We asked Robert Fitzsimmons to review the popular MatadorU writing course, as we’ve been seeing great stories coming from their alumni! This post was originally published on MatadorU review.
The MatadorU writing course is aimed at budding travel writers. It’s been running almost a year now and the first wave of students are seeing, and demonstrating, the benefits already.
The course is designed to be 12 weeks long and train the student to become a competent travel writer. I did the course in Sept-Nov 2009 when it was new. I already had a travel blog and was already travelling; I chose to do it as I fancied improving my writing, as I wasn’t seeing much traffic on my blog at the time.
The MatadorU writing course lasts for 12 weeks (3 months) and is divided into 12 modules which are released for access each week. There is no pressure to keep up with this pace though, as the course material and access to forums is for life — so if other things take your attention for a while, you can feel free to return to the material when it suits you.
1. Travel writing This section covers how travel writing became popular, how it started, and where the industry is today. It highlights the typical opportunities available both offline and online in traditional and new media.
2. Understanding writing structure The chapter explains different styles of writing, what is appropriate where, and what is the most important part of an article you have written. This is ‘classic’ for a writing course and an important foundation.
3. Bringing your story-telling voice to life This isn’t ‘finding your voice’ as such, but making the most out of what you do have, and adapting where necessary. I found this section a bit weak and it pulled me away from how I usually write. But in that respect (effectively forcing experimentation in my writing) I found what I was comfortable with and therefore best at.
4. Story forms Working with standard narrative structures and forms is another foundational part of writing. You learn to use traditional forms of storytelling (fiction) but applying your own (travel) experiences into it. I found this chapter to be another experiment building upon chapter 3.
5. How to prepare for a paid assignment The stuff you might overlook behind a writer’s job. Research, planning and pitching. The stuff you don’t get directly paid for, but need to do. In effect the ‘paperwork’ of writing.
6. Thinking like an editor The editors aren’t just looking for sympathy here, they teach you how to make their life easier, and that means you’re more likely to get their attention and get your work published.
7. Myths and realities If they put this chapter out publicly then they might not get so many sign-ups. This chapter shoots down the glamour associated with travel writing in its various forms, mentally prepares you for the problems you will find ahead, and highlights the amount of effort you’re going to need to put in.
8. How to manage writing assignments With all that writing work coming in, being self-employed and self-reliant, you need to manage yourself. This chapter irons the creases and lays down a how-to of keeping as many people happy as possible to make your career as a travel writer work.
9. Use of social media Using social media to promote your writing and personal brand is a huge topic, and the chapter is brief. Which is a shame as mastering it will take your writing up to very high levels much quicker than has been historically possible. It is more a ‘learn how the internet currently works’ chapter than a guide about how to master things.
10. New media, your blog and SEO I personally wish this chapter was earlier on in the course. It encourages you to set up a blog and forming your own writing and online presence around it. This is not just good advice but the best advice (currently) for an online presence. SEO is touched upon too: you learn how to get yourself found more easily by search engines.
11. Travel-writer tools This is mostly crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s about the life of travel writer. The underlining message is get familiar with cameras, audio recorders, camcorders and laptops and how they will become part of your life.
12. Living the dream The last 11 chapters have effectively been training in how to be a modern travel writer. This chapter brings it all together and covers the rest of the lifestyle.
The student forums are where you can share your thoughts with other students and where the editors hang out to oversee everything. It is also where you can show your writing off and get it criticised by the Matador editors.
This is a key point of the course and something you will struggle to find anywhere else. The direct feedback on your recent work from modern editors, and other former students is value in itself and the quickest way to improve your writing. I found them to be honest and accurate in their assessments.
What is not to be underestimated from that interactivity is the instant network you build too. It is a lesson not mentioned by the course, but the more friends you have the easier it is to succeed as a travel writer.
MatadorU gives you this network of friends. It works well — better than many spaces — because you are paying and all have something in common; it’s a different level to participating in larger free forums or Twitter.
The market leads are another extra thrown in. This is a separate MatadorU blog listing opportunities to test out your travel writing skills for real. Not just one-off writing gigs but jobs also occasionally pop up here, which adds value to the course and helps pay back your investment in the course.
MatadorU writing course review summary
The course is quite competent and doesn’t just concentrate on travel writing, but life as a travel writer in the modern world. Along with guidance on how to write, they detail how to get published, build a blog with a following, promote your work, and talk about the importance of photography in addition to writing.
There is plenty of material about on how to do this — from the travel writing, to the blog building, the SEO work, and publishing and photography. Finding it all in one area like an ebook is one way to save time, but getting it all laid out in a course format with genuine human help is larger commitment that is more likely to pay off if you want to put in the effort.
If that sounds appealing to you, sign up, with a money-back guarantee, to MatadorU.