
By now, everyone has either seen, or at least heard of, the movie Slumdog Millionaire, about the lives of two brothers who come from the slums of Mumbai – made even more desperate after they are orphaned. What many don’t know, however, is that for 25 million children in India, the harsh world depicted in the movie is their everyday reality. Yes, that’s 25 million kids who have been orphaned, abandoned or trafficked. My book takes readers along on my journey over the past five years into the streets, orphanages and slums of India where these children live without families or homes of their own. I became immersed in their world, a witness to their struggles – but also their joys, their incredible hope and resilience that amazed me time and time again. The ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me.
Right now I am doing a variety of freelance articles for travel magazines, lifestyle websites and publications that focus on nonprofit work, such as GivingCity Austin. I have a couple of ideas for new books, such as one that would tell the story of inspiring people who are working to change the world with one big idea. Sort of like Caroline Boudreaux is doing in India with the Miracle Foundation, but telling the stories of many people like her, putting their souls into what they believe in all over the world.
You know, honestly it’s different on different days. If I’m in what I call the “zone,” then the creative juices are flowing and it just seems to happen naturally. At those times, the last thing I want is to interrupt that flow in any way. Other times I sort of have to force myself, especially if I’m on deadline and can’t wait for the “zone” to happen. With a big project, like a book, I will generally work like mad on it for weeks or months on end, and then set it aside for a while. I get too close to it, and have to put some distance there. With The Weight of Silence, it was truly a labor of love.
Besides inspiring people and nonprofits, in my articles I tend to write a lot about sustainable and cultural travel – travel that is immersive and respectful, not consumerist. I also enjoy writing about sustainability in general, from green living practices to eating whole and local foods as much as possible.
That’s a great question. For one thing, I wish I had more talent in writing humor. I read some unbelievably wry and witting writing styles, like David Sedaris, and I just wish I had that talent. Alas, it’s lost on me. I think I would like to tackle some more fiction, though. It’s a real creative process that I believe injects tremendous emotion and style into even nonfiction writing.
Think very seriously about why you want to be a writer. Some people just want a creative outlet and that is great – and very easy to do as a “hobby.” I love to cook but would never become a professional chef. I once saw a posting on a writer’s forum where someone was asking if he couldn’t get lots of free travel if he became a travel writer. That’s the exact wrong type of reason to become a writer. You do it because you haveto – there’s simply no choice. And if that’s the case for you, then find a way to do it.
You can always find me at www.shelleyseale.com, and you can find out all about The Weight of Silence, which is being re-released this month with a Revised and Expanded version, at http://weightofsilence.net.