Last Seen... How to Edit a Travel Article

editor I’ve written about how to edit book-length pieces of work but this post covers how to cut a travel article.

These days it’s rare to get a commission for more than 1200 words. So, say, you have written 2,500 words and your brief is 800 words. How to shave off all those extras?

Firstly, a tip on process. Always save earlier drafts of your story before you cut. That way, if you edit something that you later want, you can retrieve it. I suggest numbering your drafts like this #1, #2 as they are easier to file electronically. You can also date them.

It’s often easier to edit by printing out a copy of your story. This is time-consuming but until you get used to on-screen editing, it’s more effective. Print it out double-spaced, boil a brew, and choose a favourite red pen/pencil. Make corrections and cross through words on the hard copy. Then, start a new draft on your computer and type in the changes.

As you read your story Follow the Writer’s Mantra: How does this Sentence Advance the Story? If it doesn’t, it can probably go.

What can you cut?

  • Colour. This covers descriptions, adjectives, flowery turns of phrase. i.e ‘The dolphins leapt through the foaming waves, sunlight glinting on their silvery backs,’ can become ‘the dolphins leapt through the waves’.

  • In travel writing there’s a tendency to repeat descriptions of birds/trees/landscape/people. Often you only need a flavour of where you are visiting. Choose a couple of your best descriptions and lose the rest.

  • Personal anecdotes. Although travel journalism is written from the first-person point of view, the ‘I’ in a story can often dominate. ‘I was feeling sleepy as the sun rose over the plains’ can become ‘The sun rose over the plains.’

  • Turn passive verbs into active verbs.

  • Find quicker ways of describing something. i.e ‘The man walked fast’ can be ‘The man sprinted’.

  • Re-structure your paragraphs. If you have brief (thumb-nail) descriptions of your ski instructor dotted throughout the story, group into one paragraph.

  • Quotes. You can always pare back a quote. You only need a fragment to convey a sense of character.

Lastly, lose attachment to your words. Kill your darlings! The more precious you are, the harder it is when you are ruthlessly edited.

If you have a word limit, stick to it. Remember that when you edit your own work, you get to choose what stays in. This, in itself, is empowering.


P.S For my Sydney readers, my last 5-week travel memoir course for 2011 starts next Wednesday 12th October at the Sydney Writers Centre.


Katie — 07 October at 08:34PM

Claire, you are so clever and brilliant! I love your helpful tips. They not only suit editing a travel memoir but any writing. I wish you the very best for the Travel Memoir Course in Sydney next week. One day I hope to be able to learn from you in person. In the meantime I'll just read and re-read all og your great works. Also, I was so chuffed to find a copy of Last Seen in Lhasa in the student room at Satyananda Yoga Ashram Mangrove. Of course I left in on the shelf for a very lucky person to come along and read it whilst they stay. Take precious care Claire. Thinking of you and Ani next Wednesday. Love Katie x

Claire Scobie — 08 November at 04:00PM

Thanks so much for your kind and generous words. Great to know that my book is at Satyananda. I've never made it up there but have had very good reports. Yes, do hope you can come along to a workshop one day so we can meet in person!

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