First of all, I think it is perfectly valid and admirable to go off on a big adventure and not share the tale with anyone. Doing the journey for the love of it, the challenge and the excitement. Immersing yourself in the story and the experience without constantly thinking “this will be great in the book”, “we should be filming this” or “we’ve got reception – we need to send a Tweet.” I certainly think that there’s a lot to be said on the argument that Nobody Should Blog on their First Expedition. Expeditions should be exciting, challenging, rewarding, fun, life-enhancing experiences. Anything that takes away from that shouldn’t be introduced into the mix lightly. Having said all that… I love the creative side of my journeys. I love writing a diary each evening, propped on one elbow in a tent far from the real world. I enjoy trying to capture a memory with a good photograph. I relish the intellectual and artistic challenge of trying to tell a story through film. I savour learning the different skills that all these things demand.
But there are some aspects I do not enjoy about story-telling on adventures:
- Spending a fortune on expensive kit (and immediately coveting something even more expensive)
- Lugging around said expensive, heavy, fragile kit
- Trying to get a bloody satellite connection in the wild
- Trying to transmit a bloody blog post by said satellite. Great expense, great hassle, great time wasting
- Having to write a blog post when cold/hot/tired/wet/seasick, particularly if nothing interesting has happened
- Being hunched over a laptop typing about the spectacular sunset rather than sitting back and savouring said sunset
- Meeting a friendly tribesman who invites me home for the dinner and realising that all I can think about is “this will be great in the book”, “we should be filming this” or “I should Tweet about this.” I hate myself at those times!
You should ask yourself these questions:
- How do I feel about these things?
- Do I want to share my story? If so, why?
- Do I want to do it live from the journey? If so, why and how?
- Please repeat that previous question so that you can be really sure. (I do not enjoy sharing my journeys ‘live’.)
- How regularly will you be willing to post updates? It takes time and effort. Is it worth it?
- What are the pros and cons of the different ways I could tell my tale?
Perhaps you see story telling as a way of making your adventure pay. It’s true that without it, the trip will earn you zero money. But it’s probably interesting also to consider how much money I’ve earned from a few of my trips, and to pause to think about why this may be the case:
- Cycling Round the World. One blog post every month or two. Averaged two photos per day. All posted online retrospectively. Wrote books and articles afterwards. Earnings: trip paid for itself. Basis of my income for many years.
- Into the Empty Quarter. No communication from the journey. Made film and wrote articles afterwards. Earnings: trip paid for itself. Trickle income continues two years later.
- Rowing the Atlantic. Daily blogs and satellite phone calls from ocean. Earnings: Pre-condition of sponsors who paid for most of journey. Negligible income after trip.
- Arctic Expedition. Daily blogs, videos and satellite phone calls from ocean. Earnings: Paid a salary by sponsor during the journey. Negligible income after trip.
What do I conclude from this?
- Live story telling can entice a sponsor
- Live story telling does not necessarily make your trip “better”, nor will it necessarily help you earn money. The best way to make your adventure pay is to do a bloody brilliant journey. Document it well, then share it well afterwards.
Should you decide that you do want to document your expedition, you need to think about how you will do that. What do you enjoy? What are you good at? What are you willing to learn? What can you afford? What is practically and logistically possible on your journey? How will you share it? How will you store it? What will you do with it after the trip?
- Social Media. The easiest starting point for story-telling. Deceptively hard to engage an audience, never mind building an audience or persuading the audience to do anything (click through to a site, donate to a charity, buy something from you etc.) Books and websites abound on how to make the most of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and the like. You might as well sign up for them all, but be aware that you need to use them all very differently, and to do so effectively takes a lot of time and effort. My summary of how to use social media is this: produce great and relevant content; build a presence by becoming an expert in your niche; help other people; repeat these steps.
- Photography. What will you do with it? It’s a vital accessory for books, magazines, blogs and talks. But it’s hellish hard to get your toe in the door of earning any money directly from it. I have not managed this at all. I still see photography as critical to my trips, however.
- Blogging. A great thing for sharing the trip with friends and family. If you want it to reach beyond that audience though you need to ask “what’s the point?” “how will I achieve this?” and “why will anyone care about my blog when they can look at blogs of terrible estate agents photos. In other words, the internet and people’s attention spans are both pretty saturated. What are you going to do about it?
- Video. Unless you’re filming the trip for friends and family, you really, really, really need to think hard before committing to filming your trip. It takes so much time, it can easily take over the trip, it takes vast amounts of time after the trip, and you’ll almost certainly earn no money from it. If you’re still keen, then go for it! I love it.
- Art. I’d love to document my trips through art. Have a look at this interview with Candace Rose Rardon.
- Music, Audio, Food etc. There are so many interesting ways to share your tale. If you have a skill or a passion then go for it. Being original is key. I love this book, for example.
A few brief thoughts on Book Writing
Many people ask me about writing a book about their travels. My first two comments are always the same:
- Don’t write a book if you see it as a money-earning project. Very few people earn a lot from their books. (I have written 7 books now and even cumulatively earn nowhere near enough to live on.) Write a book because you want to – no other reason.
- Don’t be put off by the difficulties of getting a book published. Self publishing has become so easy that anyone who has written a book can have it available for sale on Amazon in minutes.
- If you’ve been on a great adventure and want to write a book, write it.
- The only obstacle today to becoming an author is yourself. Stop making excuses.
- If you feel that you have a good tale and if you enjoy the prospect of moulding and crafting and trimming and polishing that story, then do it! Do not be daunted by how ‘small’ you or your story is. Your Amazon page will be the same as everyone else’s.
- Write the book because you want to. Don’t do it for money or for earning shallow praise from online strangers. Do it because you want to. It’s the best reason, and the best way to ensure your book becomes a good book.
When people ask me how to get a book published I urge them to forget about that and just write. Write your story first. Write it because you love it or because you feel you need to write it. Follow this advice.
Once you’ve written it I suggest you put it in a drawer and forget about it for a couple of months. Go play outside. Then consider finding an agent, a publisher, or self publishing. Google will help you with this. Edit the book again. Get some other people to read it – honest friends, a professional editor. Edit the book again. Publish it. Go for a run. Get on with whatever comes next in your life feeling proud to have written a book – well done!
In conclusion: I think story telling (in whatever form you choose to do it) can be a wonderful positive addition to any adventure. Just bear in mind that if it begins to impede on the journey itself to consider carefully whether it is worth it and whether you are willing to bear that cost. Tell your story for the right reasons. Remain authentic. And never forget to savour the experience of the adventure: that is the point of the whole thing, after all.