This is an excerpt from "30 essential skills for travel writers".
10 essential skills you need as a travel writer
1. Being an active observer
Active observation is consciously looking for connections between what’s visible in someone (their expressions, clothes, what they’re doing) and invisible (their histories, upbringing, dreams, desires). This is key, because within the gap between what’s visible and invisible is often where the deepest, most credible, and most interesting stories are found.
2. Recognizing patterns / bias in the way you observe people
While it’s important to be an active observer, at the same time there are also common ways of looking at people that can mislead readers. Some examples of this:
- Romanticizing someone else’s life (Ex: A mountain guide in Ecuador)
- Making assumptions based on cultural heritage
- Attributing the emotions someone made you feel (especially if you’re observing them from a distance instead of interacting) back to them (Ex: “The carefree Cuban woman”)
- Seeing people exclusively through the filter of strictly held philosophical, religious, or artistic beliefs / aesthetics
In a similar way, people often haven’t considered the ways they may conceptualize or view place and how this affects their travel writing. Become conscious of this and always challenge your preconceived notions.
4. Being aware of marketing language / constructions in your writing
Marketing constructions, such as the “casual imperative,” the “hypothetical,” and the “hey-let-me-show-you” may unintentionally end up in travel writers’ narratives, weakening them.
5. Being aware of codification and/or commodification
Codification and commodification are ways of expressing place, culture, and people as salable commodities, and are fallacious but very common in travel writing. Example:
“Art lovers know there’s nothing that tops a free exhibit on a warm summer day.”
Codification begins when a narrator suggests something without actually declaring anything or referring to anything that exists in concrete reality (concrete reality being the real world in time/space). For example, “art lovers” is only a suggestion, not an actual group that exists (as opposed to, say, “the sophomores at Savannah College of Art and Design.”)
Codification and commodification, like fallacious arguments, are patterns that writers need to be aware of.
6. Constructing scenes
Scene-building is the central skill for writing strong narrative essays.
The easiest way to create scenes is to decide on a simple and single event to use as a narrative framework. This is the ongoing “story-line” to which you’ll add the facts, ideas, and information you want to convey.
The most obvious events already have a kind of inherent dramatic structure built in, like climbing a mountain or going on a date. Or, simply using the chronology of a day (“a day in the life”) or night, following the hours, the position of the sun / moon and other environmental factors, can be an easy and natural way to create scenes, especially for beginning writers.
7. Using anecdotes
Sometimes you have a minor character or incident that doesn’t fit well in the plot, but which, if included, would add a particularly rich detail or reinforce the story’s overall theme. This is when you need to use anecdotes.
8. Being aware of common usage errors
There are dozens of English language words commonly misused, like the ones in this article.
9. Finding original ways to express things
For some travel writers, this is just about learning to recognize and avoid cliches. Challenge what you write. Is it something that truly came from you or are you regurgitating something you've read dozens of times?
10. Knowing how to communicate with editors
Most of the time it comes down to not wasting the editor's time and getting your idea across quickly and efficiently.
* The above is an excerpt from 30 essential skills for travel writers. Click through for more.
~ The MatadorU team
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