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On the Road with Rough Guides: Our Mentor Richard on the Travel Writing Profession

SINGAPORE | Monday, 20 February 2012 | Views [6420]

Whenever the travel writing profession is mentioned, romantic images of destination hopping, endless days of exploring, and breezy evening sitting in cafes writing up all the adventures immediately spring to mind. But is what is the  reality? Our 2012 Rough Guides mentor, Richard Lim, shares his tips and experience for all of you aspiring travel writers. Do you think you've got what it takes?

Meet Richard

Richard Lim swapped Singapore's sultry climate for a life in the UK more than 25 years ago. He has worked in various editorial roles in book and magazine publishing, and was on the staff at Rough Guides for several years before turning freelance.

Richard is one of the authors of the Rough Guides to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and also works on the(city edition) Rough Guide to Singapore.

Besides the Far East, his favourite part of the world to travel in is the Middle East and North Africa. He has a particularly soft spot for Morocco, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine.

Richard will be our Rough Guides mentor for our Southeast Asia travel writing scholarship. Check out our interview.

1. ) How did you break into travel writing?

I'd been working in academic publishing and had got a little bored. When the opportunity arose in 1999 to join the staff of Rough Guides, I jumped at the chance. However, I don't regard myself as a travel writer - what writing I do is primarily guidebook writing, which is quite different to writing travel pieces that can be more impressionistic and personal. I do hope to put more emphasis on travel features in the near future, though.

2.) Did you have a mentor when you began in the industry? Who did you look up to?

I've never had a mentor as such, though I would say that everyone who's given me a break in terms of letting me tackle a new role in publishing has been a kind of mentor to me. As for who I might look up to, I suppose the very best travel writing for me is about cramming in the maximum of trenchant observations and personal experiences accompanied by as little of the writer's ego as possible. I particularly enjoy reading Tim Mackintosh-Smith.

3.) What publication inspired you to write when you started out? What inspires you now?

I knew I loved Rough Guides - I'd travelled with quite a few of the books and loved their mix of intelligent commentary and practical information. And I've always loved, and still love, National Geographic.

4.) On assignment, what is the day to day life of a travel writer?

If you're doing a guidebook, it can be pretty formulaic - trudging the streets in cities and towns checking out accommodation, restaurants, even bus stations, plus a few attractions when you get the chance. Doing a travel feature is a lot more fun since you get to concentrate on sightseeing.

5.) What is your favourite destination that you have covered?

I have a soft spot for Morocco, especially the south of the country.

6.) What is the best thing about your job? The worst?

The best things about the job would be getting to some pretty special, often remote, locations and meeting really interesting local people along the way. The worst thing is definitely the writing up - bringing guidebooks up to date is exhausting work if you want to do it as you should, ie without cutting corners.

7.) This all sounds awesome, I want to be you! Where should I start? What are 3 tips you have to aspiring travel writers?

There isn't a standard way to get started, of course. But as far as individual skills go it pays to have an eye for detail, an analytical mind and, of course, decent writing ability. It's a good idea to hone your writing by doing stories - they don't have to be travel, other features and news will do as well - for whichever outlet you feel is worthy. And of course if you want do some travel writing, you also need to do some travelling, to develop specialist knowledge of a certain region or activity, like trekking, that you could write about in a way that shows a distinctive, personal take on things. Learning the language of the area you want to cover is also not a bad idea. Being willing to work on a guidebook can be a good entry point to writing travel features. Is that three tips? I'm not sure, but I hope it's all useful.

Are you itching to start your career in travel writing? Apply now for our 2012 Travel Writing Scholarship to Southeast Asia. 

Related articles:

A Travel Writer's Survival Kit: 5 Tips for Researching your Destination

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