From Retired English Teacher to Travel Writer
An Interview with Steve Weisman
Like many of our readers, former high school English teacher and coach Steve Weisman launched his freelance writing career so that he would have something to keep him occupied (and paid) when he retired.
Now, two years since that retirement, he’s downright busy as outdoor editor for three newspapers in northwest Iowa, field editor for Midwest Outdoors, and publicity director for the Grand National Walleye Cup, a seven-region walleye fishing circuit.
Here’s how he made it all happen…
TWWTT: Steve, what made you choose travel writing, and how did you get your first foot in the door?
STEVE: About three years ago, I began writing travel tips every so often on my outdoor page. They were destinations that could be reached within a day’s drive of northwest Iowa. I wanted to expand that, so I began looking for a course or seminar that could give me more knowledge in the field of travel writing.
Then a little over a year ago I came across The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course. As I browsed the net, I found several testimonials and positive comments about the course. So, I took a chance and purchased it, hoping it would provide a springboard for a travel writing career.
TWWTT: As a freelance writer, an editor, and a former English teacher, you obviously had writing experience prior to taking the course. Do you think that gave you an edge or do you think the course covers everything a non-writer needs to know about writing?
STEVE: The course was a great writing refresher for me. After being a teacher for 33 years, I was the student again. But the critiques of the two article assignments are really what made the difference for me. It was very helpful having a professional travel writer evaluate my work. Someone to point out the nuances of travel writing — both the things I was doing right, as well as a few things I had overlooked or needed to work on some more. I was also comfortable in the way the evaluator made suggestions. There was nothing intimidating or threatening — instead, they were suggestions that simply made what I had better.
TWWTT: Success stories from graduates are a huge motivation for fellow students. Tell us a bit about your own travel-writing accomplishments since completing the course.
STEVE: My travel writing-career began to grow shortly after I completed the course. I met a gentleman who was editor-in-chief for LAKEHOME, which targets lake home living in the Midwest as the focus of their magazine. I talked with him about my ideas for the magazine, and he agreed to give me a shot.
Since then I’ve written travel features for Door County, Lake of the Woods, and Maui, and I’m now working on a trip-tip feature about the entertainment and nightlife in Nashville.
TWWTT: You mention that you like to get more than one article out of every trip. We always tell our readers they should be thinking about different ways to spin a story for different audiences, so can you tell us a little about that? How do you come up with story ideas and how different are they from one another? Is this something you plan for or decide when you’re there?
STEVE: Yes, I think it is important to get as many stories out of a trip as possible. I try to work the information so that I can use it in both magazines and my newspapers. My readers have different tastes, so I slant my articles accordingly.
Many of my stories are planned before I leave, because the magazine or newspapers need to know what to expect for a story. However, I am always on the lookout when I am on assignment. I try to see and hear something that will make a story. Usually, there are many more leads than I can possibly follow up on in a short time. Sometimes I accidentally come across leads that I can incorporate into my assigned article.
For example, one of these “accidental leads” ended up as part of my Maui article. It was the result of an informal conversation I had with a shop proprietor after dinner one evening. Turns out, his partner’s clothing designs have become popular with many of Hollywood’s most prominent stars. That made a nice sidebar for the Maui story.
TWWTT: You’ve recently enjoyed some of the travel writer “perks” we talk about in the promotions for The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course. Tell us a little about a couple of these.
STEVE: When I traveled to Maui, I had in hand a letter of recommendation and an assignment from an editor to share with the Maui Visitor’s Bureau. They in turn arranged a wonderful itinerary that allowed me to get enough inside material for a two-part feature article from the trip — the first, about the activities there, and the second, about the great culinary experiences on the island. The business partners really rolled out the red carpet for us.
I also had the opportunity to travel on assignment to Watertown, South Dakota to interview artist Terry Redlin and visit the Redlin Art Museum. Once again, I received the VIP treatment. I was able to meet for over four hours with the artist, including a personal tour of his museum. Plus, they took care of my travel expenses. And I just found out that my wife and I have been invited back to the museum in August for an Evening Rendezvous with Terry Redlin and Lee Greenwood. What’s more, as special guests we’ve been invited to a private reception following the concert and fireworks display.
TWWTT: For someone who’s supposedly “retired” it sounds as if you’re keeping pretty busy as a travel writer. Where will your travel-article research be taking you next?
STEVE: My current assignment is a trip to Nashville, TN and a look at the Music City. This will feature the Gaylord Opry Land Resort and the variety of music in Nashville. I’m currently working on plans for trips in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and back to the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve never been to Europe, so that’s also down the road.
And, hopefully, I’ll make it to one of the live workshops, too. They sound awesome.
TWWTT: Any additional advice you have for beginning travel writers?
STEVE: For people hoping to begin a travel-writing career, your hometown newspaper is a good place to start. You’d be surprised at how many locals are unfamiliar with the sights and events right in their own backyard. Write a short article about three or four of these, then approach the editor about starting a local travel column. It’s a good way to start acquiring published clips, and the articles can be expanded for other publications later on.
I also think it’s important to become part of a writing organization if at all possible. Don’t be afraid to ask other writers for suggestions. One easy way is the Internet and email. Personally, I always look forward to the Worldwide Freelance Writer and The Write Way to Travel because they offer writing tips and fresh, new ideas. As a freelance outdoor writer, I also belong to two outdoor writing organizations.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]