Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer - David Whitley

In the introduction to their book, Query Letters that Rock, Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell write that ‘if you want to be successful, watch the successful.’ So that’s what I’m doing…

Welcome to a new (hopefully) weekly post called ‘Interview with a Travel Writer’.

Today, I’m talking with David Whitley a travel writer with a long list of magazine and newspaper credits - The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Traveller, The Sun-Herald (Sydney), The Italian Magazine.

(UPDATE 2008: David is now The European Insider for Ninemsn)

Hi David, welcome to the 'My Year of Getting Published' blog.

1. Did you always want to be a writer ? How did you get started in writing ?

Well, creative writing was always my favourite subject in primary school if that counts… I’d always had half an eye on going into journalism I guess, although if you ask me why I’ll look at you blankly, shrug my shoulders and say: “Ummm, I dunno.” I did a journalism degree at university, and it went from there.

2. What do you consider your first big 'break' as a travel writer?

Travel writing is something I almost fell into by accident. I edited the student newspaper at university, and we were offered free interrailing tickets if we put in a regular travel page. I fancied a free holiday, so in it went. Shamelessly corrupt, I know… The pieces I did for that page ended up winning me the Guardian’s Student Travel Writer of the Year award, and just before I left I started doing some freelance work for FHM. For some reason, they kept giving me travel stuff to do.

3. As a traveller and writer, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?

I’m certainly more of a writer who travels than a traveller who writes. I can get lost anywhere, I’m hopeless with languages, and I often just feel that I can’t be bothered going to see another ‘wonderful’ attraction. The biggest challenges on the road, I find, are keeping the energy levels up and the loneliness at bay. Even just walking round cities, you can cover an incredible distance every day, and it gets tiring. Meanwhile, I’ll usually be out there on my own, barely speaking a word of the language. This effectively means a week or so of not properly talking to a soul. I’ll sometimes stay in hostels rather than hotels just because it’s easier to meet people.

4. What do you enjoy most and least about writing for Suite 101?

Well, if that was all I was doing, I’d be starving, put it that way. I see it as a long term business strategy – get as much content up there as quickly as possible and watch it earn money over a period of years. This it will do over time, but it’s a numbers game. The more I can rattle off the better. I enjoy being able to write about whatever I like, but I’ve also found that it’s had other benefits. For a start, I now know a lot more about web writing. I’ve also won a couple of very good commissions from another site that contacted me through Suite101, and I’ve found that doing it has improved the speed I write at. Because I’m bashing out pieces in half an hour for that, I’ve found that speed is translating to other projects – more typing and less procrastination.

(Anyone interested in writing online travel articles shoud check out David’s collection at Suite 101)

5. What advice can you give aspiring travel writers wanting to get articles published in magazines and newspapers ?

This may sound harsh, but learn to write. There is so much average travel writing out there that if you want to be noticed, yours has to be good. It’s hard enough just getting a response from editors, so to do so you have to have something distinctive to offer. Secondly, it’s a business, and you should treat it as such. Yes, it may be a nice lifestyle travelling for a living, but it’s that ‘living’ part that’s crucial. If you’re not earning enough from it, then I’m afraid you’re not doing it right.

6. Finally, what is your favourite place and why ?

Very tough call, but I’d have to go for Sydney. I lived there for five years, and one day I’ll be back for more.

Thanks David, for your time and thoughts...

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Julie said...

Good interview, Liz. I am glad you reminded me of that good advice from the Renegade Writer, as well. Are approaching writers you would like to interview by email and explaining a bit about your blog? It's a very smart idea!


Hi Julie, I figured I'd go fishing and see what I hooked. So I'm sending out emails to travel writers at all stages of their career and seeing if they are willing to be interviewed. It's publicity for them and good practice for me. Plus we all get to learn.

Cheers, Liz

Kerryn said...


I stumbled upon this blog completely by accident and what a great find! These interviews contain lots of food for thought for an aspiring travel writer. I have bookmarked your blog!



Hi Kerryn, glad you stumbled upon my blog....stop by anytime and spread the word. The more visitors, the happier I am.

Hope you find the links and info of help to your writing.

Cheers, Liz

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