Julie Schwietert Collazo on Writing Travel Literature

Julie Schweirtert Collazo teaches courses on writing travel literature at MatadorU. We asked her to share some tips for aspiring travel writers.

A Conversation with Julie Schwietert Collazo

Q: How did you get started as a travel writer?

A: I took a very circuitous route on my way to becoming a travel writer... and I'm not even sure I'm wholly comfortable with the term "travel writer," as I write about lots of other topics, too. Anyhow, I've always been a writer, but I took a career detour following college and became a psychotherapist and creative arts therapist (using creative writing with my patients). Then, I dropped out of that profession entirely and in desperation, took a job as a tour director for an educational tourism company. In the off-season, I was cash-strapped once again and looking for work related to writing. I landed a couple of travel writing assignments and that's how I got started. At the time, I was also living outside the US, so I had an automatic expat and geographical niche.

Q: Could you offer aspiring travel writers some advice on getting started?

A: Lots of aspiring travel writers don't want to hear this advice, but it's the most important and useful tip there is: read more. Learn about the writers who have come before you and who your contemporaries are. Learn more about the genre and then expand it or explode it completely. Learn what markets exist for your style of writing. Don't start pitching wildly to any publication that has accessible submission guidelines. You need to make sure your work is a good fit for a publication and the only way you'll know that is if you read widely.

Q: What are some of the different markets for travel literature?

A: Lots of travel writers aren't aware that the market for their writing is far more expansive than they believe. They focus on magazines like Travel + Leisure and completely overlook general interest and lifestyle magazines that have travel sections, as well as related departments that are interested in certain aspects of travel experiences. Again, you won't know what these markets are, though, unless you're a voracious reader.

Q: Could you offer some tips on writing travel literature?

A: The best tip for effective writing is to write authentically. Don't write what you've read and don't write what you think you're supposed to write. Be real.

Q: Could you talk about some travel writing mistakes to avoid?

A: Writers and editors alike bear the responsibility of cleaning up travel writing by cliche-busting. I'm beyond tired of seeing the phrase "hidden gem." How many hidden gems can there be? Not nearly as many as travel mags would have you believe. Also, avoid superlatives of all types. Don't tell someone that a place or an experience is the best, the most, the whatever. Put them there. Don't tell them what to think about it. Just tell them about it and let them develop their own opinions and perceptions. 

Next Steps

Did you enjoy this interview? You might also like our interview with Lynda Schab on writing greeting cards.

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