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


"Objets" sketchbook
“Objets” sketchbook

A long, long time ago, as an artist in a job far, far away, I was given this little sketchbook …

Actually it was while my work was included in the original NextMonet web site and all of the represented artists got one of these as a Christmas/Holiday gift that first year. I did also end up working there, as an engineer on the web site, but that was a little later. In any case it was a long, long time ago – back in 2001.

When I got it in the mail, I thought, how cute, and for a very long time it sat on my studio table. I found I couldn’t use it. It drove me crazy. It really was just a paper sample sketchbook from Fabriano, with eleven different colors of paper. I did start to use it a few years ago, but it just didn’t appeal to me. So many pages – daunting to fill. But it was just the other day when I realized why I liked it – the challenge of filling it, but also didn’t – it was the cover. It was basically an advertisement for Fabriano, the name being stamped in shiny red ink on the front.

So I made my own little label out of yellow legal pad writing paper and have called the book Objects. I glued the label right over the Fabriano stamp. I’ve been working on filling it with little line drawings of at least one object a day.

Right now I am housesitting in my friend Lulu’s live/work studio, which is filled with Objets of all sorts. There is no lack of subject matter here. Her studio is filled with knick-knacks and objects that she has collected over the years, most of which have worked their way into her paintings.

After I move on, maybe I’ll work on some bare winter trees.

New Year – Old Things Reinvented

I couldn’t help myself. Really. It’s no fun blogging here by myself so I just resurrected the microblogging community stream back onto artist-at-large. It was just getting too quiet.

Since the site is on a new much less expensive hosting plan, and artist-at-large is considerably down-sized and more compact, subscriptions are now free, I don’t know if it works (go for it and let me know), and it includes just the Activity Stream so far. I’m not activating individual blogs or groups or any of other higher maintenance stuff. I also won’t care too much about complaints … but yeah, let me know if your sign up process works or not.

Scroll over the “Activity” link in the menu above ^ to find the registration page.

artist-at-large as a whole is now more personal, casual, and low-key, so there won’t be any beta testing or business-y stuff on my end. I might re-introduce advertising, but I’m not keen on that. If it gets too big to handle (which I doubt it will), I’ll revisit this.

The Stream (Site Activity) works kind of like a cross between twitter and facebook, but we stay on-topic.

What does that mean?

Topics for community discussion – art, all aspects of cultural travel, photography, writing, high-brow, low-brow, post links to art and travel news that you find out on the web and links to your exhibitions, workshops, blog posts, etc.. Read the “About” and “Minutiae” pages for ideas. SPAM, which includes self-promotion overload combined with little interaction with other site subscribers, will not be tolerated (feel free to mark status updates as spam if they truly are so). Please do not use the space as just another link farm for your own blogs. We’re here to share information, mentor, guide, and learn from each other.

Oh, and keep it reasonably clean, so the kids can visit. Life drawings? Yes. Adult stuff like bondage or explicit sex? NO. Also let’s keep an eye on fun professionalism.

Starting Over

This community is starting from scratch. If you were a member of the old one, you still have to create a new profile/login, etc. When you register, the “Username” is your @ name.

The big why?

Why combine cultural travel with artists? It’s a win-win for artists for finding new eyeballs to see, and potentially purchase, your work. For cultural travelers, it’s a way to make your travels more interesting – meet artists and purchase work, or find a workshop or a tour led by an artist, in the places you visit!

Musée Rodin

François-Auguste-René Rodin
November 12, 1840 – November 17, 1917

Sculpturally, Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were roundly criticized during his lifetime. They clashed with the predominant figure sculpture tradition, in which works were decorative, formulaic, or highly thematic. Rodin’s most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, modeled the human body with realism, and celebrated individual character and physicality. Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, but refused to change his style. Successive works brought increasing favor from the government and the artistic community. — Wikipedia

The Musée Rodin is another one of those places that I visit each time I am in Paris. I don’t know if it is that I feel connected to Rodin, or to the building, or his work, or all of the above. When I visit the museum, I have a distinct feeling that I am visiting an artist’s home and studio, and while it is a formal museum, it has the feeling of being a home and Rodin’s work fits in the environment. I think many people who visit the museum feel that way, as you’ll find people taking advantage of the chairs and sketching from the various works placed around the rooms.

Musée Rodin
79, rue de Varenne
75007 Paris

Getting There:
Métro: Varenne (ligne 13) ou Invalides (ligne 13, ligne 8)
R.E.R: Invalides (ligne C)
Bus: 69, 82, 87, 92
Vélib’: 9, Bd des Invalides
Stationnement: Bd des Invalides