It’s only words, and words are all I have

Ah, the Bee Gees – who knew they had sage advice to offer the aspiring travel writer? But, bless them, they are right. I’m picking up your travel article, or looking at your travel blog, and words are all you have to take my heart away – or at least, keep me reading.

Your big, strong, colourful images might do it for a while, but if you want me to really engage with what you have to say, at some point you have to do it with some darned words. Words that speak to me, that sing to me – words that tell me you know what you’re talking about. Words that tell a story and tell it well.

There might just be fifty of them, or a hundred, or a thousand, but they need to be the right fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand words, or else I am out of here – on to the next, better blog or magazine, no matter how fascinating your story could be.

How do you write like that? Like this.

Reel me in
Your opening is key. You have a sentence or two to capture someone’s imagination – perhaps 15 seconds of their time, while they decide if you’re worth reading.

You don’t have to quote the Bee Gees, obviously – it’s a travel article, and they are entirely irrelevant, but did it work? If you’re still here, then – gotcha. The point is, find your ‘in’ and polish it. Re-work it and re-write it. It’s the best use of time you’ll spend on the whole feature.

Tell me a story
Your post or feature needs a beginning, a middle and an end. You’ve got your opening, and with any luck that will point the way through your story. So what’s the tale you are going to tell? Is it your holiday of a lifetime? Your holiday from hell? An adventure? A disaster? A walk? A day by the beach?

It doesn’t really matter – but what does matter is that you have a clear idea of where you’re going and what happens when you get there. Plot it out if you have to – and spend as much time crafting the final sentence as the first. You want people to remember you and come back for more.

Be selective
Don’t tell us everything. It’s not ‘what I did on my holidays’, it’s a story. Leave dull stuff out. Put the good stuff in. Make sure the good stuff supports the beginning, middle and end – that it’s all relevant. You might have to miss out some good stuff too because it doesn’t belong in this post. That’s OK – write another, another time!

Keep it short
Being selective keeps your travel story moving right along. Keep an eye on the word count – no one wants to wade through too much text. Practise writing the same account to different lengths – 400 words, 800 words, 1,000 words – and ask yourself: am I gaining any extra impact with more words? Less is nearly always more.

And break up the text by keeping the paragraphs short. Too many lines make our eyes swim.

Be yourself
Funny, serious, argumentative, provocative – you know what you’re like, so make the piece reflect you. I’m far more likely to keep reading if you sound genuine and interesting – and I’m far more likely to come back for more if you’re writing in a distinct, sounds-like-a-real-person, style. No waffly, travel brochure-speak (unless of course, that’s how you really talk).

Run the spell-check
Seriously. If you can’t spell, get the computer to do it for you. And check the grammar. The first ‘acomodation’ and ‘banana’s’ and many of your readers (and all commissioning editors) stop taking you seriously. Typos – happens to us all, what can you do? Re-read, re-check, proofread, that’s what.

And finally . . .
Surprise me. The place you’re writing about might be amazing, and you might have had an amazing time, and your pictures might be amazing, but it all comes back to the words. Surprise me with them – excite me, thrill me, horrify me, seduce me – and I’ll be sure to come along on your next trip too.

If you need any more inspiration, I know just the guys for the job:

  1. Good stuff. Top tips which should be helpful to any writers, because we never stop learning if we want to keep or blog… erm… staying alive! By the way – is the long, short or medium version? Looking forward to the next one regardless.


    • Thanks Audacious Chip – I did think of condensing my advice into 9 words (“Keep it clear, keep it short, keep it interesting”) but figured I better offer a bit more, if this post wasn’t to end in ‘Tragedy’…and at this point, we say farewell to Bee Gees song titles. But glad you liked it, and I’ll be happy to see you back again next time


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