It’s only recently I’ve started putting “writer” under the profession question on travel cards. It’s a better term to use than web developer because i involves less writing – who wants to waste more effort than required on the useless paperwork of travel. (Note however it’s a very BAD term to use if you happen to be travelling to repressive countries like China or Myanmar – then the old fall-back of teacher should cover it in a nice generic way.)
I have a dark secret. I want to write a vampire-ridden, erotic trilogy.
Nah – not really, I wouldn’t mind the cash but I don’t do creative, I was the leader of a small group of girls who in the last year of school appealed to our Principal (an ex-English teacher), to remove the school ruling that we all had to do English Lit in 7th form. We won and I haven’t graced the door of an English class since.
But I do want to venture into an odd cross-over between fiction and non-fiction, called travel memoir. However there was a problem.
The Trouble With Travel Writing
As I’ve read my fellow self-published authors in the genre, I came to a rather non-PC conclusion.
Most of their books suck.
I struggled or failed to finish many of them. I don’t mean they have the odd typo or what-not, frankly I skim read far too fast to notice 99% of the time. Nope I mean their stories were, not to be subtle about it, boring. Dull. Failed-to-finish-the-book tedious.
However I just couldn’t work out why.
I hadn’t noticed the same problem with self-published non-fiction, generally. Usually if there was a problem, it was over-promising on the title and under-delivered on the content. (Hint: don’t use terms like “complete” and “comprehensive” in the title when Amazon says your eBook is 48 pages long).
So then I started reading “real” books, traditionally published books. Specifically I read travel memoir because that’s what I’m interested in. I started at the top of the best-sellers list: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Couldn’t finish it, it was beyond awful, nothing to do with travel, all to do with her own inability to function as a woman without a man in tow. Made me despair for what womens’ lib has achieved.
Then I re-read the rather excellent Down Under (Sun Burnt Country in the US) by Bill Bryson. Funny, clever, entertaining – and I finished the book still not knowing or caring about the author’s sex life, whether he had a family or anything more personal than his age (middle-ish) , shape (roundish) and fitness levels (hmm not so good).
Hmmm so even some of the popular trad-published stuff sucked, IMHO anyway. So how to write a travel memoir which I would actually like to read, seemed to be the issue. I’ve tried writing my memoir before, every time I tried it descended into a blow-by-blow, re-written version of my journal. That was a problem, because basically it was boring even for me. Finding similar books self-published didn’t inspire confidence. So I did something a bit radical to me – I spent some money and enrolled in:
Sydney Writers Centre: Travel Memoir Course
I know it sounds odd to those of you who live in bigger countries – but really there aren’t that many options in New Zealand – and this was just a quick trip to Sydney and two nights accommodation for a weekend intensive course.
And I came away having learnt some cool things:
- I don’t completely suck at writing;
- I now know what my memoir lacked – a plot;
- You can make stuff up and leave stuff up (duh!);
- Writing plots hasn’t changed since Homer and it’s not that hard;
- it was cool to meet Tracey Edwards in real life
- My new writing tool – the iPad mini is pretty cool for taking notes on.
I’ve been nervous of doing a course. As I’m an entirely self-taught writer, I had developed what I like to think of on a good day as a”unique voice”, (on bad days I am just rude, crude and in desperate need of an editor). As I wasn’t quite sure how this strange voice thing had happened (if like me you have no idea what an authorial voice might be – read this ). So I worried about jinxing it.
But this course was about the nuts and bolts of what makes a good story, and why, nothing at all about split-infinitives and the other stuff I vaguely remember from English.
Highly recommended – the course is from Sydney Writers’ Centre – now the Australian Writers’ Centre and the presenter Claire Scobie did a really good job making sure that 12 very disparate women all got something out of the course.
I came away with my head buzzing with good ideas.
Later this week – well it’s half-way through the week already but I do want to write about how I used my new toy – the iPad mini on this trip – and whether it’s good enough to replace a notebook for a traveller.
Have you ever done a writing course? Was it useful? I’m also considering doing an on-line humour (sorry humor) writing course at Gotham Writers.