Tonight I saw Rolf Potts read at Shakespeare and Co. He is a travel writer. I will admit that I have never read anything of his.* But I like writing, and I like traveling, and I like people who write about traveling, so I went.
I was able to chat with him one-on-one before the event started. I had time for one question, so I asked "what are the most common mistakes young wannabee travel writers make?" His answers:
Blindly submitting your stuff to magazine and websites. "You need to know how to read to know how to write," he said. Basically you need to know what's out there and know what's already been done. You need to know the difference between good travel pieces and bad travel pieces to know what to do and what not to do. And to know all that, you have to read as much of it as you can.
Thinking you can live off of travel writing. Someone invented this total misconception that travel writers make a ton of cash. They don't. "You can travel more widely as an electrician or an IT guy or a stripper," Potts told me. Basically he told me, hey you're only 23. Travel now. Take good notes. Experience life. You can write about it later. He didn't get a passport until he was 25. He didn't publish his first piece until he was 28 (which was on slate.com, you rock dude!). Now it's his career, but it took time.
Don't write about Paris. There's nothing to write about Paris. Anyone can go to Paris or Budapest or Rome and write "It's beautiful." No one is going to publish that. It doesn't offer any new information. So become an expert on something. Join a rowing team in Paris and write about that aspect of the city. If you grew up on an organic farm, write about organic markets in Paris. Don't just slap yet another layer of wallpaper to what's already out there. Finding a niche is a way to write something new.
He also suggested teaching English as a vehicle to get you overseas. Hey I did that! Does that mean I am going to become a famous travel writer? Heh, prob not. Rolf Potts, thanks for your advice. I was interested to hear what you had to say about travel writing clichés, but then the owner of the bookstore interrupted our covo. Fortunately, I read this article, so I think I already have some good tips.
* But I intend to start!