"You should write a book sometime," they said. Right. I should write a book. Sometime. Or play the lottery. Or see if I can throw a chair through a closed window without causing a significant increase in my heating bill.
Everyone has something to say. Many people want to write a book. Find a big publisher and become an author. Almost no one makes it. I am a dreamer. And a realist at the same time. If you Google "How do I publish a book?" you'll quickly find out that no one—really no one at all—has been waiting for new authors. Besides, everything has already been written about. Whether it's a story about a one-legged man's trip around the world with a chicken, a Mafia kid's dramatic youth, or a magical romance with a terminally ill man. The wheel has already been invented, so why go back to carrying things on foot?
A book, then, huh? What the heck. Why don't I just write up the collected impressions I experienced in 2017 on my four-month solo trip through the USA into a readable, coherent narrative. For fun. Because I can. Or maybe it's raining right now, and I have nothing better to do, or maybe I just love writing so much that I can't help it.
Three and a half years after I opened my first Word document to meet this challenge, my story is now rolling off the presses of National Geographic in Germany. Angst ist keine Ausrede – 13.000 Kilometer solo durch die USA. Which translates to Fear is No Excuse - 13,000 Kilometers Solo Across the USA in English. Although currently only available in a German version, my book is now a reality. How did that happen and where can you buy it?
I gawk at my three travel diaries. Yes, I still write old-school travel journals with pen and paper. And when you've spent four months traveling 13,000 kilometers—over 8,000 miles—alone through a huge foreign country, despite being afraid of broccoli, airplanes, and little yapping dogs next door, there is a lot to write about.
I stare at the empty, white Word document. Half an hour later, it's full of letters and there are 17 filled pages. While I might look like an exploded owl if you wake me up at two in the morning, I will still be able to write a great report immediately.
Writing is something I must have inhaled somewhere in the birth canal. In high school, I irritated various teachers with satirical writings and comics in the school newspaper. I interned at local newspapers. At university, I studied journalism and public relations. With this experience, I found that I really love writing, but I freak out when I am forced to sit at an office desk for fixed, daily hours, frequently with nothing to do but to pretend I am busy.
So, after my four-month solo trip through the USA, I started my own business. As a freelance copywriter, journalist, and photographer. Work that can be done independent of location, and at my own pace and time. So far, so good. But still no book. Hmmm.
So there I sit with my newfound job freedom, flipping through my old travel journals. Then I start typing.
How I arrived in New York, drove to Washington DC, and then flew to Niagara Falls. After five chapters, I interrupt the project for the summer where I spend four months traveling on and off with friends and my laptop through Europe and then back to the US. I can do that now that I can sit anywhere to work.
Afterwards, however, the world order collapses, because on one of the trips I fall in love with my best friend from the US, completely unplanned. Yes, that's right, I met him on the four-month solo trip.
As a result, I dump the meager remnants of my conventional life into the garbage, buy a Tiny House and plunge into a completely crazy, long-distance relationship with a man who is old enough to be my dinosaur father. Then I become yet another victim of a nasty, incurable, and chronic autoimmune disease (ulcerative colitis, have fun googling it!). It takes a long time before I eventually open my Word file again. Still no book. Hmmm.
I start again. To write. But first I read what I have written so far. My
writing style has undergone a complete change over the past year. From classic travel blogger blather ("the five most amazing cafes in Spain") to something more personal. More importantly,
I have changed. I no longer want to simply report what I see, but talk about what I feel and how I got to be who I now am. No more excuses. I want to lead a full life and
to help others come along with me. I want to pour courage onto the fire that is burning out the fear.
Fire with words.
Because words are not just strokes on paper, keys on the computer, or sounds from the mouth. Words have power. Words can elicit change. Maybe not the whole world at once, but the whole world for someone. And if my words make the difference for just one person, they are worth more than anyone could ever pay me for them.
Here I sit, ten years after I threw away my punk-revolutionary jeans jacket with the burn holes, and I suddenly understand what it means to make a difference.
I delete the entire first chapters of my book and start over. No more travel journal babble. No more trying to copy other travelogues. I need to tell a story, I need to tell my story. And only that. Just as I am. The key is just to write about who I really am, and how I got there.
f course, it's not quite that easy. Countless times my boyfriend kicks my butt to get me to write another chapter, and then another. "Sarah wants to be an author. So Sarah is gonna be an author," he says. "How is he book coming?"
I roll my eyes.
I also keep getting messages and encouragement to write a book someday. From complete strangers who read my blog. From former fellow students. None of whom know that I've been trying to do just that for years. Somehow.
Until one day, in April 2020—thanks in part to lots of spare time due to the evil lockdown and Corona Apocalypse—I announce, "I just wrote the last chapter. Wow! Fantastic! Now for some wine!"
What happens next, I know far too well, unfortunately. Finding a publisher. I begin to read about how to do that. How difficult to impossible it is to do that. The advantages and disadvantages of agents. The pros and cons of self-publishing. I get a migraine, big worry lines begin to appear on my forehead, and I start the process by doing…nothing.
My boyfriend rolls his eyes. "You made it this far!" He wants me to write a synopsis and send it to a literary agent. But I am not ready for disappointment. I know when you get rejections or zero responses to a heartfelt project, it nibbles at your psyche. I don't want to let anyone nibble on my psyche. Not without salt and pepper.
Eventually I find enough pepper, write the "Shit_Synopsis.doc" (it's still called that to this day, by the way) and send it to seven agencies. With a more amusing than businesslike cover letter because it doesn't matter. Nobody will answer anyway.
Amazingly, three agencies get back to me. Three sixes in the lottery. Makes you want to throw a chair through your closed window.
Two agents think that I write well, but that travel stories are either too hackneyed or they do not fit into the current Corona environment.
One thinks that my itinerary through the U.S. is not the latest Revelation of John, but that my writing style is fascinating. We get together. My agent, Laura, is a golden treasure. She finds the strengths and weaknesses in the story, then she pushes and prods and irons and folds with me until she says, "There it is, right now. We'll send it out with the fall list to all the usual publishers. If none of them get back to us, the book is trashed." Well, she said it a little nicer than that.
A couple of months later, after I already decide I want to wall myself up alone in the potato cellar consumed with disappointment, suddenly a publisher comes forward who I didn't think would even use my manuscript to blow its nose. National Geographic. THE National Geographic. The one and only.
Even as I write this, National Geographic is printing my encouragement story, my travel book, my adventure report. Angst ist keine Ausrede – 13.000 Kilometer solo durch die USA. It will soon be in bookstores all over Germany! Unfortunately for my English readers, there are no current plans for an English version. But I will try to keep you in the loop otherwise.
All I know—about this journey, about this book, and about this life—is this: Just DO it!
And read it. If you can. Just saying.
Fear is no Excuse - 13.000 km solo across the USA
by National Geographic
She was afraid of flying, afraid of shootings in big cities, of car breakdowns in the desert and of dogs behind the garden fence. Sarah Bauer seemed to have owned all neuroses and yet she dared the journey of a lifetime: through the USA alone, 13,000 km by plane, bus and car. From New York to Chicago, via Route 66 to Los Angeles and San Francisco. To face her fears - and to live her lifelong dream.
Also find it on Amazon or in any German book store near you.