Monday, 6 October 2008

#34 – Don’t regurgitate your diary

Or why you should never listen to your mother.

Don’t believe the hype
One common mistake that wannabe travel writers fall into is to believe the hype. They may keep an online diary of their travels; they may have a blog; they may send long e-mails back home telling of their wondrous adventures.Tragically, there will often be someone who encourages this kind of behaviour (75% of the time, it’s the writer’s mother). They’ll say how fascinating the diary/ blog/ e-mail is, and what a talent that writer has for telling a story.

Travellers who write
These are often the sort of people that then believe they have a potential career ahead of them. They’re the archetypal travellers who write, rather than writers who travel. And somebody has to break it to them that the only reason the dirge they’re tapping out is interesting is because it’s the only source of information that mumsy is getting about her beloved child.

Nobody cares who you are
To the rest of the world, it is deeply dull. One of the first things to get into your head if you’re going to make it as a travel writer is that nobody cares who you are. They care about the story you have to tell, and have zero interest in you as a person.

Difference between diaries and articles
Secondly, you have to realise that there is a fundamental difference between a travel story or article and a travel diary. A diary is about logging the detail. A story is, well, a story. It’s as much about what you leave out as what you include. And it’s certainly about the order in which you tell things and the emphasis you put on them. A diary has a tendency to give equal weight to everything – it’s about recording, not reporting or narrating. In essence, to write travel articles, you have to write completely differently.

Writer guidelines
While I was working as an editor, I drew up some writer guidelines. I recently found them again, and I think the section below is as relevant now as it is then. I’ve pasted it verbatim:

DIARIES: Nobody wants to read your travel diary. It may be fascinating to you, but it’s boring as hell to everyone else. Imagine having to sit through reels and reels of someone else’s travel photos. Not much fun, is it? Well, avoid crap like this at all costs – it’s the literary equivalent:

“We woke up at 7am in our comfy hostel beds. We were staying at Koala Backpackers in Adelaide. We then went for breakfast, and had sausages and eggs…” blah, blah, blah.

I bored myself writing that, so God knows how tedious the readers will find it. Concentrate on the things that you’ve done that other people don’t do every day. Shimmying up a mountain face = interesting. A blow by blow account of devouring the meat pie you had for lunch = rubbish.


Mike Gerrard said...

This advice is so true. No-one cares who you are or what you've done. I write on travel for and only the other day the Travel Editor there told me she spends so much time telling would-be contributors that travel writing is NOT about regurgitating your travel diaries.

David said...


People tell me that they have travelled lots and are dying to become travel writers -- as if success should naturally follow. Usually, they have conducted no research at all on how it's done.

I tell them it requires application, then smack them in the head. That knocks the starry-eyedness out of them.