Monday, 22 February 2010

A travel writing class... continued

There we are, 25 minutes into the two hours, we're underway in this substitute creative writing class with travel writing the subject (see last week's blog). Students now have ideas buzzing round in their heads and I feel well comfortable and focussed. Time for the lecture part, and here's the gist of it.

It's important to think about where or to whom you are writing about your travels. Different outlets have different styles, and different lengths, so this affects what and how you might write. For example, I looked at the weekend's newspaper supplements and found these...

... and I read out the openings of 3 or 4 travel articles which were first person, lively, involving. Here is just one example,
When I found myself in a canoe on a huge wilderness lake in Prince Albert National Park, Northern Saskatchewan, sweating and swearing, neck and back stiff with pain, I blamed Richard Attenborough. I never would have known about Grey Owl if he had not resurrected one of his
childhood heroes and made a film about him. (Actually this is an article of a few years ago, by my friend Cathy Smith, whose travel writing how-to book I will talk about later in this blog.)

So you can see that what newspapers and magazines mainly want are a narrative style and the writer's personal experience... the more fun, or amazing, or different or even painful, the better. These pieces are often 800-900 words, sometimes up to 1200... (you need to do a rough count if this will be your target). The length, of course, affects how much of the adventure you can fit in.

Still sticking with the newspapers I moved on to another kind of article opening, the factual. Here is one example of several beginnings I read out:

The Romans invaded Britain in AD 43. It took thousands of soldiers six years to build Hadrian's Wall and the purpose was to mark the boundaries of the great Roman Empire. (Cathy again; walking Hadrian's Wall is the subject of the piece.)

Besides history, geography or mythology, statistics or cultural facts etc can make intriguing openings.

Moving on from print media to cyberspace, I spoke only about one outlet I personally know -- but there must be loads out there: up 2 u to find!! But have a look at Suite 101 which will take you right to Cathy Smith's list of articles... it's a huge site covering lots of subjects and it does pay contributing writers (pennies per click though, you won't get rich this way... )

Point to note with Suite 101 or any online writing is that pieces must be short -- like 350 words. So they tend to be pithy... not so experiential. A bit less fun to write?

Another kind of travel writing is the service piece -- online and in print -- which might be a round-up of ski resorts or city visits or B&Bs in a region etc. Or articles about travelling and the travel business. These are usually written by travel journalists, not worth trying for at this stage.

BUT OF COURSE there is the thought of your own blog! My cousin Lyn in Australia publishes her gorgeous world travel photos and 'journal' in a blog... lots of people do. And here, the personal experience narration will make your blog an involving, exciting -- as well as informative -- read.

So, back to our writing, and my assumption that you want to have fun writing and sharing your travel experience(s), which we will soon be doing. But first we need to take a moment to think about that word experiential, which means thinking about the senses. I am going to take you through a series of questions to loosen up the soil and help you to get WRITING WITH THE 8 SENSES.

ahhh... but this 10 minute marketing lecture is long enough for one blog entry; senses to be continued in 2 weeks, when I return from my travels -- to The Big Apple and to North Yorkshire.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A travel writing class

So why not take you right through the two hour creative writing class that went so well (mentioned last week)? The subject was travel writing. Here goes...
On my class plan (I always write one out, to keep me focussed and on track), I listed the following Learning Outcomes/Objectives:

  • To list and develop travel writing ideas
  • To consider outlets & styles of travel writing
  • To practice vivid sense-experience travel writing
  • To begin a travel article

P.S. You should know that I write those objectives AFTER I have thought and doodled up my ideas for filling the 2 hours with a good pacing of exercises, interaction and straight lecture. Once the draft ideas are tightened I can see that they add up to sensible "objectives" (teaching jargon..., but actually, it helps)

5 mins to intro myself and what we will do and ascertain that they do have a break, when & how (as a substitute I wanted to fit into their patterns, not impose mine -- might make them unhappy...)

Jumped right in and gave them 5 minutes (or less) to LIST 5 PLACES YOU HAVE BEEN TO AND WANT TO WRITE ABOUT... that is, would like to share, tell people about. Someone asked, and my answer was, Yes, as well as holiday places they might be a place you know well, like one you used to live in or visit every year; can even be places right here in your own home area.

When I glanced around to see that most had a list, or at least a list of 3 places, moved right on to CHOOSE ONE, one that speaks to you right now, and SHARE WITH YOUR NEIGHBOR for 5 minutes, then SWAP AND THE OTHER SHARES for 5 minutes. The task each time is for the listener to ASK QUESTIONS. Note-taking isn't necessary, but do, both of you, notice what questions are asked... what do people need and want to know?

The numbers were initially uneven, so I partnered a young woman who had been to Jerusalem just this Christmas. I didn't get to share my Nepal trip with her, because a latecomer arrived and became her partner. It can be hard to join in a chatting exercise as tutor because half your attention has to be on the rest of the class and the clock... Got to remind all to swap roles midway.

Then, 5 minutes for REFLECTIVE NOTES. Pulling them back from the chatter is a challenge! But, hey, they're having fun. This is a little space to calm down and jot down what you spoke of, and to note the questions and what your listener wanted to know, what you wanted to know. (I didn't get round to mentioning it directly, but this brings out the famous 5 Ws of journalism -- Who, What, Where, Why, When -- the keys to clarity and communication.)

It's about 20-25 minutes into the class, and they are well 'warmed'. I'm feeling comfortable and they are fizzing with thoughts. Time now for me to talk at them.... but this blog has gone on long enough, I have to get on with Ephraim (and my morning caffeine fix), so the Travel Writing Lecture, on openings and styles, will continue next week...

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Postcards for the edge

The substituting for two classes last Tuesday went really well!

In fact I will be so unblushing that I will here quote a comment made in the class at the end of the session by one of the 13 students in the course which has been running since September:

'I think this is the best writing we have all done in class this whole year.'

What a fine compliment. 11 of the 13 read out, and all were good, with a handful so rich and smooth they were publishable; the others were excellent starts just needing to be finished. Sometimes magic does happen.

I think I will make you wait for details on what I did (and what they did) til next time. Instead: the other class, which was a workshopping class. Well, good thing I did bring a 'just in case', as I said last week, because, as opposed to the team leader's assumption, the 2 hour class was not in the habit of workshopping for the entire 2 hours.

So, after the one scheduled writer's slot (that was fun; as well as two stanza'd poems, she'd done a page of 8 haiku, as happenstance has it one of my special areas of knowledge), I provided a stimulus for writing. Introduced thus,

'I suppose you've done lots of excercises with postcards in this class.'
This met with mystifcation -- no! Strange, I'm not sure how you can inspire writing without postcards somewhere pretty soon along the line. I'd chosen some of my weirder ones, assuming they'd have done character and senses work using postcards previously.
The task was to use the picture to write a character's dream. I had been going to do the Postcard Ambush (from my book -- you drop a second card on them as they are mid-flow, to additionally weave into or shift the dream, as dreams do...). But as this was all new to these students, it would have completely thrown them, so they had a one-picture dream.
Of course a dream can take you anywhere -- and so these did, from a fast-running river to a dentist's chair, from a castle garden to a 5-door'd hallway...

Monday, 1 February 2010

Eeek, substitute teaching travel writing tomorrow

Ooops, got so carried away with the successful outflow on my great grandfather Ephraim's story that I forgot to blog here this weekend. And now my team leader has just rung to ask me to substitute two classes tomorrow.

Fortunately one is Advanced Workshopping, so I am presuming no prep -- but maybe I'll bring some postcards along for a simple stimulus exercise, in case I'm wrong about that... or in case the workshoppers fail to bring work.

The other is Travel Writing as topic for a Ways In to Writing course -- don't know if they've had any input on it yet. Will assume no -- anyway, my intro to it will have my flavour, the regular tutor's will have had his. Yummy topic, no problems getting people excited about travel experiences... then just have to segue them into writing.

I haven't written/published travel for ages, no longer looking to do that, so I'd better glance at yesterday's travel supplements. And I just browsed through my mate Cathy Smith's site -- she's got 285 travel articles on it! Got to suggest students think about cyber as well as print markets, and maybe their own travel blogs.