Featured Writer of the Week: Douglas Rogers
This week's featured writer is Douglas Rogers, an award-winning author, travel writer and journalist with 20 years’ experience writing for the world’s leading magazines and newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Travel & Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, Condé Nast Traveler, The Guardian, and more. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he has lived in Johannesburg, London, New York, and Washington D.C, and has reported from more than 50 countries on topics as diverse as the diamond trade in Africa, the movie stars of Bollywood, and the restaurants of New Orleans.
He is the author of the acclaimed memoir: The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa. He ghost wrote The Lion Awakes: Adventures in Africa’s Economic Miracle by Ashish Thakkar, the story of Africa’s youngest billionaire, and his insights into the continent’s astonishing economic growth.
Tell us about your publishing journey. How did you begin writing, and how did you break into the industry? When did you know you could make a career out of it?
I started out as a news reporter in South Africa in the early 1990s. It was an exciting time — Mandela’s release, political violence, the historic 1994 elections. I soon preferred long form writing to news though. In 1995 I faxed (!) to the London Daily Telegraph a travel piece I wrote about a journey I took down the coast of war-torn Mozambique. It was on-spec, and I never expected a reply. They ran it on the front page of their Arts section, and started assigning me. I was on my way. I’ve been a travel/feature writer ever since, although as any journalist knows, you’re only really a ‘writer’ after you publish a book.
What would you consider your primary writing discipline (novels, journalism, travel writing, etc.)? Which do you enjoy the most?
Travel writing and narrative non-fiction books — either under my own name or as a collaborator. Magazine writing is a tough discipline, and somehow it never gets easier. Book writing is more enjoyable. I love collaborations — finding the voice of a client, the nuggets of gold in a life story that the ‘author’ is often unaware of. My skill is getting people to open up to me.
How often do you take on ghostwriting projects? What have you learned from those experiences?
I’ve done two big collaborations and would like to do more. Ideally — deadlines permitting — I’d do one a year in conjunction with my own book project.
What does your writing routine look like? How do you stay productive and overcome blocks?
My routine chops and changes, especially since I had kids. My regular writing day is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but when the words are coming and deadline approaches I like working late at night or waking at 4am and getting in a couple hours before daylight. When blocked I take a yoga class. Or go on a boozy bender.
What strategies do you focus on when cultivating your writer platform?
I have a website and use social media. I’m trying to network more with other ghostwriters and tap into resources of the ghosting world via LinkedIn.
If you could go back and change anything about your writing career, is there anything you would choose to do differently?
I would have been more brazen approaching magazine/newspaper editors with queries when I was younger; hustled more. It’s a fine line — you don’t want to annoy the people you want to hire — but you also have to get noticed.
What's the best piece of advice about the writing craft you've ever heard?
Cut out adjectives. I worked this one out myself: Short sentences can say as much as long ones, probably more. There’s only one Nabokov.
What about the best piece of advice for getting published or navigating the publishing process?
Don’t send or tell your ideas to an agent BEFORE you’ve worked out what your book is about and have either written a complete proposal or the book itself.
What are you working on next?
I’m in the running for a Gotham ghosting project I really want and think I’d do brilliantly. I’m also working on a comic travel memoir about a road trip I took with three friends into Mozambique in November, 2017. We were four married middle-aged guys in mid-life crisis in search of adventure and lost youth — travelling in a vintage white 1971 Mercedes Benz SE 280. We find the adventure when we accidentally get caught up in a real-live military coup in Zimbabwe. It’s The Hangover, set in Africa, with Kalashnikovs.
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