Thursday, 23 October 2014

I See Red - How Not to Be a Travel Writer

Setting yourself the task of writing an award winning  travel article complete with a stunning photo essay while on a five day romantic child free SURPRISE holiday on a remote island in the middle of the Bali Sea is nigh on near impossible. I’ve discovered. I only wanted to earn my keep. Bank a few bob, so’s I could skive off and write some fiction. It wasn’t MY fault some small human person flicked a switch on my camera and set the photos to SQUARE. Ratio 1:1. Photographer credit: 0.

I gathered 6,000 words of research, experience and wonder. Trying to turn it into a compelling 1200 word magazine story that would catch they eye of bored women drinking gin and tonics while flicking through its glossy pages as the spuds boiled and the other half watched the TV News, was like writing a thesis on snail poo. Boring, got stuck a lot and I couldn’t find any. Story angles that is. That worked. Over six (I really hate to admit, six, I repeat) WEEKS, I hacked about with numerous dead end versions.Non cliched, tropical island paradise essay with a twist. No worries.

I’ve wanted to be a travel writer since my dad took me on safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya circa 1990. Upon my return, broke but incredibly enthusiastic, I sat at my sunny kitchen table in Milford, Auckland and enrolled in a correspondence Travel Writing course. For which I paid over one hundred bucks. What a waste of money. My tutor was half hearted. I learnt FA and I quickly realized I would not be selling any travel tales nor my grainy shots of rhinos in the distance anytime soon.

Upon my blog, undeterred by previous failures I write happily about holiday weekends and the like. So why this task I’d set myself was so painstakingly impossible I do not know. I even started to wonder, as I sat at my blank screen and learned a lot more than I needed to about tropical bird life, the island's nutty Cat Lady and how Bio Rock systems are improving damaged coral reefs, whether it was time? Time to go along for the do-I-have-THE-menopause blood test? Just to see IF there was a reason my brain had left its normal habitat. Between my ears.

My first attempts sounded like a Holiday Shoppe brochure. Stiff. Factual. PR ridden. Write this article in the free and easy, informative upbeat way you write your blog posts, but with normal GRAMMAR, I chastised myself, as I perspired over my keyboard. Lady writers do not sweat.I like reading of first hand experiences offered an author friend.

Here is my first Title and opening paragraph:

Destination Unknown – Bring Your Bikini

It was a magical mystery tour, a 50th birthday long haul surprise printed on a faux boarding pass – “Destination unknown, bring your bikini”. I covered all bases during the three month build up and bought five.

Here’s my second:
My Treasure Island: Gili Trewangan

 We cruised onto the brilliant-cut aquamarine welcome mat of Gili Trewangan, on a sun kissed day in June. Gili T (as the locals call it) is one of three tiny coral atolls, dotted ellipsis like in the temperate Bali Sea, on the northwestern tip of Lombok.

Yada yada.

I wrote descriptive scenes of arriving at our luxury accommodation. How the bathroom was actually a walled garden and offered a birdwatcher and bathers paradise in one. How the only taxis were hauled by pint sized ponies. How I was massaged in the garden beside a giggling french woman. How the surprises kept unfolding and our hosts kept delighting.

 I had conversations with locals. And studied the wildlife.

Girlfriends arrived from the other side of the world.(Yeah try writing a concise sentence about that!).

I had an amazing time.I have a digital album of photos.

Before I started (my article) I contacted my journalist mate Steve B and asked for his favourite travel writers. I would become them via reading-osmosis (it’s a new thing DA). I hoofed it to the library. And read weighty tomes in the bath. I left the ones that bored me and tried to absorb the ones that delighted. At the same time I read every travel article I could find. In newspapers. Magazines. Online. I read ‘tips for travel writers’. ‘Do’s and Don’ts’. You name it I read it.

I was prepared. Yet I wasn't.

I had an amazing time. I repeat. I just wanted to write about it. In a saleable format. No matter, I will go back to it. One day. And you’ll read it here. Love letters are like that. They turn up in odd places. And often they’re free.


  1. Writing a 'thesis on snail poo', ha ha! Just write it like that, hun, and it'll be fine. I know what you mean though! The place looks gorgeous, and the snippets of info you included at the end were really interesting - you just need to rearrange them :-)

  2. I share your pain - you commented on my blog about planning posts vs my approach of a stream of consciousness, and you have just described utterly why I mostly favour that approach - I write for places other than my blog sometimes, an occasional newspaper column, an article for Mumsnet type things, and I ALWAYS mire myself in utterly overthinking it! I think I should probably just write it like tis for my blog then edit it later perhaps, keeping the free flow but tidying up the nonsensical bits!

    First time visitor here, but really like your writing style, off for a nose about some other posts!

    1. Thank you so much Sonya, it really means a lot when pros like you say you like my writing style! I hope you found some other posts you liked. Funny because I was having a confidence crisis last night, before I went to sleep, as you do, wondering if I'll chuck it all in. But you have spurred me on, so thanks again. Respect! Jane


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