Travel writing is not for everyone

Recently, I boarded a tour bus and took a trip to Iowa for a two-day Mississippi River cruise. The river part was wonderful; the long ride on the bus not so great; but I did meet a lot of nice people.

Invariably, while getting to know people, I mention that I was a travel writer. There is always the question: “How can I get a job like that?” Followed by, “Isn’t it great to be able to travel and get paid for it?”

Yes, it is, because a travel writer can get to see some wonderful places, but it’s not for everyone. What some people don’t understand is that when you travel as part of a job, you are constantly looking for particular facets of the trip – those that relate directly to the publication that has hired you. It’s not strictly pleasure as you are always on the clock.

When I was actively working, I looked at a trip from a tour operator’s point of view. How would a certain trip work for a group of 30 to 40 people? In most cases, the tour group is made up of senior citizens. Then the question becomes more specific. Is this a trip that 30 to 40 mature (retired, elderly, seniors, whatever) travelers would enjoy and can easily navigate?

A working writer also has to look for good photo opportunities. I took a lot of my own photos, but local tourism departments are always happy to provide more. Photos were also valuable to help me recall exactly what I saw.

I had to be alert for good quotes from fellow travelers and locals, and when I heard one I needed to ask that person for permission to include their name in the article with the quote.

I tried to meet local people, soak up the culture and the atmosphere of a place, and research facts later. I couldn’t just casually mention that I walked through the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and saw paintings of the masters: who were they; what paintings? Or that it occupied what was once a railway station built between 1898 and 1900. Details are necessary to give readers a true picture of a place.

All this is leading up to a conversation I had with a woman on my Mississippi River trip. She had lots of questions about travel writing. She seemed serious about wanting to try it, so I suggested she write about the trip we were on, send the manuscript to me, and I’d look it over and offer suggestions.

She did. Apparently, she hadn’t heard a word I said about the process. The piece was one page, single spaced, and void of any useful information. She wrote about the wonderful time she had and all the wonderful food. She did mention two of the cities where we stayed overnight, but nothing more. “What an adventure,” was one line. Why was it an adventure? There was no description of the boat, the river, the sights we saw, those we traveled with, nothing.

I wrote back to her stressing that she needed to include details about the trip, including quotes from other people, maybe some river lore that we heard on the trip, and a side bar about the riverboat company.

Her response was that she didn’t have the patience for all that, and she wouldn’t be trying travel writing after all.

Travel editors everywhere should thank me.

* * * * *

A Spirit in the Heart
By Ell Wheeler

Peri hesitated near the rear of the cabin. Far above her head, the stately Norway pines pierced the sky and blocked out the sun. Only the tiniest rays filtered through the canopy and dappled the ground with spots of light.

The trees swayed and made soft whispering sounds as they talked to the wind. The repetitive and mournful call of a loon echoed across the stillness of the lake and faded away. Then the wind stopped for an instant and nothing moved. All was quiet, and the only sound she could hear was the pounding of her heart.

“I don’t think I like this,” she said aloud, and her voice sounded strange and misplaced in the quiet of the woods. More softly, “I know I don’t like this.”
She hurried down a slight incline toward the front of the cabin, stepped through the screen door and reached for the lock, but found none. None on the inner wooden door, either.

“Great,” she muttered, but it wasn’t great at all. She felt exposed and vulnerable, and even a little frightened. It was a feeling strange to her, and she didn’t like it, not one bit.

***

A SPIRIT IN THE HEART: available on Amazon.com.

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Just keep writing

Happy New Year! Here we go again. I hope this will be a healthy and happy year for everyone.

We are a few days past the celebrations when the world welcomed in 2018, but that’s just long enough to have finalized those resolutions, or already have given up on them. The problem with resolutions is that we often don’t think them through. They are not always realistic.

For example, in 2017 I was determined that I would finish my newest novel by year’s end. I forgot to consider all the days during the year that I might not be able to write. Such as: the week-long trip to visit distant family; the days I was too sick to get out of bed, let alone write; the special celebrations with family and friends; the days I helped a friend or relative who needed me; all the days when reality intruded. You get the picture. You’ve been there.

What I wanted to do was to sit down at my computer every morning at 8 a.m. and crank out about 1,000 words of perfect prose in a plot that would have the Pultizer people banging on my door. HA! What a dreamer I am. Some days I did reach that numerical target; on other days I only managed 200, but they were darn good words, and quality will always beat out quantity when it comes to writing.

I’ve changed my goals for this year. I still intend to write on a regular basis. Maybe not daily, but the best that I can in the time allotted to me. I will still set objectives and personal deadlines, but this year I will forgive myself if I don’t meet them.

Happy New Year and happy writing.

There is a Computer God

I could be the poster child for the “computerly challenged.” Just made up a new word there, but it best describes what I am talking about.

I know there are others out there in www-land who understand that. A month ago, if you had asked me about my URI or about the widgets I use on my blog site, my reaction would have been “Huhhh?”

I still couldn’t precisely define those terms, but I have learned a lot in the last few days. It all began when I tried to change the email address associated with this blog. I thought I had, until I suddenly couldn’t get into the administrative section to be able to add, edit, or post. And what I ended up with was a duplicate page asking me where I wanted to start.

Wait! What? Start what? I already have a blog, but where is it? For two days my blog was in some sort of purgatory, waiting for me to pray it out of there or come rescue it, which, as you can see, I did, but not without the risk of damage to my sanity.

So what happened, you may well ask. For starters, I thought I had changed my email associated with the site and thought up a new password. And then I removed the original email account. Apparently that didn’t work because every time I tried to sign in with the new email, the program refused to recognize me.

Things get a little muddled here, because I went through a whole round of helpful (or not) exercises with the support team that got me nowhere. Lest I give the wrong impression, those who responded to my cry for help tried their best before sending me on to one of the experts, who walked me through yet another series of steps. There is a Computer God because I finally recovered the original email and using the last password I could remember, “A Writers’ Consortium” popped up. Happy me.

What does this have to do with the writing life? Seems like everything, especially in this day of instant communication where we have so many resources that let us put our work out there for the world to see. It’s another lesson in adjusting and adapting to the way things are done, and every day is a learning opportunity.

What did I learn? Mainly that I always need to do my research before flying off in a different or unfamiliar direction. Had I gone through more of the tutorials with wordpress.com, or asked some questions in the on-line forum, I might have avoided all the stress. It’s the same with writing. Do the research. Check the facts. Then check them again. It’s all about getting it right.

And, oh yes, develop a system for remembering passwords.

The Indirect Route

One of my favorite TV programs was “Everybody Loves Raymond.” It still is because I watch its reruns whenever I can.

For the benefit of the few of you who may not have a television or like to laugh, it’s a comedy show that revolves around Ray Barone, sports writer and family man, who lives across the street from his brother and parents. Take their picture and they could pose for a dysfunctional family poster.

One episode dealt with Ray showing his wife, Debra, his process for writing each day. The first thing he did after turning on the computer was to click to a game of solitaire and begin to play. Debra was confused, but Ray explained to her that it was the way he started his day; a way to relax as he got ready to write.

Not everyone may find that segment especially funny, but I did, in a couple of ways. First because the characters and the writing for the show are truly funny, but also because that particular situation mirrors my own so closely that it was also a bit weird-funny. Then I realized that maybe I’m fairly normal and not the only one who actually does stuff like that before I get down to the business of writing.

My computer routine goes something like this: first check email and fire off responses to those who need it; call up worldofsolitair.com and find one of my favorite games (there are several); play a couple of rounds and then force myself to get down to business. And I do mean force myself because the card games are a lot more fun and somewhat addictive compared to sometimes sitting here racking my brain for inspiration.

I do eventually get around to writing, and I thank Raymond for showing me that it’s okay to sometimes take the indirect route in getting there. 

Believe in yourself.

 

I have to handle it carefully now, because the cup has been dropped a couple of times and banged around over the years.  Its rim is cracked and the handle has been clued back together.  The picture and the words on its side have faded with time, but when my own words refuse to come, or when I begin to doubt my ability, I have only to look at it for inspiration.

In the 1980s, while struggling to become a published writer, I had a few successes, enough to make me say “I am a writer.”  Then came the periods of drought, when nothing I wrote seemed good enough to attract the attention of an editor.  The ideas that I thought were so excellent and so well written often received the ever-impersonal note of “Thanks, but no thanks” from every publisher that I contacted.

During one of those times, a close friend asked me, “How’s the writing going?”  I had to admit that it was not going well.  I felt discouraged, ready to give up, and was beginning to believe that the writing life wasn’t for me.  What made me think that a few sales gave me the right to call myself a real writer?

A few days after that conversation, she presented this coffee mug to me.  On its side, below the now-faded picture of a unicorn (an image of things impossible) it says, “Believe in the beauty of your dreams.” 

 I’ve had that cup for more than thirty-five years, and there have been many times when I have been at my computer and wondered if I was fighting a losing battle; beating my head against the wall; trying to break into yet another market.

 Whenever that happened and I was within minutes of throwing up my hands and giving up, I’d see that cup and I would pause, read the message again, and take the words to heart.

 I don’t know if my friend had an inkling of what her simple gift would do for me over the years, but it is the words on that cup that helped me remember my dream and follow it, and best of all, to see it come true. 

Writers who attend the local freelance writing workshops and seminars that I’ve presented are always looking for advice, encouragement and the secrets of success.  I can advise and encourage, but I don’t have any magical secret to being successful.  I only know that writing takes knowledge, intelligence, creativity, determination, and often a huge portion of luck in presenting the right manuscript to the right editor at precisely the right time.

I can give encouragement and tell them that it takes a love of the craft and dedication to be a writer.  And I always share the best advice I ever received…believe in yourself…believe in the beauty of your dreams. 

The consortium

It’s all about networking….

Many years ago, I was a struggling freelance writer. Wait, I’m still a struggling freelance writer. I can prove it by showing you the rejections I just received this the past week.

Years ago I was working in the newsroom of a city newspaper. It was a fast paced, hectic job, and I learned a lot working there, especially in fact checking and editing.  I loved it, but there came a time when I knew I wanted to be more of a writer, less of a gofer.

I’d already had some success in getting published, mostly in equine publications because horses were my passion. But I wanted more bylines, and so I quit the newspaper business and established my own freelance writing and editing company. To say I struggled along is to put it mildly. But with a lot of hard work, research, and perfecting of ideas and articles, I can truthfully say that I made that dream come true, but I was not alone.

I had support from my husband and family, and there were a couple of magazine editors who liked my work, but because writing can often be a lonely business, I needed the companionship of other writers who understood this life.

There are plenty of writer support groups and classes at schools, libraries and community centers. The people who gather for these want help and guidance in writing and publishing. They want to learn. They also want someone to critique their work. That’s all commendable, but it was not what I wanted. I wanted to sit down with a group of working writers and talk about the job of turning words into profit.

I contacted some of my writing friends and the Writer’s Coffee Consortium was born in my town. It has been fifteen years or more, and that group still meets once a month in a local coffee shop to share their successes and failures, and to encourage each other to keep on writing. And every gathering produces a lot of laughter as we share our stories.

In our group, we don’t read each other’s material until it is published, because none of us wants to pass judgement on another’s writing style, but we have always welcomed fledgling writers into the group to support and encourage them. Some don’t come back, but many have stayed with the group and are published today.

There are lots of ways to network. Getting together with a group of people who share a common interest is one way, and an important one. We all need moral support in what we do. So, find a group, club, class that you feel will help you in your endeavors, but make sure it fits your needs and expectations.

Don’t expect too much from a group. Do you want people to read and critique your writing? To be truthful, it’s difficult to find someone who will honestly tell you if they don’t like what you have written. No one wants to discourage you or hurt your feelings. Those in a writing group won’t do it. A writing instructor will. An editor will. The best thing you can hope for in a writers group is to know that you are not alone in the great abyss of the publishing world.