A new book by Lonely Planet which gives aspiring travel writers practical exercises in descriptive accuracy and constructing narratives is highly recommended, even for seasoned writers
On the move: how to be a travel writer
No other form of journalism is possibly so underestimated as travel writing, and probably no other profession so glamourised. As both a travel writer and editor, I am constantly surprised at how poorly even accomplished journalists and authors write about travel, how lazily they pitch their stories and how difficult they find it to turn it in copy. Too many travel pieces, even published ones, are laced with clichés, devoid of any meaningful context, historical or otherwise. Criticism suddenly becomes a lost art form.
Probably the best achievement of a brilliantly practical new book by Lonely Planet, How to be a Travel Writer, is its swift debunking of this myth. “Ninety-five per cent of the job involves a lot of hard work,” it states. “It’s gathering minute details on hotels, bus timetables, restaurants and walking tours. It’s researching which god did what, which ruler took over from whom when, and what is signified by the curious ceremony that’s performed every third Friday in May. It’s waiting for planes and trains, buses and ferries, tuk-tuks and trishaws. It’s swatting mosquitoes and squatting over hole-in-the-floor toilets.” And that’s still the easy part.
After first looking at the qualities needed (they include stamina, tenacity, flexibility, curiosity and an ability to live modestly), it moves swiftly on to journalistic skills and exercises on the “how-tos” of writing a travel story – the importance of research, focus, interviews, structure and self-editing. One of the most crucial is “descriptive accuracy”, because it is only through this that your trip becomes interesting, relevant and useful to others. If everything is “awesome”, “breathtaking” and “stunning”, it is just a letter to your mum, and a bad one at that.
The realities of getting published – where, when and how, from newspapers and magazines to blogs – is looked at, along with pitching to editors.
While travel writing is extremely competitive and it is hard to make a living out of it, I say no to about 90 per cent of pitches because they are either irrelevant to our readers, a repetition of stories we have already run or pitched at completely the wrong time of year.
I am always looking for experienced writers who have researched angles that work with our location here in the UAE, offer an imaginative update on an already popular destination or a look at a completely new one, such as that offered by a new flight route.
Despite the difficulties involved, this is a wonderfully can-do book packed with tips that are useful even to seasoned travel writers. I wish every journalist who really wants to learn to write about travel, rather than just have a free holiday with a piece as the pay-off, would read this book.
How to be a Travel Writer by Don George with Janine Eberle is published by Lonely Planet and costs £12.99 (Dh63)