I attended yesterday (Sunday) my very first formal travel writing workshop with my good friend from college Anna. I’ve always wanted to at least attend a workshop once a year, be it writing or anything that’s related to my background; but most workshops always seem to be expensive. I happen to saw this from Rappler during my daily browsing routine on Facebook. Good thing, it’s fairly priced than most workshops I’ve come across with, so I decided to have a go.
Before this workshop, I’ve had some travel posts already here on this blog. However, I wanted to have something of a formal introduction and training to be better at it. Although of course, there isn’t any actual course that teaches anyone how to write travel articles, people from the Writer’s Block decided to help amateur and even professional writers by introducing their services and expertise on travel writing. And as I mentioned, they learned the trade by actually doing it first and not from a formal school education.
Despite the not so convenient location at Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street, The Fort; I enjoyed having to roam around the bookstore after the workshop, but I’ll save all this for later.
“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”
– “Why We Travel” by Jonah Lehrer (The Guardian)
The speakers are the founders of Writer’s Block – Anna Santos and Nika Sarthou-Lainez, so we had a head start with an introduction to travel writing. They opened with the quote above from Jonah Lehrer of The Guardian. I guess there’s no betterway to put how travel has such an influence to anyone other than this. I feel and believe the same way as she said.
One of the best things from the workshop is understanding the mindset “I’m a traveller, not a tourist.” I thought to myself, “Is there some distinction to a traveller to a tourist?” And yes there is a distinction. She mentioned that it’s not very advisable to go on a hop-on hop-off style, which I actually did with my mom in Kuala Lumpur. Well that’s because we had to stay for a day only.
“You are writing a story.”
Many people have already written about Paris, London, New York, Singapore, Tokyo, HongKong and more; so what else can a writer write about Paris? I think no matter how many travel articles you read about Paris for example, there will be something different from each of those articles; they’re never the same thing because people will always have different experiences.
“You are on an adventure.” You show, not tell.
Most writers, amateurs and non-amateurs alike will mostly write a travel piece in a way that they’re telling everything – like they left the airport at this time and went to this and to that. Anna and Nika stressed that it shouldn’t be that way. Don’t spoon-feed the information this way, instead let them see what you saw with your words.
* Write an effective headline – A headline’s best when it’s simple, short and catchy that delivers your total message
*Create a catchy introduction – Share some historical trivia, quotes, personal experiences
*Introduce destination – What can be found there? What can you do, see, eat, unique?
*Include sidebar – Makes the article more interesting. Include best time to go there, accommodation, etc.
*Let photos tell your story
*Avoid making it sound like an advertorial – Use first person voice, insert quotes from relevant sources
Common templates for easier writing.
*By category – segregate topics into separate ideas or subheadings
*Dear Diary – narrate events in chronological manner (Day 1, Day 2)
* Theme oriented – think of an umbrella theme that features different subjects
*Listicle – list format, curated information in digestible bites
*Tips of how-to’s – helpful advice for the reader
*Seasoned traveller – emotional attachment of the writer to the place is the highlight of this style
Other highlights that are not exactly related to the workshop.
Lunch with Anna at Figaro. We had Pork Tenderloin in Asian Pesto Sauce. I initially wanted the fish meal but it wasn’t available, we made the right choice with this. Appetizing indeed! Fairly priced.
I like to go around bookshops whether I buy something or not, but most of the time I don’t buy anything. A bookshop is always one of my favorite places to go to, I just like hanging out there – going to every section of the shop as if I’m buying something. So after the workshop, Anna and I went around Fully Booked from the basement to the 5th floor. This is probably the biggest bookshop with a great interior. Powerbooks used to have a big branch too at Megamall but then it was transferred to a smaller space.
At the end of the workshop, we were asked to fill out a feedback form. I noticed that the speakers are very focused on just one category – that is straight out travel writing, which is why they might not understand the kind of writing I have. And in relation to the guest speaker’s comments about what I wrote during the practice, I suggested that it’d be really nice to have someone who travels, attends concerts and writes about them as a guest speaker on their next workshops, so they can also comment on varied kinds of travel writing.
I re-angled my previous post about my HK trip last June because I couldn’t think of anything else to write. When she saw it, she didn’t know how to make comments about it. I totally understand, not everyone writes the type of topics I write, which means not everyone can relate to it. I also understand it’s not something mainstream travel magazines would have an interest on, well maybe but I’d have to change how it’s written. It can be suitable for the events/concerts section if they have one. But as I indicated, if I ever wanted to pitch the story – it would be Sparkling because it’s a K-pop magazine.
I titled the story, “A Legend’s First Under the HongKong Sky.” So what I wanted to point is how my second time in HongKong is different than the first time – not by going into mainstream and popular tourist sites but mainly from watching an event. I also wanted to highlight the fact that HongKong is one of the top destinations of culture, entertainment events like this.
Anna and I had a discussion about it over dinner at 7-eleven. We both agreed that it is still travel writing even if your main intention to go to that place is to watch or attend an event. One way or the other you will still come across some of the places; things you’ve seen before and also see some other things/places you haven’t noticed before during your stay, on your way to the event, while waiting for the event to start, while waiting for the train or bus, on your way to buy food or whatever. There is always something new to a place you’ve been before no matter how many times. In totality, you will always have to mention the place and some of your new discoveries and not just about the event.
Before I forget, a snapshot of freebies from the workshop. I wasn’t so satisfied with the size of the free coffee though, it happened to be the same coffee brand I bought at Mercury Drug few days ago before the workshop. It was the size of a shot glass. I was expecting a size bigger than that. Delicious coffee though, white coffee from a Malaysian brand called Chek Hup.