How to Write a Travel Piece


Start by looking through all your photos of the trip for inspiration.  You need to have the perfect picture to illustrate your travel story. This process takes you over half an hour and you somehow find yourself looking at your wedding photos. Hm. Your nails were awesome.  Maybe you should get a French manicure again soon?

Stop that.  You have something important to write.  Close the iPhotos.

Open Facebook.  Close Facebook.

 Ok, ok.  Now you’ve found a picture, you put it in the blog post.  There it is in your browser. Better than all the other pictures. Inspiring. Travel-worthy. Theroux-like.   But there’s nothing underneath the picture.  You know what, though?  Serious writers don’t write with lots of pictures and blog links.  You’re going to try something different.  Like The New Yorker/Atlantic, classy-like. You close WordPress and switch to Word. You debate going analog because sometimes you write best on paper.  But that’s just, like, too crazy right now, man.  Who was that dude that always wrote with Moleskine? Hemingway?  Gotta Google that.
Ok, five minutes later.
Ok,  Word is open.  The cursor is blinking on the page.

But first, you need writing music, you know, to get you pumped up and in the spirit.  You open Grooveshark.  You type Scotland into the search engine.  Too much happy ceildigh music.  You need something serious and writer-ly.  You end up having to create your own playlist.  Enya. Runrig. The Corries.  You know, the basics of  Gaelic seriousness. Your husband tells you to stop listening to that shit out loud because he is going to massacre you like the Campbells and the McDonalds. (You’ve been listening to/singing Scottish music for the past two months. Sometimes you also mix it up and sing Scottish songs in Russian or Hebrew.)  You point out to him that technically killing one person is not a massacre.  He gives you a dirty look and you put on headphones.

Open Facebook. Anyone doing anything cool? No. Close Facebook.

You write the first line.

“Scotland was amazing.”  Stupid.  First grade. Delete delete.

“Scotland technically should be free.” Terrible.  What if you have Royalist readers?  You can’t alienate your reader base.

“As you stand looking over the ramparts of Stirling Castle, you’re cold and wet and miserable, but mostly, you’re thinking about Alex Salmond and Scottish independence.” Stupid.  Who the hell stands on the ramparts of a castle in the dead of winter?  You did, but that’s not the point.  It’s not a believable narrative.   Also, what kind of weirdo thinks about Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister?  Terrible.  Delete Delete. Delete. Also, you weren’t technically thinking about Alex Salmond, but it’s a good narrative device.  But then you feel like you’re lying to your readers. Spend five minutes wondering about the merits of lying to your readers.  Google James Frey, leading you down a rabbithole of literature fraud.  You would never do that.  Unless you could also make millions.

Wait.  Get back on track. You need to read up on Alex Salmond to better understand Scotland. Wikipedia. Google News.

Open Facebook. Anyone doing anything fun that you can comment on yet?  No?  Close that shit.  Read New York Times.  There’s a travel essay on Ireland in there. Feel the flames of jealousy. Ignore that shit.  If you read it, it’s going to influence how you write your stuff. That’s why you’re strictly off travel writing for the minute.

Back to Write up some some stuff on Alex Salmond.  But that will go later in the piece.  You still don’t have an introduction.   Keep listening to Grooveshark. Screw the introduction. You’ll write one later.  Force yourself to grind out one paragraph.

Open Facebook.  Jesus Christ.  All people are doing are posting picture memes.  Doesn’t anyone use Facebook for anything interesting anymore?  Discussions?  Close it.

Type up three more sentences.  You are done with your paragraph.  There it is.

The sun, always a fickle visitor in the Northern winter, was nowhere to be seen.  The muted greenery of Stirling village and farms spread out below, and the clouds moved lugubriously across the stern crags in the distance. It was two days before Christmas and the castle was empty save for five Asian tourists huddled in the Great Hall.  But I was outside, drinking in the landscape, fighting hypothermia, and thinking about Alex Salmond.

But, by God, it is TERRIBLE.  It sounds like every amateur travel piece ever written.  Also, maybe people will think you’re racist if you mention Asian tourists?  But they really are Asian.  Also, you should research Stirling Castle more.

Screw it.  It’s done. For now.  Jesus Christ, you are finally done with the first paragraph.

Promise your blog readers (and yourself) a finished version sometime next week, like you’ve been promising them for the past three weeks.

Open Facebook.