A travel memoir is a travel writing genre all its own. It is not a guidebook, trip diary or marketing piece for the Sunday paper. Rather, it is a delicate mixture of recollection and reflection that reveals how a journey, or a series of journeys, transformed the writer.
Our journeys are the stories of us. A notable memoir is an artful depiction of how interaction with an exterior landscape reveals or redefines the interior one. It is the writer’s soul turned inside out and set upon a page for all to see. People read them to journey to lands they may never see and to discover their own truths about what it means to be a man or a woman on this difficult, humorous, and sometimes heartbreaking journey we call life.
Guest column by Susan Pohlman, author of
the travel memoir Halfway to Each Other:
How a Year In Italy Brought Our Family Home.
Good Housekeeping called the book "a remarkable
story." See Susan's website here.
CHOOSE A THEME
To create something that an editor will find marketable, you should choose a theme and tell your travel story in a way that supports and illuminates it. What is the one message, the one gut wrenching or humorous human message, that your travel experience brought to light? Write the story about that. Give the reader something to root for, to wish for you and for themselves. Eat, Pray, Love was a runaway success, not because we all necessarily long to stroll through Rome, India and Bali, but because it gave voice to the millions of women who are restless and questioning their own life choices.
DON'T FORCE IT
I have come upon this genre by accident, as I did not intend to write a book at all. I set out to tell my closest friends, the keepers of my heart, the story of what it was like to give up my house and home to search for wholeness in a marriage that simply was not working. I believe that the fact I wasn’t writing for the world helped me. I did not plan a storyline nor did I force an outcome.
I simply wrote about the moments along the way. When someone or something struck me as sad or funny or transformative, I sat and wrote it as a scene while the sensory details were still fresh. I had fun with it. Some of them I sent out as e-mails, and others I locked away as they were too personal to share. I wrote because I couldn’t help it. I think this is what it takes. It did not turn into a memoir until I returned to the United States and was able to look back on the experience and see what the journey meant in all of its intertwined layers. A story about the renewal of marriage, faith and family revealed itself.
MAKE IT READ LIKE FICTION
After I decided to give the book a try, I worked long and hard to shape it into a balanced narrative. An engaging memoir must read like fiction with all of the usual elements of effective storytelling. A knowledgeable editor and a supportive agent helped tremendously in this often arduous process.
If you are an adventurer at heart, and have wisdom to share as a result, I urge you to pick up a pen and give it a try. But remember, a travel memoir is the story of you, and you must have the courage to go deep. Not just into a magnificent rainforest or treacherous jungle but into the wilds of your own soul. Your view of the world was challenged by what you discovered on an amazing journey ... your goal is to thoughtfully challenge others if they choose to travel those pages with you.
Writing a memoir or life story? A great
resource is Writing Life Stories.