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How I Live as a Writer

Clandestine coin collection in front of the Pantheon

Sponsorship.

If you’re a travel writer, this is a topic that often comes up. Will you take a sponsored press trip, a trip that is planned for you and/or a group of other writers, so that you can see places you may not be able to afford to go? Or, do you go it alone, rebuffing PR offers in order to maintain your objectivity or, at least, to stay in the good graces of publications like the New York Times, which blacklists – at least temporarily – those writers who have taken them?

Being sponsored is murky territory in the travel writing domain. It is the crux of discussions over travel writing ethics, conversations which seem to come up every time there is a conspicuous travel blogger hashtag campaign on Twitter. Sponsorship in travel writing – that is, having a trip partially- or fully- funded by a third party – is a grey area because many of those who write about travel cannot afford to work otherwise.

But there is another type of sponsorship that has been setting the writer discussion boards ablaze. At the end of January, Ann Bauer published “Sponsored by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from,” an article with a cringe-worthy title and similarly obnoxious anecdotes relating to writers with money. Bauer offers a sympathetic tale of her own writing career path, one that she forged while poor, overworked, and living with her parents and that is now sustained by her second husband’s “hefty salary.” She makes the point that writers “do an enormous ‘let them eat cake’ disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some ways succeed.”

I read many angry responses to Bauer’s piece. The article seemed to draw a line in the sand between those who are “sponsored,” i.e., those who come from money, have connected families, or married well, and those who are the “real” writers, i.e., those who hustle while living paycheck to paycheck or write on the side while working a full-time job. Writing from the perspective of those in the second camp, Laura Bogart, for Dame Magazine, writes, “I live in that in between of deadlines and bagged lunches, scrawling dialogue and outlines of scenes on the back of an agenda for a nine a.m. meeting. But it’s better than relying on anyone else for the roof over my head.”

As I read both of these articles, I couldn’t help but think there is a third reality. It is my reality. And in the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal the circumstances that allow me to write and publish.

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The Best American Travel Writing 2014

The Best American Travel Writing 2014

The Best American Travel Writing, which highlights the best travel stories from the previous full year, arrives in bookstores and on tablets this week. The 2014 edition is edited by Paul Theroux, who has selected some outstanding reads from a variety of print and online publications. Here are few that you can read online right now:

Some honorable mentions include Thanksgiving in Mongolia, Ariel Levy’s devastating personal essay; The Fallout by Frank Bures; A Sort of Happy Ending by David Farley (yay, Farley!); Go Your Own Way by Douglas Mack (yay, Doug!); and How Hipsters Ruined Paris by Thomas Chatteron Williams.

The Best American Travel Writing 2014 is available from Amazon in print and on Kindle and as an Apple iBook. You can also buy directly from the publisher.

*These are the print magazine titles of these articles. The online titles are slightly different.

Blogging for the Art of It

Writing for the TBEX conference website, Pam Mandel answers the question, “Why blog?”

Blog because you are teaching yourself to write – blogging’s time driven nature creates an excellent framework for homework.  Blog because you are compelled to share your stories – blogging is perfect for that. Blog because you can’t not write – a blog is a good place for you to see your story outside your own head, to see your work made real. The roots version of “Why blog?” is still 100% valid – because you’re having an adventure and you want to document it. Or blog for the same reasons I do, because blogging is your medium and writing is your art.

What about the whole issue of making money from travel blogging?

Don’t focus on making money today or tomorrow or next year, instead, focus on making amazing writing. Dig into the dark places the tourist office doesn’t want you to see. Tell a good story purely for the satisfaction of telling a good story. Experiment, write backwards, unravel history, ask hard questions, tell stories that leave your readers feeling dizzy or angry or exhausted as though they have made the journey with you. Turn away from all the optimizing and strategizing and monetizing and socializing because they do not have to be why you blog.

Pam will be a speaker at the TBEX Conference in Toronto this June.

via TBEX Speaker Post: Ask Me About Art – TBEX USA.