A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Don George, National Geographic Traveler‘s resident travel literature expert and editor of the wildly popular Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing (now in its third edition).
I asked the veteran travel writer and editor for his advice about how emerging storytellers can make their mark on the travel writing scene. Here’s what he had to say:
Leslie Trew Magraw: Do you have advice for folks who want to try their hand at travel writing, but don’t know where to start?
Don George: Intimidation always comes into the travel writing process on some level. But starting out is [especially] intimidating because it’s a new world, and you don’t even know how to enter it. My suggestion is to read a lot. Read the masters, read the iconic travel writers, but also read what is being written today in magazines, in newspapers, and online.
Then hone your craft; keep writing, take classes, take workshops, go to conferences, network — find out as much as you can about the world you are about to enter. And finally, once you have a body of work, build a website that can be a digital home for you or start a blog so that you can start publishing your own writing.
LTM: Once they’ve started out, how can budding travel writers set themselves apart from the pack?
DG: I think one really critical thing is to focus — both in terms of what you want to write about and where you want your writing to appear. If there’s something you are incredibly passionate about, think about making that your niche. You want to find the thing that puts you on the map in the place you really want to be published.
For instance, say you really, really want to be published in National Geographic Traveler. Read every single issue, read the blog, and put yourself in the mindset of the people who are putting it together. Know inside out what that person is looking for, what it takes to get a story published in the magazine, or what it takes to get a piece published on the blog. Really devote yourself to that. If that is your goal, work at it. Focusing in that way will maximize your chance for success.
LTM: When are you capable of being an authority on a subject?
DG: Integrity is the bedrock that any writer — travel writers included — builds their career and reputation on. And part of integrity is being honest with yourself — and with your audience.
I think the worst thing a writer can do is to try and pretend that they know more than they know, and the best thing a writer can do is tell a reader exactly what they do know and make it clear that, within that smaller world, they are going to give readers as much information, and passion, and experience as they can.
There are some places that I do know really well and can write about with authority. But when I’m going somewhere for the first time, my authority is the passion I bring to the place and the accumulation of worldly experience I bring to the place. [In these instances, when I'm writing] I try to be humble and to never suggest that I know more than I know. The better you know your limitations, the freer you are to be limitless.
Leslie Trew Magraw is the editor and producer of the Intelligent Travel blog network at National Geographic. Follow her on Twitter @leslietrew.