You know what I like about people like my new friend Jerry Nelson? They’re frank. I love that. If you’re the type of freelance writer who doesn’t take harsh advice personally, you’re going to learn a lot from Jerry.
Here, he goes into one of his pet peeves — being told how “lucky” he is to be a travel writer. His story is eye-opening, and he’s a damn good source of what it takes to make a living writing in the travel industry.
Content Mills to Travel Writing: Do You Have the Moxie to Make the Change?
by Jerry Nelson
“The finest travel writing describes what is going on when nobody’s looking,” says Tom Miller, author of ten travel books and measureless travel articles.
Travel writing is a career that requires doing more than learning. There is no canned formula for
success; it is a craft, art.
Are You Cut Out for the Work?
As a travel writer, I’ve heard it hundreds of times:
“Oh! What I would give to have your job!” Yes. My life as a travel writer is envied. But it’s not for everyone. Ask yourself six questions and your answers will tell you if have the moxie.
1. You just missed your flight out of Mumbai. The next flights are filled, and the ticket agent tells you, “Don’t worry. Allah willed this.” You still have three more countries to cover by the end of the week. What do you do?
2. You are afraid of take-offs and landings. What do you do?
3. You are in Caracas. A new-found friend, who is a pilot, invites you on a private sightseeing flight to the falls. What do you do?
4. You’re staring at a deadline for a major piece about skiing in Scandinavia. Your editor calls and tells you she wants a quick 500-word piece on Vermont Inns. What do you do?
5. You have to work. You haven’t worked for three months. Your credit cards are maxed out. What do you do?
6. How do you imagine yourself in twenty years?
My Personal Story
When I started, all of my cold pitches were ignored. Presently, about two-percent of my stories are accepted. I get my share of “You stink” just like everyone else, and I put time into stories that
never see sunup. I still look at rejection as making headway.
Many people can’t stand the inconsistency of this business. Some weeks I pitch ten stories; other weeks, 20. Some months I get 15 assignments — on top of my contract work. Other weeks I get two easy pieces
that are all I need to survive.
Some can’t deal with the strange. This is the toughest part of the business for countless wanna-be freelance travel writers. Yes, I have enough earnings this month. What about in six months? Lead times can be distant.
Excuse me, but my “Public Service Announcement” isn’t meant to scare you; merely guide and motivate. I get annoyed when someone tells me I’m “lucky.” Listen. No one created my luck — but me.
As far as travel writing is concerned, let me be honest: You may never make it. But, you might. One point is positive: You’re not going to secure it if you don’t try.
What are you waiting for? Start today! Start now!
Just don’t say I’m “lucky” or have the “dream job.” I may have to kill you.
To be a travel writer means you need to keep life simple. Toss away the laptop and cellphone. Again, Tom Miller says it best:
“No camera, no recording device, no laptop, none of this palm pilot nonsense or a cell phone. Paper and pencil, a book, maybe a bilingual dictionary. Anything beyond that (a) can be stolen, and (b)
intimidates people you encounter. The more double-A batteries you carry, the more you distance yourself from the people you’re writing about.”
Should You Return to the Classroom?
Do not go back to school believing a journalism degree will help you become a travel writer. Even a master’s program at Columbia or Northwestern is just a way for you to pay for the connections and POTENTIAL job interviews. It’s not worth your money or time.
Skip classes. Don’t take them. Create your own syllabus and your own master’s course. Travel. Take notes. Write about it.
The travel writer lifestyle is not for everyone. I’ve got plenty of journalist friends who are more talented and better writers than me. But they couldn’t hack it as freelancers.
They couldn’t handle the never-off-the-clock side of the business. They couldn’t handle the no-boundary problems that come with working from home. They couldn’t handle the broad swing in paychecks I’ve mentioned.
Finally. Three things you MUST do:
The little accomplishment I’ve had has emerged from meeting the appropriate people at the proper time.
It’s that simple.
AUTHOR BIO: Jerry Nelson is an American freelance writer and photojournalist who has traveled to — and worked in — 155 countries. Busy on assignment in South America, Jerry is always interested in discussing future work opportunities. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and join the
million-or-so who follow him on Twitter @ Journey_America. http://jerrynelson.org http://twitter.com/journey_America