There are plagues in blogging. The plagues of meaningless jargon, exaggeration, cliches, and lazy writing. It’s contaminated the blogging world so deeply that we don’t even notice it anymore. If anything, we are convinced it’s the proper way to blog. In a world obsessed with numbers, the most viewed articles are often the ones in list form, easy to skim, with pictures that distract from the lazy writing. The entire point of the article is in the title or subtitle, followed by nothing but fluff. Ill thought out and unsupported opinion articles are offensive, choking journalistic integrity. After reading these articles I have changed in no way, learned nothing, and if anything I feel momentarily dejected and angry at the pervasive shallowness in the blogging world. It’s easy to write these articles, which means it’s easier for more people to blog – people who don’t care about writing as a craft, but who know how to formulate a blog post to get views.
When I started a travel blog, I read successful female travel blogs for guidance and found some good advice, but I also found myself reeled in by catchy titles like, “10 ways to be a successful travel blogger.” In trying to blog the “correct” way, I consequently betrayed my deepest beliefs on what it means to write well. So if this post seems critical of travel blogging, know that I am including myself with a great amount of guilt for selling out to the blogging world in what feels like a loss of writer identity.
A travel blogger has to be a photographer, writer, editor, business manager, social media expert, and traveler all in one. That’s a lot to manage. I understand if writing falls to the back burner. It bothers me, though, because people assume that if it’s published, it must be good writing, and that couldn’t be less true. It also bothers me, because often our experiences as travelers are so indescribable that we fail to convert all the emotions, color, and vitality into words. With a limited vocabulary, and mostly, a lack of time, we resort to cheap words, frilly sentences, cliches, and exaggeration. You may think I sound picky and it’s true – that’s what makes good writing, and I strive to match the standards of the authors I admire.
William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, a classic guide to nonfiction writing, says about travel writing, “Choose words with unusual care. If a phrase comes to you easily, look at it with deep suspicion; it’s probably one of the countless cliches that have woven their way so tightly into the fabric of travel writing that you have to make a special effort not to use them…Be intensely selective.”
Unfortunately, travel blogs do not adhere to this quality.
First, generalizations are rampant. Describing a new place is very difficult, and the incessant positivity in travel blogging leads every place to be “amazing” and “awesome.”
Experiences are heart warming, enlightening, or once-in-a-lifetime. Sunsets, canyons, and starry nights are gorgeous, captivating, inspirational, mind-blowing, wonderful, vast, and magical.
Traveling to a place by foot is always a trek. Laughs are always uncontrollable. Mountain towns are always quaint and their positions are nestled. A person who likes to eat food is a “foodie,” and the food they eat is always delicious.
Sometimes travel bloggers write about their stresses and struggles to mix it up from the constant awesomeness that is their life. Their confessional titles spark a curiosity in readers satisfied only by clicking. They attract thousands of views because people like to read about other people’s struggles to feel better about themselves. But still, the content is often fluffy and nondescript.
The blogging world is a giant conversation. Anyone can spit thoughts and opinions through a thin filter leaving behind unclear, clunky sentences, and meaningless stories and articles. Our natural speech is much wordier than writing should be, littered with “like,” “just,” “I think,” “of course,” “sort of,” “well,” “maybe,” “I don’t know,” and other unnecessary words. Zinsser says, “The secret to good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”
Let’s look at a travel writing passage that I love. Cited by Zinsser, Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff described Joshua trees as “twisted freaks of the plant world that looked like a cross between cactus and Japanese bonsai. They had a dark petrified green color and horribly crippled branches. At dusk the Joshua trees stood out in the silhouette on the fossil wasteland like some arthritic nightmare.”
When I went to Joshua Tree State Park, I tried to think of an original way to describe Joshua Tree branches. The best I could do was “twisted arms.” Tom Wolfe puts me to shame. His description is vivid and true even though it’s devoid of positivity and inspiration. Dark and humorous in only two sentences. I want to keep reading.
As travel bloggers, we should strive harder for originality in our work. We should reflect on our experience with care before reaching the computer, so we don’t resort to cliches. We should take the effort to look back at our writing and think, is this true? Is this concise? Is this meaningful? I bet the hike up the mountain or the tour of the city wasn’t all awesome and amazing. I bet there are things you thought or noticed in the moment, particular sounds, smells, expressions on local faces, that with a little teasing would bring your writing to life. This requires being present in the moment – and not present in the way a yoga girl takes a picture of herself in warrior pose at a waterfall – but present in the observational sense. We should push against our initial surface level reactions and cliched impulses to dig deeper. The stories worth writing are usually not the grand moments, the arrivals or the culminations, but the speckled memories along the way, full of life’s struggles and complexities. If brought to the page and crafted well, we could hopefully overpower the plagues in blogging and restore a standard of writer integrity and skill.