While many travel writers hold journalism or English degrees, that piece of paper isn’t a mandatory requirement for starting a travel blog. All you really need to share exciting adventures and brilliant travel tips with your audience is a basic command of English. But words can be hard. These 10 easy tips have helped me improve my writing, and I wish I’d known them before I started my blog.
We all know at least one amazingly gifted storyteller. No, I’m not talking about famous storytellers like director Steven Spielberg, author Stephen King, or businessman Steve Jobs – although it appears that being named some version of Steve is helpful.
I’m talking about a friend, family member, or coworker who just has a way with words. They make you laugh until you cry over a handful of carefully crafted words accompanying the image of an unassuming everyday object posted on Instagram and have you hanging on their every word as they recount a tale from a recent trip to the grocery store.
Yes, some people are naturally gifted. And the rest of us just have to work really, really hard.
Unfortunately, I’m not a naturally gifted writer. This is probably because my mother named me Sage instead of Stephanie. But since she reads and edits all of my articles for free, I won’t hold it against her. And as I’ve worked hard – really, really, REALLY hard – over the past few years to improve my writing skills, these tips have helped me.
Words are hard. These 10 tips have helped me improve my writing over the years.
As a teen, I remember arguing with my mother that I could do my homework just fine with ‘80s pop music blaring in my room. Unfortunately for me, my mother was an educator armed with all sorts of facts and data to the contrary. But what on Earth did she possibly know?
Fast forward a few decades and I have the same argument with my teen. Only now it isn’t just the radio, it’s the never-ending chirps of notifications from her cell phone. Karma is such a bitch!
To improve your writing, you have to minimize distractions:
- Silence your phone or put it in another room
- If you write digitally (after all, it is the 2020s), minimize all other tabs on your screen
- And if you want some sort of background noise in your distraction-free word crafting zone, select a playlist without words
2. Shut the (Front) Door
Step #1 will help you manage the distractions you can control. But as busy adults, we experience so many other interruptions. As a single mom, pet parent, and homeowner, my day often looks like this:
- Someone needs to know what’s for dinner. At 10:00 in the morning!
- There’s an Amazon delivery, so the dogs lose their minds watching the FedEx guy approach the house. And they continue barking for ten minutes after they can no longer see his tail lights through the front window.
- And the cat needs his dinner, at 10:30 in the morning
While I’m never able to control all of the chaos in my busy household, when I shut the door to my home office for focused 30-minute to one-hour bursts, it signals that I should not be interrupted unless the house is on fire. Or someone is bleeding.
For the most part, this works well with the kids and dogs, but my cat can be a bit needy (scratch, scratch, scratch).
3. Just Start
Have you ever sat in front of an empty screen – fingertips poised on a, s, d, f and j, k, l, and ; – while letters refuse to form into words and sentences?
Have you ever spent an hour writing and rewriting the same opening paragraph while not making any forward momentum on the larger piece?
If the conclusion comes to mind, write that first. If it’s a list of all the things to do and see during a weekend in Cincinnati or the reasons why it’s worth the wait in line to ascend the Eiffel Tower, start with those.
Just don’t waste hours and hours trying to get the first sentence or paragraph perfect before you get to those sections.
4. Medical Medical Medical
Whether you consider yourself a travel blogger or travel writer, your job involves very little fiction. So unlike the adventures that unfold in Indiana Jones, the creatures that wreak havoc in Jurassic Park or the version of the Kennedy assasination depicted in 11/22/63, you need to have your facts straight. And the truth is, sometimes you don’t remember all of the details you want to share without consulting Google or thumbing through photos on your phone.
Or maybe your brain can’t think of the perfect adjective to describe a travel memory that’s crystal clear in your head or you need a smart synonym for an adjective you’ve used too much. And as soon as you open a new Internet tab to search Google or pick up your phone to swipe through images, you’ve broken the first rule.
This dilemma resulted in me taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to write a 1,400-word article. Instead of just going with the flow and writing, I’d stop to research, fact check, and synonym search every sentence or two.
Then I read actress Lauren Graham’s autobiography, Talking as Fast as I Can. She shared a story about how scripts for medical dramas – think Grey’s Anatomy – often contain placeholder copy that writers replace with technical terms provided by medical consultants before filming.
When the actors do their read-through, it sounds like this:
The patient has a medical medical medical.
And once the real-world doctors have weighed in, the on-camera version sounds like this:
The patient has a spinal epidural hematoma.
Borrowing this proven technique, I started using XXX as my version of medical medical medical. Now when I don’t have exactly the right words or all the facts, I enter XXX into my article. When opening a new tab won’t distract me, I can easily search the article for all instances of XXX and replace and edit as needed.
5. Double Down on Describing
Think of the amazing storytellers in your life – and this time it’s okay if they are rich and famous. I believe what makes them so different from the rest of us is the ability to use 26 letters – black text on a white background – and paint a picture that’s as vivid as a National Geographic documentary.
I don’t have a magic formula to share to help you reach that level of storytelling, but these are the techniques I’m working on to improve my writing.
Instead of a “just the facts” statement describing a sandwich as “a hamburger patty topped with pickle, lettuce, and tomato,” adjectives turn the restaurant recommendation into “a juicy hamburger patty topped with a sour pickle, crisp lettuce, and vine-ripened tomato.”
Use Similes, Metaphors, and Analogies
If it’s been a minute since you studied these concepts in school, or if you never fully understood the difference then, here’s a quick summary:
- A simile suggests that something is like something else – for example, “Kansas City is as glamorous as Paris”
- A metaphor declares that something is something else – for example, “Kansas City is a diamond in the Midwest.”
- An analogy uses similes and metaphors to make a point – for example, “With as many boulevards as Paris, Kansas City is a diamond glittering in the often overlooked American Midwest”
6. Give Your Brain Plenty of “Simmer Time”
Have you ever wondered why your best ideas develop in the shower? That’s because you’re temporarily unplugged from electronic devices and have a five minute hall pass from adulting with nothing to do but lather your hair, shave your legs, and let your brain enjoy recess.
It can be difficult when your life runs a marathon at full sprint from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep, but you have to give your brain time to rest. For it’s in this quiet space with few to no distractions that your creative juices can simmer and cook up a clever title for the article you’re writing or a unique take on a well-explored destination.
To give your brain time to just be blank (beyond the shower), try these tips:
- When you’re driving alone in the car, turn off all music, podcasts, and audiobooks
- Instead of scrolling through social media feeds or reading the news while you’re in the waiting room to see your doctor or in line to check out at the grocery store, just wait
- Go for a walk with no earbuds – just you breathing in the fresh air (although if you take your dog with you, chances are he’ll be a lot more tired when the FedEx guy shows up next)
7. Stretch Your Legs
Speaking of taking a walk to clear your mind, there is a proven scientific link between exercise and creativity. And the good news is that the physical activity doesn’t have to be overly exhausting. You don’t need to climb Mount Everest or sprint ahead of Sha’Carri Richardson. You just have to get off of your butt and move. So in addition to a walk around the neighborhood, you can vacuum the house or fold and put away a few baskets of laundry.
One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was converting my ancient treadmill into a walking desk. That may sound complicated or expensive, but it was neither. I purchased an inexpensive table that bridges the running belt, and while I walk at a slow-but-steady turtle’s pace of 1.2 mph on my early 2000s treadmill, I work in my “office” of about 2 feet by 4 feet. That’s generous enough for my laptop, portable monitor, external hard drive, and mouse. And, the table can easily be moved aside when I want to restore the treadmill to its regular function.
8. Identify Role Models
Ask any amazing creator – an actor, a painter, a singer – and all will tell you that they consume as much of their craft as they create, watching plays, strolling through galleries, and attending concerts. To improve your writing, you need to read. A lot.
Create a list of writers you admire most – novelists, biographers, bloggers – and ensure you spend a reasonable amount of time each week enjoying their craft.
Is it hard to read when you’re working at a full-time job, running kids to activities, and otherwise leading a busy life? Absolutely! Good thing there are audiobooks and podcasts. “Reading” those audio options are just as good as flipping pages or scrolling down a computer screen.
9. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Michael Phelps didn’t become the most decorated Olympian of all time by diving into the water one day and casually kicking his way across the pool. It took years and years of practice to win 28 medals. And it will take practice to improve your writing.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld uses a method that has inspired 365 projects of all kinds, including the photography blog that led to the creation of my travel blog. Here’s how it works:
- Select a task. Identify something you’re going to do every day for the next year. In Seinfeld’s case, he committed himself to writing one joke a day. Be sure your task is specific and reasonable, like writing distraction-free for 15 minutes.
- Find a way to keep track of your daily task and hold yourself accountable. Seinfeld uses an old-school paper wall calendar, and after writing his joke of the day, he marks a big red “x” through the square.
While there’s no guarantee that each of Seinfeld’s 365 jokes this year will make your sides hurt, or that each of your 15 minute writing sessions will create prose that goes viral, the consistent daily practice will do so much to ultimately improve your writing.
10. Get Feedback
As a final step to improving your writing, get feedback. Anyone who enjoys reading, has a basic grasp of the English language, and will shoot straight with you can do the job. But whether your work is critiqued by friends and family, another travel blogger, or a writing coach, I think it’s best when the folks providing you with feedback are – or at least understand – your target audience.
If your travel blog is about road tripping with toddlers and your feedback friends are all sedentary singles, they won’t be as helpful as a fellow toddler mom who is about to road trip from California to New York this summer.
Using a template that ensures every article I create begins with quantitative keyword research, I write every blog post in a Google Doc. When I’m ready for feedback, I share the document with my editorial board – who look a lot like my teacher mother and technical writer sister – and they review the piece using Google’s suggesting mode. This process helps me catch typos, rewrite any sections that are unclear, and add more detail when needed. And, over time, the former educator and the kid who scored all the natural writing talent in our family have helped me improve my writing.
How Do You Continuously Improve Your Writing?
Have you used any of these techniques to improve your writing? Do you have any additional tips or tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.