What did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor? An astronaut? For some of us, our earliest career aspirations were built on a foundation of musty old National Geographic magazines, a love of animals, and an insatiable curiosity about other cultures.
If you've carried the dream of travel writing with you into adulthood, there's one new and noteworthy source of inspiration to explore: Driftwood. Launched in 2015, this colorful magazine takes classic travel journalism, adds a dash of vegan culture, then tosses in a handful of creative characters with provocative narratives and serves it up for your reading pleasure.
Here, Driftwood's editor-in-chief Holly Feral gives her take on what makes a good story, shares strategies for capturing an editor's attention, and offers advice on what not to do to when you really want to see your travel adventures reanimated in print.
Did you ever think you'd grow up to become a vegan travel magazine editor?
When I was young, I was a bit of an outsider. I fancied myself something of a wandering poet. I wanted to run off to South America and live aboard a train that people used to ride sitting on the roof. I saw myself writing poetry and stories, traveling the world to meet all its people, and basically drifting through life as a leaf caught in the wind. My big getaway was foiled and it's a long story involving a beautiful Russian girl who was full of secrets and the naivete of youth, but I still wanted to live that life of travel and exploration. It wasn't until my twenties that I fell into journalism and hung up my hat as a poet.
What are the key elements of a great piece of travel writing?
We want to be transported on the writer’s words. That can happen through a packing list that excites the reader to prepare for a coming journey. Or it can take form as a narrative tale that floods our imaginary senses with the sounds of the waves, the excitement of the crowds, the bristling feel of electricity coursing through the air before a storm, causing the hair to stand on our arms.
Whatever shape it takes, it should describe place and time in a way that is fresh. Where journalistic stories must cover the who, what, where, why and how, a good travel piece describes the basics of place: landscape and culture.
Driftwood's submission guidelines are clearly defined on your website, but what can a potential contributor do to stand out in a sea of pitch letters?
Three things that will make us stop and pay attention immediately are: having a clear story idea; examples of previous work that clue us in to your style and skills; demonstrating a willingness to listen to suggestions and work together. I can’t emphasize that last bit enough. Sometimes writers can be pretty defensive about their work. A lot of new writers especially think that the first draft should be perfect, and if there are any edits to it the whole piece is trashed.
If people knew how much my own writing gets slashed to bits by my fellow editors before it reaches the page...
What are some common mistakes writers make when pitching stories to Driftwood?
The biggest mistake any freelancer makes is to skip reading the publication before pitching to it. When we say the word “vegan,” people immediately think of recipes and celebrity diets. Driftwood is blazing a new trail and it takes some time for people to come around to a new paradigm. I would say that the most important thing to do before pitching to any publication is to pick up a copy and read it. It’ll help you understand the focus and style appropriate for that particular outlet.
What writers (or specific books/stories) would you encourage potential contributors/freelancers to read as stellar examples of the travel-writing genre?
William Zinsser’s On Writing Well is a great place to start. His succinct section on travel writing breaks things into a few, important considerations and a selection of examples, each incredibly different in tone and purpose. My favorite is a selection from Joan Didion’s article, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.” Didion captures the people of the San Bernardino Valley in a way that will be instantly recognizable to most Americans and yet, would likely have been taken for granted by many writers:
“This is the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life’s promise comes down to a waltz-length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and a return to a hairdresser’s school. ‘We were just crazy kids,’ they say without regret, and look to the future.”
In this one descriptive paragraph, I now feel as though I know exactly what to expect when I arrive. She’s taken me to that time and place and introduced me to the locals and now, I’m invested. A lot of travel writing that I see come across my desk forgets that the people can be the most important characteristic of a place. It’s the people that give a place its attitude and dictate whether you’ll spend your vacation in museums or mini-malls.
Travel blogs are prolific these days and a lot of writers tend to go in that direction when they’re pitching. However, blogs are going to stay more surface level than we’d like to see in print. Writing for a publication is an opportunity to go deeper and cover more ground.
Driftwood is more than a travel magazine; it is also a lens through which readers can learn more about vegan culture. Describe a story you've published that exemplifies the intersection of these two ideas.
The Tel Aviv piece and “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Vegan Tattoo” are two pieces that look at vegan culture in different ways. The Tel Aviv piece is location based but it talks about this new vegan mecca that has blossomed in the last decade. Rather than have a plant-based diet push, Tel Aviv is experiencing a vegan awakening, which is something we can all celebrate and take pride in. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Tel Aviv is a heaven on earth, that is has no other problems, but through Driftwood, we try to encourage more compassionate resolutions and lifestyle choices by celebrating the wins.
Vegan tattooers celebrated a big win recently, which lead to an all-vegan tattoo kit. Art being a pillar of culture, these kinds of advancements mean that we’re further along in our community journey. Veganism isn’t a lifestyle defined by one stereotype--protesters wearing burlap who eat lentils all day. We can express ourselves through art, music, literature, and all manner of entrepreneurial ventures. Our culture is rich and diverse, and Driftwood’s mission is to explore those themes through our travels.
Share your vision of Driftwood's ideal freelance writer. How often does she pitch you? What do you love about her stories? What makes working with her such a pleasure?
My imaginary ideal freelancer, she can pitch me ideas as often as she wants as long as she finishes the stories we agree upon by (or at least near to) deadline. I love that her stories are thick with description. They take me on a journey without my having to leave my reading chair: I’ve walked the streets, climbed the peaks, seen the art and danced with the locals. I walk away feeling closer to the vegan community abroad and excited for all the new possibilities in our future.
It’s a pleasure working with her because she comes with lots of ideas and she loves to hear ours. She grows from the editing process and Driftwood grows too because we are creating something brand new, setting a new standard. And every turn of the way, we’re discovering and inventing new ways to look at veganism and vegan culture.
What are some travel-writing clichés we should avoid at all costs in our stories?
William Zinsser’s section on travel writing goes over some basic cliches to avoid, things like “rock speckled beach.” It’s good to avoid things that are so obvious or well known that they go without saying. Waves lap against the shoreline on every beach. Focus on the things that distinguish this place from another.
When it comes to Driftwood, there are a lot of vegan cliches to avoid. “It hasn’t always been easy to find vegan food” is too obvious. What is known is that we are minorities as vegans. What we want to know, the purpose of creating this publication, is what is there to do in this town, what secret vegan gem is tucked away, what role model/artist/hero is working at that corner table in the solitary vegan cafe?
Does a journalism degree matter when it comes to travel writing, or can a writer get by with fewer technical skills and more travel experience?
Diversity is key. There are many roads one can take in life, and each offers a unique experience. Certainly a focused education has much to offer, but I have always been a fan of what they call in the art world “outsider art.” It refers to people who create their art outside of the conventional schools and traditions. And isn’t that exactly what we’re charged with as vegans?
Writing for Driftwood begins with a departure from the usual paths, even the vegan ones. We’re on a mission to enrich vegan life by exploring deeper into the culture than we’ve seen before. We have to blaze a new trail, which requires out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to abandon traditions. In that sense, lacking a “formal” education in journalism is probably a benefit.
What are some themes/destinations you are excited to cover in the pages of Driftwood in the coming year?
In our upcoming issue, we’ll explore traditions of Central America and sanctuaries in Thailand. We have vegan contributors exploring China, Australia, the Balkans, and South America. We’re collaborating with vegans all around the globe! And we’re always open to working with new storytellers, so stay tuned.
"Where journalistic stories must cover the who, what, where, why, and how, a good travel piece describes the basics of place: landscape and culture."
"Three things that will make us stop and pay attention immediately are: having a clear story idea; examples of previous work that clue us in to your style and skills; demonstrating a willingness to listen to suggestions and work together."
"Blogs are going to stay more surface level than we’d like to see in print. Writing for a publication is an opportunity to go deeper and cover more ground."
Tips for Getting Published
Want to see your travel writing in print? Follow Holly's top three tips and you might just catch the eye of the editorial team at your favorite travel mag.
Besides offering travel narratives that transport readers to enticing destinations, Driftwood also brims with compelling imagery. From left to right, The cover of Nicole J. Georges's book Calling Doctor Laura; Portrait of TJ Tumasse, undercover agent by Holly Feral; Nicole Sopko of Uptons, shot by Kelly Peloza; Tiny Planets by Jeremie Fremaux. Remaining images by Holly Feral.