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My Exile Lifestyle: Interview with Colin Wright

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about a midwestern boy—a self-proclaimed “nerdy kid”—who moved to California to pursue a career as a graphic designer and live the opulent lifestyle that our heavily mediated culture encourages us to live, and then everything changed when he figured out he wasn’t happy working a million hours a week for someone else and so he became a minimalist and quit his job and started his own business and started a website and traveled the world and his readers got to pick to where he traveled next.

Meet Colin Wright. Age 26.

Today marks the release of Colin’s memoir My Exile Lifestyle. This book is the story of his life, but for me it’s a book about why living a minimalist lifestyle is so important—because minimalism allows you to pursue your passions.

About the Book

My Exile Lifestyle is a memoir made of stories from the life of author, entrepreneur, and full-time traveler, Colin Wright.

From his early years as an antisocial geek, to his high-flying career in Los Angeles, to his life as a wandering vagabond, Colin holds nothing back as he talks about love, business, blogging, and culture through tales that span four continents.

In the easy to digest style of storytelling that has made his other work such a success, Colin discusses life on the road and nothing is too taboo. Every epic, embarrassing, and awkward detail is covered with sometimes brutal honesty.

In place of publishing a book review here, I decided to craft some in-depth interview questions for Colin (video and transcript below):

Video Interview with Colin Wright

Joshua: The first line to your new book My Exile Lifestyle sets the tone for your readers: “I pause, take a deep breath, and start my pitch.” So, can you give our readers your elevator pitch for this book? What is it about?

Colin: This book is a collection of stories that I didn’t think I would tell. I was keeping them to myself, in some cases because they’re quite personal, in others because I didn’t think they were practical enough to put up on my website. In all cases I was a little bit concerned about exposing so many aspects of my life for public perusal, so I held back.

But now I’m putting them all out there, and turning the whole experience into an experiment, as one does.

As for what it’s actually about, I personally feel like the ‘red thread’ that holds all the stories together is relationships of all shapes and sizes, but I’ve heard a few interpretations at his point, and I don’t think any of them are wrong. Very surface-level, it’s the tale of how I ended up doing what I’m doing for a living, and what’s gone down since I started to live this very strange lifestyle.

I know you are hesitant to call My Exile Lifestyle a memoir. But you obviously have a unique and interesting story to tell. And it’s also a story with the power to inspire people. Why the trepidation to use the term memoir? And what made you decide that now was the right time to write this book?

Ah, I really just don’t like the word ‘memoir.’ It’s got this vibe to it that makes it seem so high-and-mighty, and I don’t feel like that’s the association I want with my stories and this collection of them. That being said, it is autobiographical in nature, and mostly focuses on a period of time in my life, so I guess it’s technically a memoir. Don’t let the term slow you down.

Now is the right time because I’ve just finished living in my fourth country (Iceland), and I’ve accumulated a great number of stories that I was holding onto, miser-like. I’ve told a few of these stories in person before, and people always seemed to like them, so I thought to myself, “Self, let’s write a book full of those kinds of stories.” “But Colin,” Self replied, “won’t that seem quite presumptuous at best, mentally masturbatory at worst? Won’t people think you’re some kind of daydreaming hippy, like back when you had shoulder-length hair and played competitive Ultimate Frisbee?” “Perhaps,” I said, “but that’s a risk I’ll have to take.”

And that’s how it happened.

You are a minimalist—hell, you’re the guy who introduced me to minimalism—but this book obviously isn’t about minimalism, and yet it’s almost about post-minimalism for me. In other words, it’s as if you show the reader what they can do once they start living a minimalist lifestyle. You show them it’s easier to pursue their passions when they get rid of all the extra possessions in their lives. Do you see it the same way? Is that the message you hope to convey to the people who read your book?

I do and I don’t.

I don’t in that I think minimalism is just a small part of my philosophy, but I do in that I know that I’m able to LIVE my philosophy the way I do because of my approach to minimalism; namely, clearing out the deadwood from my life so I have my time, energy and resources to spend on what’s important to me. This approach allows me to do a lot more of what I want to do, and most of the stories have been as a result of that.

So yeah, I guess I do. I mostly don’t because I wanted to give a longer answer.

There’s no REAL message to the book, other than to live by example, I suppose. I’m not big on trying to force my philosophies or opinions on people, but I know a lot of people take stuff away just from seeing how I live my life and such. This seems like a good way to let people know what’s possible without knowing them OR trying to convince them of anything. Take what you want from it, and leave the rest on the (digital) bookshelf.

There are several stories from your childhood in this book, and I feel that those stories are important for numerous reasons, but most important because they fully illustrate your transformation from (as you say) “nerdy kid” to an online “rockstar.” This for me illustrates your rapid growth as a person. Growth is important for me. Is there one experience in your 26 years that most forced you to grow?

There hasn’t been just one experience that stands out, but that might be because there have been so many failures and learning experiences that they all kind of blend together.

My first stabs at running businesses especially were punctuated with just enough successes to keep me interested, but really the whole series of experiments were utter failures (in making money, at least, which is usually the measure of a quality business, though I did learn a lot), not to mention some of my early relationships and general approach to life for a long time.

Something that really helped me grow quickly was responsibility. As soon as I started working for a paycheck, I grew a bit, mentally. As soon as others started to depend on me (for anything), I would mature. Step by step I grew and grew, and now I’m able to take this growth into my own hands, but for a long while, I was really being thrown about by the winds of chance, and I’m just happy that enough of them pushed me in this direction that I’m finally able to choose my path and take it, whatever the weather.

I have several favorite stories in the book, but the one that always makes for a great face-to-face story is the one about the model you met in Thailand. I won’t give away the details, because I want the readers to be as entertained as I was by that story, but do you have a favorite story from the book? Was there one story that was the most fun to write?

It’s hard to choose just one, since I like them all for different reasons. I did have a blast writing the stories that I was able to tell in a non-traditional way.

There’s one in there that tells the story of an entire relationship with a girl, but it’s all told through actual emails, social network messages and the like. I also had fun drifting back and forth between narrative voices, so the ones where I meddle with that storytelling tool stand out to me, as well.

Were there any parts of the book that were more difficult to write?

There were certainly some stories that brought up some angstful memories.

The one about my last relationship, for example, was a bit emotionally tricky. There’s also one about an opportunity that came up right before I left for Argentina that still hits me hard (for reasons that will become obvious when you read it). Most of the stories made for happy reminiscences, but yeah, there were some that were like pulling teeth in that I knew it was necessary to get them done, but damn did the process suck.

I love taking lines and quoting them out of context. Here are my three favorite context-free quotes from the book. I know I literally laughed out loud at the first two quotes, and as a heterosexual male I was obviously intrigued by the third. Do you remember these lines? Do you have a favorite line or part of the book you’d like to share?

“Fuck you Genghis Khan, I don’t need this shit right now.”

“Is he robbing us with a harpoon gun?”

“There was a moment after a long, drunken conversation when the girls looked at each other and then at me, mischief in their eyes. They pulled me onto the bed with them, and it wasn’t until afterward when we were all three lying in bed in our underwear, exhausted, that I stopped to think ‘Holy shit, this is my life.’ “

Haha, those are good ones!

My personal favorite, I think, would have to be ‘Some dolphins are spotted like cows. Moo.’

This gives you an inside look into my level of humor, as much as anything, I think.

Considering that last quote, one might think this book is a sex-ridden soft-core porn fest. But it isn’t even close. I was impressed by your ability to allude to sex without being gratuitous. We all have a line that we won’t cross, and your line seemed to be at the bedroom door. How did you keep it fresh and interesting without going into any crazy or explicit details?

I’m fortunate to live the life that I do, and I’m also fortunate to have the friends and relationships that I do.

There are aspects of my life (like sex) that I’ll generally talk about if asked, but that I won ‘t delve too deep into publicly, and there are two main reasons for this.

First, it’s a situation where other people are involved, and I don’t want to speak for them, nor do I want to unintentionally ruin their good name by associating them with something sexual instead of the excellent work they do or the like. Kissing and telling simply isn’t fair if you have a platform to speak from.

Second, it’s a subject that’s so overwhelming that I feel if I focus too much on it, the rest of the story (the more important parts, in my mind), will be washed away or ignored. I don’t want that…sex is awesome, but seldom do I tell stories in which the punchline has anything to do with someone’s no-no zone.

I was apprehensive at first about the way you alternated tenses from past tense to present tense between some of the chapters. But as I kept reading I found that this alternating worked very well for your story (as did the second person “you” perspective in the chapter “Y0ur Love Is Dead, Long Live Your Love”). Please expand on your decision to bounce between past tense and present tense narrative in this book.

It’s something I wrestled with, but in the end I decided to keep it in, mostly because that’s how these particular stories ‘sounded’ in my head.

I should elaborate.

Basically, some of the stories are freshest in my mind if I tell them like you tell a story about something that happened in the past. ‘This happened, and then this, and then this.’ It’s been done, so you know what’s coming next when you tell it. Works perfectly well for most stories.

Some of these stories, however, were so impactful or visceral that I have the whole thing in my brain, playable like a video, so it made more sense to tell them step-by-step, as I experienced it. I figured if that’s how I took it in, and it influenced my thoughts and emotions in this way, why not share it the same way? We’ll see how it goes, but I’m happy with how those stories in particular turned out.

You are a hard working man, though I know you enjoy what you do. Everyone I know who also knows you always talks about your incredible work ethic. Tell me about your creative process. Do you have a daily routine or a schedule, or do you just wing-it?

Colin: I don’t have any real routine these days, though I do still have deeply rooted habits I can call on when I need them.

Most of what I focus on these days, rather than having a routine to follow, is making sure I’m capable of doing what needs to be done, regardless of the circumstances. It’s training rather than memorizing, I guess you could say, in that I don’t know where or how I’ll have to work next, so I make sure I’m able to rig stuff together or make the right connections when I need to (and focus in any environment) so that, MacGyver-like, I can make do with what I’ve got available. That’s what allows me to work the way I do these days, but it’s also what allows me to do what I love while still living.

How is everything going with your publishing company, Ebookling? What have you learned so far from launching that company? What do you hope to learn from the release of this new book?

Things are going well! We’re in the process of pivoting/upgrading the thing, so the store will continue as-is, but we’ve got a new publishing-platform-centric add-on in the works that I think you’ll really like (I’M super excited about it, as a user, not just as the CEO).

I’ve learned that the publishing company is a really organic, quickly evolving creature at the moment, and that we’re in a good spot to roll with the punches, since we’re unfunded and small enough to move quickly to evolve with it. This is leading to a whole lot of pivoting, but it’s also leading to a whole lot of ideas and people to work with in making the ‘next big thing.’

With My Exile Lifestyle, I’m hoping to see how the existing industry works, and how non-business-people authors sell their work. I’m using a completely different set of tactics this time around, and a completely different price-point, as well. I really want to see if there is a viable model in this set of properties, and what can be improved upon (and how I can help those who are wanting to up their game do so).

With Borders stores closing, Kindle sales at record highs, and self-publishing quickly gaining massive credibility, what do you see as the next big shift in the publishing industry?

I think there will be a lot more media-integrated books, but I think the largest shift will be in traditional, only-for-reading books, in that the authors will have more and more options as to how they can publish their work, and books as we know them will cease to be as important due to the increase in options that might make more sense for a given work or author.

There will be a lot more ways to monetize, and I’m hoping authors will take control of their work in the interim (before another set of gatekeepers can step in the way and take control of the funnels leading to the customers).

The last line of your book is “I wait for things to escalate. And they will.” This leaves the road wide open for your journey. What’s next for you and your exile lifestyle?

I really have no idea!

There are some interesting movie/TV opportunities I’m looking into. I’ll be hanging around the States until the end of August 2011. I’ll be leaving for India after that. I’m definitely going to keep writing. Long-term, though, I’m kind of just playing the cards as they’re dealt. I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing until I get bored or something better comes along, but for the time being, I’ve never been happier and I’ve never had the opportunity to learn so much and meet so many amazing people as I am now.

At the moment, I wouldn’t give this lifestyle up for anything.

Check out Colin Wright’s My Exile Lifestyle on Amazon, and watch another video interview we did with Colin earlier this year.