I’ve always thought that being a good writer largely depends on getting some kind of superhuman inspiration from outer space. I thought it’s something that magically happens once you want it badly enough. In 2014, I know that this has been one of the dumbest assumptions everrrr.

During three years of journalism school, I didn’t really learn how to be a good writer, but what I got was tons of practice and that helped me develop my own style and tone. So I thought I’d share some key points that helped me on the way. (On a side note, don’t ever go to journalism school!)

“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”
Neil Gaiman


Snippets. Take notes while on the road, find words to describe moments while you’re living them and the memory will come back once you’re in a quiet place reflecting on that time you jumped on the Trans-Siberian Railway and survived on dry bread for three weeks.


Interviews. Find locals, restaurant owners, older people or bar tenders (my personal fave) to add a bit of their story. Their attachment to a place or personal history usually make for a deeper meaning than the obligatory “Holy moly, San Francisco was awesome.” Plus, they often share lots of useful advice and hidden corners that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise. Ask them if you can take their photo – which brings me to my next point.

Photos. What do pictures have to do with writing? Well, they either help make your words stand out by adding quality, colours and vibes to it or they’re just so terrible and make readers want to click the X asap (or toss the magazine, depending on what century you live in…).

Write (bet you didn’t see that one coming). This probably applies to you if you’re a freelancer or just starting out building up your name. Write a story first, then find someone to publish it. I’ve often sent out pitches and when they weren’t taken on I’ve just discarded the idea. Chances are that I just didn’t pitch the right medium, or they didn’t need it, had something similar lined up, blablabla. So now, when I approach someone with an idea, I don’t mind pitching it multiple times (you’d obviously have to twist the angle a little bit depending on the medium) if I really believe it’s strong and different. If you constantly depend on what other people think, you inevitably end up not writing as much as you could/should/want to.


Action. Pure accounts of what you did, ate, saw are dead boring. I almost never read them. Add a slice of your personality, memories and reflections to the piece to make it stand out from those billions of Trip Advisor reviews.

The bigger picture. Make sure your story is interesting for anyone to read, not just for people looking at tips for that particular destination. Give someone an idea of what you’ve learned, of why you love traveling and what amazing secrets this world holds. That can quickly turn your 48-hour guide into a deeply philosophical piece, I tell ya.


Inspiration. Read what other people do. I’m a big fan of the New York Times series 36 hours in… there are also multiple travel blogs (hint!) that are overflowing with new ideas. While it’s not a good idea to constantly compare yourself with other writers and their thousands of achievements and clippings, it doesn’t hurt to take a peek at how and why they chose specific destinations, interviewees or even just introductions. Sometimes you can take someone’s idea and just do something completely different with it. I’ve recently read an article about hipster night culture in Berlin on Condé Nast Traveler and then proposed to write about why Beirut’s night life is a hundred times better than anything in Europe. (They didn’t take it… I guess it was too alternative)


Quality. There are people on the blogosphere that would disagree with me, but I still believe in the quality before quantity rule. This might be old school but only ever publish something (on your blog or wherever) that you could imagine seeing in print and being proud of. There is so much pressure to constantly put out tons of new content and that’s part of why self-publishing and the internet are so awesome, but don’t ever do it at the cost of quality and content. I think especially from a professional point of view, it’s a much better sign if someone publishes fewer posts that are interesting, well researched and beautifully visualised than a bunch of loose stuff that doesn’t fit together and contains lots of typos and grammar errors. Urgh. (Having a pretty blog also helps pitches getting approved and landing other writing gigs by the way.)


Editing. This ties in with my previous point: Careful and critical editing is absolutely crucial! I usually write one draft where I jot down anything that crosses my mind (a glass of wine tends to come in handy in that phase) and then go back to cut out all the unnecessary stuff a few hours later or the day after. This piece for example needed three editing rounds…

Resilience. Writing is awesome, the paying the rent bit of this career path not so much. But you’ll find a way if you want it enough and if you’re willing to work hard. (Sometimes that might involve have other jobs that pay your rent and still allow you a bit of time to put some words together). But rest assured because being a writer and traveler is literally the most fulfilling, inspiring, mind-expanding and beautiful thing a human being could possibly do with their time on earth. And now, if you’d excuse me, I need to book tickets for the Trans-Siberian Railway.


So that was it from me! I’m curious to see what helps you improve your writing. Tell me in the comments below and happy traveling!

All photographs taken by Caroline Schmitt