Hello, my lovely readers! Welcome to a special guest WORDS FOR WRITERS post from Beverly Johnson! Want to know all about travel writing? Read on! –J
How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?
by Beverly Johnson
The thing about travel writing that George Stone articulated perfectly is this: Everyone is a travel writer, but not everyone knows it. People tweet, take photographs, and scribble notes whenever they travel, and each activity is a unique take on your experience in a new place. The Editor in Chief of National Geographic Travel argues that the only difference between a normal traveler and a travel writer is a deadline.
While that last part is true for magazine writers, it’s not the case if you’re looking to write a book on your own spare time. Still, the demands are the same: You must sweep the reader off their feet to be present in your journey with you; you must take them on a spatial, outward journey, but also inward and across time; and you must, most importantly, do it well. But how exactly do you turn your travel bucket list into a book worthy of a reader’s time, money, and effort?
For starters, make sure your bucket list is as detailed as possible. Lottoland explains that this can take the form of one long list of things you want to do or a shorter one exclusively related to travel goals. The latter is better suited for the purposes of your writing. Avoid general entries like hiking, spending a day in a village, etc. Modify your list so it revolves around a specific place (Things to do in Bangkok), or activities under a common theme encompassing several destinations (Studying the Nuances of Southeast Asian Cuisine).
Making your list is the first step you can take to shape the book you are about to write. Your trip shouldn’t just be the story itself but rather, a series of events from which you can draw your narrative. There are plenty of books and websites out there following the Bucket List format (The Top Places to See in the World and so on), so it’s best to write from your own point of view. Instead of simply recommending places to visit, challenge yourself to weave a story in connection to your travel bucket list and your own experiences and thoughts. As Carl Rogers succinctly puts it, what is most personal is most universal, and this remains true in psychology and in writing. In truth, some of the best travel books not only offer marvelous views into the world out there; they also take a journey through a writer’s life and psyche, which can altogether be more fascinating.
The nitty gritty
With this in mind, remember that there is no need to tell your entire trip chronologically. Skip the touristy areas, ask a lot of questions, make friends, take notes of what people say and how, and snap a lot of photographs. Sometimes, a taking strolls along the streets can tell you more about a place and its culture than any number of museums you visit. Try shopping at a local wet market or eat alongside residents in simple restaurants. Save the best pieces, anecdotes, and descriptions you absorb during the trip to tell the story. Make it truly your story by interweaving facts, descriptions, and observations in your narrative.
The great thing about travel writing is that there’s absolutely no shortage of inspiration anywhere you go. However, if at any point you’re feeling stuck, check out the guide to getting over a block previously shared here on the J.M. Frey blog.
The hard part
Of course, your project doesn’t end with all that nitty gritty work! As any writer with publishing experience will tell you, the hardest part is the homestretch. For instance, editing isn’t just about getting perfect grammar, it’s about making sure your story works; it’s relatable; and that it draws out the best from your travel experience. Travel writers of The Guardian emphasize the importance of triple-checking your facts and being economical about your work. Be ruthless about editing out words and anecdotes that no longer add to your book’s purpose and do your best to avoid clichés. Have a trusted friend or beta reader to go through your work, if you wish.
After all of this, it’s finally time to reach out to publishers about your book. Granted, going through an agent isn’t for everyone, but as explained in another Words for Writers blog post, there are still many advantages related to having one.