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How to Take a Writer's Vacation
By L.J. Bothell

 

Who are you kidding? Writers never take vacations. Even if you were stranded on a desert island, you'd still be observing sea bird flying formations and the interesting patterns that incoming surf makes in the sand. Why not find ways to put your writing know-how together with your vacation plans so you can get the best from both?

Preparation

Any writer should travel with some kind of journal. It should be lightweight and sturdy so you can write on buses, trains, and planes, and in airports, midnight hotel rooms, or at a park bench. It can cover any aspect of your vacation, such as international dining, savvy transportation, or tent-pitching/collapses. Jot down new smells, sights, sounds, cultural habits, language barriers, and little disasters. You never know what will provide your writing with just the flavor it needs.

Take plenty of pictures of anything that strikes your fancy. Photos help cement journal notes and provide pictorial supplements to travel articles. Take mood pictures as well as ones featuring your companions. Your family will want memories of their happy faces during camping; editors will want more tone and place-oriented travel shots.

Travel with an open mind. To achieve vacation Zen, pack light, research intended destinations in advance, and try to be prepared for anything. Then relax and let the experience happen so you can fill your journal and camera with anecdotes and lessons. If you are toting around too much luggage or don't know the first thing about hiking, you'll exhaust yourself just trying to get by. Instead, pack for the right weather, know the food you'll likely be eating, and study the public transit and local roads. If traveling internationally, learn language basics, the currency, and transit systems like the trains. Then focus on the nitty gritty of living like a temporary local and getting the insights that will perk up your characters and settings.

Writing Spin-offs

Writers use their travel experiences differently. You might be a straight fiction writer who wants to enhance mood and realism, or you might like to do something specific with your travel experiences, for instance, contribute blurbs and articles to your local papers. These might be as simple as "local writer goes abroad" to detailing the conditions at your airport. Offer an editorial on your travel experience, or develop a supplement with pictures of obscure beaches.

Write travel articles for publications and travel sites. Check out magazines from your insurance and auto club companies (like AAA) for writing about US destinations. Study airline in-flight magazines for international travel writing. You can find many other travel writing outlets for vacations to local or wilderness sites, festivals, and cultural events.

Give travel advice. How-to's make excellent curiosities. Have you ever arranged for a visa, leisurely toured Europe by train, or safely backpacked in Latin America? Do you know travel entertainments that work on your kids, or ways you and your hubby can sneak off for romantic moments? If you ever developed a list of packing tips, or know how to safely eat abroad, you can bet that there are others who want your experiences.

Share humor from any travel experience. Ever mangled French, or ordered something in Hong Kong that would have horrified you if you'd known what it was? Remember how you set up your first pup-tent, got soaked in an off-season monsoon, or got locked out of your motel in only your bathing suit and a towel? After the fact, you can always find something funny about missing plane connections, grabbing the wrong train, losing your luggage, or finding yourself lost in a rather colorful neighborhood. Many general markets look for these kinds of briefs.

Prose Improvement

Vacations can offer opportunities for observing people and unique locations. The more observant you become, the more detail and flavor you can build into your prose. Your sense of place will become more vivid, and your characters will begin to feel more like "everyman" than like your immediate circle of acquaintances. Your growing world perspective will help you incorporate richer themes into your stories.

Listen to the language of the places you go. The United States alone has regions with thick dialects to absorb, provided you focus on the flow and intent of the language rather than replicate it exactly. International communication can be even more fun, not just for the romance of the languages but for understanding how differently other cultures might put the same ideas together. Let your interaction with local and international peoples heighten your characterization.

Savor everything about different cultures and locations. What is it about French affairs, French architecture, or French food that makes Paris a standard for romance? How do different forms of architecture and art illustrate how a culture grew and what it experiences now? How does roughing it in a national forest bring out your inner grit? Use these journal entries to trigger your memories and enhance your settings.

With good planning, you can turn any vacation into research and seasoning for your articles, stories, and books. Take yourself and your existing perceptions out of the equation and travel as a temporary local-- let everything be new and undiscovered. Experience new ways of doing things and mix with locals as much as possible. Be willing to see things differently than you do every day and to document your experiences. Then carefully select anecdotes, memories, and flavors that will inject vitality and realism into your writing.
 


L.J. Bothell is a graphic designer/writer with marketing communications emphasis who lives and temps/freelances in Seattle, Washington. Recent/upcoming writing vacations include Vancouver, BC, France, and Italy. Questions? Contact ljbwrite (at) att.net.

 

 

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