We’re just 30 days out from the Midwest Writers Workshop 2014, our 41st conference! Most years, we have some surprise experiences, extra activities, or additional people to announce after the brochure is completed. This year, we have a special guest, Pam Mandel. She’s a travel writer friend of our own Kelsey Timmerman and has signed up as an attendee.
Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer. She has written travel stories for Conde Nast Traveler online, Afar, World Hum, AOL Travel, Gadling,
Perceptive Travel, Lonely Planet, and several in-flight magazines and custom publications. She’s a two-time Solas Best Travel Writing Award winner and a surviving guidebook author. She was a very early adopter of blogging and social media, embracing new media in 1999 when it really was new and you had to code your own HTML. Her current blog, Nerd’s Eye View, is ten years old. She’s spoken about social media and its use in travel storytelling at a dozen conferences, including SxSW, TBEX, BlogHer, and the Book Passage Travel Writers Conference. She lives with her Austrian husband in Seattle, WA, and plays ukulele with The Castaways, Seattle’s Loudest Ukulele Band.
We’re thrilled that Pam is attending and are finding ways our other attendees may benefit from her expertise. In the meantime, Cathy Shouse interviewed Pam here:
MWW: Why have you have decided to attend Midwest Writers Workshop and are you making special preparations as an attendee? We’re thrilled to have you, by the way.
PM: I’m excited about the opportunity to trade ideas and stories from the trenches with a bunch of new-to-me writers. I tend to stay in a rather travel-writing-centric bubble but that’s not necessarily the best strategy for facing the challenges of being a working writer–you don’t get as many new ideas when you’re all solving the same puzzles. So I’m looking forward to learning about how others find their way.
As for prep, mostly, I’m fretting about July in the Midwest. I’m not sure I have the right hair product for that kind of humidity.
MWW: What are a couple of ways that freelancing as a travel writer has changed since you began in the 90s? We’ve heard through the grapevine that you “can get a technophobic human blogging in about 20 minutes.” How can that be true?
PM: Heh. It IS true, and it’s because tech has evolved from super-complicated programmers-only tools to ones that anyone who can wrassle a document in Microsoft Word can use. (Okay, with large documents, Word is no picnic, but you get my meaning.) I wrote code by hand when I started out. While I still get under the hood sometimes, it’s not because I have to. I can prove this statement, by the way. Last year, at another conference, in the ten minutes during which another presenter was talking, I sat and helped a student launch a blog. Seriously. I’ve done this three years in a row. It looks like a magic trick, but I don’t even drive, I let the student do ALL the work.
As for how travel writing has changed . . . wow. Here’s a really cool thing that’s happened–anyone with an Internet connection can now share a travel story. The downside of this is that anyone with an Internet connection can now share a travel story. This means there are a million stories about Paris, Dar es Salaam, Honolulu, Perth . . . so it’s more critical than ever that writers take a strong point of view, have a unique voice, and check their facts. Because that’s how you stand out these days.
MWW: Speaking of blogging, which camp are you in–the one saying that the time has passed to start a blog or the one that says every writer needs a blog? And why?
PM: Yes. No. Both. It depends.
Once upon a time it was easy to be found when you started a blog, it was easy to organically develop a readership. If you built it, they came. Those days are gone. You have to strategize. But “the platform” is a critical element of marketing now. So yes, you should be online.
That said, if you REALLY don’t want to blog, I don’t think you should. I love social media, it comes naturally to me, it’s not a chore. If you’re not going to commit yourself to your blog, don’t bother. You’ll just have a dead blog.
This doesn’t mean you have to churn out stuff all the time, I know a fairly successful writer who updates his blog once a month, not much more than that. But his blog is a live thing, it’s not some static place that was last updated six months, a year ago.
In short, if you’re going to blog, go all in. Otherwise, don’t bother. Build a static website and leave it at that.