1 Why Travel Writing Sucks or Why I Blog | Traveling Light Blog by Travel Writer Colleen Friesen

Why Travel Writing Sucks or Why I Blog


English: Neil Young in concert in Oslo, Norway...

“I’m not here to sell things. That’s what other people do, I’m creating them.

If it doesn’t work out, I’m sorry; I’m just doing what I do. You hired me to do what I do, not what you do.

As long as people don’t tell me what to do, there will be no problem.” 

- Neil Young in the NYTimes


In a recent e-mail I received the following…

“…great focus and well-written but after discussing it…we feel it’s not really suitable for the papers…They’re after the more conventional travel pieces.”

A drawing of a suitcase with the word "TR...

I am not writing this is blame the editors who wrote me that email, but rather to explain why most travel articles you read in many of the big (and small) newspapers sound ‘conventional’.

You know the stories I’m talking about…the articles that use words like ‘pristine wilderness’ or  ’swaying palms’ or ‘quaint and charming’ or ‘storybook’ or my all-time nemesis travel word, ‘ubiquitous’.

Recently, I had a different experience, where a story I had written was edited so it would not include the word ‘feces’ because ‘readers might find it offensive”.

Feces?? Did I write the word shit? No I did not. Surely we can handle the word feces?

This might sound like a rant. And perhaps it is. I hope not.

I’m just trying to explain why I am sending out less and less travel story queries while continuing to blog:

I blog because I can use any words I want.

I blog because I’m doing what I want when I want to do it.

I blog for the immediacy (one story took just over two years from the time I pitched it to a magazine until it was finally published).

I blog for the connection I get from readers (which is why I love the comments!)

And I blog for the same reason I started travel writing…because I love how it forces me to find out what I think, to see what I believe, to explore my thoughts and give a voice to those thoughts & to have a chance to reflect and re-live experiences.

Best of all, I can do all this whether I’m traveling somewhere very different from Canada or simply wandering around my neighbourhood or in the tumbled synaptic connections in my head.

Mostly, I blog because I like connecting dots between quotes I have seen, photos I have taken and some random neural firing that sees the thread between them all. 

In short, blogging is my form of virtual collage and I love, love, love making collages.

Collage-writing-publishing-blogging does NOT work in the Travel section, or in fact, any section at all.

Turns out, I’m happy it’s turned out this way.

Because the top reason I blog? It’s fun.

And fun is w-a-a-a-y more interesting than fighting to use the word feces.









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10 Responses
  1. sarah says:

    I know that type of editor, think their feces don’t stink. They think we writers are just talentless fecesheads that just sit around thinking about feces to write about. Why are they so fecal to us? Jealousy!

  2. Colleen Friesen says:

    Who knew there were so many ways to incorporate feces into a rant? Well done Sarah!
    Actually, in defense of the editor, she was quite lovely and tried very hard to go to bat for me. Rather sadly, she was overruled by the publisher powers that be and their belief that the readers wouldn’t be able to cope with such a crass reference…sigh.
    Fecal Happens!

  3. Stephen Sell says:

    Quote from the Tao Te Ching (#76) pertaining to writers:

    “The hard and stiff will be broken.
    The soft and supple will prevail.”

    Please note that fresh feces is usually soft and supple.

  4. Colleen Friesen says:

    I guess I asked for it with my fecal reference. I’m glad that such wise men concur. Thank you (I think) for such astute & fecund observations Mr. Sell.

  5. Mandy Hale says:

    Well, shit…I still love your travel pieces that I’ve been able to scour up, especially the two I’ve found in Adventure Cyclist. I’ll have you know that when I took my “Nature and Travel Writing” class last winter, and we were asked to bring examples of the writing of a couple of our favorites, I dragged out my back copies of AC–it was you and Willie Weir!!

  6. Lesley Peterson says:

    Something that stinks, other than the ubiquitous feces, is being told beforehand by someone who hasn’t been to a destination what the story is to be about. Stories are revealed on the road and often something other than the original goal ends up being the real discovery. Great post, Colleen.

  7. Laurie says:

    Keep the good stories rolling, there will be another avenue to share your
    Wonderfully REAL stories that are beautifully descriptive and not genetically boring.

  8. Colleen Friesen says:

    Wow Mandy. I am truly honoured that you used my Adventure Cyclist articles for a class. That’s really nice. Actually, Mike Deme (the editor at AC) is included in my list of editors I adore. He actually replies to emails in a timely fashion. Imagine that!?
    And on that note, The Return of the Stupids or something similarily titled, will be coming out in the October issue of Adventure Cyclist, so I haven’t given up writing travel articles completely :)
    Thanks for your vote of confidence.

  9. Colleen Friesen says:

    Amen Lesley. I find that frustrating too; editors that want to know what I’m going to write about before I’ve been to a place.
    How do I know what the story’s about unless I go immerse myself and see what happens? It’s not like I’m doing an investigative piece on rare minerals in Nevada or something…I am not flattering myself that this is deep journalism. For me it’s experiential narrative. If someone wants the top 5 sun-tanning beaches, best to go ask someone else. Don’t care!
    Instead, I’m going to a place, hanging out and being open to what comes across my path.
    I couldn’t agree more that, “…often something other than the original goal ends up being the real discovery.”

  10. Colleen Friesen says:

    Thanks Laurie, I think this blog will have to serve as my main travel ‘magazine’, even though, as you know, this ‘zine often veers off in rather un-travel-like directions. But then, I like to operate under the Random Chaos theory.
    That being said, there are stil some publications I like to work with & I hope that I continue to have that occasional opportunity.
    However, my days of chasing after a lot of different outlets are done like dinner! Just Say No!

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