Break into Travel Writing: A Non- Native English Speakers Guide

As a non-native English speaker and a travel blogger, this detailed guide will show exactly how break into travel writing successfully. Most of the tips here are applicable for other writers as well.

I am a non-native English speaker and a freelance travel writer. During the early stages of my travel writing career, I repeatedly received editors’ feedback asking me to work on my mechanics (yes, my editors were awesome enough to give me constructive feedback). Any minor errors in grammar and sentence structure would send my articles into a trash can.

It is a sad truth. Nobody will tolerate your mistakes in professional travel writing just because English is your second language. Improvement takes time, effort, and lots of courage – the courage of writing and rewriting, studying grammar, accepting constructive criticism, and even, facing zero-tolerance and rejections. To add the harsh reality and competitiveness of the travel writing industry, writing travel features without English being your first language makes it more difficult to turn your dream career into a reality.

It is not easy. I rarely share behind-the-scene work of my published articles. It takes me years to overcome my fear and frustrations of being a non-native English writer. I want to share the difficulties I had during my early stages of travel writing, and my tried and true tips about how to write successful travel stories.

Difficulties Non-Native English Writers May Encounter

Grammar

My first pitch, happened four years ago when I just started travel writing, and ended disastrously. Back then, I did not realize how damaging the grammatical and syntactic errors can be to a writer’s pitch. I told my editor I lived in Hawaii and have some stories to tell. The editor showed interest and told me she looked forward to reading my articles. My errors ended up slapping her in the face. Damn, what I am going to do with that?

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General Ability to Create a Well-Structured Paragraph

This is not just an issue for non-native English speakers, given that I sometimes have problems writing a well-structured paragraph in my native tongue. I learned English from English textbooks (pretty boring right?). My English instructors required us to memorize almost everything in the textbook. I was not encouraged to express my own opinions and create novel knowledge. When I first wrote my university paper in the US, it took  me forever to come up with ideas and break them down into paragraphs.

Time Wasted on Writing

It wasn’t until my third year in the US that I found out that I have spent way more time writing the same piece than native English speakers. An essay that a native English speaker takes an hour to write would take me a day or even longer, and the quality is barely on par. I always spend loads of time struggling to search for the correct words, make perfect sentences, and perfect the flow of the structure. When it comes to travel writing assignments, the deadline is always a huge challenge.

Tips to Hone Your Writing Skills

On the surface it seems apparent, but when I say honing your writing skills, I do not just mean reading novels and writing a lot. The tips of reading English novels and newspapers are getting noticed by most non-native English speakers. Here come seven useful tips on how to create high-quality travel articles that make readers resonate with you, as well as make your writing standout.

  1. Ask native English speakers to review your work

The most effective way to fix your writing errors is to resort to native English speakers to proofread your work. As non-native English speakers, it is tricky to figure out how to use certain words, slang, or jargon on our own. However, with a little help from native English speakers, you will be able to correct grammar, spelling, and structure errors easily. The question is, how do you find native -English speakers to help?

If your friends are native English speakers, simply ask them. If they agree to help, I recommend offering beverages (coffee or tea) and snacks to show your gratitude. It takes time for anyone to help you with your writing, so be grateful and show them you really appreciate their help. Another alternative to finding native English speakers will be detailed in the tip #4.

2. Write simple and with all your heart

Your writing should be succinct, reader-friendly, easy to spot the main point – be it an adventure on Mount Everest, a hotel review for Best Western, or being locked up abroad in Mexico – and easy to remember. Don’t pack everything in one article. Focus on details. Express your experience and feelings vividly as if you are describing an image. Write your travels with your heart and your soul.

I also recommend adding pictures, podcasts, and videos to create dynamics and layers. Moreover, be sure to spend time reading and editing your piece. Make sure your final draft is sharp, rich, and knowing.

3. Quality trumps quantity

In my experience, you do not have to write multiple daily articles to better your writing skills. When you write, be sure to take time to think, fact-check, and edit to make your piece a high quality one.

As indicated in my previous blog posts, it took me nearly a year to write this article and have it published. What I learned throughout the year is to write destination guides (publication standards) with action-packed words and an authoritative voice.

Always takes your time to write and edit. You will learn a lot more about your writing by repeated editing, collaborating with editors, and creating high-quality travel features, than you will get from posting two to three travel books in a day. It is a learning process. Always focus on the quality, be patient, and write hard.

4. Hire professional editors to help

It took me nearly three years to understand the importance of having a professional editor. I am now seeking the help of editors to hone my craft – a group of virtual editors to assist in proofreading, copy-editing, and make my articles devoid of errors.

Hiring editors allows you to focus on other parts of travel writing and gain confidence in pitching, while leaving the editing job to those who can do much better than you. I have sought out Skylight Editorial to proofread and copy-edit my work since 2014. The rate is affordable and possibility the cheapest in the editorial field, with the proofreading rates starts from 0.0065 per word. And I have never had issues with the quality and their customer service.

5. Networking with your peers

To make your writing shine, not only do you need to create a high-quality piece, but you also need to network with other travel writers and editors. It is an investment in time, but it goes along the way.

When you attend a writers’ workshop, you will be reading other writers’ stories and getting feedback for yours as well. Writers help each other. By engaging in writer’s groups, you will hone your writing skills by receiving useful feedback from experienced writers and editors.

I have attended Toronto Writers Meetup Group and MatadorU students meet up. Meanwhile, be involved in online travel writing groups, forums, and social media.

By being social on social media, I have been approached by editors on twitter to write travel guides.

6. Use travel writing resources

If you truly want to become a professional travel writer, my top advice is to register for a travel writing program. It is extremely difficult to become a professional travel writer without any resources and training of some sort.

The travel writing program I am currently in is MatadorU Travel Writing program. This one-year course teaches you the writing skills to become an excellent travel writer, and everything you need to know about the business side of the travel writing world.

7. Determination is the key

Getting your travel feature published is not a walk in the park. If you think being a travel writer is just about writing the rundown of your backpacking trip, pitching  an editor, getting published, and receiving payments the next day, you could be very, very wrong. I hope this post shows what it takes to create a great travel story and get it published, or you will be very disappointed a few months from now after sending your travel stories to publications with no response.

Non-native English writers who are determined to break into the profession of travel writing and take the career seriously, have the best chance to succeed. It takes years to build a portfolio, accumulate clips, and become a travel writer, but there are non-native English speakers making through this tough process. It is a long battle, but the key is, you just need to be determined and fight for what you truly want.

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Do not worry about English being your second language. You will learn the skills of writing and realize your dream.

That being said, travel writing is my passion. Filling a blank paper with words and colors is the best moment of my day. I have learned so much from writing and I will not trade my travel writing career for anything.

 

Julie Cao

Julie Cao is a travel blogger, travel writer, and global citizen currently living in Toronto Ontario.

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