Author & Journalist Lisa Niver On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author & Writer

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Photo Credit: Judith Gigliotti

…Seeking assistance is vital. We all require support. Personally, I value editors who dive into the heart of a story and provide constructive feedback. A prime example is Noah, an exceptional editor at Huffington Post. While crafting an article about the movie “My Octopus Teacher,” I included a humorous anecdote about giving the film detention. Noah advised me that the story would be even more impactful without the humor, and he was right. This experience reinforced the significance of collaboration and how others can enhance our work.

I had the pleasure to talk with Lisa Niver. Lisa is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel.

On her award-nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times.

Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

Yitzi: Lisa, it’s wonderful to see you. Before we jump in, our readers would love to hear your personal origin story. Could you share the story of how you grew up?

Lisa: Absolutely. First off, I want to express my gratitude for having this interview with me. It’s truly an honor. I’m really impressed by what you’ve accomplished with Authority Magazine. It’s absolutely incredible. So, speaking of my upbringing, one of the most standout memories for me was the opportunity to travel with my family. I distinctly remember going on a cruise with my parents and my sister when we were teenagers. It was a truly enchanting experience for me. History wasn’t something I had been particularly drawn to before that. However, during our travels around the Mediterranean, it felt like all the history books I’d ever read suddenly came to life. From that point on, I was completely captivated. You could say I had a strong case of wanderlust right from a very young age.

Yitzi: You’re now an accomplished writer. Can you share the story of how that started? How did you begin your journey as a writer and journalist?

Lisa: How did it start? Honestly, my journey into journalism was more of a natural progression than a stroke of luck. I was actually teaching at a school back then, handling science subjects. I had the privilege of teaching kids from kindergarten all the way up to sixth grade. Unlike the typical setup where students move on to different teachers every year, these kids expected to have me as their science teacher in the following years.

I remember, I was about to embark on a journey across Asia, and when I informed my students about this, they were genuinely sad about my departure. That’s when I made them a promise — to keep them updated with news from my travels. And so, every month, I put together a newsletter. I filled it with photos and anecdotes — whether it was me hanging out with elephants in Sri Lanka or savoring oranges with a hint of cinnamon in Morocco.

I wasn’t entirely sure if anyone actually cared about these updates, but I diligently continued. Upon my return, I began teaching at a different school. Interestingly, one of the parents told me how eagerly their children awaited my newsletters and how much they missed my presence. This was around the time when the concept of blogging was picking up momentum.

I took those newsletters I’d crafted during my travels and capitalized on the burgeoning blog movement. That’s when I launched my website — the starting point of my writing journey. It was all about encouraging people to embrace travel.

Yitzi: It’s been said that sometimes mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a humorous mistake when you first started your travel writing and the lesson you learned from it?

Lisa: Well, it’s actually about my attempts at learning new languages, which I admit I’m not naturally gifted at. So, while I was traveling in Nepal, we ended up in this really quaint town called Tansen. It wasn’t a place that saw many Western visitors.

The gentleman who managed the guest house where we were staying was sort of like the town’s unofficial mayor. He graciously took us to what could be best described as a makeshift restaurant — it was basically someone’s house where they sold food. Now, in Nepal, Momo is the quintessential dish, kind of resembling Chinese dumplings or potstickers — dough wrapped around a filling.

Being eager to embrace the local cuisine, we ordered Momo. At my request they taught me to say in Nepalese, “Could I please have chicken Momo?” Well, that triggered quite a few chuckles from our hosts — they found my effort endearing. Fast forward to the next evening, and we’re back for more Momo.

I thought I was saying the same phrase, but this time, everyone’s looking at me with rather serious expressions. No more amused laughter. This perplexes me, so I repeat my request, thinking maybe they misheard me. I’m nothing if not persistent when it comes to trying to communicate. However, eventually they realized I meant to say the word “chicken” which sounds remarkably similar to the word for “dog.”

It was a mistake and once we figured it out, we shared even more laughs! It was a comical blunder that taught me the importance of double-checking my vocabulary, especially when it involves potential cultural sensitivities.

Yitzi: So, what was the lesson you learned from that?

Lisa: The lesson I learned from that is twofold. Maybe I need to improve my language skills a bit more. Enthusiasm can really win people over, though. I kept smiling and, eventually, it all worked out.

I used to work on a cruise ship for quite a while, nearly seven years. This was in the days before cell phones. A friend who had worked with me in the Caribbean was traveling in Australia where I was on my next ship. We had made plans for her to come visit me. I remember lying in my bed that morning, thinking, “This plan is so dumb. It’s never going to work out. How will I even find her? Where should I look?” Then, right as I’m lying there thinking, “Dumb, dumb,” I hear a knock on my door. I think, “Huh, that’s strange.” I’m new here, I have not made any friends on this ship. Who could be knocking on my door?

I open the door, and there stands my friend. I’m just baffled. How in the world did this happen? I never told anyone her name or left any information with the guards at the ship’s port to expect her. Nobody here knows me. She says, “Well, I came on board, and I started describing you to the security team, the Nepalese Gurkhas.” (They were a regiment in the British forces that got decommissioned. They now do security on the cruise ship). They said, “Oh, The person who speaks Nepalese.” She chuckles and adds, “And I said, ‘Yeah, that one!’” I had spoken a grand total of six words, maybe just basic greetings like “hello,” “how are you,” “nice to see you,” and “thank you.” But those were six more words than anyone else on that entire ship knew. So, I became a bit of a legend to the security team as the girl who could speak Nepalese.

Yitzi: Alright, let’s dive into the topic of the book. Could you please share what it’s all about?

Lisa: Absolutely. My book is called “Brave-Ish: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Feeling Fearless after Fifty.” My book begins with the end of my marriage. As my relationship imploded, I was really struggling and there were many tears shed. Like many people, I felt like a failure but it would have been a failure for me to stay in that marriage. To reinvent myself, I did fifty challenges before I turned fifty.

Yitzi: How do you envision your book making a social impact? How do you think it can make a difference?

Lisa: That’s a great question. When you’re writing a memoir and sharing personal experiences, the impact can be felt on different levels. For me, it’s been a multi-layered process.

Firstly, the act of delving into these dark periods of my life, and revealing some things that, honestly, I can’t believe I’ve mustered the courage to unveil to the world through writing, has been incredibly cathartic. At the outset, I was juggling various forms of therapy, striving to comprehend how I landed in such a situation and, importantly, how I could extricate myself from it. The journey, even when I faced moments of wanting to give up — abandoning the 50 challenges, quitting writing the book — always saw me picking myself up the next day. In hindsight, I’ve realized the term “rest” is more fitting, but I wasn’t quite that insightful then, so I stuck with “quit.”

Primarily, on a personal level, this was an introspective exercise, a way for me to scrutinize how I found myself in that predicament and to define what I aspired for in the future.

Yet, moving beyond that, there’s another layer. It’s about the potential of this story to be of assistance to someone else. I’ve encountered instances in conversations about the book where it has resonated with others. My hope is that its impact lies in helping people recognize that they needn’t remain trapped or isolated.

I vividly recall the sensation of failure that engulfed me, a sense of being utterly inadequate. I desire that those who engage with my story, whether or not they acknowledge it as their own, come to realize that even if they perceive themselves as failures, they still possess the capacity to begin anew.

Yitzi: Could you share one of the most interesting stories from your book? Our readers would love to hear it.

Lisa: Absolutely. I embarked on quite a few unconventional challenges, and what struck me was that what felt extraordinary to me often seemed quite ordinary to others. Let me recall a standout tale. There are so many, but this one comes to mind.

I remember when things took an intriguing turn during a particular venture. This happened in Park City, Utah, where the National Ability Center facilitates skiing experiences for individuals with diverse abilities. I had the privilege of skiing with a wounded warrior in a wheelchair and even met Miss USA wheelchair, who was on the wheelchair basketball team and was trying skiing for the first time. Then there was a remarkable young woman with spina bifida, now a Paralympian, with whom I hit the slopes.

Yet, among these stories, one incident remains etched in my memory. It was my encounter with Jennifer, who is blind. I observed closely as her instructor taught her how to navigate the slopes, while her husband was learning how to guide her effectively.

Oddly enough, on that very day, I was also assigned to cover another story at the Olympic ski park. During my Uber ride from the mountain to the ski park, the driver struck up a conversation about the Olympic Bobsled, and I found myself feeling quite apprehensive about the idea. Doubts crept in, and I questioned whether I should take the ride. The sheer speed and the perceived danger were daunting.

This is when my Uber driver, a former military personnel, turned to me and posed a simple yet impactful question. He said, “Let me make sure I’ve got this right. You spent the whole day skiing with someone who’s blind, but you’re hesitant to sit behind a professional Bobsled driver?” He reminded me that the Bobsled ride was a popular tourist attraction. In that moment, I realized the irony and chuckled at my own apprehension. It was clear that I should embrace the opportunity and take the ride down the track.

Yitzi: You must have gained a lot of insights from your writing experience. Could you please share with our readers five key factors that contribute to becoming a highly successful and effective writer?

Lisa: Certainly, here are five crucial elements for being an effective writer.

  1. Firstly, cultivating curiosity is paramount. A genuine desire to explore and inquire is essential. Sometimes I receive feedback suggesting that my inquisitiveness shines through — whether it’s due to my background as an educator or my insatiable curiosity, I’m not entirely sure. Nonetheless, I find that this quality greatly enhances my storytelling.
  2. Another vital aspect is fostering creativity. Writers must view the world from unique perspectives, offering readers fresh angles. For instance, during a recent visit to Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton reserve, I grappled with decisions like the best vantage point for a photograph. This creativity extends to my writing as well — how can I present this information to captivate my audience? It’s about finding that intriguing angle.
  3. Next, the ability to establish connections is of utmost importance. Admittedly, there are instances when I’m unsure about the relevance of certain connections in my stories; they might seem unconventional. Let me recall a piece I crafted for Thrive Global, which featured Jen Sincero’s book, Deepak Chopra’s book, and even the movie “Sliding Doors.” Initially, I wasn’t convinced it would work, but I decided to take the leap. Surprisingly, this led to a serendipitous encounter with Deepak Chopra’s publicist, resulting in an interview opportunity. So, embracing unusual connections, even if they seem quirky, can yield unexpected outcomes.
  4. Embracing uniqueness is another crucial aspect. Don’t shy away from your distinct voice and perspective. There was a time when I doubted a connection I made, like when the opportunity to interview Deepak Chopra arose. I was genuinely taken aback, thinking, “Wait, is this really happening?” This occurrence was a testament to the power of being unapologetically unique and standing out from the crowd.
  5. Moreover, seeking assistance is vital. We all require support. Personally, I value editors who dive into the heart of a story and provide constructive feedback. A prime example is Noah, an exceptional editor at Huffington Post. While crafting an article about the movie “My Octopus Teacher,” I included a humorous anecdote about giving the film detention. Noah advised me that the story would be even more impactful without the humor, and he was right. This experience reinforced the significance of collaboration and how others can enhance our work.

One more bonus. The imperative of taking that initial step cannot be underestimated. While working on my book, I often faced creative blocks. At such times, I would remind myself that an editor can’t assist me if the page remains blank. Similarly, in the realm of video editing, my skills were initially lacking, but I’ve progressed significantly. Notably, my YouTube channel is nearing the impressive milestone of 2 million views, which serves as a testament to the rewards of starting and persevering.

Yitzi: Lisa, your impactful work, the platform you’ve built, and the compelling ideas you’re spreading have really garnered you significant influence. People genuinely value your words and take them seriously. If you had the opportunity to promote an idea or ignite a movement that could bring immense goodness to a vast number of people, what would that concept be? It’s fascinating how one’s idea can trigger unexpected inspiration.

Lisa: I’d say, for me, it’s all about encouraging folks to take that first step, much like we discussed in the context of my fifth point. What often holds individuals back is fear — the fear of not excelling at something or the fear of appearing foolish. My wish is that everyone would seize the chance. Personally, I’ve traveled the world with my hula-hoop for exercise — quite an unconventional choice, I must admit. Occasionally, I record videos of my hula-hooping escapades, although it’s not the easiest task since maneuvering a hula-hoop and filming oneself simultaneously is quite the challenge. Selfie videos and hula-hooping don’t exactly align. However, during a recent trip to Ireland, where I explored the stunning Wild Atlantic Way and ventured into Northern Ireland for the first time, something remarkable happened.

I was with a group of friends who found my hula-hooping utterly captivating. They spontaneously decided to film me, and everyone enthusiastically joined in. On another journey, I took things a step further and managed to hula hoop while flying a kite. I admit, it felt a tad silly, yet to my surprise, this quirky moment made its way onto TV. During a segment, they showcased me engaged in the dual feat of hula hooping and kite flying in the charming and captivating town of Loreto, Mexico. Who would have thought, right? The thing is, we often become overly concerned about the opinions of others — a sentiment I’ve encountered even in relation to my divorce. “What will people think?” they ask. Well, the truth is, people should believe that I deserve happiness and security, that I should be with someone who genuinely cares for me.

There’s a mantra I hold dear: “The ones who matter don’t mind, the ones who mind don’t matter.” My aspiration is for people to embrace the idea of experimenting with novel things, summoning a bit of courage, and ultimately discovering greater happiness in the process.

Yitzi: So, how can our readers learn more about your book and make a purchase?

Lisa: Oh, I really hope that people will buy a copy of my book. Right now, it’s available for pre-order in both paperback and digital formats. It will also be released as an audiobook.

The best approach, and I’ve been suggesting this to everyone, is to reach out to your favorite local bookstore. You can give them a call to order my book, “Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.” I truly believe in the significance of supporting local bookstores.

Of course, my book is also available through various other channels. You can find it at big retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Barnes and Noble and Target, as well as on platforms like iBooks. In essence, anywhere you typically browse for books online, you’ll come across my book, titled “Brave-Ish: One Breakup, Six Continents, and Embracing Fearlessness After 50.”


Yitzi: Lisa, considering you a friend has been an honor. I wish you ongoing success in this journey, and may you find the strength to keep inspiring people.

Lisa: Thank you deeply. Being a part of your interviews has truly meant a lot, and I find the community you’ve fostered to be absolutely remarkable.

Author & Journalist Lisa Niver On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author & Writer was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.