FAM Trips: Making Sense of Your Notes

I’m an organic writer, the kind who scribbles furiously while she’s away and then settles in to make sense of those scribbles once she’s home. While this might not be the most practical way to compile notes for stories, it’s an inspirational method for me that works. Therefore, now that I’ve been home for a few days from my travels in Taiwan, I wanted to share what I’m learning about making sense of travel notes and moving forward with writing projects.

Look for Patterns

This might sound, well, obvious, but looking for patterns in your notes can be an excellent way to start determining a niche and developing ideas for stories. Ask yourself: What fascinated me? What did I continue coming back to, time and time again? What couldn’t I get away from? From a quick perusal of my own notes, I have found the following threads: a love for trying new foods, an interest in gender roles in Taiwanese culture, an excitement for exploring Taiwan’s natural landscapes (hiking, snorkeling, walking, etc.), and a real passion for understanding the cultural and historical milieu of Taiwan’s contemporary culture. These are all threads that will, I hope, lead to a number of pieces that would benefit interested travelers.

Yehliu Geopark: A Story Here?

After identifying some of these key threads, I’ve started brainstorming ideas that might emerge from these threads (we’ll see what happens!). So while you might have stories you’ve already locked in before leaving (such as a hotel review, a blog post, or a feature for a magazine), allowing your notes to tell stories back to you can be both freeing and inspirational, leading to pieces you could have never imagined. This strategy can work well, I believe, because it focuses on you–why you became a writer in the first place, why you love to travel, and what truly excites you.

Take Stock of What You Facebooked, Tweeted, and Blogged

Combing through everything you posted while away can be an immensely generative exercise in terms of coming up with story angles. After looking through everything I posted–on Facebook, Twitter, and on my blog–I determined that a photo I uploaded while drinking tea in the high mountains of Maokong received the most comments and “likes.” Clearly, then, this is an angle I should consider writing about! Perhaps a piece about tea culture in northern Taiwan? An article about how to get to Maokong, and what to do while there? A piece about Taiwan’s most famous teas and a glimpse into how they’re cultivated?

This tactic works well, I believe, because it focuses entirely on audience: What were my readers most interested in? What did they ask questions about? What would they like to know more about?

Brainstorm How One Idea Can Turn Into Another

In the book that inspired this website, Tim’s Travel Writing 2.0, he discusses how a trip to Peru inspired over 50 reviews, articles, and features. Over 50! The first time I read this, I thought, that’s impossible. And yet, I am starting to see how his strategy works: Take a thought, an idea, an experience. Think about the multiple ways you could spin that thought, idea, or experience into different markets. Look at your notes and identify moments that could be broken into ideas for different kinds of publications. A review about snorkeling on Xiao Liuqiu, for instance, could also turn into part of a larger piece about outdoor activities on the island,  a literary narrative about the experience of meeting other snorkelers, or even an article on sustainability and environmental concerns in Taiwan’s coastal regions.

Now, it’s time for me to get writing!

Article posted in June, 2012 by Kristin Mock.

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