Travel Writing — Could You Do It Well?
Many new pensmiths are drawn to writing about their travels, their holidays, and their observations about the world.
Many websites and “schools” these days offer (often expensive) courses on effective travel writing that promise a glamorous and fun-filled life as a writer for magazines or coffee-table books.
As with many fun-sounding opportunities, there’s a lot of competition out there for travel writing jobs.
However, with a little forethought and planning, the Freelance Writer can indulge in some of the perks and rewards of this healthy niche market.
First, we need to explode a couple of myths.
Simply because you did a lot on holiday or went to see a lot of things, this does not immediately qualify you to write about them.
Similarly, you might be an expert on the local history of a place.
However, this too does not automatically place you at the top of the submission pile.
The ideal travel writer combines a love of place, an eye for detail, and an objectivity that is rare and compelling.
Unlike normal reportage, the author can be in the travel writing — to a certain extent.
But, not as a holidaymaker.
More as a wily participant, an erudite observer, or a “less than journalistic” reporter.
Travel writing editors often complain that many article submissions sound like school essays relating: “What I did on holiday.”
This is not what is required.
Just like all article writing, it’s the angle that’s important.
Against logic, you need to think about what would make the article work without the travel references.
In short, you need to think like a freelancer and create half a dozen ideas — or angles — based on the same location that might appeal to different targeted magazines.
Over the years, I have sold dozens of travel articles to magazines like Time Out, Getaway and Atlantic Eye.
What I usually do is have magazines in mind before I go away.
I familiarize myself with the angles those magazines seem to like and then, while I’m abroad, I try to imagine how I can use the sensations I’m experiencing to craft an article those magazines might appreciate.
What I rarely do is collect tourist information in situ, most of which is available online.
You see, it’s not about the place and/or the things to do there.
It’s about your impression about a destination — and the things it makes you think about — that is interesting about a travel location, rather than any specific — and often generic — information.
And yes, I’m one of those irritating writers who puts a lot of himself in his own articles.
But that seems to work for me — and certain magazine editors.
It’s how I inject humor and humanity without detracting from the subject matter.
It’s a question of getting the right balance I’m sure.
If you’re considering travel writing as a career choice, my advice is not to jump right in.
The best way to go is to build up experience in your own time.
Your first travel article, if it was anything like mine, will be terrible.
I had to unlearn a lot about what I thought was a good way to report on a holiday and begin to strip away all the information down to one basic idea or angle and then work upwards from there.
The next time you’re away, take notes, keep a journal, casually interview people.
Take some snaps too, on a good quality camera.
Then, later, sit down and think about having a strategy for, say, writing half a dozen articles with different angles about a place for half a dozen different markets.
Focus on the ANGLES — not necessarily on location and the things you can do there.
Make up a few dummy articles with your pictures interspersed amongst the text, to get a feel for the genre.
Then, when you’re ready, send in pitches to magazine editors you have studied and see if any of them bite. (You don’t need to write the article first — a pitch is fine.)
Best way forward is to go on holiday,
1. Take notes,
2. Think of angles,
3. Try a few short articles,
4. Study your target magazines,
5. Submit to four or five markets to see if any editors are interested in your articles.
You’ll find more useful advice like this in Secrets of a Freelance Writer at the Academy!
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