Posted by: Ginny Prior | January 7, 2012

Boot camp “whips” writers into shape

By Tracy Vasquez

Writer’s Boot Camp. When I heard the words I almost expected a large burly woman ready to whip our class into travel writers. “One, two, three, four, write!” she’d shout. However, when the small gentle woman with the pixie haircut walked in, I exhaled. Our guest this past Friday, Lisa Alpine, an author, writer, teacher, and travel journalist was there to teach us how to be better travel writers but without the whip. 

“Be confident, really know yourself and your special interests” were some thoughtful insights that Alpine emphasized. As an inexperienced travel writer these words of wisdom were difficult to swallow. How can you be confident when you’re just starting out? Alpine described honing your own writing style, trying to differentiate yourself with how you write and what you choose to write about. You can show more confidence as a writer when you are writing about something you really enjoy. Famous travel writer, Tim Cahill as Alpine noted, has found success by developing a theme for all of his pieces. “Something has to go wrong on his trips” she said, “He makes himself the butt of the joke, that’s his style.”

Good travel writers are someone who can transport you into a place and makes you a part of the story. Alpine compared it to sitting in a movie theater one minute and walking the streets of Paris in the 1920s the next. This feeling comes when the article is filled with descriptions of what the writer sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches. As we have learned through our previous guest, Don George, evoking emotion through description of the senses is difficult and often writers do not get past describing what they see. Alpine took this point further, telling us to focus on one sense to lead the reader into the scene, and then add the other senses from there. For example, starting with describing the sounds only like a blank movie screen and adding the other senses little by little.

“The parade of feet, shuffling up and down the stairs” was the line I jotted down during one of our writing exercises. Throughout the class, Alpine had us begin to write spontaneously, which I found very difficult. At one point, she described how great writers use humor initially to draw the reader in and use their laughter to drawn out deeper emotion. “Get them to laugh, you can get them to cry” she said with a smile. Humor opens people up to more, whether that is more laughter or sadness, it can add richness and leave a lasting impression on your reader.

What tools does a travel writer need to be able to write an article that evokes emotion and leaves a lasting impression? The starting mark, according to Alpine, is the handy dandy notebook. Most people cannot remember all the quirky details that are said or occur on a trip. These are the details needed in a good quality travel article. If these quotes or events are not written down right away, you may lose the heart of your article. Alpine emphasized the use of good quotes “let the people speak about the place” she said. It’s important to correctly quote, not only ethically, but if someone is quoted incorrectly, it may take away from the original meaning and feeling of what the person said.

While I entered the class room that morning with trepidation, I left feeling like our mini boot camp was helpful. Learning to push yourself in your writing can bring a more honest and overall better result. When traveling, I’ve found that it’s important to note right away what you are feeling, smelling, tasting that causes you emotion. Describing these senses and emotions will drawn the reader into your article and cause it to linger in their mind long after. After another successful guest, I feel that I am starting to reveal the writer I would like to be.


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