The Wild East / Travel & Leisure
When it comes to travel writing, veteran travel writer and guidebook author Steven Crook wrote the book — literally.
Next month, Sunday, June 26 Steven is leading a workshop in Taichung, central Taiwan, showing the ropes to a small group of select, aspiring freelancers.
And as a special offer for our Readers who sign up by June 3rd and mention THE WILD EAST, you’ll get a NT$400 discount off the NT$2,900 workshop registration fee PLUS a gift of Steven’s book, Keeping Up With the War God. Reserve your spot, by going to the Facebook event page TRAVEL WRITING WORKSHOP.
The Wild East caught up with Steven a few days ago to get a few tips and ask him about his upcoming event.
The Wild East Magazine: What made you decide to organize this workshop?
Steven Crook: I’ve been freelance writing since 1996, just before the Internet kicked off, back when most people still bought print newspapers. Over the years, quite a few people have asked me how I’m able to consistently sell articles to newspapers, magazines, websites and other clients. Some are merely curious, but others show a serious interest in entering this line of work.
Sometimes I’ve just been too busy to help. But often I held back, thinking: “Why should I share professional knowledge which has taken me years to accumulate, with a person who may use it to compete against me?”
When people have said they’re willing to pay me to mentor them while they launch their freelance-writing career, I’ve been tempted. But I didn’t want to invest time in writing detailed advice about how to come up with fresh ideas for articles, and so on. Writing about sustainable architecture, or indigenous campaigners trying to revive a language no one has spoken for over a century, just seemed much more fun.
The Wild East Magazine: So why did you change your mind?
Steven Crook: Recently an opportunity to teach travel writing and freelance writing in Cambodia has come up. I’m excited about it, but first I decided to offer a workshop here in Taiwan. So I sat down, set a date, rented a venue, and wrote a summary of what I’ve learned over the years.
My workshop offers invaluable insight into the inner workings of travel writing, starting with the basics of how to come up with good ideas for articles, and how to pitch those ideas to editors. Then there’s a lot of insider advice on how to identify which publications are worth approaching. For example, many well-known ones aren’t worth trying, at least if you’re a novice because they only deal with a small number of freelancers they know and trust.
The Wild East Magazine: You’ve promised to talk about the business side of freelancing. What about the actual writing of articles?
Steven Crook: I’ll spend about 60% of the workshop talking about the steps freelancers should take before they write a single sentence. I’ll do this because several of the people I’ve met who’ve tried and failed to establish themselves as travel writers or freelancers got things back to front. They’d write an article first, then send it off to editors who couldn’t use it because it didn’t meet the format or requirements of the publication.
That’s a bit like cooking cheese-and-bacon hamburgers for customers at a restaurant without first checking if they’re vegan, vegetarian, lactose intolerant, or follow a kosher diet!
So the rest of my workshop covers advice on how to write well. I’ll talk about things like what makes a good opening paragraph, and some basic rules that all writers should obey, like double-check your facts and don’t depend on what people tell you. Or, put what you’ve written to one side, then re-read it a day or two later; and make sure you haven’t used the same word or words again and again.
The Wild East: What does it really take to become a successful travel writer, Steven?
Steven: I believe a slow-burning determination to succeed is absolutely crucial if you want to succeed as a writer. So is reliability.
Also, persistence — and your research — will pay off. Some of these people may be more talented than me when it comes to composing succinct, vivid prose, or they may be more adventurous travelers. But they got disheartened and gave up because their work was repeatedly rejected — or ignored, since many editors don’t respond to unsolicited submissions. But you may not know that if you don’t do your research. My workshop helps navigate those waters with more success, and definitely shortens that learning curve.
The Wild East Magazine: What was the vibe like on your first workshop?
Steven Crook: When I announced the event, I set a limit of ten, and all places booked pretty quickly. Participants raged from early 20s to late 40s, and they were native English speakers living and working here in Taiwan.
As I hoped, those attendees contributed many important points to our discussions, making a lot of useful suggestions themselves as well as many amusing anecdotes! A few web-savvy attendees had specialized in writing for online-only publications.
It was a great mix of people! I look forward to doing it again.
To sign up, visit:
TRAVEL WRITING WORKSHOP FACEBOOK PAGE
N.B. Don’t forget to mention the W.E. to get your discount! 🙂