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A Travel Writers Career
 
 
A Travel Writers Career
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Travel writing is a very specialized field. It, of course, requires you to be well-traveled, but it also requires that you be a good writer. By "good" we mean technically correct, entertaining, and accurate. This article will explain the basic, essential, and up-front requirements you will need to become a good travel writer. This article will also point you toward tools you can use to increase your skills if you are lacking in certain areas.

Writing Skills

First and foremost, you must have a better-than-average grasp of the rules of proper English grammar. Many people who aspire to write for a living underestimate the importance of this skill and skip it, thinking they can acquire it as they go. This thinking is wrong. You will not get your work accepted and published by any editor if you lack basic and essential grammatical skills. Travel writers most often follow The Associated Press Stylebook and/or the Chicago Manual of Style for rules and guidelines for proper grammar and punctuation. If you want to be a writer, you should own both of these guides. You should study them and refer to them when writing any article or travel piece. The Chicago Manual of Style can be found at most book stores.

In addition to having good grammatical skills, you should have the ability to edit your work properly. You should edit until your work is as near to perfect as you can get it. With large pieces (1000 words or more) this will require several readings on your own, plus the assistance of another editor. It is advisable that you have a friend or paid editor double-check your work before submitting it for publication. The reason for this is that writers become "immune" to their own errors. Sounds strange, but it's true. If you have been working on a piece for days or weeks, sometimes you are so busy working on the content that you miss simple mistakes, or, you've read the work over so many times that you get bleary-eyed. It's always nice to find another aspiring writer to reciprocate editing duties. The three most important things you should focus on when editing are as follows:

  1. Punctuation: Use your style guides to make sure your punctuation is correct. Pay special attention to the use of colons, semi-colons, exclamation points, quotation marks, and commas. Commas are of particular concern for many new writers. Be sure that you have a very good understanding of the use of commas by reading your style guides carefully!
  2. Spelling: You have spell check, so use it, but don't completely rely on it to catch every error. Read your work over carefully after you've run spell check.
  3. Typos: Spell check will not catch typos such as this, "I wander if I should use a question mark in this sentence?" or this, "It was uncle good advice that I read my work oven for typographical errors."

All publishers have in-house copy editors who check your writing before it goes to print. They may be kind and "suggest" changes or they may just go ahead and make the changes without your permission or knowledge. Publishers and editors usually reserve the right to do this. Although you may be initially insulted at the changes, the wisest thing to do is to accept them and realize that this is probably a great learning experience for you. Use their seasoned knowledge to make your future writing better. The only time you should argue is if the editor has added words or ideas that you object to morally or ethically (this is very rare). After you have gained some footing in the field, you can push harder to keep your writing closer to the original, or to request all changes are by approval only. Luckily, most editors are very good at their jobs and they will enhance the overall tone of your writing rather than detract from it. This does not give you the luxury of being lazy. As the writer Stephen King mentions in his book, On Writing, do not leave errors in your work thinking that the editor will "fix" them for you. Do most of the heavy lifting yourself if you want to advance your writing career.

Writing Style

Unfortunately, great writing style is not something that you can learn. It is something that must be developed over time (or comes naturally for a lucky few). However, there are certain tips you can employ that will increase the readability of your work and thus, increase your chances of getting published. Below are some standard "rules" of travel writing that are timeless:

  1. Don't use clichés. Phrases such as "The salty breeze blew gently off the azure ocean. . ." or "The tropical sun will warm your soul and rejuvenate your mind," may sound romantic and original, but travel editors have read phrases like this hundreds, if not thousands, of times. To be original, you have to work hard.
  2. Read, read, read! The best way to develop your own writing technique and develop an ear for what good travel writing sounds like, is to read travel writing. Read magazines, guides, books, and newspaper articles that focus on travel. Follow the writing of one or several travel writers and notice how they have their own unique, recognizable writing style.
  3. Practice, practice, practice! Although it violates the laws of rule number one, the clichéd joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Practice, practice, practice," applies with travel writing or anything else in life. Write, write, and write some more. Write a small travel piece every day, even if the only place you are traveling to is the grocery store! As you write, your own style will develop and shine through over time.

Perseverance

It is a quality you will need to have or develop if you want to break into the world of travel writing. If you truly want to make a success of yourself in this arena, then you must keep trying, even when you feel like giving up. Many successful writers will admit that they were not necessarily the most talented or creative among their peers when they started writing, but they wanted it enough to keep working at it. So, perseverance counts for a lot when discussing what it takes to be a travel writer. If you're the type who keeps at something, even when others have given up, then you will succeed.

Ability to Travel and Share Travel Information

If you don't already travel often, whether for your job, as part of your lifestyle, or for pleasure, then you need to start doing so. If money is an issue, find a way to travel on a shoestring, and then write about how you did it. If you already travel for work, start looking at these trips as opportunities to tell a story or provide information to other travelers.

You don't need to go very far to start travel writing. Start with destinations close to your home first. Take a good look around and think about interesting attractions that others might want to know more about. No matter where you live, your home state will have something to offer travelers. You simply need to look at things through the perspective of a visitor. Do you go to a special festival, fair, event, or music venue in your hometown every year that is very enjoyable? These events may seem unsophisticated to you, but people traveling to your area want to know about these venues. Do you live near another state that has interesting attractions? A great trip worth writing about may only be a short drive away. It isn't important how near or far you travel, but how you perceive the view and relay it to others.

Conclusion

To be a travel writer you must have a good grasp of the rules of grammar; you must develop a style that separates you from other writers and you must have or develop the quality of perseverance. You also must travel, near or far. Theoretically, you can be a travel writer from the cocoon of your home or office, writing about the places you'd like see, but that would make you a fiction writer, in which case you should take a course on creative fiction.


Types of Travel Writing

This section will introduce you to the different types of travel writing that are done in the publishing world. Explanations of article, book, column, and opinion writing will be provided. You will be introduced to the differences between what the duties are of a full-time staff writer and those of a freelance "per-diem" writer. This section will help you figure out which type of writing your personality and lifestyle is best suited to careerwise. Many writers opt to partake in several types of writing, delivering an article to one magazine while writing a column for another. Other writers prefer to only write books on the subject. You will find what works best for you as you progress in the field, but you should know what your options are so your focus and goals are clear from the start.

Plagiarism, Grand Theft Word

Before you learn about the different types of work a travel writer can do, you should be aware of a very important concept called plagiarism. You may have learned about this in high school or college, but it is worth noting again because it has become a big problem in recent years. First, let's get a clear idea of what plagiarism is. Plagiarism, as defined in the Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, is the "use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work." Thus, plagiarism is not only copy and pasting another writer's work, but also re-writing their work, "borrowing" their ideas, or quoting from their text without giving them credit or explicitly stating that you have done so. If you're a good writer, you won't need to plagiarize; likewise, if you need to steal another writer's work to get by, then you should consider another field.

In most cases original written work, once it is produced by the writer, is covered by copyright law. This means that as a writer, you are not only ethically obligated to avoid borrowing another writer's work and ideas, but if you do so you are also violating the law and can be prosecuted. That said, keep in mind that your articles must always be original and you should never plagiarize. This is vitally important if you want to succeed in your field. While this type of theft happens frequently and with abandon on the Internet, it will not fly with traditional publishers. Legitimate, well-respected publishers use software to check for plagiarism (on and off line) to ensure that they are not held responsible for publishing stolen work. If you get caught more than once, you can kiss your chances of becoming a serious writer goodbye.

Alternatively, to protect your own work, make sure that the software you use records the date that your document was created. In the case of very long articles, books, and other works that you would like to have extra "insurance" for you don't need to spend great amounts of money paying for a copyright. For added proof that a work is yours that will stand up in court, simply send a printed copy of the piece to yourself or a trusted friend or family member in the mail and do not open it, and/or email the piece to yourself as an attachment and/or back-up the documents to a memory stick or zip drive.

Travel Article Writer

Travel article writers, like all article writers, write lengthy stories for publication in magazines, newspapers, and periodicals. Articles are usually more than 1000 words in length and must be of a timely nature. In other words, you can't have traveled to Istanbul in 1987 and try to sell a story about it in 2009, unless you are comparing the first visit with a second one you took recently. This is an exciting type of writing because you are offering readers a chance to learn something useful about a place you visited. Also, because writers are usually paid by the article, this is often a good paying opportunity. Travel article assignments often require the inclusion of pictures, so be sure you have a digital camera and learn how to use it. Barring that, you can pay a photographer to snap shots for you while you are at your destination and send you digital copies. The topics you may write about are endless. A good way to discover what type of articles that magazines, newspapers and periodicals are looking for is to read the particular media you are interested in writing for. If you read and love Condé Nast Traveler, then subscribe to that magazine, or find someone willing to part with their old copies for free. Many magazines will gladly send you a sample copy of a past issue at your request.

Travel Book Writer

Travel book writers are given more leeway as far as time is concerned. While articles must be current to be of interest to readers, books have more staying power and thus can be written on "long-range" travel topics. Travel books are pitched and are then written, so, the deadline can be anywhere from six months to a year or more. The only "catch" with book travel writing is that you usually need to have a reputation and solid experience as a travel writer to acquire a book publishing deal. Books on travel can range from state-, town-, or country-specific guides, to how-to's, to travelogues. If you have a topic for a book that you think is great, a good way to get started or to see if there is any interest in your idea is to start a blog. Many book deals are being signed based on blogs and websites.

Travel Columnist

The early pioneers of blogging, columnists generally write about a topic on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Standard column lengths are between 400 and 800 words in length. Like any other columnist, those who write about travel generally share information, musings, or advice on the subject of interest. Columnists write for magazines, newspapers, websites, and periodicals. Columnists are often paid by the word. If a column becomes syndicated, it can run in multiple newspapers all over the country. This is a pay boon to the writer. However, syndication is not common or easy; a column must have a certain amount of interest, credibility, and staying power for it to reach this level of publication. This is a great job for those who like to know they will have steady work and can keep up with the deadlines and responsibility of writing a daily or weekly piece.

Opinion/Editorial Travel Writer

As it sounds, opinion writers essentially give their take on any given subject. This gives the writer broader license to slant the topic to their unique perspective, whereas article writing should be as unbiased as possible. For instance, an article writer cannot say that the country of Eggland is full of thieves because a waiter in one hotel stole his or her wallet, but an opinion writer can. Many editorial writers are humorists and satirists, so exaggeration is a part of their persona.

Full-time Staff Writer Versus Freelance Writer

The choice of whether to set your sights on staff or freelance writing is up to you. There are distinct differences between these two jobs. The below table compares the features and drawbacks of both positions:

Full-time Staff Writer

Freelance Writer

Pros

Cons

Pros

Cons

Steady work/steady paycheck

Confining work hours, 9 to 5

Freedom to travel at will

Uncertainty during economic downturns

Health benefits/perks included with salary

Must write to fit one particular style

Retain ownership of your own work, second rights sales possible

Must pay own health insurance

Paid vacation, holiday and sick days

Can be boring when not on assignment

Non-contractual, you're a free agent

Not paid for sick, holiday or vacation time

Access to contacts in publishing

Exclusivity, must only write for your employer

Can work from anywhere in the world

Expenses for assignment writing not always paid for

All travel expenses are paid for writing when on assignment

Office-bound when not on location for assignment

Can work full or part- time or "as cash needed" basis

All your work belongs to employer

Set your own working hours

Conclusion

There are many types of jobs travel writers can hold. Your personality and skills will decide which is best for you. Generally, if you are the type of person who is more comfortable with the security of a steady paycheck, 401K plan and the assurance of daily work, then a job as a staff writer is for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer to come and go as you please, you do your best writing at 2 a.m., you like to write for diverse employers on a variety of topics and find offices confining, then freelancing should be your goal. You can also aim for something in between by being a part-time staff writer. This gives you the best of both worlds in many instances, because you can negotiate benefits such as partial health coverage and paid holidays, while also having the freedom of freelancing.

 
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