Sunday, 31 August 2008

#1 – Writer who travels vs traveller who writes

British Airway

Or who shouldn’t become a travel writer.

A few months ago, a good friend of mine put me in contact with an acquaintance of a colleague who wished to become a travel writer.
He asked me for advice on how to become a travel writer, and my alarm bells immediately started ringing when he rambled on about how much he liked travelling and wanted to see the world.

See the world for free?
Unfortunately, this is a very common breed; the itchy-footed type that sees travel writing as a great opportunity to see the world for free or on the cheap.
The problem is that they haven’t really considered the other key part of the phrase “travel writer”.
To be fair to this guy, he’d at least put some thought into it. He had his own blog documenting his travels, and had tried pitching to a few editors for work.

Anyone can be a traveller
I took a look at his blog and groaned. It was awful. Entirely predictably, this chap had absolutely zero talent as a writer. Even his mother would have struggled to read through one of his posts without breaking into a massive yawn.
And herein lies the problem. Anyone can be a traveller – just stick them on a plane and tell them to have fun. But I would argue that most people cannot be a writer. They’re just simply not very good at it.

First class cricket?
I think the best analogy here is with a sportsman. When I was younger, I was reasonably good at cricket. If I had received lots of intensive training, I could have probably become a player at a fairly high level – maybe the first team of a strong club side.
However, no matter how much coaching I had, I could have never made a living playing cricket full time. I would have never been good enough to play at county/ first class level, and certainly not international level.

Training to be a writer
The same theory probably applies to writing. You can train someone to write adequately, and do a passable job of doing a story. But some people will never be good enough to be a full time writer – they simply don’t possess the requisite talent.
They can have all the training in the world, but it’ll still be polishing a turd.

Become an air steward
So, to those people who see travel writing as a great opportunity to travel, sorry – it’s almost certainly not going to happen. If you do happen to be able to write, then fantastic. If you can’t, then you’re not going to be good enough to make it. Try being an international lawyer, an air steward(ess) or something.

Sense of wonder
In fact, one of the great ironies is that some of the best travel writing is done by those who aren’t particularly good travellers. Really good travellers have a tendency to write for other really good travellers, instantly alienating about 95% of the potential readership.
Those that make the odd bungle, see things from the average Joe’s perspective and retain a child-like sense of wonder can often do a far better job. This is a game for the writer who travels – not the traveller that writes.