“It is our job as writers to do the work, have the courage to bring it out and present it to the world, because that’s why we are here,”
Embracing the writing life is surely both a joy and a challenge. And when you make this move after pursuing another career, convincing readers and the publishing industry that you’re serious Can’t be Easy. But that’s exactly what actor Andrew McCarthy did when he began writing for National Geographic Traveler back in 2006. In 2010, he was chosen Travel Journalist of the Year by The Society of American Travel Writers and in 2012, he hit the bestseller lists with his travel memoir The Longest Way Home. In a Writer’s Digest article, Andrew shared some advice on travel writing that we can fruitfully apply to our own projects, whether nonfiction or fiction:
Immerse yourself: To discover the true heart of a place, you need to spend time wandering around, getting lost, and observing details. As Andrew puts it, “Walking gives you a rhythm in a place, and you need to begin to understand the rhythm so you’re not an outsider.” In other words, you need to free yourself to roam, feel, and absorb the people and places you’ve chosen to explore. When Andrew travels, he always carries a notebook where he jots down feelings, anecdotes, scenes, and experiences in the moment. Think of this as getting to know your setting and your characters.
Find your hook in details: Sometimes a singular experience, fragment, or a fleeting but recurring image that seems to reveal something essential can be the hook or gateway into a story. “Once you find that nugget you can hang the whole story on it,” Andrew notes. “The rest is basically arranging furniture.” The same is true for a short story or the opening into the fictional world of a novel.
Stay with storytelling: Andrew believes that one of the big mistakes travel writers is focusing on destinations, when it’s storytelling that grabs people. He likes quest stories, for instance, because they have a strong built-in hook: a clear direction that naturally lends itself to building a story.
Let your ideas percolate: After taking lots of notes, Andrew often wraps up a trip the way he started, by just wandering around: “Lines, phrases, entire paragraphs will come up and I will stop where I am and write them down; often they end up in that form in the final draft. It’s important not to start writing too early in the process—but when it wants to start coming, you have to be open to it.” And write on!