Here are a few books and sites I find useful for travel writing. This list is part of my curriculum for www.writers.com.
Samuel Johnson once said, man must bring knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge. So too, the best travel writers research exhaustively before leaving on assignment. They already know the top three ice cream shops in Rome, temple etiquette in Thailand and the best camping spot in Big Sur. Their discovery starts where the guidebooks leave off, taking readers that much farther into an area's heart.
Immerse yourself in the destination. Pore over maps. Ransack though not one but many guides. Search the web. Read travel writing and fiction set there. Watch films. Dissect the local paper. Request media kits from the tourist office, chamber of commerce or visitors bureau. Set up interviews with key figures. Talk to your friends and acquaintances. In short, be an expert before departure.
Some travel writers compile their own guidebooks, snippets culled from different sources, then photocopied or printed with large margins. They then scrawl notes onto the preliminary research. While composing, it's easier to locate material this way, rather then constantly flipping through a scribbled notebook.
Journalists write not just with their hands, but with their legs, according to popular wisdom. Reporters, like wolves, live by their paws, is another version of the maxim. Ian Frazier used the latter to remind colleagues that reporting is a collaboration between mind and motion, in The Best of American Travel Writing 2003. When the mind is dull and out of ideas, extra legwork can provide inspiring discoveries, and when the legwork is lazy, the mind can disguise that with embellishments added later.
Indeed, post-trip data mining can illuminate a weak piece, but never compares with going prepared. Research is essential, so knuckle down before traveling, when it's of use to you, as well as readers.
Quotations can help start or conclude a story with pizzazz. They add color, familiarity and depth to a piece. You neednt use the whole massive chunk, sometimes a brief allusion works well, like slipping in "take the road less traveled along Oregons coast" or "ladies who lunch will adore the Miaow Cafe".
since 1855, Bartlett's
Familiar Quotations is the classic trove of epigrams, wit and
wisdom. The last edition came out in 1992, striving for modernity with
J.K. Rowling and Jerry Seinfeld.
reliable dictionary is vital. Never rely on solely spell check, which
cant distinguish between 'bear' and 'bare'. Editors become quickly
aggravated with grammar and spelling errors, seen as very amateur mistakes.
Of course, a certain amount of slippage is normal, but you must strive
to submit the cleanest copy possible. The twenty-volume Oxford English
Dictionary is considered the best, but at $1,295, it breaks most freelancers
budgets. The compact version weighs in at $276, but the company does produce
more affordable options. Penny-pinching writers prefer Merriam
Websters free on-line dictionary and thesaurus.
The Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary is a fine addition to a professionals library with 48,000 listings of mountains, lakes, towns and countries. The larger maps photocopy well. Websters Biographical Dictionary is another good reference, supplying brief synopses of famous people (and handy pronunciation guides for those tongue-twisting names).
Almanacs provide quick, current information. The genres grandpappy is The World Almanac and Book of Facts, published annually since 1886. It still dominates the field. The New York Times Almanac focuses heavily on US current affairs.
Finally, invest in a decent map book, like Rand McNally Goode's World Atlas, which is packed with thematic maps showing temperature, precipitation, population density and to name a few.
Guidebooks sometimes lift material from each other: the same tired restaurants with barely-rephrased reviews or identical inaccurate descriptions of a small town. Remember these books are not the font of all knowledge. In some cases, a stressed-out, inexperienced author may have covered too much unfamiliar ground too quickly. So double-check information wherever possible.
three or four
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