I didn’t start out to be a freelance writer. In fact, I had been studying photojournalism and documentary filmmaking. But as much as I tried, I couldn’t get anywhere with either. Frustrated, I read somewhere that if I wrote a story to go with my photos, I’d have a better chance of selling them. So I started doing that.
Enjoying traveling, I set out on a cross country driving and camping tour. This happened the year after I had spent nine weeks traveling to and from and around Alaska, a trip of 38,000 miles. I had planned to be awayfor six weeks and the thought of eating basic food all that time didn’t appeal to me. So I designed a compact “chuck wagon” unit that fit into the back of my Mazda hatchback. This allowed me to stop at any supermarket and stock up as I traveled, then make almost gourmet meals along the way.
Naturally, I took photos of the unit, then researched the history of chuck wagons of the Old West. I wrote an article about the unit and how it had served me well in my travels and sent it off to Popular Mechanics Magazine. To my surprise, they accepted it.
That was the last I heard of it until one night I was browsing in a magazine kiosk at one of the malls in my area. Something told me to pick up a copy of Popular Mechanics and thumb through it. Low and behold, I discovered my article, complete with my photos and construction diagrams. I got paid the following week. That was exactly 365 days after I sent in the article. If I would have been freelancing full time, I would have starved to death by that time.
I was finally published. Hooray!
What I didn’t realize was that it was dumb luck that brought me this far. I hadn’t researched the markets, nor had I thought about what the readers of the magazine might want or what the editor might need. I just thought of myself and sent my piece off like a rocket into the black emptiness of space.
After publishing that first article, nothing much happened. I kept sending out travel destination pieces one after the other and sometimes received polite rejection letters in return. Often, I received nothing.
It wasn’t until five years later that I finally got smart and started writing and marketing my work the right way. I began researching the markets until I found a travel industry magazine that seemed like a good possibility. The editor gave me a tentative assignment to write an article about the state of Guatemalan tourism from a trip I was going to make there. She loved it and the rest, as they say, is history. From then on, I had a steady stream of assignments—sometimes two or three a week. While the magazine didn’t pay a whole lot, it gave me a steady income and lots of clips.
Those clips lead to other assignments from other editors. Soon I began publishing in other travel industry publications and national travel magazines. And while I eventually wrote on other subjects, travel writing was always the maintstay of my work.