You’re not in charge, editors are, so do what they ask if you want your travel writing career to take off.
At some point, if you haven’t already, you’re going to work with an editor. Their job is to make your story the best it can be within the space and angle they’ve given it. At the big magazines, you might report back after the trip to lay out how you think the story could go before you even begin writing. Otherwise, you jump in and file a draft.
The editor reads it and then sends you some critiques in a rewrite memo. Maybe you just need to add a paragraph here and there or tighten this or that. Or maybe your structure isn’t working at all and you should rewrite the whole thing.
For new writers, this process of working with an editor can be exhilarating or frustrating. A good editor will guide you through the rewrite like a director, prodding you into new material but stepping back to let you do your thing. It’s OK to go back and forth but, in the end, the editor has the final say. Learn to pick your battles.
That’s easier said than done. I’d worked with editors at a couple of newspapers before I began my internship at Outside, but that didn’t stop me from making a total rookie move with an editor there that could have ended my career before it even took off.
The travel editor took a pitch I’d sent her, about kayaking around the deserted islands of America’s Chesapeake Bay, and gave me 1,000 words for it. I got so far ahead of myself thinking about my national narrative debut that I didn’t think hard enough about the work. The article I filed was a story.
The editor didn’t hate it, but she didn’t love it, either. The bigger problem was worse. It wasn’t what she needed.
Instead of a story – with characters and dialog – she wanted me to introduce readers to the area, tell them where to paddle and what to eat. She didn’t need a narrative, she needed service.
Crestfallen, I rewrote the piece, sulked a bit, and learned a valuable lesson. She was right. The piece was better like that, even if it wasn’t the one I wanted to write. I quickly learned to leave my ego at the door.
Tim talks about what he thinks makes good travel writing in this episode of The World Nomads Travel Podcast in which we announced the winner of the 2019 travel writing scholarship.
It's not all fun and freebies. Working hard during a travel writing trip is essential for professionals wanting their stories to stand out.
Pitch your idea to an editor and lock in a travel writing commission with a little help from our expert, New York Times writer Tim Neville.
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