May 26, 2020

Travel Writing

I stand at a precipice of truly fantastic vacation.  Cue the whining.  I know.

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Skewering grubs in the Amazon Jungle.  Someone has to take the bullet.

Believe me–I really do know how fortunate I am, or lucky, or gifted, or blessed, or whatever words you want to use when you mean “bewildered and envious.” I leave next week for a three week vacation that includes a sojourn to Easter Island before heading to Patagonia.

I live in the South. I know what you really mean when you say, “Bless your heart.” In fact, I think I’m hearing it right now.

Part of the preparation for this trip, which is not insignificant, has been trying to figure out how to write about it, during it, before and after it. I have read up on some how-to guides of travel-writing, which most of them seem like every other piece of writing advice:

1. Read.

2. Read everything about the genre.

3. Seat-in-Chair time. (That means writing).

4. Don’t be a jerk about your expectations or your first drafts.

This applies to travel writing, I’m sure, but it also applies to romance novels, literary fiction, and sweeping, tell-all memoirs that destroy people’s lives.

In addition to some new convertible hiking pants in a dark color (pro-tip: the dirt on Easter Island is red and will stain), I have also obtained a brand new blank journal.  I’m a diarist anyway–old habits die hard.  I have documented all of my international travel, and most of my hum-drum everyday habits since I was nine years old.  I’m sure those nineties’ entries are riveting.

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We travel!  This is me with the painting of all the female Supreme Court justices in D.C.  Notorious RBG!

I plan to journal every day of the 22 days I will be gone, most with limited access to the internet, which means, dear Reader, we will be apart for three weeks.  I’m sure you can sustain yourself with rereading my old posts from back when you didn’t read me at all.  In return, I will post some incredible pictures and some pithy insights from the journey, all travel-write-y style.

Joking aside, I will say the best piece of advice I read on travel writing was from Tim Leffel’s article, “The Seven Myths of Travel Writing” on Transitions Abroad.

Myth #3: A destination is a story

Don’t assume just going somewhere is a reason to write an article. Even remote corners of the globe are visited by more writers than we need. (I’ve seen enough articles on Iceland and Antarctica to last a lifetime.) Unless you’re going to be the first person landing on Mars, you’d better find a good story angle.images

His actual website, Travel Writing 2.0 , is a great resource if travel writing is something you are more serious about.  Maybe Matt Damon can help.

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Licked by a free range cow while on a hike in the Italian Alps.  Exotic circumstances! Breathtaking locations!

There is another thought-provoking article called “How Not to Be Elizabeth Gilbert,” which is ostensibly about feminism and travel writing, but really, it is about the baggage we all carry with us when we write from our own perspective.  This means that we tend to bring our Imperial assumptions with us, and that can be a difficult demeanor to shake when writing.  These throw-backs to colonial writing can be particularly glaring when writing about poorer countries.

I will stick to my silly blog and my historical fiction. Or, who knows, maybe Easter Island will show me a story I can’t not write.

Most travel writing blogs seem to end with an expansive picture of some attractive young person standing on a cliff or next to a blue-blue lake with his or her arms open.  I leave you instead with this.

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Majestic Alaska.

See you in three weeks.

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