What’s in a great travel writer?
How likely is it to offer up a modest return on investment?
And how does the field of travel writing fit within the broader field of writing as a whole?
These are questions that ricochet through my mind as I bang my head upon the wall of trying to make it as an admirable travel writer.
In a sea of revolving information and expressed opinions about the world, we have never been so saturated as we are now in the multitudinous affairs of madcaps, migrants, and micropublishers.
Standing out as a writer, especially in becoming a travel writer, takes a continual discipline to push outside the norms of mediocrity. It takes refinement, revisualization, and perhaps an ability to refract those who are already long established in their craft.
You’ve got to write unapologetically. You’ve got to be your own puppet and make your words dance in ways that no one has ever seen. You’ve got to be willing to learn through a sundry of failures what will make people look, and what will make them shudder away.
Becoming a good writer is about pecking away, day and night, at the compact alphanumeric keyboard in front of you. It’s about losing feeling in your wrists after long hours of forcing those lanky digits you call fingers to plug symbols onto a page in readable fashion. It’s about facing the woeful risk of severe carpal tunnel.
We’re affected daily by writing in its infinitesimal forms. If it’s true what they say, that two thirds of the global population lives in urban areas, chances are you can step outside right now and find something to read. And well, making your little roar heard as a writer in a crowd of hungry lions, it might just be the most enduring challenge you ever face.
There’s so much competition in becoming a prominent writer that it can, at times, feel that the wellspring of your inspiration has almost entirely dried up. Certainly attracting readership would prove to be encouraging enough to whet your whistle, would it not?
But what if I said that it’s not just about getting followers? Or at least, would you believe me if I said that it shouldn’t be?
Do you think that Kerouac wrote of drug-induced sexual narcissism because he wanted followers to distinguish him as the counterculture icon he’s seen as today? Or that Thoreau took his leave of society to impress others with his unique form of civil disobedience?
I can almost say with certainty that these legendary writers didn’t jot down their classic phrases and drafted fragments with an eye toward attracting followers. And there’s a key lesson in this. Becoming a great travel writer is about doing what you need to do for yourself, and then letting others read the tales in the aftermath.
You shouldn’t elect to travel out of desire to write about it and get followers. From the very moment that you set your feet confidently beyond the threshold of a stationary life, anything short of a genuine intention to travel will simply not cut it.
Being a good travel writer is an outpouring from the heart to provide something of value to your readership, just as worldwide vagabond Rolf Potts did in his famed book.
You don’t need to push pop-ups prompting your readers to subscribe to your newsletter, or feature all kinds of sponsored posts about products that you barely know anything about. These things might procure you an extra paycheck, but are they really all that genuine?
While you should strive to write for yourself, that’s not to say that readers aren’t often in it for themselves. After all, your readers may exhibit a palpable curiosity in regards to what you’ve been up to, and where you’re currently at in the world, but curiosity generally falls abruptly behind self-interest.
Although outstanding travel writing stretches like a fine tightrope across the chasm of becoming either utterly forgetful, or completely subhuman in selling out to callous marketing schemes, what will attract the most readership is an unequivocal benefit that your readers will gain from what you have written.
People read almost everything with their own interest in mind. They direct their awareness, if but only for a fleeting moment toward the thousands of articles begging for their attention, and the ones that succeed usually answer the undying question: “What’s in it for me?”
If you don’t have the content to back this question up, your readership will drop off like moths to the flame. You might have their curiosity for a moment with an interesting title, but you’ll inevitably lose them as they fly into the flame and realize the only reason you lit the candle in the first place was to surround yourself in a pleasant aroma.
Though this fact sounds like a terrible thing, that most everyone constantly carries their own self-interest in mind, it can be truly empowering once you learn how to utilize it in a formula.
And in this way, all writing on some level is virtually the same—it was written so as to get someone to take an action. Before you can even inflect various ideas and opinions on your readership through the body of your content, you’ve got to prompt someone to take the action to follow their interest toward the head of your content.
After all, would your interest have guided you differently with this article if it was named something other than “How to Become a Great Travel Writer and Attract Readers?”
In other words, people want to know why your article, or list, or what-have-you is going to make a difference to them, and it all needs to be summed up in an intriguing, yet wholesome headline.
Rolf Potts book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel would have had significantly less readership if he instead called it Seeing Other Countries and Stuff. Much less so if his readers did not feel that they had something to gain by reading his informative guide on how to travel cheap for months at a time.
In the end, what makes a good travel writer is first and foremost, one who is well-traveled. But in addition to this, it takes persistence in finding the right balance between writing content that is SEO-friendly and meant as clickbait, and writing content that is wholly meant for yourself by bragging a little bit about the cool things you’ve been up to.
Finding your voice as a distinguished writer has never been easy. And making a livable income from writing has always been even more difficult.
But if you benefit from just one thing by having read this article, it’s this:
Don’t get discourage by all the influencers, and full-time travel bloggers, and wealthy entrepreneurs who seem to be miles ahead of you and flaunting how great their lifestyle is by being able to make money doing what they love.
You’ll get there. You’ve got this. Stay true to yourself.
But in addition to these things, inform yourself on how you can make your writing marketable, and keep exploring different potentials of how to reach a larger audience.
Becoming a great writer takes trial and error. It takes doggedness and determination to find out what your readership wants. It takes having low expectations while simultaneously having lofty goals.
But most of all, it just takes time.