If you asked my New Zealand Elementary and Intermediate school English teachers which of their students were the most promising,…
…and who had the best chance of becoming an internationally published freelance writer, my name would have been at the very, very end of the list. And for good reason.
At my elementary school in Auckland, I was in the “slow-learner” remedial reading class. My reading ability lagged behind my peers by about a year.
I clearly remember sitting on the floor in a circle with the other “slow learners”, in Mrs. Cleland’s office. We would read aloud from a book, in rotation. When it was my turn, I was always nervous and anxious.
I missed words and couldn’t pronounce others properly. I didn’t know what some of the words meant. It was like watching foreign ESL students take their first English class.
I struggled with my reading for the better part of a year. I wondered if I would ever “get it”. So did Mrs. Cleland. Fortunately she was patient, encouraging, and kind. She genuinely wanted us to learn to read and wasn’t just going through the motions.
At that time, if I had told Mrs. Cleland that I would go on to have more than 1,000 articles published in 200 regional, national, and international magazines, newspapers, trade journals, custom publications, specialty magazines, in-flights, on-boards, and online travel magazines, she might well have insisted I have a psychiatric evaluation. Talk about delusions of grandeur!
But, one day, my reading suddenly all fell into place. It was as if a bolt of inspirational lightning had struck. An epiphany. When it was my turn to read the passage from the book, I read it quickly, perfectly, and flawlessly, word for word. Mrs. Cleland gaped at me. Her jaw dropped. The other boys and girls looked at me as if I was an alien.
When I finished reading my passage, I asked if I could keep reading because I was having so much fun. My teacher was too shocked to say anything, so I kept on reading. Eventually, she whispered in an awed voice, “O.K, Roy, you can stop now. I think you’re getting it“.
Hell, I had got it alright! The dam had broken. Whatever was holding my reading back had washed away. I only returned to the remedial reading class twice more, presumably so Mrs. Cleland could make sure that my sudden reading “super power” wasn’t some kind of fluke.
My reading rocketed into the stratosphere. Within a year I was reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels! My parents weren’t too thrilled that I was reading such racy books, but they’d promised that when I learned to read, I could read any books I wanted.
When I studied at graduate school in the U.S.A, I clearly was not pursuing a career in journalism. I studied exercise science. The idea of becoming a writer had simply not occurred to me. I definitely did not consider myself English major material.
Coming from a commonwealth country, I also faced temporary setbacks with American English. I had to learn American spelling and phrases, for many of them differ from “Anglicized” English. Despite these struggles, my master’s thesis read well and also showed that I had the ability to complete a lengthy writing project through to the bitter end.
As if these setbacks weren’t enough, my typing is atrocious. My fingers are too large and clumsy for the keyboard. I still have to glance at the keyboard when I’m typing, and I’m lucky if I can crank out 10-15 words/minute—and that’s on a good day!
Couple these obstacles with my complete inability to create and use Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheets to create magazine distribution lists (I just don’t get it!), and you’d think I’d be a complete loser at freelance travel writing.
Despite these obvious limitations and challenges, I’ve still sold more than 1,000 stories to 200+ regional, national, and international magazines, newspapers, trade journals, custom publications, specialty magazines, in-flights, on-boards, and online travel magazines. I’m considered one of the most prolific travel writers in the U.S.A. I’ve written and published ten books on the art and craft of travel writing.
My bylines include American Cowboy, Australia & New Zealand, Aviation History, Beers-of-the-World, Beer Connoisseur, Beer Magazine, Beer & Brewery, Blue Water Sailing, Britain Magazine, Canadian Yachting West, Cheese Connoisseur, Classic Boat, Collectible Automobile, Emirates Open Skies in-flight, Gorge Guide, International Living, Jeep Action, Lost Treasure, New Zealand Sunday News, Northwest Meetings & Events, Northwest Travel & Life, Off-Road Adventures, Oregon Coast, Popular Communications, Renaissance, Scotland Magazine, Sculpture Magazine, Smithsonian Air & Space, South China Morning Post, Spirit of Ireland, Sunday Oregonian, The Sunday Oregonian, This England, and many other respectable print titles.
If I can get my work published—and get paid for it—there’s no reason why you can’t! Now get out there and start pitching!