Last year’s response to Sharpening the Travel Writer’s Saw proved so popular with readers that I’m happy to share nuggets learned from the 2013 Writers on the Sound Conference (WOTS) as well.
Once again, I received just the right dose of inspiration and practical information to polish my writing in the days ahead. Here are a few highlights captured from this year’s event:
He’s baaack . . . On Travel Writing from travel guru Rick Steves . . .
“You need to have a practical foundation and weave your poetry into that if you want to make money. . . Pico Iyer is my friend and he’s brilliant. But my book on Ireland probably sells more than his most brilliant piece of writing. That’s not fair, but I’m not complaining.” Action step: Keep on writing with an eye on the business of travel writing.
“Talk with people. Find out their fears and confusions. Deal with the challenges your readers have. I look at travel writers as the current equivalent of the court jester. We need to inspire our citizenry not to be so fearful of the world. Give your readers context so they see beauty instead of conflict.” Action step: Pay attention to the fears and confusions of my readers. Remember to provide the bigger context for my travel stories. Write with my readers in mind.
“Clarity is really important. You have to put yourself in your confused readers’ minds. The struggle is to find ways to make complicated ideas clear. The temptation as travel writers is to dance around them. We have a responsibility with language. Be willing to kill your babies if they don’t fit. You lose credibility when you write: ‘This chocolate is to die for!’” Action step: Kill the clichés! But keep the chocolate.
“I think immediacy is really important. You have to be over there, collecting notes. You need to be actually doing things all the time. If you’re in Spain, go to a bullfight. If you have an opportunity, you have to take it.” Easy action step: Keep my bags packed at all times. Just say “Yes!”
Food and Wine Writing Tips from author Nick O’Connell . . .
“Focus on the story. You have to figure out a way to tell the story behind a particular dish or bottle of wine. The further you go back, the more interesting it becomes.” Action step: Start with a wide-angle lens on my travel writing. Then zoom in for a close-up look.
“Food and wine writing is happy writing. People want to be entertained. If you don’t like the dish or wine, don’t write about it.” Action step: Don’t worry. Be happy when I write. The wine helps.
“Start with the familiar and go to the unfamiliar. Readers want to feel comfortable so start with something they already know, e.g. gelato or pasta. But by the end you want to teach them something they didn’t know.” Action step: Research, research, research. Add depth to my stories.
“Bring the elements of fiction into your writing. Think scenes, characterizations, dialogue and point of view. Bring your personality to your writing. Read Bistro Cooking by Patrica Wells (scenes), Cooked by Michael Pollan and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (dialogue) and Ruth Reichl (how to negotiate difficult social landscapes like family gatherings at Thanksgiving). Action step: Start reading.
What are your favorite travel writing tips, Wanderboomers? Please share your ideas with us here.