NC Writers Network Workshop on Travel Writing

Cypress Knees at Barataria
Cypress Knees at Barataria

I’ve just resurfaced after a hectic and fun weekend at the NC Writers Network Conference, this year held in Asheville.

I took workshops on nonfiction and memoir writing, though I’m not writing a memoir. Have no fear!

I led a workshop entitled Guiding Others through Places You Love, on travel writing. I’ve written three books, two hiking guides and a travel narrative, so someone thought I knew something about travel writing.

I started with:

A tourist is on vacation. A travel writer is on a pursuit. From Dinty Moore, professor at Ohio University said. You can’t just go on vacation and think you’re going to write about the place or your experience.

We differentiated between three types of travel books:

A.   Travel guides. Those are the most popular. Whether you buy the middle of the road Fodor’s Guides or the more adventurous Lonely Planet, these guides list the best of everything, according to their criteria. I first discovered Lonely Planet guides for my first trip to New Zealand, in 1992. It offered ideas for hikes and adventure trips and stayed away from the most upmarket hotels and restaurants. Lonely Planet guides now have broadened their approach, mentioning more expensive places.

B.  Travel Narratives. This is my favorite type of writing and reading. Look for my current picks on my website.  Will Harlan, Tony Horwitz, Mike Tidwell… These guys are my writing heroes. Wait! Why are they all guys?

These male writers research and write about a subject, much more than themselves. They don’t feel they have to “open up” and neither do their readers. I’ve been commenting on this phenomenon, since I started to write narratives and taking writing workshops.

I brought it up when Jeremy B. Jones in his memoir workshop talked about the relationship between “the subject” and the “I”. When my workshop mates in various classes tell me that “they want to know more about my past”, I should have the courage to say “This piece isn’t primarily about me. It’s about my subject.”

C.  Travel memoirs. If it’s a memoir, it’s about the person, and less about the subject. Memoirs are more imaginative, not necessarily factual, and little research is involved. Consider Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It was a captivating book, but it was about the author and not the Pacific Crest Trail.

FAB_Cover#2_FINALloresThey tell you to write a good memoir, You need to first discover the emotional journey underneath. What was the deeper meaning behind your need to leave your home behind? And what lessons did you learn along the way?

Looking at travel narratives and memoirs, I conclude that the reading public (mostly women) expect women to write emotional memoirs.

My next book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South, is a travel narrative where the stars are the national parks.



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