The Chester Literature Festival was in full swing this week.
I was there on Friday to run a travel-writing workshop [pictured above] for future freelancers and career changers seeking to branch out.
Some planned to pitch ideas to magazines, others were looking to develop their voice online as a blogger.
I ran this workshop as a taster session but, given the interest on the day for a sold-out event, I will look at future workshops for the new year.
Meanwhile, as part of the session, I shared my top six travel-writing tips as follows:
People, not places
The best travel stories are not about places. They’re about the people who live in those places.
So talk to local people and weave this into your narrative. Nothing adds life to a story like direct speech.
Find a story
A lot of travel stories are very information led. But the stories that really stand out tell proper stories. So find a real story, get a proper angle, think about your readership. Then frame these elements in the context of a destination.
Get it right
Commissioning editors don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to correct your spelling, cut down your copy if you bust your word count and punctuate your sentences. Want more work? Then get it right.
Work with the medium
And not against it. Writing for print? You have the luxury of longer sentences and more descriptive language. But if you’re writing for online, then take a leaf from George Orwell’s book and keep the language more direct. People are increasingly reading your articles on mobile devices, so format for the screen.
Spot the openings
Publications thrive on regular sections and this is your way in, especially as a first-time contributor. Editors need to fill these sections and often to look to freelancers to plug the gaps. So, read, read and read some more.
Travel writing is a job. Treat it as such. You’re working as a specialist reporter, covering a niche area. You want to be regarded as a professional? Then act professionally. And expect to be paid …
I marked the day with a return trip to my old alma mater, Leeds University, to talk to the media students [pictured above] about going freelance and travel writing as part of the #LeedsMediaFutures series.
It was a sparky session, comprising both post- and undergraduates, with lots of good questions.
I’ve got a real soft spot for Leeds. My first ever published article was a review of a Mudhoney gig at Leeds University in 1992 and my time working for the Leeds Student newspaper helped me to build my portfolio of cuttings.
This in turn helped to secure me a place on a postgraduate journalism course in London back in 1994.
I’ll save the whole lecture for the Leeds group but here’s a glimpse of what I discussed, looking specifically at how to get started as a freelancer journalist:
The onus is on you, so do a good job. Stick to deadlines, word counts and follow the brief
Look for fresh angles and new ideas. Stand out as editors get some 50 pitches per day
Journalism is moving online, so build digital skills – leverage the strengths of the medium and build community
Start with what you know. Pick a publication you read regularly and look for regular sections to fill
Spin off angles on the same story for different publication
When you file your copy, follow up with a fresh new idea
And here are some of the comments from the group when I asked them to jot down some feedback after the lecture:
“I found that going freelance is being a jack of all trades; not just climbing the ladder but spreading your wings. It stretches your mind and challenges you to think differently.” – Evelyn Robinson (puravidastudent.com)
“Interesting points on how to pitch an idea and how to come up with a story if you are struggling. Would like to know if the blogosphere is already saturated?” – Rory Dormer (sunburntabroad.blogspot.co.uk)
“You were very honest and didn’t pretend you haven’t struggled at times with freelance work. I liked the way you shared tips or ideas that could help but that we hadn’t necessarily thought of ourselves.” – Lily Connagher