Welcome to My Travel Writing World
To many, travel writing is straightforward. It’s the colorful rendition of a journey, or an experience, that gives the reader a sense of place. Some feel it’s written to a formula. Others say it’s flowery and abundant with adjective overload.
But in truth, good travel writing is neither and is a bit more complicated than its two-word name indicates. As a travel journalist and frequent instructor of upcoming travel writers, my goal in the following text is to simplify the process for you.
Good writing starts long before the pen hits the paper (or these days the fingers touch the keyboard). You may have heard the term “analyze and imitate.” But exactly what does it mean?
Read travel articles, no longer for information alone, but for style as well. Examine them. Ask yourself what makes an article good enough to read every paragraph and thirst for more. Analyze these articles. Imitate these articles. This is not a permit for plagiarism. Simply familiarize yourself with what works and make it work for you.
Familiarize yourself with terminology and sprinkle it throughout your article, whether it’s with respect to an exotic country, a game of golf, a day at the spa, hiking in the Alps—wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing.
Begin at the beginning but exercise caution because a piece shouldn’t necessarily open with your first step onto the deck of a cruise ship or your arrival at an airport. Start at the climactic moment – whatever will pull your reader into the setting. Determine the highlight of your experience, the most memorable moment. Relive that moment. Now put it on paper.
Show, don’t tell. A travel writer should paint a picture. Use all five of your senses to tell the tale. Let’s say you’re writing about golf in Scotland. What sounds did you hear on the course other than the whack of the ball? Was it a tiny woodpecker chipping away at a nearby tree or perhaps the crash of the surf on the signature hole? Did the breeze from the North Sea at St. Andrews Old Course whip multi-directionally around you or was it rather tepid? Get the picture?
Determine the demographics of your audience. Then write to an individual in this audience – not their neighbor or their coworker. I like to envision my reader. I put a face on him (or her) and then I tell the story, just as I would to my best friend. And many times the “oh, I forgot to tell you” part is the most interesting.
Include personalities and liberally sprinkle with quotes. If you feature an individual, note his demeanor, style of dress, surroundings. Introduce your subject to your audience by sharing relevant background information.
Example: This is how I described Kent Nelson in a piece for World Golfer entitled “A Day in the Life of a Duffer.”
“At 6’3” Kent Nelson has an all-around sports background. He began his athletic career as quarterback of his high school football team and was a baseball pitcher. His real athletic prowess was on the basketball court, however, and in the 60s he played well enough to shoot hoops against the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters. But having natural athletic ability and being a natural golfer are as different as a hook and a slice.”
Here are the basic fundamentals.
The equation for a good article is loaded with multiple variables. While not all travel pieces include the same components, the absence or sloppy development of a single element can sabotage an otherwise good piece. Thus, it makes sense to understand the following principles.
The place to start is the lead. It could be the first sentence, first paragraph, first several paragraphs. A lead is like following a directional signal. It says, “The story is taking you this route.”
Transitions move the piece along, give it flow and smoothly connect paragraph to paragraph. They can be words like meanwhile and after all or transitional sentences such as “We approached Machu Picchu.”
And a good ending is almost as significant as a good beginning. An article’s conclusion is like adding a period or an exclamation point to the piece. Good closings aren’t written to a formula. The best ending, however, is rarely a lengthy one.
Now let’s get started.
The writing process is similar to following a recipe. But the first step – getting it on paper – is the most difficult. More than likely, every sentence written will need work. That’s expected during this stage called roughing it. The object is to let the words flow and create a first draft.
Once you have a draft, it’s time to separate the good from the bad – determining the precise phrasing, the best images and the most lyrical blend of words. This is when you shape, hone and mold.
You’ll edit many times but remember that when doing so you should read the piece aloud. The ear can pick up what the eye alone cannot – it can hear awkward verbiage. Fine-tune your manuscript. Will two words suffice for the five you used? Avert adjective overload. And avoid words like really and very (overusing these modifiers weaken rather than intensify your meaning).
But the time to perfect is in the final draft, when you produce a no-typo, error-free manuscript. This is the last step of the writing process.
Get ready, get set, go.
I feel like the mother who’s just put her preschooler onto the school bus for the first time. You know the fundamentals and you’ve established your goal, getting published. Now it’s time to do it. Good luck and safe travels.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit” – Richard Bach.
Excerpted from Cynthia Dial’s book, Get Your Travel Writing Published (now in it’s 3rd edition)
"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot in one's own country as a foreign land." English writer G. K. Chesterton
“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton
“Travelers never think that they are the foreigners." Mason Cooley
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.” James Michener
“Laughter is an instant vacation.” Milton Berle