Hello from China.
TODAY’S BLOG: HOW TO WRITE A TRAVEL ARTICLE.
Travel-writing is very fulfilling and personal, because each writer notices different details, and noticing and writing about details is the foundation of travel-writing. Most of travel writing is glorious, and you begin to enjoy less-than-ideal circumstances — because the moment-to-moment living becomes heady stuff. You find that you’ve acquired a knack for running into new and very colorful situations, too. Let’s look into how you can write about these trips, get them published and start building a list of credits.
- My particular travel slant: being with the culture, learning from people, then writing about their world that they introduced me to. For example, in the attached article — Accessible Himalaya — I wrote about the Indian Himalaya where I’d spent several thrilling months.
- You can’t count on selling your travel pieces to paying publications unless you build in a new point of view, a new way of looking at, say, Rishikesh or Bangalore or New Delhi. A book I love, The Traveler, said that a trip will change you forever, but your neighbors won’t even know you’ve been gone. In other words, have a story an armchair traveler will get caught by, and ‘getting ink’ — getting published by an international publication — is a real possibility. If you have a new way of telling a tale, editors are more likely to want to read your article and publish it. For example, I’d stored up plenty of exotic memories about Northern India, but had no real focus until I met a man who wanted to take that trip, too. He was a vet whose zeal was possibly increased by his double-leg-amputations. He went everywhere I’d been, following all the details I could give him.
- Hence, it’s pretty essential to memorize as much as you can, and/or to take notes just about constantly. Smells, sounds,sights, movements, colors, bits of dialogue, facts about local languages, interesting expressions, customs, everything. Your life becomes constant energetic awareness: research and curiosity. A journalist’s tip: the best kind of notebook is an unobtrusive one, a reporter’s flip-spiral-top that fits into your pocket. Jot down facts — linear things like train schedules and prices, where to buy train/bus/plane tickets and when, even which is the best train with the best food, bus schedules, the route the bus takes, rest breaks, availability of food and clean toilets, the best places to get off the bus/train and public transportation to ashrams, hotels, restaurants, the number and ferocity of touts to expect — anything that’s important to you when you travel will be important to others, too. In your notebook, also be creative. Like J. Campbell said, “Relax into the wonder of it all.” Make diagrams of interesting ceremonies and learn the names for them. Ask about what you’ve seen. Talk to participants (in the ceremony, in the neighborhood), and then do your homework. Read and be ready to document what you’ve lived. And here’s another thing: let your sincerity and respect shine in your face. Don’t be afraid to be friendly and curious. Indigenous people are happy to help you and to discuss the fine points of their civilization.
- THEN when you get some time to write and browse the markets (publications/magazines/on-line magazines) you’ll remember what you saw, heard, smelled, etc. and a burst of inspiration comes along as you look at a list of publications and consider/guess about their individual slants. ‘Oh sure~ I can write about that awesome ceremony I saw last week in New Delhi! I took photos, I talked to people…’
- Practical note: the internet is one way to find lists of ‘markets,’ or places that buy freelance stories. My tried and true method: a hard copy (book) of Writers Market for that year. (I read and re-read mine by digital check-out from my library back home.) Other writers like other formats. I also use market lists from the Net. Step 2: write each publication asking for ‘submission guidelines/writers guidelines, themes and editorial calendar.’ This is crucial. Writing letters in which you ‘make a pitch’ (try to gain interest in your article) is time-consuming, so if you send a one-page ‘query letter’ and then learn that the magazine’s gone out of business, you’ve wasted some valuable time. That wasted time adds up, too.
- To summarize the steps: a. Enjoy your trip, and write down interesting details about situations that grabbed you. While you’re out there, make diagrams of, say, the complicated mystical drawings in a Hindu wedding ceremony, or anything you feel is important. Take photos. A small camera is nice, (but not everyone agrees with me there). Talk to everyone: experts, locals, and then read! b. Back at your desk, look up some publications who buy articles written by freelance writers/photographers. c. Write every possibility — don’t forget internet magazines and professional non-paying blogs — asking for guidelines, themes and editorial calendar. d. When you have that information, read copies of these magazines, etc. (often online). e. Write a query letter — and that’s what I’ll write about for you in tomorrow’s post from Davis Writes: “How to Write a Query Letter.”
- Good night for now. Thank you for dropping by.