An Impractical Review of Matador U’s Writing Program


[UPDATE: Spring 2015- Since writing this a few years ago, at the beginning of my writing career, I’ve since been commissioned to do a feature 2000 word article for a Dutch print travel magazine, 3 GPS smart phone walking tours of Shanghai for Pocket Guides, a number of articles for Shanghai print magazines and an ongoing freelance contract with MoveGuides to write China city guides, among other bits and bobs. All have been well paid.]

I don’t tend to write reviews. Of anything. Any attempts usually end up with me just blathering away about mops and privilege for 1500 words, accompanied by unrelated photos.

However, now that I’m pleasantly unemployed and have a great big stretch of free writing time in front of me, I’d like to introduce you to the people who nudged me out into the public sphere, gave me the tools with which to do it properly, encouraged me at the beginning and continue to do so now, and who have given me far more opportunities than my lazy self has bothered to take advantage of.

This would be their home page

The Course, The Cost, and What it Gets You

I had heard of the course before they officially launched it back in Autumn of 2009. I was even on the mailing list for the launch. I was that keen. At that point, I had written a few pieces for Matador Network and they had mentioned me in a few of their compilation articles.

Professionally, I liked them and they seemed to like me. Their approach to writing meshed with my own: a firm intolerance against cliches, tropes, sloppiness. They expected fully thought-out ideas from their writers and didn’t put up with trite, lazy, ad-copy styled articles. I respected that. I knew that I’d sign up for the course when it launched.

And I did, though it wasn’t until I went home for a month in early 2010 that I filled in the form and sent off my credit card details.  I had missed the launch by about 4 months due to life interfering.

In February, 2010, I had a decent chunk of time available, not occupied by students or marking, and I was feeling quite motivated to get my writing act together. At that point, my writing career (if you could call it that) consisted of my Livejournal account, the two Matador stories I’d  written the previous summer and…. that’s about it.


As you can see, they gave me my start.


I signed up for the course in early 2010. I paid $350, which is what it still costs now. You can pay $10 for a one-week test-drive to see if you like it. I liked it. I paid the full $350. For me, it was definitely worth it.

Back then, things were just getting started and things are much bigger, much better now.

A lot of what they offer now wasn’t available to me at first. However, once you’ve paid, you’re in for life. I still sign in, a year and a half later, and use a lot of the features.


Let me first show you what they give you for your $350.

What you get out of it

What I’ve found useful

I never really wanted to be a full-time travel writer, so some of the modules (such as how to budget realistically for a writer’s salary) didn’t apply to me.

Other modules were great and totally practical: different types of story telling, how to fit the story forms to the different writing markets, how to research and prepare for a writing assignment, how to think like an editor, how to develop a publication mindset, time management skills for research-heavy assignments like guide book writing, etc.

They introduced me to social media, branding and pitching. Before the course, I was totally clueless.

Because I never planned to quit my job to travel and write (because I would rather teach and travel and still enjoy my writing), I skimmed through a few of the less relevant modules and only submitted the assignments that I felt were relevant. I’m a terrible student.

The interesting thing is that now, 18 months later, I’ve been head hunted by a guide book company to write a walking tour of Shanghai so I have found myself going back into the guide book module (which I had previously only skimmed as I wasn’t planning to contact Lonely Planet for a job) for help.

They have a Market Blog for students only, which gives writing assignment leads, some of them exclusively for Matador U students. It’s updated several times a week and some of the gigs are really, really tempting. I’d been too busy with teaching to apply for any, but I know a lot of the other students have and their writing careers have really taken off in amazing ways.

Some of my virtual classmates have gone on to be Glimpse correspondents, Matador Network editors and contributors, full-time print publication travel writers. A few have been published in well-received anthologies. The list is dauntingly impressive.

Basically, if I get my act together, I know that I have a lot of opportunities and a lot of support there for me.

Here are a few handy links from them

  1. National Geographic Traveler video series
  2. Press trip opportunities for students
  3. A short video about how to become a successful travel blogger

Did I mention that you get access to the course (including the forums and Market Blog) pretty much forever?

Although I wasn’t the most thorough student when it came to the modules, I made full use of the writing labs and the forums and got a lot of really good, constructive feedback for my writing. I still keep a cut and pasted pdf of all the feedback I got.

It was also in these forums that I met a lot of the people who I now consider to be my friends and who are my cheerleaders when it comes to my writing projects. They’ve passed on job leads, moral support, corny jokes, tech help and great banter on Twitter.  Also, they reTweet, post to their Facebook walls and Stumble what I write so this blog you’re reading here is easily 100 times more widely read than anything I’d ever done before. If I wanted to monetize this beast, I’d easily have the readership numbers needed to sell ad space.  I’ve had to turn down a lot of ad requests already.

Without Matador U, I would never have known Heather, Camden, Marie, Kumiko, Julie, and at least a dozen others whose work I really respect and whose achievements in the writing sphere have really inspired me.

None of these would have existed if I hadn’t signed up.

I started out using the free blog they provided but moved on to my own hosted site within a few months (Hello, Ephemera!), thanks to the in-depth tech assistance given in one of the modules and the more personal help offered in the forums. I asked a lot of questions and I got a lot of help.

I don’t think I would have moved beyond Livejournal or if it hadn’t been for their help. Moving to a self hosted site was a huge change, on so many levels, many of which I never fully absorbed until I look back in amazement at how far I’ve come in the past 18 months.

And I didn’t even finish the course (though at the rate that I’ve been venturing back in and re-doing assignments, I think I may actually finish it this year!).

Since I signed up, they’ve added a ton of new features, such as the instructional video series by National Geographic writers and photographers, an ongoing series of very focused workshops, press trips and the Pro Modules (basically, much more technical, detailed course work for those who have already delved into professional writing).  

Would I recommend it?

Well, yes. But it depends on what you want to get out of it. A lot of people have asked me if I thought they should sign up. I told them it really depends what you want to get out of it.

It does cost $350, which is a lot for a 12 week online course, even a really well-planned, well-written one like this.

But it’s yours forever, pretty much. All of it.

And you get access the job leads, modules (both regular and pro), the forums, the supplementary workshops, the National Geo videos, etc, etc, whenever you want. They have a brilliant (paid!) Road Warriors program, working with the Belize tourism board, which is only available to Matador U alumni.

And that’s great. They’re great. If you want to focus totally on becoming a full time writer. Which I don’t, at least not right now.

Why was it worth it for me?

The connections. Seriously. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it has opened up for me, how many leads I’ve been offered, how many opportunities I’ve had to reluctantly turn down because I was too busy with teaching.

The current walking tour gig I’ve been offered was totally thanks to the connections I made through the course. I’ve also contributed to an eBook with Pocket Cultures (which will be published soon, I think), thanks to the people I met. For about a year after I started the course, various Matador editors kept asking me to contribute. I was swamped with work and had to keep declining.

Basically, if I want to be a writer, they’ll help me get there. They’re serious about it, and very very practical.

Which I’m not.

But I’m trying.

Oh, and they also have a photography course, which I’ve heard is excellent. If you’re interested in making a living from doing travel photography, I’d highly recommend it- their faculty and alumni lists are impressive.

A summary of some key bits

* MatadorU is the creation of — the world’s largest independent travel
* Matador is the Web’s #1 destination for professional travel writers
* Hundreds of students enrolled in the first two months
* The course material is available for life, so you can take it at your own pace


Disclaimer: If you click on any of the ads (like you see above) or the course-related text links and enrol, I’ll get some affiliate payment in return. I don’t advertise on this site so a little extra coffee money would help offset the costs of paying for hosting and would be much appreciated.  All opinions are my own.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.