How to Take a Writer's
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
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
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.
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
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.
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