Coming up with ideas for articles while on the road

One of the questions I always get asked is “how do you come up with ideas for articles while you’re on the road?” and my answer is always the same – it’s that flash of inspiration.

Travel writing is a little like going to a party – you want to make an entrance, the booze has flow long into the night, and it’s got to make you feel warm and fuzzy at the end of it.

Like going to a party, you’ve got to plan and prepare what you’re going to wear and what you want to talk about long before you arrive; after all, you want to turn up and for people to say “Macca’s here! Now we can get the party started.”

So, when it comes to writing, the most important sentence is that first one. If you don’t capture your read in that first sentence, then you won’t in the second, because trust me, they won’t get that far.

Former Guardian journalist Tim Radford once said:

“When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.”

But how do you come up with a party-stopping first sentence? How do you capture the reader as soon as they set eyes on the article? I call it that flash of inspiration.

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It’s when your subconscious overspills into your conscious, and all of a sudden something so strange and so random flashes through your mind it makes you think “where the hell did that come from!?”

As soon as you get that flash of inspiration, write it down. If you’re a keen travel writer or travel blogger, you should always have a notepad close to hand; use it. Write it down but don’t think about it too much.

When I’m on the road, the times that I get my flashes of inspiration are on planes and trains. I find a window seat, look at the surrounding scenery passing by, find some music that matches my mood, and I think. I think about where I’m about to go, or what I’ve just experienced. To be honest with you, I let my mind wander and take its own course; eventually my subconscious sparks to life and fires a flash. After a few hours I have a number of ideas written down, and I build upon those into articles.

When you’re about to write an article, either for print or online, pick up your notebook and look through it. As soon as you read over those flashes of inspiration, you should immediately be taken back to the time and place that you originally thought of them. Not only that, but you should be able to pick up the exact same train of thought and start taking it further.

Even though you’ve now got an idea for an article, you need to build upon it. You need to write it down, read it, reread it, rewrite it, and flesh it out. I can’t stress this enough, but if you don’t get that first sentence right when you’re telling a story, then you’re already fighting a losing battle.

So, the next time you’re on the road and something flashes across your mind, don’t ignore it, but embrace it. For all you know, it could be the beginnings of a story of a lifetime…