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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Envying a donkey his pace - the frenetic tempo of travel writing, part 2

So how, as travel writers, do we get ourselves into the situation I described in the last post? And is it possible to be a travel writer and avoid this frenzied pace of life? To answer the second question first, I don't think it is possible if you want to make more than a decent living out of this profession. To answer the first, the way we work now is that we go on a trip with a number of commissions up our sleeves, and then while we're on the ground we follow up more leads for stories and pitch new ideas to editors from that destination. But that doesn't mean that other requests for stories stop coming in. As wonderful as they are, most of the time they're not even related to the destination we're in, which of course complicates things. While we're on the road, an editor might email and ask "Where are you at the moment?" which usually means he/she has a hotel they want reviewed or lead they'd like us to pursue. We'd be crazy to say no. At the same time, the longer we stay in a place and the more people we meet, the more story ideas we develop. Although we worked on a dozen stories in Damascus this trip, I left with twice as many ideas that I'd love to pursue next time. Do we prefer working this way, on multiple commissions, to focusing on a guidebook and a story or two? Absolutely. For one, it pays a hell of a lot more for less work. Secondly, we're meeting way more people doing stories than we did on books because we're no longer pounding the pavements all day every day putting dots on maps and checking transport timetables. But more on that another time. One of the downsides to this frantic pace is that it leaves little time for blogging. But blogging doesn't pay the bills. And for now, I kind of like it that way. I'll tell you why another time. Now, I have a story (or three) to write.


Gray said...

Thank you for your insights into being a travel writer. I like that you paint such a realistic picture of the frenetic pace, the upsides and the downsides of travel writing. I think many of us who dream of being travel writers only see the romantic vision of combining our passions of writing and travel (picturing travel the way it is when we're on a leisurely vacation schedule!), not the reality of the hectic pace, the constant need to pitch stories and do on-site research and line up your next job so you can pay your bills. At least you've got a partner to do this with; "divide and conquer" that material!

Lola said...

Keeping it real as always Lara!
Love it.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Gray

Travel writing is a bit like filmmaking in that people think they're both so glamorous, when in fact neither are at all. I was a filmmaker in a former life, and while making films is lots of fun for a few people - the director and camera/lighting team mainly - for everyone else it can be really dull for 80% of the time, with lots of standing around and waiting. Travel writing might be glamorous for the editors of Conde Nast Traveller, but for everyone else it's ****** hard work. Although I'm not denying it's fun of course!

Lara Dunston said...

Wouldn't have it any other way!


Matthew Teller said...

I can SO relate! This is very familiar to me - which is why I've come to love travel journalism (newspapers, magazines) more than guidebook writing. It's the people. Journalism - even hotel reviews - focuses on people, it's all about the personal stories. Guidebooks mostly try to remove people in order to focus on places, buildings, restaurants, bus stations... There are no people stories in a guidebook.

Travel journalism is intense, exhausting - but fascinating. And, for me, the job satisfaction is off the scale. But it DOES mean blogging can sometimes suffer...!

Lara Dunston said...

I'm *so* glad you relate.

I used to love guidebook writing, mainly because of the time you get to stay in one place. There's nothing like doing a guidebook to really get to know a city - can't tell you how many times we've talked to locals and they've never been to half the places we have.

But can't tell you how many times we've turned down offers of tea with people, simply because we have so many things to tick off.

Definitely enjoying doing profiles more so we *can* sit down and chat to people.

Thanks for dropping by!