Writing has always been one of my passions, ever since I wrote my own version of a Sweet Valley Twins story when I was nine years old. I published my first travel narrative on Glimpse, back in 2007 when I returned from my first experience living and traveling solo in Cusco, Peru. However, when I began studying fine arts in university, my writing solely consisted of liberal arts course assignments along with a journal entry every now and then. In 2009, when I studied abroad as an exchange student in Seoul, South Korea, I dipped into the realm of travel blogging. I created a bland SarahinKorea blog hosted on Blogspot, with white text on a black background, written in a diary entry style that only my friends and family would find interesting. That blog is hidden now, password protected in case I ever want to reminisce. As Glimpse transformed over the years, my story from Peru was also thrown in the cyber void.
I moved back to Seoul in 2011, and began working as an English teacher. With so much time on my hands, I decided to direct my creativity in a new direction. I stumbled upon an ad for Matador U, and decided to try out the travel writing course. It inspired me to begin writing narratives again.
I signed up for the MatadorU course in November 2011, and now, eight months later, I’m on the verge of completion. (Just need to make a media kit to accompany my advertise page and tweak some other pages.) Since I started my blog from scratch, with no previous knowledge about self-hosting, I’ve taken my time with the course. In addition to the assignments, I’ve spent a substantial amount of time writing content for my blog, pitching and writing articles for publications, discovering how to effectively use social media, creating connections with other writers and travel bloggers, traveling on sponsored trips, and gathering inspiration by reading everything from novels to online travel magazines to an array of travel blogs. Thanks to MatadorU, I’ve come a long way from my original, shitty Blogspot site with disorganized, poorly-written posts.
Here’s an outline, reflecting on what I’ve accomplished and learned since beginning the MatadorU travel writing course:
- I created my wordpress.org site in March, uploading the previous content from my wordpress.com site. With the help of a couple friends (thanks Alex Yip and Natalie Lyall-Grant!), lots of wordpress.org forums, Google searches, tutorials and trial and error, I learned how to transform my blog into a visually appealing, easily navigable site.
- I searched through hundreds of themes before I chose one.
- I designed all the graphics by using my own photographs, downloading fonts, and editing with Photoshop.
- I learned how to tweak colors, change sizes, add sidebar content, and tamper with various other parts of the blog by teaching myself how to edit basic coding. (Although I still can’t write code.)
- I’ve currently written over 70 posts. I spent a great deal of time on each post by thoroughly editing and proofreading my writing, editing photos, and carefully placing them within the text.
- I’ve written and published a number of separate pages so my readers can get a clear sense of who I am as a person and writer, including: About Me, About Mapping Words, Contact, Advertise/Sponsor, Published Work, Links, Reading List, and a number of categories pertaining to article type, destination, and topic of discussion.
- The course material has helped me change my writing style, focusing on description and showing more than telling. Also, I’m now aware of avoiding rhetoric, plight writing, and travel writing porn, thanks to David’s new articles.
- The labs have helped me write smoother, stronger pieces that allow me to examine my surroundings from new perspectives without sounding judgmental. (Thanks, Kate and guest editors!)
- I’ve written almost every day since beginning the course, and consequently my writing has improved. I’m more comfortable sharing it with others.
- I’ve gained the confidence to pitch ideas and submit full stories and articles to several publications. As of now, I’ve published three articles on Matador, and several more on other online travel magazines and blogs.
- I’ve learned how to deal with rejection. Within the past few months, I’ve submitted articles that weren’t fit for some publications, but worked for others. On the other hand, some articles were just terrible and I realized that they needed a lot of work. (Or needed to be deleted forever.)
- I’ve learned how to welcome criticism to make my stories stronger. I’ve received extensive feedback from several Matador editors through the weekly writing labs. In my opinion, these labs are the best part of the course. Some of these articles that were critiqued in the lab were published later by Matador or other publications.
- I’ve learned how to cater each article towards the publication I’m submitting to without drastically changing my voice.
- I’ve scoured through the Market Leads, which unveil many opportunities and contests that are worth entering and applying for. I recently entered the Capture the Colour contest and I’m going to apply to the Glimpse Correspondent’s Program this week. Even if I don’t win or get accepted into the program, it’s good practice for applying to other programs in the future.
- I’ve overcome my fear of social media and posting my writing publically.
- I’ve developed relationships with MatadorU editors and students, both in the forums and through social media, which is invaluable.
- I’ve started making connections and communicating with others outside of the Matador community. (especially on Twitter.)
- I created a Facebook fan page, and I have 45 followers.
- I created a Twitter account and I have about 150 followers.
- I have a StumbleUpon.
- I created a Flickr account, and I’m trying to edit and store only high quality photos here. (I still have a lotttt of work to do here.)
- I’ve learned how to craft pitches for sponsored trips.
- One company has given me two all-expense paid press trips in exchange for written reviews. (And hopefully there will be more to come!)
Overall, MatadorU’s travel course is excellent. The editors are awesome, the content is informative, the writing labs and forums are incredibly helpful, and there are opportunities to publish work on the network, if it fits Matador’s style and content, of course. I’ve achieved my goals for the course, because I have worked on my blog, writing and photography almost every day for eight months. I’m an independent learner, and I am passionate about my work. No, I have not learned everything from MatadorU, but MatadorU has given me feedback, resources, and inspiration to research, edit, create, and learn on my own. I’m confident that I’ve attained the skills to take my writing and blogging to the next level, although I realize that I still have a long way to go.
Thanks to everyone who actually read this personal reflection to the end. If you read some of my other posts, I promise they won’t be nearly as self-centered.
-Text by Sarah Shaw @ www.mappingwords.com. All rights reserved.