Mark Jenkins, a writer for National Geographic and former columnist at Outside magazine, once told me how each of his articles reveals just the tippy top of the work he put into a job.
Underneath each assignment rests a mountain of research, notes and other materials upon which the story is built. As a fact-checker charged with reviewing some of his articles, I'd ask to see those notes. Sure enough, a small mountain would land on my desk. The best travel articles come full of details and facts that you can’t get just by visiting a place like you normally would. Think of yourself as a chef out gathering ingredients for a meal you’ll serve to all of your readers.
You simply can't build a great story if you don't have great parts.Fortunately, finding those great parts is often just a matter of being very curious, all of the time. You ask questions. You read signs, talk to people, observe and get some answers. Those answers should go in your notebook, yes, but so should thoughts you have while experiencing the place.
Kevin Fedarko, the author of The Emerald Mile, often brings two notebooks: one for the facts and names and observations; the other holds his thoughts and feelings.
My notebooks are often a mishmash of hard facts and something like diary entries. I write down the names of foods, the species of trees, and the kind of rock underfoot. I get names and email addresses. If a word or phrase comes to mind that I like, I note it. When someone says something pithy or describes a situation well, I'll jot it down and put a circle around the person's name, which tells me it's a quote.
When in doubt, write it out. Or take a picture. Instead of noting book titles displayed on a shelf in a hotel lobby, I just take a picture of the shelves in case I need that detail later. Don't bother noting stuff you can always look up later, like opening hours.
At the end of each day, go back over your notes and write a quick summary of what happened before everything begins to blur together.
New to travel writing? NY Times writer Tim Neville reveals how to make a name for yourself as a freelancer and get published where it counts.
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