The Art of Personal Travel Essay Writing
Have you ever wanted to transform your travel journal entries into compelling narratives or travel essays?
Do you dream about publishing your work as a travel writer?
As you already know, there are many different styles and genres of travel writing.
One of the most common forms of travel writing today is travel blogging. I started out as a travel blogger, writing for top travel blogs like www.europeupclose.com.
Though I continue to work as a travel blogger and greatly enjoy it, I have expanded my scope as a writer to include personal travel narratives (or short-form travel memoir).
One piece of mine that best encapsulates this genre is published on Border:Hopping, a multidisciplinary (arts, literature, poetry) site on travel. Out of the Sevillian Swelter was written years after I had spent time in Spain.
However, as I poured myself a glass of wine and began to type, the memories of these travel experiences came flooding back. It was exhilarating to freeze them as they passed through my conscious mind and capture them in the written word.
I enjoyed the process so much that I decided to dedicate more of my writing time to personal travel essays.
Last month, I gave my first personal travel writing seminar to a group of bright budding travel writers. This post is comprised of advice I gave the seminar participants and “best practices” I’ve discovered over the past two years of writing personal travel essays.
The “nuts and bolts” of a compelling travel essay:
- The essay should have an engaging title. The title can be simple (even one word), but it should evoke a place or feeling.
- The opening line should grab the reader’s attention. Because short-form memoir is, by nature, short, we need to engage the reader from the very first word and take him or her on an interesting and evocative ride from beginning to end.
- Follow a pre-established narrative arc. Of course, your narrative arc can shift or completely change, but it’s a good idea to have a sense of where you want your essay to go.
- Decide on a tone and stick to it – comical, sensuous, mournful, etc. Not to say that a piece can’t be both comical and sensuous (for example), but just don’t try to cram too much into a short narrative space.
- Use bold words and stay true to your own voice. As part of your pre-writing, think of strong words that describe the places, imagery, people or sensations in your essay. This will give you a good starting point and help you out of your writer’s block moments.
- Don’t be afraid to “play with time”. Not everything in your piece has to be chronological. Just make sure you provide references or “touchstones” for your reader so that he or she does not become confused (unless, of course, a sense of confusion is the point of the essay).
- Finish it out strong. Whether your ending is didactic, unexpected or emotional, it should make an impact. Keep tweaking it until it feels right. Remember: sometimes simpler is better.
Some of the best travel essays I’ve read over the years had a definite, central theme. It is important to identify the central themes of your article or essay before you try to write it. Decide at the outset what main point about a place or experience you want to convey.
You can then work your personal narrative and facts around the central theme. Pinpointing your central theme before you begin writing will allow you structure your piece logically and help you identify what information you need to include as well as what you can omit.
Do you prefer to write narrative travel essays? Share your advice!