where the rubber meets the road.

Talk is easy.

It was one thing to be home for the summer, telling people that I’m moving to London to pursue not only a master’s in travel writing but to get my career going as a writer itself. And yet, it’s been another thing altogether now that I’ve actually arrived. Well, I tell myself, here you are…you’re here and what are you going to do about it?

I took my first step yesterday, having had the incredible opportunity of attending a travel writing workshop hosted by Peter Carty, a long-time travel writer and editor whose publishing credits are only slightly daunting to fledgling writers like myself. I’m talking, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, Conde Nast Traveller, The Telegraph…yeah, I think you get the picture. I know I wasn’t the only one out of the twenty or so attendees who knew we were privileged to be able to learn from his experience, let alone speak with him during the workshop.

The workshop itself was fantastic. We started off the morning going through three main style issues for our travel articles: use of language, introductions, and structure. We were told to “leave our cliches at home,” and to get us started, Peter had us each go around and share a classic adjective employed far too often by travel writers. Some of the ones we came up with included:

Charming, exotic, magical, sun-kissed, island paradise, manicured gardens, crystal-clear waters, vibrant cities – to which Peter responded, “Yes, a city’s only vibrant in an earthquake.” Brilliant. Someone mentioned “lapping waves” and Peter said, “The sea’s been lapping away for far too long in travel writing.” He told us to leave the journey out of our articles – everyone’s read enough about dimly-lit airport terminals and crazy taxi drivers. “They’re always stepping from planes in their writing.”

Palm trees, azure waters, golden sands…living the cliche in French Polynesia.
We talked about particularity of detail. I loved what Peter said: Give the reader a few hooks and they’ll hang the picture for you. It’s not that you have to spell out everything, but make the few details you do include unique and vivid enough that you’ve done your job well.

The afternoon session focused more on the business side of things – choosing suitable subject matter, crafting good pitches, marketing our pieces successfully, etc. It was what I’d most been looking forward to, diving into the nitty-gritty of actually getting published. Peter handed us a sheet of entry-level publications we actually have a realistic chance of getting our work in. It was so much more concrete and hands-on than any of the songwriting workshops I attended a few years ago. But nothing came without humor: on a list of “Ten Telephone Sales Pointers” to use when following up on submissions, Peter advises us in pointer #7:

If you are not feeling very confident, imagining that the person on the other end of the phone is naked can work very well.

But what I most appreciated about the workshop was that it wasn’t a passive experience. We never had a tea or lunch break in which we weren’t given an assignment – whether it was writing a strong introduction, researching local establishments for a short travel feature, or crafting a perfect pitch. Peter seemed to really like the idea I came up with for my pitch and told me to send it to him to have a look at. It’s hard to believe someone as accomplished as he is would be willing to work with those of us so fresh in the field, but it’s an opportunity I know I simply can’t pass up.

All I have to do now is write the article…..easy enough, eh?

And so I find myself in the same place as three years ago, at a crossroads of connections and decisions. During my third year of university, I was selected as one of ten finalists in a songwriting competition in Charlottesville, Virginia – hometown of the Dave Matthews Band. Although ecstatic at the opportunity to perform in a well-known local venue, my nerves shot through the roof at the realization that the two judges would be none other than Bruce Flohr, manager of DMB and a former senior VP for RCA Records, and Boyd Tinsley, the band’s violinist. How would I approach Bruce? What would I say to him? Obviously, I couldn’t let this chance pass me by.

As it turned out, Bruce took care of it himself. During intermission, after I’d performed my song “Playground,” he walked up to me and said he’d love to talk with me more about my music. He gave me his card and told me to be in touch.

Oh, sure, Bruce, just let me check my schedule…

Although it took about three months for the meeting to happen – Thanksgiving and Christmas always seem to get in the way, don’t they? – I finally found myself sitting in his office, trying as hard as I could not to be intimidated by the plethora of platinum records lining the walls.

After listening to a couple of songs I’d recorded, Bruce told me my next step was going to New York. I needed to get an internship with a record label and should apply on my own first, but if nothing worked out, to let him know and he’d “make some calls.”

And so I went and got an editorial internship with a publishing company in Boston instead. Go figure…

At the time, my hesitance to throw myself fully into music came from an uncertainty of whether or not that was exactly what I wanted to be doing. There was another side of me that wondered about the world of writing/publishing/editing and didn’t know if I’d be making the wrong decision by moving to NYC.

Any angst or regret over my non-existent music career has pretty much dissipated at this point, but yesterday as I sat in the workshop with Peter, I thought – here I am again. My life is in my hands and it’s up to me to make it happen. It’s scary as anything, at this stage where non-action costs little and success so unlikely, but everybody starts somewhere, right?

This is where the rubber meets the road…let’s just hope I can hang on for the ride.


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