Making Your Book
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Part of every trip is coming home and sharing our experiences with other people. Every time I return from a trip my mother-in-law always wants to see my latest photo album. I know she is expecting to see one like she made when she was young. Her photo albums are filled with black and white photos mounted on black paper held in place with those little square corners or faded color photos stuck on sticky white pages covered with plastic. I also have some of those family albums from bygone days.
Modern day photo albums are a trendy art form. Specialty stores sell crafting supplies designed just for making elaborately decorated photo pages. Template machines punch out letters and shapes. Scissors are shaped to cut scalloped edges. Acid-free paper is printed with colorful patterns and intricate motifs. Rubber stamps add inked-on images. Silk ribbons, metal charms, bone buttons, glass beads, stickers, and paper tags can be added to photo pages to create a unique personalized album.
Photographs are the heart and soul of my album. They let people know where I have been and the sites I have visited. Yet my front and forward photograph of Notre Dame Cathedral is, as a matter of fact, just another photograph of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Over time I have learned to look closer at things and create photos that reflect literally my point of view.
One visit to Notre Dame Cathedral there were men reconstructing and cleaning an overhead chandelier. CLICK! Another time I noticed the church had new glass-enclosed confessionals. CLICK! The last time I visited I toured the treasury in search of images of Saint Genevieve. CLICK! CLICK! I found one embroidered on a priest's robe and another on a silver communion cup.
Looking for unique photographs requires time and energy but the payoffs are huge. Looking up and down, in and out, over and under can make an album come alive. I find doing this adds the element of surprise and makes my album more outstanding. I can print out pages with backgrounds of my own images of pastries, flowers, or paving stones and put photographs on them layering one experience on top of another for maximum impact.
Adding decorative elements to an album can be time consuming and expensive but the results are often visually wonderful. However, there are ways to cut down the time and money you spend and still end up with a sensational photo album. While I am traveling I make a point of keeping anything made of paper. Then I use my maps, tickets, and menus as part of my memory book.
Fabrics like silk, lace, velvet, linen, and cotton can be used as backgrounds for photographs. Pages can be embellished with buttons, yarns, and even zippers for a more grungy look. Wandering around a city I keep my eyes open at the neighborhood markets and little shops for small quantities of these things to make my album pop. In Paris brocante fairs are fun, but expensive, places to pick up old sepia postcards of Paris, antique silk ribbons, and vintage beads and buttons. Less expensive photo album decorations can be found at the large flea markets in suburban Paris and London.
Sarah Beaman has lots of clever ideas for using memorabilia. In her book about scrap books she makes a book cover. She creates a pocket holder by cutting out a rectangle from a map and hand-stitching it to a page. Inside of the pocket is another map. Using this technique works well for the brochures I collect from various sites. I create a pocket from the metro or underground map, marked with the stop for the site, and pop the brochure into the pocket. The rest of the page is filled with photos of the site. I also use maps to create a frame around my photographs.
In her book Beaman also has several inexpensive ways to embellish album pages. Using a pin she perforates the paper and hand sews thread through the holes to make free-form designs. She uses a sewing machine with decorative stitches to create text and patterns. The machine can be threaded or not threaded. Either way the effect is lovely. Scrapbooking (100 techniques with 25 projects plus a swipe file of motifs and mottoes) is filled with inexpensive ways to make a photo album charming.
Perhaps the most challenging part of documenting your travel experience into the album format is writing. No two ways about it putting thoughts down on paper is difficult. After a tiring day of going here and there it is hard to fill up empty pages with something to say. There is often so much to remember that recounting it is exhausting.
In a workshop I attended, given at the University of Minnesota, travel writer Catherine Watson shared her approach to writing and concepts about writing personal narratives with a room full of fellow travelers. In her many years as a travel writer for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and a published author she has distilled the writing process down to some key ideas. I feel the most significant things I learned in her workshop were to be really there, seek meaning, and endeavor to know other realities.
When I put my fears aside I realize a blank sheet of white paper gives me the very thing I need to create a story about my journey. It can do the same for you. The compilation of words are sometimes called a diary, journey, or memoir. Whatever name you give your book the basic practice and principles are similar. It is all about words, words, and more words. Pages and pages of words. Maybe. Or is it, as Catherine Watson points out in her statement about being Buddha, really about something even more profound than that?
I am inclined to say it is. I think writing is about me. Yes, it is an egotistical concept to be sure but it is also the truth. Writing is a way for the I in me to talk to the you in we. For me audience is a one-on-one relationship with an infinite number of people. Ideally writers want their feelings and ideas, presented as words, to reach everyone.
A Spiritual Approach to Travel Writing
Be really there.
Endeavor to know other realities
Look for details.
Listen carefully and completely.
Concepts For Your Narrative
Compose for an audience.
Let your voice be the tour guide.
Write with passion and commitment.
Share emotions and insights.
Use humor humanely.
Focus on an experience or theme.
Sequence events and experiences.
Vary vocabulary and grammar.
The Writing Wisdom of Catherine Watson
If writing is both exhausting and terrifying how can I say anyone can do it? I believe it is important to have a clear understanding of what it means to write purposefully. Then it is possible to develop an individualized style that will work well for you. Bear in mind writing text for your travel photo album is not the same as writing travel copy for mass publication unless that is your goal.
So what do I recommend as a successful approach to putting words onto paper? TALK WRITE! It is simple and easy. One word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Just imagine you are telling a beloved family member or your dear best friend about your trip. Write the same way you would talk. Write your talk. It really is fun and, ironically enough, keeps you in the moment and staves off homesickness.
The book most often recommended about strategies for travel writing for non-professionals is Writing Away (a creative guide to awakening the journal-writing traveler) by Lavinia Spalding. She focuses on the practical aspects of writing a travel journal. Her chapter on journal prompts is stimulating and useful. Among her suggestions are writing about feelings of being a cultural outsider, your most challenging experiences, the generosity of other people, and your life changing events. In her chapter, Recommended Readings, Spalding informs her readers about journals, books (non-fiction and fiction), and websites related to travel writing.
Paris in Love by Eloisa James, a pen name for Mary Bly (the daughter of the activist writer Carol Bly and poet Robert Bly) is a collection of paragraphs about her year in Paris. Writing shortly after the death of her mother and her own experience with breast cancer she tells us in her own words her poignant experience of over coming loss and embracing life. She shares both her sadness and happiness in touching and evocative minimalist vignettes. James poetically writes, "In Bon Marche: a display of gorgeous designer shoes in jewel tones. Above the shoes hang tiny, extremely fluffy tutus, rather as if snowy white dandelion puffs were floating from the sky." Her verbal images are as substantial as French onion soup and as delicate as French pastry. Perhaps you will find these books helpful. I certainly did.
However, it is now time to get down to the writer's tool kit. In reality you can use whatever writing implements you want. The end product, words, is still the same. When I am out and about I use a small notebook with lines and pencil with an eraser. I find a the smaller size notebook less intimidating and the lines make it easier to write legibly. I like using a pencil instead of a pen because it is easy to erase unwanted text and I do not have to worry about ink stains on my hands or clothes. When I return to my room I transcribe them to my computer. I generally do not take notes in public places on my computer or cell phone. On-the-street technology theft happens everywhere.
There are many different ways to make the words come more easily. All writing is an experiential art. Travel writing is a recounting of our sensual experiences of a journey. Paying attention to what you see, touch, hear, and taste can enliven writing. I tend to be a highly visual person so I have to work very hard to pay attention to my other sensory experiences.
I pack small colored pencils and a watercolor palette in my purse. Painting a picture about what I see helps my words to flow. Doodling in French How to Draw With Joi de Vivre by Anna Corba provides novice artists with sequential directions for creating drawings that can inspire writing and be used later in a memory book . She shows readers how to draw lots of simple French items including a topiary, bistro chair, poodle, and the Eiffel Tower.
Of course, no album is complete without photographs. We live in a digital age so I take most of my photographs on a digital camera even though I know cell phones and computers can take excellent digital photographs. I like having a variety of settings to get the shot the way I want it.
Using a digital camera makes it possible to create a photo album on a variety of electronic media. Electronically savvy travelers can now download photographs and text immediately to send as an email to family and friends or publish directly on an internet site (blog, Facebook, or Google). This will actually make your journey a much more real experience for you and others. It is almost as if your readers are there with you because they can also respond immediately to whatever you publish.
Another alternative I personally like is making a paper album using an online service. There are many to choose from but my favorite is Walgreen's. This store offers a large selection of covers, book designs, and formats. I first learned about the site at an American Automobile Association presentation for women. I entered the site first as a guest to see if I liked it and then proceeded to make my book. I found it easy and fun to do. My completed book cost under fifteen dollars and it was mailed directly to my home. Walgreen's keeps my book on file so I can send it anytime to family or friends.
There are other services like this which I suspect are just as good but my experience with Walgreen's Photo has made me a fan. I will be blogging about my upcoming trip to Paris and London on this website and making a travel book on the Walgreen's website at the same time. On my last day in London I will click on publish and it will be waiting for me when I get home. Then when my ninety-five year old mother-in-law asks to see photos of the trip I will have a lovely album ready to show her. This will be a surprise. She will love it.
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