I’ve always said it’s smart to write about your hometown before anywhere else. After all, you know your local area—who better to tell the story?
Following are some tips for a new writer on a few things you should do and a few things you should steer clear of when looking for ideas in your own backyard.
Write about the obvious from a different angle
For instance, there have been hundreds of articles written about our historic horse-racing track in Saratoga.
It seemed like no one had written a story about the man who’d started it all, back in the 1800s.
I spent hours researching his story and then tied it into his love for horses, his business-savvy approach to life, even how his race card of yester-year was so different than it is today.
My account was so well-received, the editor ran it twice and paid me both times.
Write about little-known “insider” attractions in your area
It’s easy for people to write about the obvious. I’ve lost count of articles covering “The Top-Ten Places to Visit in Saratoga.” They’re all the same.
I once penned a piece on “Five Places You Should Stop When Craving a Great Cup of Coffee.”
They weren’t even coffee shops, per se. The magazine editor loved the story. So did her readers.
The title “Little-Known Places” quickly became a regular column in a local print magazine, which I was in charge of writing four times a year.
Make sure you gather quotes from people you talk to
I’ve learned a good deal over my years as a travel writer. One of the most important things I can tell you is this: people love reading quotes from every-day folks like you and me.
If I’m going to write about a restaurant, I’ll be sure to talk to the chef, a waitress, or a customer. I do the same thing when visiting the museum. Spending time at a local fair or annual event is always fun and offers many opportunities to mingle with other people attending.
Quotes make stories more believable—more personal and relatable to readers. I often feel like I’m in the same room with a writer when their articles include quotes from someone they’ve interviewed.
More than half of my 400-plus articles have thoughtful quotes throughout, adding a fresh, charming aspect to what could still be a great, though a less-interesting piece.
Don’t shy away from something you’ve never written about before
It can be scary to write about something new. When I first started pitching stories to editors, they were about familiar topics. I found it easy-peasy to write about ghosts, vacation rentals, restaurants, and Christmas celebrations.
When a local editor asked if I’d write an article about urban renewal and four historic buildings finding a new purpose instead of being torn down, I almost said no.
It was tempting to bow out. I didn’t know anything about architecture.
Instead, I rolled up my sleeves—researching hard facts, interviewing key people involved with each project. I gathered pictures together and got busy writing.
It ended up being my highest paying job to date.
Don’t let opportunities slip through your fingers
If you talk to 100 different travel writers, I bet you’ll hear 50 different stories about how their career snowballed. Meaning, one thing led to another, then another, and another.
I can attest to that myself. Saying yes to one opportunity often leads to another. Little things lead to bigger things.
For instance, if I under-promise and over-deliver a great story, beat magazine deadlines, supply great photo essays, and am open to new ideas, my editor will most likely assign me another one.
Say yes to new things. It will give you the chance to enjoy more experiences and earn more paychecks.
Don’t assume Monday is going to be the same as Friday
The thought of becoming a travel writer is exciting, right? I don’t have to punch a time clock anymore. I can take a three-day vacation at the beach, a five-day vacation in the mountains, a nine-day vacation overseas.
The opportunities are endless. When I travel, most of the expenses—if not all—are paid by someone other than me. The best thing? Every single day is different, which keeps me on my toes, wondering what’s around the corner. I’m never bored.
Just the way I want it.