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Lately, I’ve run into a problem along my journey to become a self-employed travel writer: I’m struggling to create new content. It’s not due to a lack of material — I have plenty of meaningful travel experiences — I’m just having trouble focusing and creating. Plain and simple.
This is not a good feeling for a writer.
My situation isn’t what I would consider ‘writer’s block’. That would imply that I’m sitting down and actually trying to get work done. I’m having more of a ‘writer’s focus’ problem – I’m having a hell of a time getting the work started in the first place.
Out of frustration, I’m forcing myself to find out why I’m not creating new content. I have a few ideas:
- My current workspace is uncomfortable and unorganized.
- My writing process is extremely unstructured. Starting a project often times feels overwhelming and daunting.
- I get distracted very easily. I have no boss holding me accountable and, in turn, I am making allowing my distractions (friends, aimless internet surfing, beer) to lead me away from my writing.
My current approach to self-employed writing just isn’t working. It is clear that I need to change the way I go about the process, but how?
I’m going to try and figure that out on the fly. That’s why I have challenged myself to write 15 posts in the month of August. I may not finish the challenge, but I’m sure I’ll learn a lot along the way.
The Challenge Journal
August 6th, 2:35 p.m.
Well, I have some serious work to do. The first week of my challenge I was on a trip to Florida with my girlfriend and her family. I promised myself I would set aside time to start writing and chipping away at my challenge… let’s just say that didn’t happen.
I got about two hours of solid work done in my first week of the challenge. Oops. Let this be a valuable lesson in time management and procrastination.
Below is a picture I took of a bearded dragon named Max on my recent vacation. Enjoy the photo while I scramble to make up for lost time.
August 8th, 12:24 a.m.
My first article of the month is in the books!
And I couldn’t have done it without a clean and orderly workspace (pictured atop this post). My last ‘workspace’ was a cramped and cluttered antique wooden table that I couldn’t even pull my chair into. I tried using this for months, but couldn’t ever get anything done. What the hell was I thinking?
Anyways, moving on… my latest article is about a brief yet extremely intense trip I had to Tepito, a notorious neighborhood in Mexico City known for its vast black market. One of my most vivid and powerful travel experiences to date.
August 9th, 12:10 a.m.
Every hostel I visit, without fail, I eventually hear someone complain about the piss-poor sleep they had the previous night. I get it, I’ve been there before.
Quality sleep is so damn important. Over my years of hosteling, I’ve developed some great methods to drown out the inevitable riff-raff and sleep like a baby. Check it out:
August 10th, 12:37 p.m.
So, I lost my notes for the article I’m writing and that makes me very sad. Now I have to rely on my leaky memory to get the job done.
HUGE PIECE OF ADVICE
Take notes! Or write in a journal.
Record your travel memories (or everyday memories) in some way, shape, or form. Going over your notes will allow you to remember events that normally you would have long forgotten. Writing vivid accounts of your day will bolster your memory and really helps if you’re starting a travel blog like me.
Not having my written memories is making the process so much harder. Luckily, I have plenty of vivid photos to help stir up some details of the trek. Still, I died inside a little when I couldn’t find my trusty notecards from my adventures in Northern Chile. Let this be a lesson.
Update: After an hour or so of self-pity, I decided to search one last time and found my notes. Now writing my article won’t be like pulling teeth. Order is restored.
August 12th, 2:23 a.m.
Thank God. I finally finished article number three. Somehow I turned a 3×5 notecard with a couple hundred words into a 3,200 word article.
The post is about a solo adventure I took into the arid Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. I found a ghost town, was threatened by a pack of pigs, hiked upstream through a canyon, and made friends with a group of alpacas. It was quite the adventure.
August 16th, 10:05 p.m.
In the words of my good friend, Ryan Squires: “I know nobody cares, but I’m going to complain anyways”
I spilled #^$%ing water all over my laptop yesterday.
So, that has slowed my down quite a bit. For now, my laptop is drying upside down, battery unplugged, on a towel with a fan blowing on it. I have to wait 72 hours to see if it works. Wish me luck.
I’m doing all my work on an Amazon Kindle Fire and a wireless bluetooth keyboard. Everything is annoyingly tedious, but the Noel Train keeps rolling.
Update, August 21st: the logic board on my laptop is fried… continuing work on a 10-year-old Mac Mini. Wish me luck.
Anyhow, I had a very eventful weekend. I went out for a wild 16-hour long day in Denver. I ate, I drank, I took notes, I lived. Today, I put together a guide. Here it is:
August 22nd, 8:07 p.m.
Up until this point in my life nobody has ever truly edited my writing. I had always been under the impression that my work didn’t need any nitpicking from an outside force to improve. I was completely wrong.
Getting a second set of eyes to look at your writing is always a great idea, especially if that person is a professional. Conveniently, I just happen to have a father with a career in copywriting. Lucky me.
World, meet Thomas Krasomil, my editor-in-chief.
His fresh perspectives and creativity have allowed me to view my writing from another perspective. He holds a mirror to my work so I can see it for what it truly is, not what I selfishly want it to be. I will never publish an article without letting him dissect it first.
Get Yourself an Editor!
If you are starting a career in writing like me, do yourself a favor and find someone to look over your work. They don’t have to be a professional, they just have to be thoughtful and honest. Ultimately, you will be giving your readers a better experience. Having a hard time finding an editor? Use a WordPress plugin like Editist.
Here’s a post I just completed that first received a B- from my editor. Time to make some improvements. It’s a review of my trust travel speaker. Check it out:
5/15: JBL Charge 3 Review
August 23rd, 10:53 p.m.
Another two posts in the books.
The more I write, the more I understand that having a clear plan is paramount to efficiently writing a quality article. While creating my latest post, I decided to make an extremely thorough outline before I allowed myself to do any writing on the computer. My organization had been slipping lately, so I needed a quick fix. Would an outline help? Hell yes, it would. In fact, the outline was so useful, I decided to write another post on the whole process.
From now on, every post I write will be outlined ahead of time. There is really no excuse. Preparation and organization are your best friends in writing. Half-assing projects in an attempt to save time is so counterproductive. Here’s the post:
My next post is about my first experience attempting a challenging multi-day trek. I chose to visit Iceland — the land of fire and ice (and oppressive wind and rain too, apparently) to attempt the Laugavegurrin Trail. This was a very bad idea. The weather was disastrous, my gear was inadequate, and I failed miserably. Learn from my mistakes.
August 26th, 9:45 p.m.
I am excited to announce that, next summer, I will be giving a tour of my majestic home state of Colorado. It is going to be a serious adventure.
Many people I have met along my travels haven’t heard of Colorado or aren’t really sure what it is all about. Here’s my take on Colorado: its an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. It’s full of stunning mountains, winding trails, abundant wildlife, and thriving cities and towns. The sun shines year round the opportunities are endless.
It’s BIG and vast. To explore the mountains takes planning and preparation (and good gear). It’s a hard place to get to know if you don’t have much time. It has a well-traveled tourist circuit that can be hard to avoid.
This is why I decided to guide a tour next August. I will give people a chance to experience Colorado through the eyes of a native. No navigating swarms of noisy tourists, no Trip Advisor’s Greatest Hits, no crowded tour buses. None of that. That’s not what Colorado is all about.
I’ve put together a 15-day itinerary of exactly how I would spend my time here if only given two weeks. There will be hiking, camping, rafting, ATVs, breweries, horseback riding, delicious food and more. Give it a look:
August 30th, 12:34 a.m.
A common complaint I get among fellow travelers is that it is incredibly tough to stay in shape while on the road. Workout habits are hard to maintain when your surroundings are ever changing and gyms are few and far between.
Most travelers would simply rather spend their precious time exploring their surroundings and eating than finding a way to squeeze a work out into their already busy day. I can’t blame them.
In an effort to create a fast and simple way to stay fit while traveling I have created the Tenacious Travel Workout. You don’t need a gym. You don’t need weights. You just need about 30 to 45 minutes a day and the right attitude.
August 31st, 10:22 p.m.
As expected, I fell fairly short of my ambitious goal of writing 15 articles. And you know what? I’m completely okay with that.
I went on a six-day vacation with my girlfriend’s family where I had a grand total of zero minutes of alone time and I spilled water on my laptop, putting it out of commission for over a week. Additionally, I have been working full-time on non-blog related endeavors to save some extra money for my move to China.
Well, I fell short of my goal, but I got a hell of a lot done. Ten out of 15 ain’t bad.
What I’ve Learned About Travel Writing
You Need a Solid Workspace
This is so damn important. If I don’t have a comfortable space in which to work, I just won’t write — it’s that simple. A comfy chair, quiet surroundings, good lighting, a clean and spacious desk — it will all improve your focus and sharpen your skill.
Writing while traveling in hostels?
- Buy some noise canceling headphones
- Stay in low-key hostels with good WiFi and quiet, comfortable places to work
- Designate yourself ‘writing hours’ throughout the week to focus on your craft
Make To-Do Lists
Organizing your day efficiently and thoughtfully will award you with more opportunities to create. Travel writers are good at finding excuses not to write — its incredibly easy to get distracted when you’re adventuring halfway across the world. Put together a to-do list every day and always pencil in some time for writing.
You Need to Take Notes
Notes are a writer’s best friend, especially when you have a piss-poor memory like me. Record small, vivid details throughout your experiences that will be useful down the road when you are writing. Smells, colors, emotions, weather — recalling all of this accurately will add life and vibrancy to your writing.
Outlines Are Absolutely Necessary
If you want your writing to be as organized and stress-free as possible you need to make outlines for every single post or article you create. Outlines will save you time in the long run, minimize the editing process, and get the thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Would you try to build a house without a blueprint? Of course not. So, don’t go trying to write an article without an outline.
Editor’s Will Improve Your Writing
Utilizing a second set of eyes will really teach you a lot about your writing. You don’t need a professional editor to get this done — all you need to find is an honest person that loves to read and communicates well. You’ll be surprised at how quickly a friend — or even a stranger — can improve your writing.
Keep Drinks Away from Your Computer
I spilled a couple of ounces of water on my computer and it cost me hundreds of dollars and a week and a half of valuable writing time. I don’t think I need to explain this one any further. Drinks near your computer: not even once.
Backup Your Files
Years worth of writing, thousands of pictures, immature videos from my youth… it was almost all gone in the blink of an eye. I hadn’t backed anything up and I nearly paid dearly. Get an external hard drive (here’s mine), use the cloud, or utilize both and protect your data from being stolen, destroyed, or lost. Learn from a guy who nearly lost it all.
Give Yourself Balance
Staring at a computer and typing for hours on end is the simple reality of being a professional writer. Don’t forget to give yourself plenty of time every day to stretch your legs, exercise, socialize, and experience the world. Life isn’t mean to be spent in a chair staring at a screen.
Find Motivation from Within
Being a self-employed travel writer isn’t easy. It sounds glamorous, but often times it is anything but. The ups and downs of travel can be extremely distracting and discouraging. Quality web design, photography, writing, editing, and SEO don’t come easily. Ask yourself why you chose to become a travel writer and use your answer as motivation along the way. You’re going to get discouraged and doubt yourself along the way — let the hardships make you stronger and more motivated.
Writing will make your life better.
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it professionally or just writing for the hell of it.
Writing will quiet and organize your mind. It allows you to express yourself and to help others. Vivid experiences, that can fade and be lost forever, will be captured for life with just a pen and some paper.
Writing can raise important questions and lead you on a life-changing path to answer them.
This last month has reaffirmed to me that I want to travel the world and write as long as I am able. At times the lifestyle can be frustrating, exhausting, lonely, and discouraging, but it is always worth it.
UPDATE (11/22): The lessons learned above now have been made into their own expanded post.