When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who thought I’d hung the moon. Well, maybe not quite, but she sure made me feel like I had. She seemed to love everything I submitted during her creative writing class, jotting notes of encouragement in the margins of my papers.
Once, I asked her to read a “book” I’d penned. When I handed the manuscript to her at the start of summer break, it seemed as if something momentous was about to happen. “I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it,” I told her. “See you next fall!”
The result was crazy. She forwarded it to a publisher in New York City without my knowledge. Their office contacted me and set up a meeting, and I was on my way to “look over” a contract. I’d just turned 16.
At the same time, I was dating a young man who was controlling and full of opinions. He was very quiet on the drive into Manhattan. In fact, I had no idea how he felt about his girlfriend’s potential book deal.
The moment we reached the publisher’s office and took a seat, I found out.
He hated the idea. I dimly recall three people in the room. They shook our hands and welcomed us to take a seat. I was drinking a glass of water when he told them all I was a stupid girl, the book was stupid idea, and they were idiots to tell me it might become a best seller.
He stood up, grabbed my hand, and stomped out. I followed meekly behind him, still holding my water glass.
Once home, I ripped up every single page, crying as I threw my dream away.
Fast-forward nearly 40 years and I’m sitting at the Ultimate Money-Making Photography Workshop in the spring of 2013, followed by the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop later that fall.
I needed to find a way out from under a mountain of debt after a nasty divorce. I loved photography and I loved writing. I decided to combine the two to see where it could take me.
Of course, I could still hear the debilitating words of my ex and often paused to wonder myself if I could actually pull it off–and finally become a successful writer. But I did… and here’s how.
1. I surrounded myself with support.
It became imperative to surround myself with people who believed in me. I shared my dream with a few cheerleaders and worked hard to move away from naysayers. Because I’d talked about becoming a travel writer out loud—in front of friends, family, and other people at both workshops—I began to hold myself accountable.
2. I worked at least a little every day.
Every day, I worked on some aspect of travel writing. Whether it was researching a story at the library, editing pictures to accompany a submission, or polishing up and sending out queries, I could gauge my progress in real time. And it started to pay off, right from the get-go.
3. I set small, doable goals.
My goals were oh-my-god-tiny in the beginning. Coffee or teashops were a favorite subject. I’d introduce myself to the proprietor as a travel writer and ask if I could take photos for a story. More often than not, my meal was comped in exchange for the PR. I wrote articles about each place I went and made sure they got published. I sent PR folks any links or copies of print magazines, which often resulted in another invitation. I visited museums that cost little or nothing. I set up interviews with curators and acted as if I’d been doing this every day of my life. Pretty soon, it felt like it.
4. I celebrated my success.
I treated myself to something every time I hit a milestone. When I hit 10 bylines, I went out for dinner with friends. When I hit 25 published stories, I traveled a little farther and stayed overnight in Boston. The vacation rental was free—in exchange for a story.
Since 2013, I’ve traveled many places around the U.S.—hosted by visitor bureaus and other media channels. I’ve been a guest in Paris, Fiji, and Ireland and have three international trips planned for next year.
I just hit 232 bylines and have made wonderful friends along the way. Many things in life have changed over these last few years, and I’ve learned to embrace every single one of them.
I’d listened to those voices—of both my ex and then myself—for far too long. It’s been great moving on.