A rare look behind the curtain
Every now and again I like to indulge myself with an “Inside Baseball” type of post about writing or freelancing or both. Consider that a disclaimer; this is one such post.
It’s actually part of a “Blog Hop,” something that buddy (and fellow writer/blogger), Amanda Castleman, asked me to do this week. As Amanda explained to me, the rules of this exercise are simple: I have to share my views of the writing life by answering four basic questions that all participants must answer. That’s it.
Next week, two other writers will share their insights (don’t hate me; I’m still figuring out whom to ask). And to read Amanda’s entry for the “Hop,” click here. For now, however, it’s my turn. If you’d like to hear more about my replies, give me a shout in the comment field following the piece.
What am I writing or working on?
The answer to this question differs every day. During most weeks, I’ve got an average of 5-8 assignments to tackle. Lately, my schedule has been hairy, and I’ve been averaging 8-12 stories per week. (Yes, if you do the math, this means I write anywhere from 32-40 stories per month.) Constants on the schedule include blog posts, editing and social media promotion for the Expedia Viewfinder (I’m senior editor there), and monthly gambling and family travel columns for the San Francisco Chronicle. Beyond that, my workload usually is a mix of family travel features, business writing, copywriting, guidebook-updating, and corporate work. (For more on my freelancing business, please visit Whalehead.com.)
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’d like to think that was distinguishes my writing is my voice. I try to write in a clear and concise fashion—similar to the way I’d speak. I also try to present hard-to-explain things in easy-to-understand language. I’m not saying I embrace the Lowest Common Denominator philosophy, but I *am* saying that I actively attempt to avoid pretension in my work. Nothing irritates me more than a travel story that focuses on the author more than it focuses on the destination or the people who live there. Who cares what we writers think? We should be conduits. At least, that’s my perspective. This ties into a bigger picture for me; something else I’d like to think distinguishes my work. Many other writers approach their craft with this sense of artistry and elegance and entitlement. I don’t want any of that. I like lyrical prose as much as anyone, but I write because I love the process, not because I think I’m some sort of national treasure or the next Sebastian Junger. I’m not interested in reading my own work or grandstanding about it in front of editors. My plan is to work my ass off writing stuff I love. If people recognize that and take interest in what I do, great. If not, that’s fine, too, because I’m going to keep doing it regardless.
Why do I write what I do?
First let’s talk about why I write at all. I write because I love to communicate, I love to tell stories, to help people understand (or learn about) stuff they might not consider otherwise. I’ve always loved telling stories, from the time I was L’s age (I wrote my first “book” when I was 6.) With that said, I write about family travel (predominantly) because it’s my reality. Before I became a father, I explored the world religiously and wrote about my experiences as frequently as possible. Once I became a father, I vowed not to let my kids slow me down or change my approach. Adventure travel stories became family travel stories. Solo trips became trips for three (and, later, four). Yes, traveling with kids means I might not get to explore destinations the same ways I always have. It also means I might get to experience certain places and people in new and exciting ways. There’s always fodder in that.
How does my writing process work?
I’d describe my writing process as efficient and utilitarian. I’m not one of those creative types who sits around and agonizes over every word and sentence. I’m a slogger. I don’t let myself get bogged down by writer’s block. Most of this is out of necessity—because I’m working on so many stories every month, there’s really not time to dillydally. Also, because I spend most of every weekday with L and R, I need to maximize the work time I do get (which usually is between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 or 3 a.m.). I will say this: I find inspiration for story ideas everywhere. At the coffee shop. On my nightly (yes, I run at night, after the girls go to bed) runs. When I drop L at pre-school. From a simple scan of Facebook or Twitter. My favorite demonstration of this resulted in this piece, for American Banker magazine. I learned about the subject while half-asleep on my couch, pretending to watch the Giants game (during which he was serving as a “ball dude”). Three days later, I had sold the story. Boom.