Saturday, July 24, 2010

Make Writing a Habit: Travelogues

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.

My ancient grandmother—at least she seemed ancient to me then—took my sister and me to California when we were children. As we took our seats aboard the TWA plane, she gave me a small, spiral-bound notebook and instructed me to write in it every day so that I could remember the trip. I had no idea where to start, but she coaxed and coached me, giving me ideas or even telling me what to write. On that first flight, she noticed an athlete, Bo Belinsky, on board. She forced me to leave my seat and ask for his autograph, and I remember thinking her brand of chaperone included cruel and unusual punishment. I was a desperately shy child; I am still a shy adult.

I have often told the story of that notebook and Bo Belinsky whom I thought of as a broad-shouldered football player until recently, when I found that little notebook and googled Mr. Belinsky. Now I know that he was a baseball player, and now I have a new mystery: how did my ancient grandmother from the smallest of small towns in the Heartland know about a California athlete? Perhaps the stewardess—now more properly called flight attendant—told her about the celebrity on board; perhaps she read the sports pages every day. I can’t imagine, but that little travelogue brought back great memories.

Many years later, I had the good fortune to travel to Japan with other teachers from across the nation. My husband, who has the heart of a great adventurer, was not allowed to tag along for the three-week tour so I decided to take him with me by writing about every day and every thought I had. During bus or train rides, after meals, and before bed, I wrote and wrote and wrote, filling an entire bound 6 X 8 inch book. Upon my return, he sat down to read it cover to cover and said, after he finished, that he felt as if he had made the journey himself. I now read the travelogue occasionally and relive the trip in every vivid detail of place names, people, thoughts, and sensations.

A particular type of journal known as a travelogue is essential for every person who longs to know, to discover, and to write well.

As the summer arcs toward its end, record your travels in a journal. Include the five senses as often as possible:

1. What do you see?
2. What do you smell?
3. What do you hear?
4. What do you feel?
5. What do you taste?

Capturing the full sensory experience rather than just listing where you stopped and what you ate will bring the journey to life. After all, a travelogue is not just a map; it is much more. It is the experience of travel, and that includes how the journey challenged and enriched you.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM):

The advice offered last week holds true for this week as well. Do not fret about correct spellings, complete sentences, or dangling modifiers. Write it all, holding nothing in reserve. You can proofread, edit, and polish later. Now is the time for giving yourself fully to specific, concrete details and images.

But since we are talking about travelogues, dates and places will be part of your narrative so a quick review of the correct punctuation for dates and places is relevant.

1. Separate the day from the year with a comma when presenting a date in the following order: month day, year; e.g., July 23, 2010.
2. Do not use any punctuation for a date listed in the following order: day month year; e.g., 23 July 2010.
3. Separate the city from the state with a comma; e.g., Los Angeles, CA or Chicago, IL.
4. When using postal abbreviations for a state, each letter should be a capital letter as illustrated in item 3 above.

Reading Challenge:

To read some classic travelogues, enjoy one or more of the following:

1. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck: a narrative of the author’s search for America with his dog, Charley, as his companion
2. On the Road with Charles Kuralt by Charles Kuralt: stories about the author’s search for America and what binds us to a place
3. Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon: a narrative of his journey across America using only the highways mapped in blue; i. e., the two-lane roads

Writing Challenge:

Write a travelogue. If your big summer trip is behind you or your budget restricts you to a staycation, then capture the short, local day trips that you and your family enjoy: a weekend at the lake, a bike ride through the river park, a day among the crowds at the local amusement park. Remember to include the five senses.

On the Road With Charles Kuralt Set 3