Blog hop: Confessions on my writing process

messy desk with notebook and computer

What my desk usually looks like mid-assignment. That empty napkin originally held several cookies.

I love talking about writing (because when you’re talking about it, you can feel like you’re writing without actually writing—procrastination, anyone?). But no, I also love it because it gives you insight into how other people battle the blocks, seek out their muse and get their jumbled thoughts into a coherent structure on the page (or screen).

So when Candice Walsh nominated me for this blog hop game, all with a focus on the writing process, I had to oblige. Not just because I like to talk about myself (I do), but also because I am a big fan of Candice’s writing. I give her the utmost credit for being honest, for taking chances and for always putting herself into her work. She doesn’t hide behind airs, and it’s inspirational as hell.

So here goes, a dive into my writing world…

What am I working on/writing?

Right now, my writing is a little bit of everything. Lifestyle, business, finance, marketing—a mishmash of work that lands in my inbox. But I do try to put travel front and centre of all I do. For the past year, I’ve been primarily known in blogging circles for my role as web editor at Travel+Escape. It’s a role I’ve cherished, as it thrust me into the centre of my favourite thing in the world, of course: travel. Being a travel editor and writer feels like something I can never, ever let go of.

I also have an idea for a novel floating in the back of my mind, and every now and then I think I’ll have the courage to actually start it, but then decide I need to read “just one more” book for inspiration. Or that I need to check Facebook instead.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

There are far too many “Top 10 Things To Do In X” travel articles out there. And web headlines that swear if you click on it, what happens next will blow your mind, and vapid lists that really all just sound the same after a while. I love stories. And to me, travel is all about stories. Storytelling is what drew me to travel journalism in the first place—I started reading Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux and J. Maarten Troost not because they told me about 20 beaches I need to see before I die, but because they told me stories about the oddball people they met, and the dangerous situations they stumbled into, or the perfectly ordinary encounters that still made them sit back and think, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

I try to take that same approach to my travel writing. My motto has always been that the best memories come from the smallest of moments, and I try to capture that sense in what I write—times I’ve learned something or met someone, or felt uncomfortable or exuberant, even if it was just from a brief encounter. For me, there’s nothing to write unless I can relate it to something that shifted, either in me, in another person or in my surroundings.

Admittedly, the online world makes it harder to build an audience with that style. Clickbait’s not going anywhere—at least not yet. Would Bryson have been as successful if he tried to launch his long-form writing career today through a travel blog? Who knows? But I do know that the art and practice of storytelling has been passed down since ancient times—I’m not sure listicles will have the same lifespan.

Why do I write what I do?

Well, to be fair, some of my writing isn’t as fun to produce as the content for this blog or other travel publications. I also write marketing materials, articles on HR and small business, and whatever other work lands my way because, hey, I’ve got bills to pay. But travel will always be my true “thing,” and the reason I write it is simple—I can’t not write it. I’ve kept a diary since I was 12 years old, writing my thoughts out whenever I’ve been happy, sad, excited, confused, whatever. And travel brings all those emotions bubbling out. I could chronicle it all in my journal just for my own eyes, but I like the added challenge of crafting it into something worth sharing publicly.

The other content I produce on this blog—posts about writing and editing and the travel journalism industry—are because I noticed how many bloggers were coming on the scene without any writing experience. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need a BA in journalism to run a blog, but you do need to be aware of the media landscape. And you need to hone your craft, and dedicate yourself to improving your journalism skills: reporting, fact-checking, revising (and revising and revising). I’ve had a lot of people starting out in their career reach out to me for advice and asking how I got into editorial work. So I decided to lump that into my blog and offer a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a travel editor.

How does my writing process work?

I don’t even know if I have a process. I basically sit down with a coffee and a computer and try to force something to come out of my fingers. Often, I’ll get ideas for opening lines or specific scenes while I’m out walking, or in the shower or about to fall asleep at night (that is the total witching hour for writers, when your consciousness just starts to shut down). Once I have that line or scene, I can usually work forward or backward from there. It takes a lot of testing things out and shuffling paragraphs and “killing my darlings”—that famous phrase for eliminating the bits you love but that just really, really don’t work if you’d only let yourself admit it.

Writers always talk about the “shitty first draft,” which is that first purge of information onto the page. It’s raw and usually reads terribly, but once you get that out, you can work from it and mould it into something that actually sounds okay. It takes a lot of practice—you have to really silence your inner critic—but if I can get that out, then half the battle is won.

Also, I have a very hard time writing at home. Coffee shops with good music and big windows are my office of choice. Pubs, too. For when the coffee has to switch to wine or beer.

Who’s next?

Now it’s my turn to pass on the blog hop love. I’m nominating the following three people to post their own answers to the above questions. You have one week from today to get your responses live!

Rachel Stuckey. Why? Because she’s a fantastic writer, and one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. She’s also an awesome traveller—she and I just finished a two-week trek through Vietnam without wanting to kill each other (well, at least I don’t think she wanted to kill me).

Amanda Lee. Why? Because she has talent oozing out her pores. Talent not just for writing a story, but for finding the right story to be written. Seeking out story angles is sometimes harder than the actual writing process, but she knows how to find and pursue them.

Stephanie Spencer. Why? Because she doesn’t buy into stereotypical sightseeing—or travel writing. Her blog on all things “geektastic” covers weird finds and quirky experiences, all told with a genuine writer’s voice. She’s got her niche nailed down, which is so hard to do in this market.

And to anyone else reading this, let me know about your writing process in the comments below. What are you writing today and why?

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4 thoughts on “Blog hop: Confessions on my writing process

  1. Pingback: Blog Hop: Confessions on writing process | The High Wire

  2. …And to me, travel is all about stories. Storytelling is what drew me to travel journalism in the first place—I started reading Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux and J. Maarten Troost not because they told me about 20 beaches I need to see before I die, but because they told me stories about the oddball people they met, and the dangerous situations they stumbled into, or the perfectly ordinary encounters that still made them sit back and think, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

    You have made one great point here. We need more of this out there! Thanks for putting it so clear!

    • Haha, thanks! A bit blunt, but that’s exactly what drives me nuts about travel writing today! Too many tips and lists, and not enough story behind it all! 😉

      • Put any (and I mean any) list you might think of on a search engine and you will be appalled by the quantity of (pardon my French) crap you’ll find! Everybody is a list maker, not everyone is a travel writer. Bravo Tammy, you’ve got full credits to be on the second category!

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