Two weeks ago, I was startled to receive an email from an associate producer at CBC Radio. She had read an article I wrote for TravelandEscape.ca, about getting lost in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, and wanted me to appear on CBC’s morning program in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to talk about it.
Radio has never been a medium that I would have considered for myself. I’m a fast talker and occasional mumbler, especially when I’m nervous. Thoughts of public speaking bring me back to the horrors of giving speeches or presentations in school. And while being broadcast in any way is scary enough for me, the thought of doing it live is absolute torture.
So of course I agreed.
Who wouldn’t? I was flattered that they had reached out to me and that they thought my storytelling skills were good enough for a radio segment. And it was a chance to plug my blog and the work I do as a writer and assistant editor at Travel+Escape. Saying yes was obvious.
And then I had nightmares for the next two days. Yes, my four-minute segment on a radio station in northern Ontario was enough to leave me sleepless over the span of 48 hours. It also got me thinking about my non-writing writer’s skills.
You see, once upon a time, a writer was someone who wrote. (I can hear your collective gasps of disbelief.) Sure, writers have always appeared on radio and television, taught courses and done other public speaking appearances to promote their work and/or boost their income—but writing was always their primary task.
But today, the publishing industry is in such a state of rapid change that a writer—and a blogger, in particular—is no longer just that. Video may have once killed the radio star. But if that’s the case, then blogging seems to have brought the radio star back and mashed it up with the video star and writing star and photography star and web design star to create one impossibly perfect master of all media. No longer is it sufficient to be just a good writer or good photographer, or good at whatever your chosen method of expression may be. Now you have to do it all just to stay afloat in an industry that changes so quickly it gives me motion sickness.
panicked prepared for my radio debut, I got to thinking about my skills in the digital world, which, at this point, are solidly basic. Sure, I can manage the back-end of a website and take semi-decent photos, but is that enough?
How will I ever be a successful blogger if I can’t film viral videos, take perfect photos, record podcasts and do it all while simultaneously tweeting and eloquently speaking off-the-cuff on panel presentations across the country?
Gah! What am I doing?
I’m doomed to failure!
My career is slipping away before my very eyes!
Granted, these thoughts weren’t anything new. Lately I’ve been taking workshops on video and podcasting, considering courses on photography composition, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, and signing up for more social media websites than I could ever possibly use to any useful degree. I want to—I need to—learn them all just to stay in the game. But I’ll never master them all.
And you know what? That’s okay.
I’ve had quite a few people ask me lately for travel writing and blogging advice. (To those people, thank you. It’s a solid ego boost to have others seeking my advice.) So, based on what I’ve just said about my own fears, here they are, my top tips. Listen up.
- You will never be an expert in everything. Nor should you be.
- It doesn’t matter how many fancy skills you have; if you can’t tell a story, you’re screwed.
Writing has always been my strength. And while I want to learn how to produce online videos and take stellar photos, I also recognize that writing will always be my primary method of communication. And for that reason, that is what I choose to master above all else. For some, it might be video. For others, it might be public speaking and podcasting. Whatever your strength is, build on that. The rest should play a supporting role while always pointing back to the heart of your work.
I still admit that as bloggers, we need to know how to communicate via other methods, and need to develop a decent skill set to comfortably use these tools. And featuring variety on your blog is great. But spread yourself too thin and your true talent will suffer from neglect. Don’t forget what brought you to blogging in the first place, whether it’s writing, photography, video, audio or something else altogether.
Which brings me to tip #2. No matter what medium you work in, without a story, it falls apart. I attended an excellent session while I was at TBEX’12, in which Spud Hilton of the San Francisco Chronicle and Stephanie Yoder of Twenty-SomethingTravel.com offered advice for better writing. (For a great recap of the session, read BreatheDreamGo.com’s post, Top 10 travel writing tips.) Many of their tips were applicable beyond the writing world, but the one that stood out the most for me was having a story to tell or, really, just having a point. No matter whether you’re writing, podcasting, vlogging or compiling a photo essay, you need to find the story in it, the why. A great story (in any format) will trump fancy features that are hollow once you peer inside.
As for that radio appearance, I’ve been told by those who listened in that it went well, and that I only slipped into my rapid-fire speech pattern once or twice. And I didn’t do any of the things of my nightmares, like forget my story, forget to show up, forget the English language.
But I’m pretty sure this writer will still never be a radio star.