Turns out, I can help with that.
To me, it’s always been just a job. A nice job, an enjoyable job, but a job all the same. And the thing with jobs is that you don’t think anything of them after a while, because that’s just what you do.
The thing with the specific job of travel-writing, though, is the number of people who want to do it. I am the expert, it seems – by virtue of being an actual travel writer – and therefore must be in possession of knowledge which can help others become actual travel writers.
And for years I denied this. Not that I didn’t want to help people, but because I thought I didn’t really have anything useful to share. I fell into travel-writing – never trained for it, never studied it, never applied for a job in it. I was lucky. Right place at the right time. Rode the crest of a travel-writing wave. Did all right. Made a decent living. End of story. What can I tell you?
Did all right. Made a decent living. End of story
Then recently a fellow travel writer* – an old Rough Guides colleague – made me think about this a little more deeply. He pointed out that we were the last of a dying breed. Actually, by now, probably a dead breed.
If you call yourself a travel writer today, chances are you have a blog and an Instagram feed and swim in a bloated pond of adventurers, nomads, gyspies, travellers and wanderers. Some – though very few – make it big, but for pretty much everyone the travel-writing life is one of chasing clicks, likes, follows, retweets, commissions, tie-ins, brand collaborations and reviews. It’s a tough gig, and it’s really hard to make any kind of living at it.
We, on the other hand, lucked out. Rough Guides was full of people who – metaphorically speaking – turned up at the door and got given a travel-writing job for no discernible reason. I tell the story of my big break in my book ‘Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfield)’ and, I have to tell you, if you’re currently trying to make a living in that bloated old travel-writing pond, it makes for sickening reading.
But it wasn’t the sheer good fortune of being around in an era when travel-writing exploded that my friend meant. His point was more subtle than that.
Actual money, paid in advance
We were given contracts to write guidebooks. Contracts with publishers that you’d actually heard of. Contracts that paid advances – actual money, paid in advance. Contracts that stipulated that we would get paid royalties every six months once the book was published. And because travel-writing was exploding, the books sold in reasonable numbers and more books got commissioned, and more contracts were issued, and it became entirely possible for many of us to make a living at writing guidebooks without having to worry too much about hustling for other writing gigs.
This isn’t even the good part.
Yes, we got to travel the world, and the publishers even paid for the airfares. And yes, it was a fine life, being able to suggest places you’d like to go – Hong Kong! America! – and being given some money to go and do it. And then some more money every six months after that to be able to go somewhere else.
But what I didn’t appreciate at the time, and what my friend was astute enough to point out, is that it was this that turned us into expert travel writers. Not expert travellers – anyone can jump on a train or a plane or plan a trip to an exotic location. But expert travel writers.
We were given the time and space to practice and hone our craft. We worked for many years on revised editions of our books, making them slowly better and better. We collaborated with other writers, and worked closely with talented editors, and learned style, pace and structure. We wrote every day – hundreds and thousands of words – and published books every year, until the writing – as well as the travelling – came naturally to us. We put in the effort, did our ten thousand hours, and wrote and wrote and wrote, until we were good at it. Until we were writers.
That’s what I can help you with.
Writing is what I do
Because writing is what I do, I no sooner finished one book – and really, you should buy it, you’ll like it – than started another. I’m not great at helping you promote your travel blog, ace your Instagram feed or work with brands, but I can help turn you into a writer who travels. Because it turns out that it’s the ‘writer’ in travel writer that’s the crucial part – for me at least – and I’ve got plenty of advice about nailing that.
So the good news, if you want to be a travel writer, is that you don’t need to be a professional writer or a published writer, a regular blogger or website contributor, or any other kind of established writer. You don’t need to have sold an article, written a book or have a strong social media presence. None of that is important to me. What I’m looking for is a mindset, a willingness, an enthusiasm – maybe even a mission – to inspire other people about travel and its infinite possibilities.
Does that sound like you? Excellent. You’re going to want read my new book – coming later this year. I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, take a look at this one – a snip at a cool £1.99 and basically the result of learning how to write via the medium of travel.
*David Leffman, top man, top writer himself and – entirely coincidentally, given that he’s basically Australian, and a China and Iceland expert to boot – a resident of my home town Huddersfield. Which makes him even more reliable in my book. Check him out here too, at davidleffman.com.
Main image by Vadim Timoshkin, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0