TAKE MY CAMEL, PLEASE
A Travel Writing Workshop
MIIS, April 24, 2014
Susan Spano and Evelyn Helminen
“Take my camel,
dear, said my aunt
Dot, as she
climbed down
from this animal
on her return from
High Mass.”
Agenda
I. Travel Writing Samples:
Read and Discuss
II. Components of a Travel
Story
III. How to Place a Travel Article
IV....
Questions to Discuss
• Where/when does the passage take place (if not explicitly
stated)?
• Who is the writer? Why is he/s...
Robert Louis Stevenson
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879)
Joan Didion
“Goodbye to All That”
Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1961)
Peter Hessler
Country Driving (2002)
Bruce Chatwin
In Patagonia (1977)
Components of a Travel Story
• The Idea
• The Lede
• Location, Location, Location
• Heavy Lifting
• People and Quotes
• Ac...
1. The Idea
• Travel publications keep serving up the usual
suspects
• Look for something fresh
• Or a new twist on somepl...
2. The Lede
Usually one short graf that sums up what the
story is about or simply serves as a hook.
Sample Lede
“I was seized by the idea of this book while
sitting on a rotten little beach at the western tip
of Crete, fla...
3. Location, Location, Location
Early on, locate your story geographically.
Travelers hate to feel lost.
Sample Location
“The Uffington Horse, as it’s called, inspired
other turf artists in more recent times. Taking up
shovels ...
4. Heavy Lifting
• History
• Politics
• Religion
• Other cultural
facets of a place
5. People and Quotes
• Humanize a story and bring it to life
• Include memorable lines in your notes
• Describe people wit...
Sample People and Quotes
The beery-smelling old Irishman I met at a Laundromat during a rainy bike trip in
County Clare, I...
6. Action and Events
• Keep readers reading and provide transitions from
one section to another.
Sample Action and Events
• Once I found a scorpion
in my bedspread at a
funky little inn on the
southwest coast of
Mexico....
7. Underlying Issues
• The richest, most memorable travel stories do more
than simply describe places.
• They consider imp...
Sample Underlying Issues
A great example of this is
Incident in Naples, by
Francis Steegmuller (from
Ancient Shore), as mu...
8. Voice
• A magic ingredient capable of elevating even the
most banal subject matter
• Can be arch, deadly serious, ditzy...
How do you cultivate voice?
• Start in the research phase,
while taking notes.
• Record your impressions
along with the fa...
9. The Kicker
• Officially closes the story,
bringing the beginning
around to the end, and
vice versa
• Can be just a line...
How to Place a Travel Story
1. Guidelines
Most newspapers and magazines have writers’
guidelines somewhere on the website....
The New York Times
Submission Guidelines
Send proposals and manuscripts totravelmail@nytimes.com.
The mailing address is:
...
2. It’s a Tailoring Game
• Suit the pitch or
manuscript to the
publication.
• Studying your target is
paramount. A good pi...
3. Been There, Done That
• Check the website to make sure the
publication hasn’t already covered the subject
you want to s...
4. Who Do You Know?
• Write to an editor by name.
• If you know someone (anyone) at the
publication, use it as an in.
• If...
5. The Pitch
• Should include a self-introduction and clips (if
you have them).
• Keep a sharp eye for typos and errors, w...
The New York Times
July 3, 2011
Build Your Own Travel Blog
• Write for the web
• Write in your own voice
• Write stories other people can engage with
• Po...
Find a Niche
• Wine Connoisseur
• Spa Travel
• Volunteer Travel
• Adventure Travel
• Travel Products
• Travel Guides
• Lux...
Make $$ Through…
• Advertising
– branded content posts
– banner and video ads
– social media and
newsletter promotion
• Af...
Use Your Blog to Build Your Reputation
• Freelance Writing
• Consulting
• Public Speaking
Expand Your Offerings
• Travel Stories
• Guidebooks
• Ebooks
• Enewsletters
• Online Courses
• Travel Tips
Established Travel Bloggers
• Wandering Earl
• Adventurous Kate
• Nomadic Matt
• Everything Everywhere
• Never-ending Foot...
Your Presenters
• Susan Spano
– Travels with Susan Spano
– susan.spano@gmail.com
• Evelyn Helminen
– www.travelingev.com
–...
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  1. 1. TAKE MY CAMEL, PLEASE A Travel Writing Workshop MIIS, April 24, 2014 Susan Spano and Evelyn Helminen
  2. 2. “Take my camel, dear, said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.”
  3. 3. Agenda I. Travel Writing Samples: Read and Discuss II. Components of a Travel Story III. How to Place a Travel Article IV. Electronic Travel Coda: Got an idea? Want to bat it around?
  4. 4. Questions to Discuss • Where/when does the passage take place (if not explicitly stated)? • Who is the writer? Why is he/she there? • What writerly effects are used to take you from the page to a faraway place? • Do you notice any striking turns of phrase, descriptions, details? • In a few words, what is the piece about (besides the place where it’s set)?
  5. 5. Robert Louis Stevenson Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879)
  6. 6. Joan Didion “Goodbye to All That” Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1961)
  7. 7. Peter Hessler Country Driving (2002)
  8. 8. Bruce Chatwin In Patagonia (1977)
  9. 9. Components of a Travel Story • The Idea • The Lede • Location, Location, Location • Heavy Lifting • People and Quotes • Action and Events • Underlying Issues • Voice • The Kicker
  10. 10. 1. The Idea • Travel publications keep serving up the usual suspects • Look for something fresh • Or a new twist on someplace of perennial interest • Where do good travel ideas come from? Reading, movies, travel talk and travel...
  11. 11. 2. The Lede Usually one short graf that sums up what the story is about or simply serves as a hook.
  12. 12. Sample Lede “I was seized by the idea of this book while sitting on a rotten little beach at the western tip of Crete, flanked by a waterlogged shoe and a rusty potty. I had the depressed feeling that I spent my life doing this sort of thing and might as well end my days here. This is the traveler’s deep dark night of the soul and can happen anywhere at any hour.” - from Travels with Myself and Another, by Martha Gellhorn (1978)
  13. 13. 3. Location, Location, Location Early on, locate your story geographically. Travelers hate to feel lost.
  14. 14. Sample Location “The Uffington Horse, as it’s called, inspired other turf artists in more recent times. Taking up shovels and spades, they made their marks on hillsides in Wiltshire, a county about 50 miles west of London, where the downs roll on until they descend toward Salisbury Plain.” - From The White Horses of Wiltshire by Susan Spano (1988):
  15. 15. 4. Heavy Lifting • History • Politics • Religion • Other cultural facets of a place
  16. 16. 5. People and Quotes • Humanize a story and bring it to life • Include memorable lines in your notes • Describe people with a few brushstrokes, then use what they said or did, how they received you as a traveler
  17. 17. Sample People and Quotes The beery-smelling old Irishman I met at a Laundromat during a rainy bike trip in County Clare, Ireland. “Ireland’s a grand country,” he said. “Rain is the only fault in it.”
  18. 18. 6. Action and Events • Keep readers reading and provide transitions from one section to another.
  19. 19. Sample Action and Events • Once I found a scorpion in my bedspread at a funky little inn on the southwest coast of Mexico. The man who showed me to my room beheaded it with the key, then saved the body (as an aphrodisiac!)
  20. 20. 7. Underlying Issues • The richest, most memorable travel stories do more than simply describe places. • They consider important underlying issues in ways that are more human and compelling than general non-fiction or news stories. • Look for such issues as you do your research; then weave them into the story.
  21. 21. Sample Underlying Issues A great example of this is Incident in Naples, by Francis Steegmuller (from Ancient Shore), as much about human compassion as about Napoli.
  22. 22. 8. Voice • A magic ingredient capable of elevating even the most banal subject matter • Can be arch, deadly serious, ditzy, cynical, whatever… • Should be suited to the material, meaning your voice can change from article to article. • Voice can be cleverly exercised even when you aren’t using the first person singular.
  23. 23. How do you cultivate voice? • Start in the research phase, while taking notes. • Record your impressions along with the facts; let your imagination work. • Think about how you write letters, an intimate format often exposing true voice. • Let your head rattle, don’t suppress. There will be time to clean up the copy later.
  24. 24. 9. The Kicker • Officially closes the story, bringing the beginning around to the end, and vice versa • Can be just a line, referring back to the lede
  25. 25. How to Place a Travel Story 1. Guidelines Most newspapers and magazines have writers’ guidelines somewhere on the website. Check them out to learn the the preferred submission format, suggested length and kinds of stories sought from freelancers.
  26. 26. The New York Times Submission Guidelines Send proposals and manuscripts totravelmail@nytimes.com. The mailing address is: Travel Editor The New York Times 229 West 43rd Street New York, N.Y. 10036 • PLEASE DO NOT SEND PHOTOS. • The Travel Section will not publish articles that grow out of trips paid for or in any way subsidized by an airline, hotel, tourist board or other organization with an interest, direct or indirect, in the subject of an article. • We buy all rights to articles and will not purchase a piece that has been published elsewhere. The date of the trip on which an article or query is based should be given on a separate line at the top of the manuscript. A brief resume should accompany both articles and proposals. No submission should exceed 1,500 words. Backpage essays should be between 1,200 and 1,400 words. • Because of the volume of submissions, the Travel section regrets that it cannot acknowledge or return unsolicited manuscripts or article proposals. If a manuscript is being considered for publication, the writer will be informed within two weeks. Writers should not include photographs.
  27. 27. 2. It’s a Tailoring Game • Suit the pitch or manuscript to the publication. • Studying your target is paramount. A good pitch letter reflects familiarity with the publication and its table of contents. • All the better if you suggest something for one of the regular departments
  28. 28. 3. Been There, Done That • Check the website to make sure the publication hasn’t already covered the subject you want to suggest. • It’s all too easy for an editor to say: Sorry we just did that.
  29. 29. 4. Who Do You Know? • Write to an editor by name. • If you know someone (anyone) at the publication, use it as an in. • If you can get a direct contact, be shameless about how you introduce yourself. Refer to someone you both know, a shared experience, even a brief meeting.
  30. 30. 5. The Pitch • Should include a self-introduction and clips (if you have them). • Keep a sharp eye for typos and errors, which are especially glaring in pitch letters. • Each idea you suggest should have a hook, a few details and reasons why readers might be compelled beyond the innate interest of the place.
  31. 31. The New York Times July 3, 2011
  32. 32. Build Your Own Travel Blog • Write for the web • Write in your own voice • Write stories other people can engage with • Post consistently • Encourage comments • Utilize social media • Submit guest posts • Include photo and video • Collect email addresses
  33. 33. Find a Niche • Wine Connoisseur • Spa Travel • Volunteer Travel • Adventure Travel • Travel Products • Travel Guides • Luxury Travel
  34. 34. Make $$ Through… • Advertising – branded content posts – banner and video ads – social media and newsletter promotion • Affiliate Marketing • Sponsorships
  35. 35. Use Your Blog to Build Your Reputation • Freelance Writing • Consulting • Public Speaking
  36. 36. Expand Your Offerings • Travel Stories • Guidebooks • Ebooks • Enewsletters • Online Courses • Travel Tips
  37. 37. Established Travel Bloggers • Wandering Earl • Adventurous Kate • Nomadic Matt • Everything Everywhere • Never-ending Footsteps • Green Global Travel
  38. 38. Your Presenters • Susan Spano – Travels with Susan Spano – susan.spano@gmail.com • Evelyn Helminen – www.travelingev.com – ehelminen@miis.edu
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