Travel writing is not for everyone

Recently, I boarded a tour bus and took a trip to Iowa for a two-day Mississippi River cruise. The river part was wonderful; the long ride on the bus not so great; but I did meet a lot of nice people.

Invariably, while getting to know people, I mention that I was a travel writer. There is always the question: “How can I get a job like that?” Followed by, “Isn’t it great to be able to travel and get paid for it?”

Yes, it is, because a travel writer can get to see some wonderful places, but it’s not for everyone. What some people don’t understand is that when you travel as part of a job, you are constantly looking for particular facets of the trip – those that relate directly to the publication that has hired you. It’s not strictly pleasure as you are always on the clock.

When I was actively working, I looked at a trip from a tour operator’s point of view. How would a certain trip work for a group of 30 to 40 people? In most cases, the tour group is made up of senior citizens. Then the question becomes more specific. Is this a trip that 30 to 40 mature (retired, elderly, seniors, whatever) travelers would enjoy and can easily navigate?

A working writer also has to look for good photo opportunities. I took a lot of my own photos, but local tourism departments are always happy to provide more. Photos were also valuable to help me recall exactly what I saw.

I had to be alert for good quotes from fellow travelers and locals, and when I heard one I needed to ask that person for permission to include their name in the article with the quote.

I tried to meet local people, soak up the culture and the atmosphere of a place, and research facts later. I couldn’t just casually mention that I walked through the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and saw paintings of the masters: who were they; what paintings? Or that it occupied what was once a railway station built between 1898 and 1900. Details are necessary to give readers a true picture of a place.

All this is leading up to a conversation I had with a woman on my Mississippi River trip. She had lots of questions about travel writing. She seemed serious about wanting to try it, so I suggested she write about the trip we were on, send the manuscript to me, and I’d look it over and offer suggestions.

She did. Apparently, she hadn’t heard a word I said about the process. The piece was one page, single spaced, and void of any useful information. She wrote about the wonderful time she had and all the wonderful food. She did mention two of the cities where we stayed overnight, but nothing more. “What an adventure,” was one line. Why was it an adventure? There was no description of the boat, the river, the sights we saw, those we traveled with, nothing.

I wrote back to her stressing that she needed to include details about the trip, including quotes from other people, maybe some river lore that we heard on the trip, and a side bar about the riverboat company.

Her response was that she didn’t have the patience for all that, and she wouldn’t be trying travel writing after all.

Travel editors everywhere should thank me.

* * * * *

A Spirit in the Heart
By Ell Wheeler

Peri hesitated near the rear of the cabin. Far above her head, the stately Norway pines pierced the sky and blocked out the sun. Only the tiniest rays filtered through the canopy and dappled the ground with spots of light.

The trees swayed and made soft whispering sounds as they talked to the wind. The repetitive and mournful call of a loon echoed across the stillness of the lake and faded away. Then the wind stopped for an instant and nothing moved. All was quiet, and the only sound she could hear was the pounding of her heart.

“I don’t think I like this,” she said aloud, and her voice sounded strange and misplaced in the quiet of the woods. More softly, “I know I don’t like this.”
She hurried down a slight incline toward the front of the cabin, stepped through the screen door and reached for the lock, but found none. None on the inner wooden door, either.

“Great,” she muttered, but it wasn’t great at all. She felt exposed and vulnerable, and even a little frightened. It was a feeling strange to her, and she didn’t like it, not one bit.

***

A SPIRIT IN THE HEART: available on Amazon.com.

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Observation brings inspiration

How well do you observe the world? Do you really look at the people, places and events around you? Or is it all a blur in your memory when those things are no longer directly in front of you?

We are all so busy with our individual careers, families, worries … life in general… that we move automatically through 0ur daily routines without taking in the details. But as a writer it’s those details that matter and can make the difference between a good story and an exceptional story.

Some of the nicest comments I’ve received is that the readers felt as if they were in the places about which I’d written. I think that comes from having been a travel writer, as it was my job to take in the details and describe locations in a way that would make others want to go there. My articles had to lead the reader into a locale by making it real for them.

I would say that is one of my strong points. On the other hand, I’ve not always been so good at detailing the people in my articles or the characters in a story. That is where I work the hardest. So, over the years, I’ve learned to study people: their general appearance, habits, facial qualities or lack thereof; their way of walking and talking, and the way they interact with others. Sooner or later, some of those bits and pieces will find their way into a character in my fiction.

Even if you write fantasy and specialize in characters from other worlds, you must include the details if they are to be believable.

Observations bring our written pieces to life. If you aren’t already being overly observant, start practicing right now. Look out your window and take in all the details of the scene. Really look at it and study it. What’s in the scene? What stands out? Look at the colors; describe them. Are there hidden places there that you might want to investigate? Does the view give you a feeling of any kind; make you smile, make you sad?

The next time you are talking to someone, be it relative, friend or colleague, take a moment to study their face and the way they talk. Do they have any habits that are obvious, or quirks of personality? What does their skin look like; or their eyes, ears, hair, hands, clothing, posture? All of these things make up the total person and we know that when it comes to each individual, we can use the word “unique” correctly.

Sometimes it’s fun to sit in a crowded place and focus on someone to study. I find this is particularly easy and entertaining in airports, with its many kinds of interesting subjects rushing about or sitting across from me in the waiting areas. The same could be said for a busy restaurant, or a shopping mall, gatherings of every kind.

Inspiration through observation is everywhere. Take the time to look around you, and be inspired.

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Now available as an ebook on Amazon.com:

“A Spirit in the Heart” by Ell Wheeler is a light romance that takes readers into the north woods of Minnesota and the beauty of the lake country. When a man and a woman from two different cultures meet and try to understand each other, anything can happen; and does.