Every traveller I meet is going to write travel stories: well every second traveller. They know they are good writers- everyone loves their letters and emails – and now they will give up their day job to become a famous writer.
According to my unofficial, and unscientific, gestimated research, 99.5% will never write. Why? Writing is difficult. It’s solitary; requires self-discipline and concentration. (if you want to be a travel writer see here for how to become one)
I know one hundred and one ways to avoid writing. When I sit at a blank screen, with a deadline looming, it’s amazing how creative I can be. I have developed the skills of evasion or procrastination to a fine art.
Confronted by a pristine sheet of paper – or my well-worn notebook – I suddenly need a coffee. The urge is imperious and no matter what I tell myself – write a hundred words and then you will really enjoy it I say – I don’t believe it, nor do I listen to myself.
Next comes the need, well not a need, but a desire, a craving, for a cigarette, or at least the nicotine in a cigarette. I would have thought after all this time that would have disappeared but no: every time I have to write- as opposed to wanting to write- the old addiction dragon rears up. It tries to tell me I could write if and when I have a white tube of dried plant in my hand.
To date I have been able to remember that I smoked to relieve the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal: not for pleasure as I had always imagined.
So, to quell that imperious urge and the thought that I can’t write at all without a nicotine fix I decide to dice vegetables for minestrone or some other time-intensive soup. Other writing-avoidance-ploys including sorting photos for some possible future story, having a bath, another coffee (at the Arts Centre) pruning my bonsai trees or responding to answer-phone messages.
However once all those have been attended to – or pushed down – I finally sit, pen in hand and start to combine my letters and postcards home with my on-the-road notebooks and record my experiences. Translate the hours, days, weeks, or months in a place into a story that will give you some of the flavours of a place.
I’m happy I am not a travel writer -in the usual way. It is so much more fun to be a traveller who writes about my experiences – rather than travelling so I can write about places. There is a world of difference. I don’t have to record where I stay, what restaurants I ate at, what activities I indulged in or visit any of the iconic must-see places that so many travel articles comprise of. I just travel; record highlights, then later decide on which to write about.
Travel writers who are bought to New Zealand hit the must-go-to places such as Rotorua, Milford Sound and Queenstown, while trampers hike the big name walks, Milford, Routeburn, Tongariro. Unless they do some deeper research many do not realise that much of the real New Zealand lies in places that are off the well-worn trail. That’s why I like to write of experiences, people I meet and public transport, rather than tours of a country.
One of the saddest T-shirts I ever saw was on a young woman in Athens. 32 countries in 30 days it proudly proclaimed. Not the type of trip I want, but one that could produce a travel article on the highlights for the next persons race though the continent in a bus with others. If you just want the highlights and want others to do the planning that’s fine and I understand it too.
One of the difficulties of living down-under is it takes so long, and costs so much, to get ‘upover’ that we are tempted to cram in as many places as possible. I recently spent a few days with a group of Americans who had two weeks to explore and hike in New Zealand and they too had a tight schedule for the same reasons. New Zealand is a long way from anywhere- geographically speaking.
However if you want to be tempted to try somewhere different, (or be one of my many armchair travellers) and I hope my stories encourage you to do some research and explore this wonderful world.
See what happens when I finally just start writing – eventually the page is full.