How to edit a travel article - Claire Scobie
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How to edit a travel article

How to edit a travel article

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?

  • 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.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.
  • 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.


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