During a discussion with one of my editors this past week, the subject of what makes a good travel writer came up. He was frustrated with writers who had submitted work that either didn’t fit the publication or sounded like a guidebook rather than an exciting travel story.
How do some writers seem to naturally breeze through the pitching, writing, and publishing process, while others find it a struggle?
After almost 650 published pieces, I can guarantee it’s not magic. There are qualities and skills every successful writer should possess and practice. They separate the novice from the professional and the average from the extraordinary.
Penning a good story is a must. But a good writer must possess these qualities as well:
Reading widely is so important in the travel writing process, and it’s one habit I committed to early on. Reading other’s work is crucial in understanding what makes a good story—the story an editor and readers will love.
It’s also vitally important to read writer’s guidelines. Nothing will make the editor hit the delete button faster than a writer not following directions.
Many professional jobs require continuing education to update and hone skills. It’s no different in the travel writing world. Though not required, I can’t imagine keeping up with the many changes and moving targets without being “in the know.”
To stay at the top of your game, commit to continuing education—creative writing courses, writing and photography programs, and travel writing retreats.
A creative edge helps separate you from the pack. Find your own personal travel writing style. I often use quotes in my articles, either from famous writers and artists or from locals, when writing a destination piece.
When choosing a destination to write about, find something unusual. While I love Dubrovnik, Croatia, writing about the nearby town of Cavtat landed me an enthusiastic “Yes!” from an editor. Also, make sure your photos are top notch. Creative images impress editors immensely.
We’ve all had a lesson in flexibility over the past year but possessing this quality has always been important for the travel writer.
I recently had an all-inclusive 10-day press trip to Senegal on the books. I jumped through hoops to accept the trip by majorly adjusting my travel schedule. Unfortunately, the trip has been rescheduled. It happens.
This also goes for an editor changing the date of a published piece or asking a writer to pivot on the topic. Go with the flow. Your editors and tourism reps will love you for it!
5. Time management
The freedom that comes with taking charge of your own life and career is amazing, but it also means you’re in charge of managing your time.
This means strict adherence to publication deadlines while juggling your travel schedule. One of the secrets that keeps me on course is to turn off distractions—phone calls, texts, social media feeds, and emails—when I’m working against a deadline.
Focus on the task at hand. Juggling too much at one time can be stressful, frustrating, and distracting and will take away the joy of the travel writing life.
Good writers get the facts and weed out hearsay. They thoroughly research topics and don’t cut corners. They ensure information is current and correct by going directly to the source. They ask questions and make certain they understand the subject they’re writing about.
Nothing will kill your relationship with an editor or a tourism board rep faster than reporting incorrect or outdated facts. Believe me, I know writers this has happened to, and it seriously damages credibility.
One of my favorite quotes is “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”
The travel writer’s life is amazing, but it isn’t always easy. Pitching a story can yield no response or a few nos. Good writers just move on. They pivot or pitch to other publications until they get a yes.
The same goes with working with an editor for the first time and having a story sent back for revisions. Rather than being discouraged, use this as a learning experience. It’s happened to all of us.
All of this hard work pays off with the reward of seeing your name in print and unlimited travel opportunities.
Master these qualities, and I promise you’ll be a travel writer that’s in demand.