Being a freelance humorist has its benefits. You can set your own schedule, show up for work in your jammies, or hammer down on raspberry white chocolate cheesecake whenever your feel like it. One of the biggest perks of being your own boss – besides firing and rehiring yourself at will – is that you choose your own topics. Today it’s humorous travel writing.
If you’re wondering how to connect travel and humor, you haven’t seen enough of Clark Griswold. Let me illustrate with Easter on the O.P. This delightful piece is an incredibly compelling narrative about a family hike on the Olympic Peninsula (excerpted from my soon-to-be bestseller, how I got to be 50 and other atrocities):
“The Heather Park-Lake Angeles Loop Trail is one of the premier day hikes on the Olympic Peninsula” gushes our handy-dandy trail guide. “You’ll climb from deep forest to airy cliffs and pass a sapphire lake tucked in a snowy cirque.”
Doesn’t that sound delicious? They left out the part about a trail so steep you have to be part mountain goat to navigate, sluicing down ice-clogged creeks, and traipsing through every type of debris, tangle foot and treacherous traipse known to humanity.
We strike out on this “premier day hike” and, Energizer-Bunny like, keep going and going and … Scrambling over downed logs. Skittering over snow. Crossing streams on foot bridges so narrow the chipmunks have to scamper sideways.
“Buck up, kids,” Snuggle Bunny chirps. “It could be worse. At least we have the trail all to ourselves.”
Of course we do. Everyone with brains stayed home.
Temperatures are dropping by the minute. Our breath exhales in frosty plumes. The higher we climb, the colder it gets.
“I can’t feel my toes,” son Josiah whines. “I can’t feel my nose,” complains Sam the other son. We bribe them with Gatorade and enough Ho-Hos to buy stock in Hostess.
“Not to worry, kids. Ya gotta love the great outdoors,” I huff and puff. “Besides, it’s all part of the adventure.”
Ten minutes later: it’s snowing. And I don’t mean the light, feathery, wuss snow. I’m talking the Real Deal. Like someone just dumped a giant package of powdered sugar out of the sky. We slog on, punching through hip-deep drifts and floundering through terrain that’d give a Yetti cause for pause.
Is this place great, or what?
That’s just for starters. With a little curmudgeonly creativity, you can turn any outdoor expedition into sheer misery, too. Here are ten tips to take on the hilarity highway:
1. Start strong. Don’t expect your audience to stay with you into the backstretch if you haven’t corralled ‘em at the starting gate. You get a nano-second to saddle an editor’s interest, spur them into the next paragraph and gallop to the finish like Secretariat. Take that bit in your teeth and surge ahead strong.
2. Be unique. No one wants to read the millionth version of “It was a dark and stormy night.” Even if it was. Come up with something new. Even if it kills you. This is especially tricky if you’re writing about a well-worn tourist spot that hasn’t seen a drop in visitors since before the Ark landed. So either make funeral arrangements now, or see Tip #3:
3. Keep it fresh. Readers gag on pre-chewed leftovers. Angle for a unique angle. Writing about the Grand Canyon? Avoid words like “stunning,” “spectacular” and “gorgeous.” They taste like milk that’s been left out since last Christmas.
4. Keep it original. Related to the brilliant tip above, don’t rehash the geology, geography, or donkey trails at the Grand Canyon. Half the population of the Free World has beaten you to it. Write about what happened when grandpa leaned over the railing for that chipmunk photo…
5. Select your target audience. Ask, “Who’s my main audience? How do I want them to react to this piece? What experience or expertise can I offer that will connect with my readers?” Direct your writing toward a specific target rather than the entire world.
6. If you can’t or won’t target a specific audience for your next riotous romp, do what political pollsters do: shoot the stuffin’ out of everyone. You’re bound to hit something. (If you’re lucky, you might put a campaign commercial out of our misery.)
7. Write what you know or have experienced first-hand. If you’re a childless senior, writing trail tips for parents of toddlers may not be your best bet. If you’ve never ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line, you may want to forego that piece on the best B&B in Cajun country or the tastiest hush puppies in Atlanta.
8. Know your potential publisher. Study their product. What kind of tone, style, and topics find their way into print? Make sure you pitch the right article to the right publisher. Trotting out Hamlet and Ophelia for a droll stroll through Grit and Grunge magazine may not be a great idea.
9. Submission guidelines are road maps. Follow them to the letter. If a 700 word maximum, double-spaced, sent in the body of an email is specified, DO NOT submit a 5,000 word, single-spaced magnum opus as an attachment and stalk off in a blue funk when it’s rejected.
10. Finish well. When wrapping up your latest masterpiece, don’t just stop. This leaves readers with concussions. They feel like they’ve been dropped on their heads. Close any loops and swoop onto the tarmac with a smooth landing, not one that requires a crash truck.
When it comes to travel writing, tired tedium is worse than crossing the English Channel without your Dramamine. So ride that funny bone until it laughs out loud. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun than firing yourself.
A five-part mini-series: Write Away…