Shanti Sosienski is an adventure travel writer from Santa Monica, who happened into the profession after being an editor, project manager, Internet slave, and producer for eight years. She has contributed to Outside, National Geographic Adventure, Men’s Journal, FHM, Shape, Dandelion, Sports Illustrated Kids, and Stuff, among other titles. Her niche is taking adventure sports, outdoorsy topics, athletes, and travel and turning these into topics even the armchair weekend warrior can relate to.
How did you get started traveling and being involved in adventure sports?
Ever since I was a kid I have been the adventurous sort, from taking off at 15 on all-day mountain bike rides through the hills above Eugene, Ore. to jumping into whatever car I had at the time and driving from Seattle to San Diego in search of surf. I especially like an adventure if there is an outdoor element to it. I have always been a traveler and a sporty gal as long as I could remember, but I really got started combining the two when I was in my mid-20s. I interned briefly at Men’s Journal and then ended up working at TransWorld Snowboarding Business, a trade publication for the snowboard industry. That sent me to Europe, all over the U.S. and Canada. Eventually I ended up working on an online snowboard magazine and then producing a TV show on FOX Sports Net about action sports. One thing has led to another, and the sports are now leading me strangely enough toward more humanitarian travel stories. Next week I head to Sri Lanka to write about the women and children post-tsunami in Sri Lanka. There is surf there and I originally intended to take my board, but once I looked at how serious the situation was there I decided to stay focused on the story and save my fun for another time. These are the compromises you make as a writer sometimes.
How did you get started writing?
I have always wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I started writing when I was a kid, and that just carried over to a journalism degree. I just started freelancing three years ago, and while it can be a nerve-wracking gig at times, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Every day writing a new story is like going to school, because you are constantly learning.
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
I feel like I have had so many first breaks, but one of the big ones was doing a story for FHM magazine about a park ranger who was killed on the Mexico/U.S. border. I was proud of that one because it was a serious story and FHM isn’t known for serious stories. You can read it on my website, www.shantisos.com. Also, I have worked on some great pieces for Marie Claire, Outside, and Men’s Journal. The problem with writing, I find, is that no matter how many pieces you get, you could always do more — and so I feel like it’s a constant “breaking in” with every new story. Things are easier than they were two years ago, but I am still a “pitching-machine” and I find that work is not assigned easily because editors are really busy, and if you don’t stay in their face they forget about you.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Organizing everything! I feel like my notes are all over the place so I am working on a system. Also, learning to decide what is a story and what is just extra info that you don’t really need. I can take notes and do interviews until I am blue in the face, and then get home and kick myself for not asking the most obvious questions!
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
My biggest challenge is stopping the research and starting the writing. Sometimes I just get so wrapped up in the research and then it’s like, ‘oh wait, I have to write something now.’ The Internet is amazing for research.
As for writing the hardest part for me is always the first and last lines.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
I enjoy the business side of it, other than the accounting. Wish there was also some kind of agent out there for writers like me who could shop me around to magazines so I don’t have to do all of my own PR. Sometimes I feel tire of promoting myself.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
Sure. We all have. Usually it’s boring copywriting stuff. I don’t do a good job with that stuff though, so I try to avoid it.
What travel/adventure authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
I really have liked Jeff Greenwald‘s books. Pico Iyer, of course. Mary Roach is a phenomenal writer, although she’s not necessarily travel. Google her. She’s worth a read. I love Rolf Potts, of course! I teach a class through Media Bistro and my favorite example of a great travel piece is “The Barbecue Jesus and Other Epiphanies“. It totally reminded me of my trip to Vietnam and all of the crazy adventures I went through.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel and adventure writing?
Don’t do it for the money. It’s all about the love of adventure. Don’t let yourself be limited in thinking what a travel story is. It’s amazing how creative you can get with what a travel story is all about.
What is the biggest reward of life as an adventure travel writer?
Meeting new people, seeing places you never thought existed, finding that perfect noodle shop in some remote place, staring out over white sand at a deep green sea and knowing that across that sea in the horizon there is another great adventure waiting for you.