Writing Travel: Advice For Everyone

"Objets" sketchbook, "Lulu's Chairs"
“Objets” sketchbook, “Lulu’s Chairs”

When I was seventeen, my career goal was to be a travel photographer and an artist and a writer. I couldn’t make up my mind if I wanted to go to college or university, to major in art, photography, or writing. My decision was really made from what I thought of as safe mode – I started out majoring in photography. It was like dipping my big toe into creativity, before the big dive. Seriously making big league art was still a bit scary at that age and anyone can write, so that left the camera.

In any case, I always knew in spirit that my true life would combine these things.

Over the years, before personal computers existed and I didn’t even own a typewriter, I kept journals. They are in a box in storage and I often think of burning them. They are full of crap. Trite little bits of my daily life and journeys. I don’t know why I keep them other than to use them as the yardstick to measure my life as it has grown over the years. I certainly don’t want them to be a yardstick for anyone else to measure my growth. Which is why I am certainly glad that the internet and blogging didn’t exist until I was almost forty years old.

In my personal universe there are two kinds of travel writing, well, maybe three. There is the kind of travel writing that is the collation of information, smoothly written so people can plan their travels to a particular destination. The second is memoir, or narrative, that is based on storytelling, and usually entertains or enlightens the reader while also giving a true sense of place. It can also be creative non-fiction, prose, poetry, or … Then there is travel blogging. Travel blogging can be either of the forms of writing already noted, or it can be a combination of the two, or it can be many other kinds of writing – lists, observations, went here did that …

So you might think that I’m going to focus on my favorite kind of writing, creative non-fiction or narrative, and that thought segues into my first bit of advice.

Blogs are the new paper. Whether it’s words or photographs or art, paper is precious. It’s made from a natural resource. Words and stories had to be written well to be worth the time it takes to print them and paper they were printed on. A blogger should not forget this. Even with the immediacy of creating a blog post, the flow of words should be crafted. Each sentence should be taken seriously. Each sentence should be worth your reader’s time taken in reading them.

Memories make the best stories. Consider just traveling, absorbing, and writing about it later – much later. I know that in the world of blogging travels, some people feel the immediate need to tell their readers exactly what they are doing NOW. But trust me. Your story will be so much better in a year, two years, ten years, two decades from now. After you process it, think about it, and figure out why it affected you enough that it stuck in your memory banks.

That’s not to say that writing things down immediately is not necessary. Yes, keep a journal, take notes. Write down your thoughts as you go. Draw pictures. These will work as triggers for you later. Like a personal search engine. Also by keeping a journal, rather than immediately blogging your experiences, you get to jot down the things that maybe you would only say to yourself, and spare your readers something you might forego after you think about it for a bit.

Numbers mean nothing if your work is not quality. Always go for the quality. Quality takes time. Quality gets respect. Go for respect over popularity every time. The highest compliment you could ever receive is, whoa, you are a scary good writer!

Read other writers who actually write well – or at least write in a way that captures your own attention. Read, read, read, until you find them. When you find them, read everything they ever wrote. Absorb why they capture you. For me, in my younger days, the writers that influenced my writing were Henry Miller and Annie Dillard. Miller was someone who just caught my attention, dragged me along and taught me about truly living life and stream of consciousness writing. Finding him in my early twenties was an eye-opener and revelation. Annie Dillard was a fellow WestPA girl, from Pittsburgh. Her writing style is slow, observant, micro-cosmic. Earthy, real, and true. I will always be thankful for their influences.

Take a photographic composition class, or at least a workshop or two or three. While words are the basis of the story, photographs or drawings/sketches can enhance a reader’s experience. Great photographs can be a story in and of themselves. Don’t ever think that you would have nothing to learn by attending a workshop or a class.

This leads to my last bit of advice.

NEVER stop learning. No matter where you are in life, you are an eternal student. Never, ever, forget that.

"Objets" sketchbook
“Objets” sketchbook

One Reply to “Writing Travel: Advice For Everyone”

  1. Do you have any high-brow writing advice?

    I remembered two more that I had forgotten to include:

    Spellcheck. ‘Nuff said.

    Don’t be afraid to dive deep. Telling the surface story is not enough to make you a good writer. Make the decision not only to inform your reader, but to transform them!

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