A lot of people I talk to tell me they'd love to write a book, and my response is always that everyone has a story to tell. But more frequently, I'm asked about travel writing.
Perhaps the flood of television shows with travel themes is causing this, perhaps it's that we, in Australia, have the wanderlust and love to travel.
So with this in mind, the opportunity to travel, and get paid to do it, is a dream come true - the all-expenses-paid trip where all you are required to do is sit back, enjoy the facilities and write an article for a newspaper or magazine - and why not?!
You might be surprised - I know I have been - by the number of people wanting to be travel writers, and not that I'm out to burst anyone's bubble, but it's a highly competitive area of writing to get into, and once you have a foot in the door, it's just as hard to keep it.
A friend of mine who, along with her photographer husband, managed to make something of a living from travel writing, has given me a few tips and hints, which I'll now share with you.
1. Be informative, tell the reader some interesting, but perhaps lesser known facts about the location. Think about the people, their customs, a typical day in the life of ... etc. Additionally, consider introducing some local sites that not so many people know about - providing the locals are happy for you to share.
For example, not far from Rome, is a city in ruins that is, in my opinion, even better than Pompeii, if I can be so bold! It's called Ostia and if I were ever to write a travel piece it would be about this place. Unlike Pompeii - which I've visited and love - Ostia offers the visitor virtually unrestricted access to buildings and streets and you can spend an entire day exploring everything from baths, bars and even gymnasiums - the way the ancients did it.
All I'm saying is, think outside the square! The obvious has already been done. You need to find a less obvious, but equally engaging angle.
2. Think up a catchy opening. You can lose a reader within the first few lines if you haven't got their attention. You must inspire them, intrigue them and invite them in. Now you've snared their imaginations, reel them in with your excellent writing!
3. Your descriptions will be so alluring that readers will forget their cup of tea as they read your lines and picture themselves in exotic locations. Alright, so the location's not all that exotic - find an angle, something unusual, a reason why you felt inspired to write about it. Make them want to go there ... ask yourself why you wanted to go there. Chances are they'll feel the same once you explain it.
4. Don't be obvious about it. What I mean by this is that your article shouldn't be filled with the types of cliches typical of a tacky travel piece. Try to be innovative, different and exciting. When you're travelling, keep a journal so you can jot down your observations. Keep it real and describe your experiences first hand - yep even the not so pretty ones after all, you're not writing an advertisement, your aim is to inform, and, encourage visitors - but it must be a genuine experience.
How many of us have studied the tempting photos in the travel brochures only to arrive at the location and find the reality a little less than ... well, just a little less? Perhaps the hotel room was tired, with frayed curtains and moldy bathrooms, not the shiny, modern suite in the pictures. Keep notes and be honest but fair, in other words, don't nit-pick. You're not in the business of putting other people out of theirs.
5. If you have a publisher, ask them what angle they're looking for. If you don't already have a publisher begging for your work, tread carefully and keep your facts to things like distances, costs, weather, food and traps for the unsuspecting foreigner - things like that.
Important point: remember not to generalise, and don't be insulting to the place and people you're writing about. You must be respectful!
6. Be mindful of the word count. Ask your publisher how many words your article should be. If you don't have a publisher, have a look at articles similar to yours and count the number of words in a line and multiply by the number of lines. That will give you a rough idea of what to aim for. Remember to kill your darlings - that's writer speak for cutting out the stuff that doesn't add to the work - even if it's a brilliant piece of writing. If it doesn't add to the tale, it's just taking up space. Get rid of it.
7. Finally, end on a strong note, something catchy or funny to leave the reader feeling good about having read your article.
Now, a couple of very quick points.
- Ask yourself who is your audience, who buys the paper/magazine you're writing for, and write for them.
- Check the publisher's guidelines on line spacing, font and spacing etc.
- Make sure you have written permission to use all graphics, including photos.
- Make sure photos, maps, etc are top quality.
Until next week, pop over to a local cafe, order yourself a coffee, and write 500 words about what you see!