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Travel Writing Tips for Beginners: Putting the Final Sparkle in Your Stories

The final installment in our three-part series: A little self-editing goes a long way!

By Dave Fox
Tioman Island, Malaysia

Welcome to the final installment in our three-part series on how to turn your travel diaries into polished and publishable travel tales. In part one, we looked at how to get specific and choose story ideas. In part two, we examined how to structure your beginnings, middles, and endings, and hold your readers’ attention throughout. Today, we wrap things up with a look at the self-editing process.

Artwork: Denise Krebs / flickr

Creating great writing takes time and patience. First drafts are rarely publishable as-is, and the same can often be said for second drafts, third drafts, and even ninth drafts. Once you’ve hammered out a rough version of your travel tale, it’s time to start tweaking your words. Some people consider this tedious, but I often find it the most exciting part of the writing process. I love playing with my crappy rough drafts until they evolve into something I’m proud to fling into the world.

Whether you love it or hate it, editing and revising your early editions is something you need to do if you want to crank out consistently good writing. Keep in mind that like so many other skills, the more you do this, the easier (and perhaps more fun) it gets. Here are a few tips to help the editing process:

Tighten up! When I write a rough draft, I often slam it out quickly. Many other writers do the same. We’re scrambling to keep up with our brain and write our ideas before something interrupts our flow. This is a great start. It gives us a framework, a verbal block of clay we can begin smoothing out. But my rough drafts are often too wordy. They need tightening.

One of the things we explored in part two of this series was the importance of holding our readers’ attention. One of the best ways to do this is to tighten things up. Don’t say in 27 words what you can say in 12. Don’t drone on for 900 words when you can tell the same story in 650. You need cut the flab. Here’s an example:

Very often, when people write their first drafts, they tend to use more words in their writing than are really necessary. When they do this, it takes a lot more time and energy to read what they’ve written, so readers begin to get bored, and often decide to stop reading the story before they are even halfway through it.

Let’s tighten that up:

People often use more words than necessary in their rough drafts. It takes longer to read what they’ve written. Readers grow bored and stop reading the story halfway through.

We’ve gone from 59 words in example one to 29 in example two – without losing any of the meaning. If you wrote two entire drafts like these examples, we could read the second version in half the time.

Your readers are busy. Everyone has short attention spans these days, particularly when reading online. So comb through your stories sentence by sentence, word by word. Look for phrasing you can tighten or words you can eliminate. Make your writing easy to read.

Read it out loud. You’ll be amazed how many easily fixable weaknesses you can find if you read a story out loud after writing it. Readers can relate better to travel writers who sound conversational. Reading your words aloud helps you catch awkward or unnatural phrasings. When you reach one of those sticky points, try stating out loud what you are trying to write, as if you were telling the tale to someone in the room with you. Replace your awkward phrasing with those spoken words. Often, that fixes the problem.

If your story is boring you, that’s good. You’ve recognized you’re not done editing it yet. Often when I’m working on an early draft, I know I have a solid tale, but my writing doesn’t do it justice. I’ll confess, I sometimes get frustrated when I read what I’ve just spent a couple of hours writing and think, “This sucks.” But I remind myself in those moments to take a deep breath and relax. If you think your writing is bad, it means you’re able to write with a critical attitude toward your own work. If you can’t spot your weaknesses, you can’t fix them. Your next step: Identify why you don’t like it. Maybe it’s one of the above problems such as excessive wordiness or awkward phrasing. Maybe you’re taking too long to get to the juicy parts, or going off on unproductive tangents, or trying too hard to “sound like a writer.” A deep dark secret of all good writers is that much of what we write is bad – or, to put that in more positive terms, it’s not yet ready for public consumption. That’s why you might never see bad writing by your favorite authors; they never let you see it. They keep editing and tweaking until they know it’s good before they unleash it into the world.

A telltale sign of a truly bad writer is a writer who thinks his or her work is always wonderful. They’re unable to recognize their weaknesses and correct them. So embrace your moments of mediocrity, ask yourself what’s wrong and how you can fix it, and then keep wrangling with your story until it flows naturally.

Want to Learn More?

I offer two fun and super-informative online workshops to help you become a travel writer. Once you sign up, you can watch the video lessons and do the writing exercises whenever you have time. You get lifetime membership in the course and each workshop comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Follow the links below for discount coupons, free sample lessons, and all the details!

  • Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals offers creative and effective techniques to capture the most exciting details of your trips. You’ll discover how to splash lots of bold detail into your travel diary – quickly – so that journaling enhances your journeys rather than gobbling up precious vacation time. Includes 75 minutes of lessons plus fun writing exercises and access to our online classroom. Usual price: US $25. Sign up here for just $18.
  • Travel Writing: Explore the World and Publish Your Stories picks up where the above course leaves off. Learn how to turn your “rough draft” journals into polished travel tales that readers (and editors) will love! Share your adventures with friends and family, post them on a blog, or publish them professionally in newspapers, magazines, and anthology books. This comprehensive travel writing course includes three-and-a-half hours of video lessons plus hands-on writing exercises and access to our online forums. Usual price: US $65. Sign up here for just $35.

If you’ve got questions about travel writing, I’m happy to answer them! You can send them to me on the Ask Dave page and I’ll try to cover them in a future online column. 

 

Published on Thursday, August 2, 2012

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