Thursday, September 27, 2012

So You Want to Write a Travel Book?

I often get approached by people who want to write and publish their own travel book.
More and more I am inclined to tell people that before they consider anything they should spend a period of time honing their skills, learning about the book industry and seeing what their options might be.
So I thought I would share some of my wisdom, and hopefully help any of you out there who want to write a long-form travel narrative:

Since you are wanting to write travel, of course you should read my own travel memoir, Destination Saigon.

Seriously, if you are going to ask an author for advice, make the effort to read their book first. It might answer a lot of the questions you have, and it will certainly give you an insight into what they write and what they are trying to say. It's a courtesy, and authors like and expect it. The sooner you learn this the better. You will make a lot more friends and allies in the writing industry if you buy people's books and read them. It seems obvious, I know, but you'd be surprised at how rarely people do this. Normally I hear: "I haven't read your book yet, but I'd like to pick your brains about..."

You should also set about reading as much travel memoir that you possibly can. I have created a list of classic travel books elsewhere. At a minimum you need to read:

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (no matter what you have heard about it, it is the biggest selling travel book of the past decade, and needs to be read).

The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Reading these will give you a very thorough grounding in what long-form contemporary travel writing looks like.

Then, you need to read a couple of things about writing.
I would recommend:

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (and actually follow it)

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen King 

Author Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Of course, I would hope you read a lot of other things besides, but these four represent the minimum required.
And if you don't have time to read all of these books, or have no interest, then you really have no business writing.

You also need to join your nearest Writers' Centre or writers' group and sign up for a creative writing course asap - while you are still enthusiastic.  Yes, writers' groups and writing courses can be enormous wastes of time, but they can also be invaluable sources of help and support. Use your time with them wisely and you will reap many benefits.

Attend your closest writers' festival. And go and hear everything you possibly can. This is not so much about learning technique but more about finding out trends and the realities of writers' lives.

Journal, blog and enter writing competitions. These will all help you hone your craft and think of yourself as a writer. 

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