The Ambidextrous Travel Writer

The Ambidextrous Travel Writer:

The Ambidextrous Travel Writer is a monthly advice column for travel writers & bloggers, written by author Susan Farewell.

Choose Your Words Carefully

travel writers should avoid using cliches
1 February 2010 Post Author:
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One of the most powerful moments of my professional life was when I was a guest writer visiting an elementary school.

I asked a class of 4th graders to describe the color of the Caribbean Sea.

After the “turquoise” word was shouted out by many, we brainstormed and came up with some better ways to convey the color of the sea including “green apples” and “pistachio ice cream.”

One kid really floored me though. He shot up his hand and said, “The color of the Caribbean Sea is the color of the Statue of Liberty.” Actually. He was right. In some places, it is that smoky, aged copper green color.

A scary thought to think our writing might evolve in its ability to grab the attention of a computer robot.

With the advent of writing online, we’ve all had to learn how to write short. The shorter, the better. Some of us are even being pressured to use certain key words and phrases for search engine optimization.

A scary thought to think our writing might evolve in its ability to grab the attention of a computer robot.

That said, I think all travel writers have to adhere to unwaveringly high standards when it comes to choosing the right words, especially because we’re writing shorter pieces.

But it’s bigger than just the words we write.

Travel, as a category, is a magnet for clichés. Not only do we use the same phrases and words to describe places and experiences, but we choose all the same places and experiences to write about.

I think it’s because on some level, many of us feel we are not saying anything new. It’s not like we’re discovering new continents or anything. We’re not pioneers. We’re going places other people have been.

What we need to do is see all of these places with fresh eyes. To look beyond the clichés.

Our choices on what to write about can directly impact where people go, or not go. This can directly lead to the growth or lack of growth in a particular country, on an island, you name it. As travel writers, we have a bigger role than you may think in responsible tourism.

So not allowing clichés in our copy is just our way of showing readers that we see things differently.

~Susan

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11 Responses to “Choose Your Words Carefully”

  1. AnnaI says:

    But you see, the thing is that this whole “look beyond the cliches” thing has become one huge cliche itself. And really, who looks beyond the cliches? Definitely not the editors of travel magazines and newspaper travel sections – open any mag at random and what do you see? Nothing but cliches.
    .-= AnnaI´s last blog post: Ieyasu Tokugawa Hello Kitty =-.

    • You make an interesting point, Anna, but I’m not sure I can agree 100% – I read a good number of travel magazines, and my local newspaper’s travel section, on a regular basis, and to be honest I rarely see cliches (occasionally I do, but it’s rare).

      I think if a magazine is publishing pieces full of tired, worn-out phrasing that says more about the Editor than the writer, and my guess would be that the publication is on its way out….

      I travel extensively and invariably wind up talking to people who are interested in my profession – as travelers and readers of travel publications, the majority of them are sick of hearing about “azure” skies, “turquoise” oceans, and “hidden gems” – to them, that’s a mark of amateurish writing that they immediately discount as being unhelpful.

      So in essence I believe the advice is not only useful, but critical if one wants to be taken seriously as a travel writer these days.

      Naturally one can write whatever he/she likes on their own travel blog, but the ones I see that attract a sizable and loyal audience are those that are written with humor, insight, and honesty, and nary a cliche in sight.

  2. Audrey says:

    You fit in a lot in this short piece! I sometimes read travel posts and wonder whether they were written for others to enjoy and learn from or to just get picked up by Google. I find this development very sad.

    As we travel a lot in developing countries, I’ve realized more the impact travel writers can have on a place. Tourism-related jobs tend to be prized and better paid than other local jobs and a downturn in tourist numbers can really hurt a community. I’m not advocating that travel writers never write negative reviews or reports on a place – I think writers should be honest. But, just be sure that those feelings are genuine and not there to get a rise or gather attention. People’s jobs may be affected.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog post: The Joy of Living Deliberately: 7 Questions =-.

    • Excellent point Audrey – it can be difficult to find the right balance of writing for readers and writing so that the search engines can help you attain more readers…it’s a challenge to be sure.

      The biggest problem tourism faces is from the media, who tend to over-hype small problems and scare tourists away, simply to grab headlines. The H1N1 outbreak is a perfect example – the infection never took hold in the “tourist” destinations in Mexico, and yet if you listened to the media you’d be certain to get it if you traveled there – a very sad development.

      I agree with you that writers should be honest, but to also stay focused on their own experience, and not make sweeping [negative] generalizations about a place or service when others may have experienced something much better.

      Case in point: I was in Puerto Vallarta in December, and one other guest there was unhappy about everything – she didn’t like the weather, she didn’t like the food, and was unhappy with her room. However I had a great time – my bed was comfortable, the view was terrific, and I loved the food. If she were a travel writer, I’ve no doubt she’d write a damning review of a resort that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s something all travel writers should keep in mind.

  3. JoAnna
    Twitter:
    says:

    One thing I try to think about when writing about a thing or a place is NOT use any color words. I try to think in all five senses instead of just in sight. That alone makes it easier to think beyond cliches.

    I’m looking forward to this new column. Thanks for adding so much great content to TWE, Trisha!
    .-= JoAnna´s last blog post: Visiting the Mayan Ruins | Copan Ruinas, Honduras =-.

  4. Shannon OD
    Twitter:
    says:

    I agree with JoAnna, I am looking forward to this new column -it’s a fresh perspective and a needed reminder to tired issues that I know I sometimes let slide and slip into my writing. Great tips and thoughts I’ll keep in mind as I write a couple new blog posts today! :-)
    .-= Shannon OD´s last blog post: A Little Advice…Travel Around the World Without Flying (Three) =-.

  5. Rebecca
    Twitter:
    says:

    I recommend writers purchase Stephen King’s book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” He makes it clear to avoid using adverbs because they’re overused in writing.

    Travel writing is full of words such as enchanted, beautiful, tranquil, peaceful, calming, azure, breathtaking, etc…A brainstorming session can help writers think of other words to describe their travels.

  6. Dave and Deb
    Twitter:
    says:

    Rebecca, I am going to check out that book by Stephen King. Reading everyones comments, I have so much to learn and think about when I write.
    .-= Dave and Deb´s last blog post: Remebering the Tsunami, Sri Lanka =-.

  7. I think that the reason that we see so many cliches in travel writing is because the first thing our mind thinks when we are in some kind of an unfamiliar surrounding is to fall back on what we have heard before.

    You have really struck a chord for me, my eyes are now open, and I will try to stop using all those cliches that I have come to rely on in a tight corner
    .-= Bill the family man´s last blog post: What Your Kids Want Most Is Time, Not Money =-.

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