Travel Writing Tips from Across the Atlantic

By Taryn Balchunas

Taryn and Chetwynd on her 21st birthday.

A Boston native with a familiar accent for Emerson students studying abroad in the Netherlands, Richard Chetwynd is a writing professor currently teaching at Kasteel Well for the spring semester of 2012.  Even if he considers himself more of a poet, he is teaching Fiction Writing and Travel Writing at the Castle, genres in which he knows how to write well.
Admittedly not always remembering the tips he is giving in his Travel Writing class, he does consistently drive home certain points about writing.  According to Chetwynd, travel writers need to have an angle, must “command the facts,” and give the reader an accurate feel of the environment.  He argues that anyone can get a travel writing piece published, but few can write the pieces well.  Good travel writing requires being removed and acting as the senses for the reader.  The reader does not necessarily have to live vicariously through the author, but it is the author’s job to bring the places they visited to life.
Students in the Kasteel Well program are learning how to explore and expand their comfort zones.  This Travel Writing class is helping encourage students to be adventurous and travel to places that they only dreamed of traveling to.  It is teaching Emerson students how to be observant and aware of their surroundings.  For those students that do not have a photographic memory, Chetwynd encourages them to keep a notebook, collect maps, menus, and pamphlets, and to take photographs.  He recommends that students do as much research as possible before traveling, to be open to living accommodations (he once slept on top of a train in order to save money), and to interview at least one local person.  As Chetwynd says, “when people open their mouths, they become human.”
As with all other forms of writing and literature, “show, don’t tell” is a rule that still applies to travel writing.  According to Chetwynd, writing in the present tense is limiting, so writing in the past tense is recommended.  In order to avoid emotionally manipulating the reader, write about the place instead of yourself.  And my personal favorite piece of advice, “Pretend you are talking to the police. Think of all of the words you’re about to say.”
Well-written travel writing does not have a specific formula, but these are some tips that are beneficial to keep in mind if writers are interested in going into this industry.  Like Chetwynd says, “It’s all about rhythm. You’re the bass drum, and the world around you is all of the other instruments.”

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