Because my love affair with travel is just as ardent as my love affair with writing, I couldn’t resist a seminar on how to become a travel writer at The Times Travel Show in London last weekend.
Oh, and I’d blagged myself a free ticket.
In attendance were Phoebe Smith, the editor of Wanderlust magazine, her boss Lyn Hughes, Paul Goldstein of Exodus fame, plus Rough Guides writer Matthew Teller.
While I’d heard many of the tips before, it was heartening to hear them agreed upon by experts currently and successfully working in the travel writing field right now.
It was also good to hear that the world of travel writing is actually a pretty level playing field for freelance writers.
There’s perhaps a feeling among newbie writers that there’s some mystifying set of rules all successful travel writers know about yet keep secret from everybody outside the clique.
The truth is, providing you have a great idea, a unique angle, and can convince an editor or marketing manager that you’re the best person for the job, you’re golden.
How to become a travel writer – the tips the experts all agreed upon:
- Write a killer opening paragraph – Really grab the reader by the throat and rugby tackle them onto the page (with your words of course).
- Show, don’t tell – Classic tip as old as time itself, but something to keep in mind with travel writing in particular. See more about this in my Top Ten Writing Tips that everybody seems to agrees upon.
- Write economically – Again, I mention this in Top Ten Writing Tips, but all the experts were emphatic about writing with economy. Never use three words where you could use one.
- Pitch well – When pitching to editors Phoebe advised: write an engaging opening paragraph, use the editor’s name, have a good angle, research the publication and above all: keep it brief!
- Go into detail – Nobody was advocating long superfluous descriptive passages, but attending to the little details in your scene was something all agreed was a must for any worthy travel piece.
How to become a travel writer – the tips the experts did not all agree on:
- Should you use pronouns? Actually, all agreed that using ‘we’ or ‘us’ too much in travel pieces was not advisable. Whether you should use pronouns at all was not definitively agreed upon though. Lyn Hughes made the point that it was distracting for the reader to refer to ‘we’ when writing about a travel experience – something I wholeheartedly agree with.
- Should you use present tense? This was in response to an audience question, to which Lyn and Phoebe of Wanderlust responded by saying they never use present tense in their magazine. However, other members of the panel were quick to add that if done well (and it’s often difficult to do so) writing in the present tense for certain travel pieces can be extremely effective. Paul Goldstein pointed out that if you’ve done your research on a publication, you’ll already know which tense to write in anyway. Fair point.
While they didn’t agree on everything, each expert provided invaluable advice on how to become a travel writer and also relayed their stories about how they ‘broke in’ to travel writing.
What struck me about this was that nobody spoke of unlikely and sudden strikes of coincidence or of having an uncle as the editor of the Sunday Times. They all just wanted to become travel writers, worked hard and looked for opportunities.
I picked up some great tips on how to become a travel writer from this talk but above all else it made me realise that being a travel writer isn’t a far-fetched, pie in the sky notion – it’s actually a viable career option.
Want more? Check out How to Start a Travel Blog and Make Money.