*** How One Article Can Beget Another… and Another…
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*** Practical Writing Prompt of the Week: Spice Your Articles with a Pinch of History
*** Reader Feedback: I Got a Grand Tour
One travel-writing gig invariably leads to another.
I suppose you could argue that by writing something and getting your name “out there,” you’re putting yourself in the way of opportunity.
One editor calls another and asks, “Do you have anybody good who writes about Cleveland?” If you happen to be the “Cleveland” writer, you land a new assignment.
When I was the editor of International Living, I happily passed along Steenie Harvey’s name to several editors looking for an Ireland-based writer. As a result, Steenie landed not only a few magazine articles, but a couple of guidebooks, too.
Yet the path from one job to another can be much more serendipitous than that.
Take a friend of mine in Paris, Thirza Vallois. She was checking out a walking itinerary near Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite for her book Romantic Paris and found herself drawn away from her planned route by, as she puts it, “a riot of wisteria.”
She took a side trip down the street to investigate the flowers, which were “draping in purple glory the island’s oldest house (1524)” — now a restaurant. Unendingly curious (as all travel writers should be), Thirza went in.
It would prove to be a fateful lunch. The owners come from the Aveyron in southern France, a region even most French know little about and to which tourists almost never venture. Thirza had only “very vague notions about it” herself.
And yet, a handful of years later, she’s written a spectacularly engaging book about the region called Aveyron, A Bridge to French Arcadia, which has just been released. I’ll give you a good reason to read it in a moment…
But first, back to my point here: Wandering off-course almost always proves worthwhile.
That’s because it’s down that side street… or in that village you’ve never heard of… or through that door you’d never noticed before that you find all sorts of ideas for stories (and maybe, like Thirza, even the subject of a book).
Don’t script your travels too much. Or, at least, leave time when you’re in a place to simply explore without a map, without a guidebook, without any set route. Follow your whim.
While you may have a particular story in mind when you set out, by wandering a bit you’re almost guaranteed to find another you can write along with it.
One article really does beget a second… and a third…
…and would that they all be as well-written as Thirza’s book.
Aveyron, A Bridge to French Arcadia isn’t a guidebook in the “Let’s Go” tradition. In other words, you won’t find listings of hotels and restaurants, each with a one- or two-sentence description.
Instead, this book invites you in. It introduces you to this region’s people, history, culture, and quirks. I encourage you to read it — or any of Thirza’s books for that matter. Certainly do so if you’ve got a trip to France on the horizon.
(If you happen to be on the west coast, you can catch Thirza in person over the next two weeks while she’s on her book tour in Seattle and San Francisco. You’ll find her schedule on her website at: http://www.thirzavallois.com.)
But even if you aren’t about to hop on a plane to France, I urge you to get your hands on a copy of her book and read it with your writer’s cap on. Thirza seamlessly weaves in the history of a place, often employing it to explain the present. And she incorporates wonderfully rich and telling descriptions.
Both are skills you’d be wise to develop.
By researching the history of a place, you’ll discover all sorts of narrative options — stories to tell within your story. Historical vignettes often provide exactly the sort of unique angle an editor looks for.
And when it comes to descriptions… Thirza is a master at gathering specifics. It’s those carefully chosen details that make a place or a moment come alive for readers. When you do this well, as she does, your writing will immediately take on the polish of a pro.
I always encourage folks interested in writing travel articles to read good travel writing — you learn a thing or two by studying the masters. In Thirza Vallois, you couldn’t ask for a better example. You can read an excerpt of Aveyron, A Bridge to French Arcadia and order a copy here: http://www.thirzavallois.com/
Good reading… and writing,
Guest Editor, The Right Way to Travel
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]
PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK:
By incorporating a bit of history into your travel-article research, you open up all sorts of new angles you might never stumble across otherwise. Plus you’re bound to find some quirky facts that can help give your stories the “color” editors love.
** You could outline a “walk” around a town by taking your readers from one historically significant spot to another.
** You could lead into your article by putting your readers in an “old world” setting and then show how in the present things have changed (or, for that matter, stayed the same).
** When you find something curious about a place — something that strikes you as odd or unusual — dig a little bit and find out if there isn’t an interesting story to explain it. For instance, in the old part of Colorado Springs, the streets are really, really wide. Why? Because the gentleman who laid the city out didn’t want to have to back his horse and carriage up. He wanted to be able to do a u-turn.
This weekend, dig up a bit of history about your own hometown and think about ways you could incorporate it into a story.
And remember, you can always send it to Travel Post Monthly: http://travelpostmonthly.com
READER FEEDBACK: A grand tour
“Jen has created a comprehensive workshop that more than opens the door for a budding travel writer — she gives you the grand tour!” — Jill D. Hoetling, attendee, The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Portland, OR