In this occasional series, I share questions of MatadorU students and Cuaderno Inedito readers, as well as my answers.
“Do I have what it takes to be a travel writer?”
After spending three to four hours on one of her MatadorU assignments, a student emailed me to ask this question. My feedback on the assignment had been critical and she felt discouraged. She had spent the past four years trying to become a travel writer, she said, but wondered whether it was time to give up. Maybe my criticism signaled that she didn’t have the “natural skill” to be a travel writer.
Whether you have “what it takes” to be a travel writer is a difficult question to answer. Travel writing is a broad genre encompassing many different subgenres (service writing, narrative writing, and many others), with at least as many platforms for publishing your work. And even if you don’t have “what it takes” for any of those platforms, you could certainly go the route of creating your own little blog empire, over which you maintain sole rule.
I suspect what you’re really asking is “What does it take to be a travel writer?” That question has lots of possible answers, but among the diverse skills that the different subgenres require, there’s a single common variable: continual practice of your craft.
I know that when you’re slogging through an assignment or a piece of writing that’s not coming easily, three or four hours feels like a massive investment of time. But really, it’s nothing in the bigger scheme of things and it’s nothing compared to the practitioners of other crafts.
Think about a ballet dancer or an actor or an athlete to put this in perspective: they spend all day, every day simply practicing their craft (or, more often, just one element of it), often in anticipation of a single performance. We writers are a petulant lot by comparison– we expect every time we pick up a pen or put our fingers to the keyboard, that we’ll produce something publishable. And we expect we won’t have to exert a whole lot of physical energy in the process.
I can’t tell you whether you have what it takes to be a travel writer or whether it’s time to throw in the towel and pursue a different career. You can only answer that for yourself when you’ve arrived at your own definition of what a travel writer is and what skills of required of one.