Nearly everyone loves to travel, and many of us wrote a really great story in Junior High, so often people feel it would be easy to become a travel writer. But to me, it is like entering the ring in Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas to face a raging bull, waving, instead of a cape, Hemingway’s “truest sentence you know”.
All good travel writing moves the reader twice: it transports him to a place and moves him emotionally.
There are six turns of the cape I execute each time I write.
1. Travel Deeply
You might travel widely, all the way from China to Madagascar, but do you travel deeply? Open all your receptors—sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and your sixth sense of intuition. Go deep into the culture of the place by connecting with people on more than just a surface level. Learn the history, view a variety of art, examine different styles of architecture, listen to all kinds of music, taste varieties of food and drink, and become politically informed.
Be aware of your prior expectations and automatic assumptions. Note your reactions of admiration, delight, puzzlement, loathing, or disgust. TAKE NOTES in a real notebook; you will never remember details or feelings precisely enough if you do not.
Pay attention to what remains with you after you return home; listen to yourself talking about your experience. What surprised you? What delayed reactions did you have? What remained with you? Probe your reverse culture-shock. Plumb your own depths.
Put on some music of the place; surround yourself with images, taste a bit of the flavours you found there. Pour it all out in torrents of words. More, more, more, keep writing. Don’t hold anything back; be unwaveringly honest. This sounds so simple, but often it proves too much for even the sturdiest souls.
3. Tame your story
You are the matador. The sun sparkles on your Traje de Luces (suit of lights)as you clutch your magenta and yellow capote. Trumpets blast as the bull that is your story enters the ring. It is at this point that many people drop their true sentences and flee because as soon as we attempt to pinpoint a focus or impose structure upon the beast, it lowers its head and charges. The truth is powerful, but its brightness brings on the beast.
Now that the structure is set, refine your prose. Reduce the word count even if you aren’t required to, read it aloud again and again. Make it perfect like a diamond. Consult your thesaurus, your Chicago Manual of Style. Ask for feedback if you must.
Then, when you feel it is perfect, continue tweaking. This is burnishing, and it makes your story glow. It has been said that if you dig deep enough, you reach the universal. You will know when you have done this.
5. Find your niche.
Persistence pays off, as does knowing other writers with whom to share markets and commiserate with about rejection.Have patience and give yourself room to grow into your niche, even if it means shifting your search for markets.
6. Submit for publication
You have flourished your true sentences. The black beast, colourful darts dangling from its flesh, is weakened. Now is the moment to remove your sword from its hiding place underneath the cape, hold it at eye level and look along its edge. You must gather your courage, for this is it. Slowly lower your fear of failure and submit your story for publication.
When you see your writing in print, you may feel a rush of victory and hear the roar of a crowd. Olé!