Interview with Janice MacLeod, author of Paris Letters and A Paris Year

I'm so excited to have an interview with Janice MacLeod for Monday Inspiration. Janice is the Author of Paris Letters and the upcoming A Paris Year. We talked about escape plans, staying nimble, and Paris in Autumn. 

I would get up, react, and repeat. - Paris Letters

Julia: I read Paris Letters between accepting an offer on my house and the closing date 20 days later. I knew the second I finished your book that I wouldn’t be buying another house or taking classes with the profits. I knew I’d be taking a year off from work. From everything. How often do you hear stories like this?

 Janice's new book,  A Paris Year , will be released in in June.

Janice's new book, A Paris Year, will be released in in June.

Janice: Before Paris Letters came out, many friends talked about wanting to take a year off from work, but they never seemed to make plans on how to afford that year off. It seemed to be a lofty unattainable goal, something to dream about, not to actually do. And I see why. Taking off work for a year takes planning.

After the book came out, many of these same people came forth and told me how they were now saving up to take that year off. It’s as if it took reading the book for them to realize they needed to save up. The book also gives a slew of ways to make this happen faster, especially the list of 100 ways to save or make money listed at the end of the book.

Now complete strangers send me messages about how they have saved up enough to take a year off work, or afford the dream vacation, or just save up enough to buy a buffer of time to figure out what they want the next step to be. It’s a great honor to be the conduit and inspiration for all these bold moves, and to know that these bold moves are based on the wisdom to save up the cash to make it happen.

There were free snacks in the kitchen and as many Post-it Notes as I wanted. I should have been spending my time being grateful. - Paris Letters

Julia: After a year on sabbatical (it wasn’t really a sabbatical. I just quit my job), I am back in the cube. My approach to this job is like no other: I don’t try to make friends, no after work activities with colleagues, no telling them my life story and dreams. I go to work and I leave it there, not thinking about it at night or on the weekend. After 10 months I’ve avoided almost all the drama… And I still hate it. How do you know when “It’s not you (cubelife), it’s me (...me)” and time to get out for real, make good your escape?

Janice: This is an easy answer but not a popular one: You know it’s time to make an escape when you start making real, solid plans, to spring from cubelife. This isn’t just about saving up money. I remember stealing time in my office to study maps of Europe because I knew I wanted to travel there after I quit my job. I also wrote blog posts from the office (http://janicemacleod.com/ ). Those blog posts helped me build an audience. I didn’t realize at the time that this would be handy when selling a book. I wasn’t planning on writing a book. I was only planning on escaping cubelife, traveling and figuring out the next steps. Stealing time (billable time) also gave me hope during those dreary days when I was staying at my job to earn my way out of it. Some people have office affairs to add a little spark to their dreary day jobs. I blogged and dreamed of places I would visit around the world. It got me through the days.

I understand not wanting to fully commit to a life inside the office by not bothering to make friends. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, avoiding after work activities with colleagues probably helps retain energy (and spare change) that you can use doing what you love. I remember when I would save that $25 of after-work drinks by not going out with colleagues. I would imagine where I would spend that cash, hopefully at a rooftop bar in Rome. And when I finally arrived at that rooftop bar, I was so happy to spend that $25 on something that gave me great joy and a great sense of accomplishment.  

“Write to learn what you know.” - from a greeting card quoted in Paris Letters

Julia: I, like you, started journaling after reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I was living in Brooklyn at the time and hated it. Journaling helped me realize that I am not a big city person. So I moved to Austin, TX (which, after 15 years has become kind of a big city). Do you still journal? Does journaling still help you figure out what you want to do next?

Janice: Yes I still journal. It’s not as frequent these days as I had a baby in January. When I haven’t journaled for a few days, I feel a pent up energy. I also have a cluttered mind. Journaling helps me get all the ideas and plans out of my system. It also helps me figure out why I am or am not doing something, so it becomes a therapist as well.

Whenever someone contacts me and asks me advice, I always want to tell them to start writing a daily journal, or to recommence with journaling. The answers are revealed. Sometimes we need to write out pages and pages of boring nonsense to get to the answers, but I believe we get to those answers faster in a journal than without. That said, some people are just not wired for journaling. They are never going to pick up a pen and write in a journal. For these people I suggest walking. Walk without music or an audio book blaring in your ear. Silence and walking can also help you get to the answers.

 October in Paris! from  A Paris Year

October in Paris! from A Paris Year

If you you want to hold water in the palm of your hand, you can’t grasp at it. - Paris Letters

Julia: I left anchors in Austin and Florida (my home state): a car, my favorite books, and 6 months away from 10 years of state service and full investment. I think those anchors made me feel safe. No matter what happened, I could (did) go back. You got down to one suitcase! Could you give it all up and take off for another adventure? Or are anchors different after you’ve made good your escape from cube life? Do you have an anchor in happiness now?

Janice: I could still pick up and go with one suitcase. In fact, I find this easier than the idea of staying rooted in one place. Not having so many things to manage is freeing. The lovely Christophe, whom I met in Paris, is a lot like me. Together we thrill at keeping it lean, of not accumulating too much, of having the option to take off to the next destination. We also both aren’t very sentimental about physical objects, though I must admit, seeing my new book in print makes me incredibly sentimental, so I’ll always have room in my suitcase for a copy of the books I’ve written. All this nomadic bliss may change by the time our baby is ready for school, but perhaps by then we will find that place where we want to anchor. Until then, we are staying nimble.

If Paris Letters is about BECOMING an artist in Paris, A Paris Year is about BEING an artist in Paris. - janicemacleod.com

Julia: If you do go on a new adventure you’ll have company. You have a new baby, Amélie. Congratulations to you and Christophe! 

And you have another new baby coming soon: your new book, A Paris Year. A Paris Year is GORGEOUS (yes, I’m using all the formatting!). Thank you for letting me see the proof. I loved everything about it. Your paintings, photographs, and your eye for color took my breath away! I’ve only visited Paris in the summer, but now I must see it in October!

I was struck by how different A Paris Year is from Paris Letters. A Paris Year really showcases your art. It’s art as biography… or, biography as art? How did you come up with the idea? What motivated you to make the switch?

 Janice's Paris in Autumn from  A Paris Year

Janice's Paris in Autumn from A Paris Year

Janice: You MUST visit Paris in autumn. (yes, I’m using all the formatting!) A Paris Year is truly a thrill to have created. I received the advance copies a few weeks ago and I still marvel that this book is a real, bound book. The idea, like all my ideas, came from playing in my journal. When I first began journaling, it was all words and lists, but in Paris, and with all my sitting in cafés, the journals evolved. I began adding sketches, paints, photos, thoughts, things I learned about the city, and addresses of places I visited or wanted to visit.

Paris is generous to the curious artist. There is always something to sketch or learn about in this beautiful city. Some of these sketches and thoughts evolved to become Paris Letters… these are the painted letters I mail out to subscribers each month from my Etsy shop (https://www.etsy.com/shop/janicemacleodstudio). This book is a collection of the best of the best journal entries. I came up with the format from a myriad of random sources. One source was one of my journals that was actually a daybook that started in January and ended in December. It had a nice flow. I like the idea of starting the story of a year in Paris in January and observing the changes of season throughout the year.

Julia: The last question: What’s your idea of bliss?

Janice: So many things. Bliss is a warm coffee on a cool morning, a hug when I need it most, of a perfect patio seat at dusk, taking my shoes off after a long walk, coming across a beautiful stationery store full of pretty paper, an urban hike in a medieval European village, a tomato that tastes like it should, clean sheets, an entire rainy afternoon to binge watch Outlander, naps, popcorn, when a watercolor painting turns out better than I expected… and especially when I’m walking along trying to solve a sentence or paragraph for a book I’m writing and the solution reveals itself as if by magic. That, my friend, is bliss.


A huge thank you to Janice MacLeod!! A Paris Year, is available for pre-order (A | BN) and Paris Letters is available now (A | BN)!