Wednesday, July 05, 2006


[Note: This is an essay that was recently published in Expatica Spain.

Yes, yes, yes...I know that I’m going to catch hell for this photo, but it is, in fact, the photo that Expatica published.

And’s not my fault. Do you know whose fault it is? The Big Finn’s. He’s the one who originated the concept of “beefcake blogging”.]

In this week’s essay, I’d like to switch gears a bit. Instead of writing about the expat experience, I’m going to write about the expat blogger experience.

This is a topic that often comes up over cocktails with friends. Inevitably, someone will—midway through their second Cruzcampo—ask, “How in the hell do you come up with a new Expat Blog essay for Expatica every week?” would be a lot harder if the topic were other than life in Spain. In this respect, I feel sorry for the guy that writes Expatica’s Aluminum Can Recycling Blog.

But life in Spain—with its topless beaches and dried pig parts and phallic-shaped, deep-fried breakfast pastries—is a bountiful dumpster from which to scavenge. A lot of quirky things happen here during the course of daily life—especially when viewed through the eyes of a process-driven, efficiency-obsessed, logic-minded American.

That’s not to say, however, that the essays write themselves. No, no, no...there’s a fair amount of work involved in meeting my editors’ Thursday deadline. And that work broadly divides itself into two phases: the creative, and the writing.

The creative phase is often the harder one. This is where I frantically try to generate an idea—and a rough mental outline—for the next essay. I start obsessing about this five minutes after submitting my last essay. And although a trove of worthy material may be sitting right under my nose, that doesn’t necessarily mean that my brain will notice it.

So sometimes the brain needs a little help. And which type of help might that be? The answer surprised me.

When I first started writing for Expatica, I assumed that a wee spot of alcohol would prove itself the great generator of literary creativity. After all, it worked pretty well for Hemingway—you know, that *other* expat who wrote about Spain.

And I quickly learned that alcohol is indeed a great generator. A generator of sleepiness.

After a bit of trial and error, however, I stumbled upon a fail-safe recipe for a creativity cocktail—caffeine and endorphins.

Especially endorphins! How do I know this? Because the ideas for the vast, *vast* majority of my Expatica essays have—almost miraculously—appeared to me while jogging.

That’s right...jogging! An activity that, I’m fairly certain, Hemingway NEVER tried—except, perhaps, when the bar was closing.

Now, I’m aware that many writers boast that their best ideas come to them while in the shower. But to be honest, I’ve never once had a good idea while taking a shower. I don’t know why this is. I can only assume that these other writers are engaging in some type of endorphin-producing shower time activity that I am not.

By the way...that shower joke came to me while jogging, too.

The creative phase may be the difficult phase, but it’s also the more fun of the two. But alas...after the idea is generated and the initial brainstorming is done, there’s no escaping the grunt-work of actually writing the Expatica essay.

So to make that grunt-work a bit less arduous, I break it into a relaxed, three-step process.

The first step is “The Brain Dump.” I set aside an hour of uninterruptible time—usually early in the morning before my day job starts and my coffee buzz dissipates—and bang-out a completely unedited, shockingly awful first draft. So awful, in fact, that even Paris Hilton would toss it aside with the comment, “Dude...even I can, like, do better than that.”

And when that thoroughly embarrassing first draft is finished, I ignore it. Completely ignore it! For the rest of the day and night. I call this step “The Fermentation.” It’s a bit like spitting into a barrel of grape juice and waiting to see if it turns into wine.

Now, I don’t know what happens in my subconscious mind during The Fermentation, but something does indeed happen. How do I know this? Because when I wake up the next morning, my head feels full of wine. And all that wine greatly helps the next step, which is...

...“The Spit and Polish.” This step involves carefully editing the essay so that it reads smoothly and coherently—two characteristics that, I should hasten to add, are wholly absent from The Brain Dump draft. And then, finally, I go through the essay one last time—sentence by sentence and word by word—with only one question in mind: How can I make this funnier?

I am hoping that this last step endears me to Matt Groening the next time he has an opening on the writing staff for The Simpsons. [Hint, hint!]

And that’s it! When the essay is dumped, fermented and spit-polished, I email it to my Expatica editors.

And then I take a shower. A cold one.

Cold one?! Hey, wait a minute! Maybe *that’s* why I never have any good ideas in the shower.


At 5:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Super hot body. Who knew???

At 10:37 AM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Sal - Go to the entry you want on TBF's blog and click on the #. Then you copy and paste the address and link to the word(s) you wish to redirect.

BTW, sexyyyy.... Get ready to get a few whistles from us ladies ;-)

At 3:52 PM, Blogger The Big Finn said...

Sal - Good picture, but why hide the nipple?

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MMMmmmm....beefcake...good eatin'!

At 4:35 PM, Blogger christina said...

Hubba hubba!

If only we could all look that good, eh? Cold showers all around, I'd say.

Oh yes, and the essay ain't bad either. ;-)

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey C-Swiss: Thanks for the Blogger tutorial. Who would've thunk that the little # on the left-hand side of each post actually meant something.

TBF: Believe it or not, I sent Expatica a choice of two photos. They chose the one "sans nip." Perhaps they were worried about a Janet Jackson-esque backlash. To be honest, I was relieved at their choice--especially after watching that famous episode of Seinfeld.

Christina:'s all in the lighting and camera angles.

At 1:36 AM, Anonymous Karl said...

Those are good tips. I have so many great blogging ideas while running but never convert them into words. I've been thinking about running with a dictaphone. I guess the bottom line is there is a certain amount of actual *work* to be done.

BTW, you're really upping the ante here with that shot.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger euro-trac said...

That was a nice surprise! :O)

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Angie said...

That Moleskine really does go anywhere!!!

At 7:01 PM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Oh, I was just wondering if it was just pure luck of getting Orange under the (garden) shower, too. Did you guys talk without me knowing it?

At 7:28 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

C-Swiss: Hey! More beefcake blogging!

Ang: Just imagine the places that Hemingway brought his Moleskine. :-O

Trac: Surprise, indeed. And if I catch whoever took that photo...!

Karl: Another endorphin-ranger, are ye? It's a powerful drug, indeed. And cheaper than vodka.

At 10:51 PM, Blogger The Medium Swede said...

Sal, you misread my post. I meant when you put someone in office like GW,this is what we get.

take care

At 5:58 PM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

So who's gonna be "Mr. April"?? ;-)

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...


Who will be Mr. April?

How about Walt?

At 9:58 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

The things a girl misses when she goes travelling ...

'Process-driven, efficiency-obsessed, logic-minded American' ... hmmm, so I'm the only flakey one? I thought I'd found a fellow flakey ... as you were Sal, sorry.

Nice pic ... I won't 'raise you on that one'. ;)

At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really think I am falling in love with you.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Is that you, Jasemine? ;-)

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sal, after seeing your picture in the shower I can't wait to meet you in person in August.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Alison said...

Hmmm... I have most of my Expatica ideas in the car... no idea why. I started keeping a notebook in there so I could jot stuff down (good thing I don't drive). I have had a few inspired thoughts in the shower as well (the trick is to heat it up a bit Sal) :)

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Expat Traveler said...


At 10:11 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Vicki, Vicki, Vicki.

I know it's you, Vicki. I know it's you. Ha ha.

A little bird told me.

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Glenna said...

Sal, since I mentioned you and your "beefcake" blogging I thought I might mention it to you that you're named on my blog today...

At 4:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sal,
We are surprised that you did not mention us in the description of your recent visit to Chicago and the dinner in Greek Town. DVPC and the kids


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