The Art of Travel, written by Alain de Botton, published in 2002, is not your typical travel book. It discusses one’s journey while traveling, all the ups and downs that come with it, like airport and hotel experiences. It is a witty, funny book that shows how complicated one’s expectations are when traveling the globe. But most importantly, The Art of Travel shows the discrepancies between one’s expectations, anticipations and the real deal when one travels.
Expectation versus reality in The Art of Travel
Before travelling, we have been used to researching and reading up on travel books and brochures, thereby creating expectations in our heads. Once you get to your itinerary, for example, the Eiffel Tower, you take those customary pictures side by side with arms over each other’s shoulders, creating a memory you’ll remember forever. What the Art of Travel reminds us is how you tend to forget all those difficulties and stresses encountered before getting there – the flight delay, the terrible food, the fail hotel location. But on the other hand, we would rather just enjoy ourselves and overcome the challenges that is why we only choose to remember the good memories.
The Parallelism between the Art of Travel and of Writing
The Art of Travel author Alain be Botton is actually a genius when he compares travelling to writing. Similar to his analogy on expectations and reality, that is actually what an artist or writer does when he paints a painting, writes a novel, or even composes a symphony. The artist begins with outlining his work, much like when you research before you go on a trip. And as he does his artistic work, he chooses only what he feels has artistic value, which is like forgetting all the negative aspects of a trip like the delays, garbage, et al. And as stated in The Art Travel, you only choose to retain the good memories of the trip, the artist’s end product is a beautiful painting, novel, or musical composition. Just as the happy traveler has ended with a beautiful trip, the artist has composed beautiful art by imagining, and then carefully choosing and then rejecting what is not needed to end up with a beautiful masterpiece.
As a writer, these are also what you must keep in mind while doing your work. From de Botton’s Art of Travel, here are some simple strategies you can apply to your craft especially if you are an avid traveler yourself.
Tips from The Art of Travel you can apply to writing
1) Just like in the Art of Travel, you have the power to be selective so that the end result will be memorable. For instance, when you are writing about a day of the main character, you don’t need to discuss what he had for breakfast unless it is detrimental in forming his character or the story. You just have to be carefully selective of the details, trim down what is not helpful. But make sure the story still ends up to be realistic and interesting. If you have chanced upon some work of nineteenth century novelists, you would notice that they were very rich in descriptions particularly of county hamlets or of the Scottish moors. Though long and descriptive, these I believe were necessary because they helped the reader paint a clearer picture in their minds of the story’s setting. But that was the past. At this day and age, with the advent of the world wide web, of internationally acclaimed films and television shows, and since it’s easier to travel, readers often do not need long descriptions anymore. Just mention a famous place or setting and they pretty much would get it already.
2) If you’ve also noticed in novels, the significant and coherent streams of thoughts of a character are usually always present. Except perhaps if you are gifted with the genius of James Joyce, excellent with writing streams of consciousness. As we have learned from The Art of Travel, you as the writer can edit and revise so that the order of the flow of thoughts of your character makes complete and good sense when your readers read it the first time. If only in real life we can edit and revise our thoughts on the spot.
3) This lesson from the Art of Travel also applies not just for internal thoughts but for dialogue as well. In real life, conversations are often wordy and might make no sense, but good for you as a writer, you can always edit and revise. The goal for the conversation is to be succinct and clear. Go straight to the point if you may and stop beating around the bush, only unless if it’s part of the plot or of the character development.
To learn more tips, I suggest you read de Botton’s The Art of Travel book if you still haven’t. Trust me, even if it’s a travel book, as writer you can surely learn a whole lot from this book.