Jocelyn Pride: Finding the perfect travel writing formula

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Jocelyn Pride completed the Australian Writers’ Centre Travel Writing course in the summer holidays of 2011.

She grew up in a home where storytelling was prominent. Her mother’s skill of taking people on a journey with her love of words filtered down a generation. With a background in education, evolving success as a travel writer has always been sitting just below the surface. “My family and friends are always eager to hear of my adventures. My husband and I are keen travellers.” she explains. “I try to paint a picture of where I’ve been through the stories I tell.”

During 2011, Jocelyn set herself a goal to become a travel writer. After completing the Australian Writers’ Centre Travel Writing course during the summer holidays of 2011 she wanted to find a way to turn her adventures into commissioned articles. “I’m a very visual person– most of my ideas come from things I see,” she explains. “I am curious about the world and spend time exploring the beauty of nature through places, people and wildlife.” Jocelyn says she uses these visualisations to channel the pieces that add to her travel writing portfolio.

Her curiosity, coupled with meticulous goal-setting, meant that Jocelyn’s first priority after completing the course was to become immersed in the world of travel-related publications. “If Sue White [Australian Writers’ Centre presenter] said to look at one magazine, I’d look at 10. I kept questioning, ‘What more do I need to know?’ and I’d read every single article in each magazine.”

Jocelyn decided to be strategic in her approach. She identified topics and destinations that weren’t frequently covered by magazines, and then determined which magazines suited her style of creative storytelling. This strategy grave her a framework to succeed.

It was also about having the right attitude. Jocelyn never once viewed herself as a ‘newbie’ or suggested to editors that she was just starting out. Her preparation gave her the confidence to get those first pitches accepted and then articles published.

“I realised that if I provide a strong pitch, and an editor likes it, they’ll go with it,” explains Jocelyn. She found that regardless of how long she had been in the travel writing game, the key was not the length of her career but the strength of her ideas.

Good timing

Jocelyn noticed early on that those dipping their travel writing toes into the water found the idea of pitching an article idea, or multiple articles, to editors before or after a trip a conundrum. However, she found a formula that works for her.

“I tend to pitch before I go on a trip because it makes it easier to hone in and tailor-make the story for the specific publication, she says. “Prior to my recent trip to Alaska and Canada, I successfully pitched five different stories to various magazines.”

This meant she could go on the trip with the confidence that at least five articles would be commissioned and paid for upon her return.

Jocelyn impresses that time management is imperative; from managing the practicalities of the trip, allowing time to pitch ideas, ensuring that each story angle is sufficiently different from the other and the space to wonder what could be developed from a destination. All of this has to be factored into her busy life.

So how does she do it? Jocelyn balances a full time career in education with travel writing. She sets off on her travels during school holidays or when her long service leave accumulates to an extended break. She makes scheduling a necessity in the lead up to a pitch or trip.

“I dedicate one night a week and one day during the weekend to writing,” she explains. During this time she isn’t focused entirely on writing, but in laying the foundation of her new world – researching, making notes and providing the space for ideas to flow. By targeting her pitches to the magazines with which she has developed relationships, she has found editors respond quite quickly because they are starting to know her work.

The developing portfolio

In scanning Jocelyn’s portfolio you are not only struck by the locations she has visited but the delicate way in which she invites the reader to travel along with her. Her writing portfolio takes you on a journey from a chateau in France, to a photo essay of the Oodnadatta track to the sparkling sea of Cortez in Mexico. She has written for Australian Traveller, Luxury Travel, Selector and Signature magazines. She writes pieces that tell stories of locations, natural wonders or the local people that instantly create the sensation that you must travel there. Now!

Just six months after finishing her course she found herself on a small boat cruising the Inside Passage in Alaska. “Standing on the deck with a pod of orcas chasing a seal right in front of me was when everything seemed to fall into place – I was there as a travel writer. It felt surreal,” she says. Jocelyn explains that the key ingredient is finding ideas that are left of the middle. Being able to pitch story ideas to editors and then be paid to write about places few know about have provided writing wins for her.

Alongside successful commissions have been fabulous opportunities for hosted trips. A hosted trip is where some or all of the expenses of the writer are met by a tourism organisation, hotel chain or other interested party.

Continually adding her to knowledge base has been instrumental to Jocelyn’s success. As an accomplished photographer, she attends courses and conferences that further her photography skills, enhancing the way she records images of the places she has visited. They provide a visual notebook for her to reflect on when pondering other destinations she could visit and then write about. Jocelyn describes herself as a freelance writer/photographer as the two skills are intrinsically linked in the travel writing world.

“When I pitch to editors, I always mention photographs will be available,” she explains. But she doesn’t focus on the photos. “The writing always comes first, [but having] the photos is a bonus if I manage to get good images.”

Part of developing Jocelyn’s career as a travel writer is also about identifying the additional skill sets that can add power to her portfolio. She recently completed the Australian Writers’ Centre Food Writing course, not with a goal to write restaurant reviews but to “use food as a backdrop for my travel pieces”.

One of her favourite stories focuses on a quirky cooking school in a remote part of Alaska. The idea for the pitch was developed during the Australian Writers’ Centre Travel Writing course and acted upon soon after Jocelyn graduated. “It stood out to me – a tiny place that has no power, no running water, no electricity, but I felt a potential story had legs because it was so different,” she says.

Sticking with it paid off, as did having patience with long lead times. The piece ‘Wilderness Bliss’, based on the Tutka Bay cooking school, was published in December 2013, almost eighteen months after the pitch was accepted. The long lead time, to suit the planned themes of the publication, made seeing the piece in print an exercise in both patience and pride for Jocelyn.

This continued success has Jocelyn planning and pondering new ways on how her writing can give back. Travelling to remote locations and seeing the beauty of nature and the challenges in preserving wildlife has made her more determined “I’d like to look back and think that something I wrote made a difference to the conservation of animals. It’s not about anything other than wanting to see wildlife looked after in the world,” she explains. Jocelyn is putting her dreams into action with a hosted trip to East Africa scheduled in 2014. She has one commission successfully achieved that focuses on ways local communities protect wildlife to try to combat poaching.

Seeing the way Jocelyn views the world, from the words she writes to the pictures she gathers, suggests she will continue to achieve her writing goals. While telling her fabulously quirky stories along the way. She went on to complete another course Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 2, to really sharpen her writing skills. “Valerie is the guru of feedback and it’s the whole reason I did the course. I knew I would receive honest feedback on everything I submitted. Valerie is outstanding – she has an absolute gift as an educator. Online learning suits my lifestyle from a time perspective. I love being able to download the audios, listen to them when I like and keep them forever. Perfect. Best money you’ll ever spend if you’re serious about your writing.”

Jocelyn says the Australian Writers’ Centre help to get her on the right path. “‘Life changing’ is a cliché – but what else do you say when a five-week online course paves the way for a future that a couple of years ago was simply a dream.”

Jocelyn’s top tips for aspiring travel writers

  • Surround yourself with writing and writers that you admire from the travel writing world.
  • Analyse the stories that resonate – Jocelyn loves understanding how writers make links within their pieces, how they inspire her and how they have mastered the art of storytelling.
  • Subscribe to online groups to increase your awareness – Jocelyn is a member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers but also seeks inspiration from the Australian Writers’ Centre Graduates’ Club page and often receives contact via LinkedIn and her website.
  • Keep wondering and keep writing!