Book Author, Ellen Behrens explains how writing and RVing work hand in hand
Travel Writing – The RV Way
By Book Author Ellen Behrens
When my husband and I decided to sell our “sticks and bricks” house nearly eight years ago to travel full-time in our RV, I’d planned to write travelogues – and he planned to fish. We didn’t have too many destinations in mind past getting to South Dakota to establish our residency. After that? Westward ho! Let the writing and fishing begin!
But you know what they say about the best laid plans….
The day after we turned over the house keys to their new owners and turned the ignition key in our our rig, we suffered a mishap with our fifth wheel (not our first). In the next few months we experienced a tire blowout in the middle of the night, a neighbor with about twenty pug dogs, and we rescued some bikers stuck in Illinois.
Travel writing? That went out the window somewhere along I-90. Instead, I returned to fiction writing – my first creative love, dating all the way back to the first time someone stuck a fat pencil between my eager fingers and pointed my hand to a blank piece of paper. Since we hit the road I’ve completed two novels and a collection of short stories, all inspired by our full-time RVer lifestyle.
If you’ve wanted to capture your own experiences on paper, you have plenty of choices. But some ways of approaching them are better than others.
Travel writing: As RVers, we see plenty of places most other travel writers miss. We cruise the backroads, eat at out-of-the way cafes, explore quaint museums and attractions. We’re perfectly situated to write about these neat places for magazines and guide books. Good travel writing advice is available in books and online, but here are a few things to consider as an RVer:
Focus on the unusual aspects of a place. You aren’t the first person to discover it, so find something unique. What surprised you? What did you spend the most time doing? What’s not-to-be-missed by others who come this way? Why?
Use your RVing experience to add to your article: How is parking? Can big rigs fit? Can you overnight in the parking lot? If so, do you have to obtain permission? From whom? Where? Often travel articles forget many of their readers drive large RVs and don’t include information helpful to them – be the author that remembers these travelers!
Include pricing information or, at the very least, mention whether it was costly or affordable, and whether the price was worth it.
Write lean. Don’t cover more than the essential history or background of a place, especially if it’s widely known or easily found in other resources.
Always think about the publication you’re writing for and write the piece accordingly. What’s their focus? What will their readers most want to know?
Blogging: A lot of RVers blog, and everybody has a different reason for it. Your blog might fit one of these categories – or something else entirely.
Some RVers blog so family and friends can see where they are and what they’re up to. This is the purest essence of a blog: a personal dialogue you carry on with others. The focus here is on – did you catch this already? – where you are, what you’re up to.
Other RVers write more instructive blogs. How to keep RV hoses from freezing when it suddenly dips below zero… that sort of thing. You can even blend the how-to aspect with your own experiences (“We’re up in Bryce Canyon, where it dipped below freezing last night. It always seems we learn thehard way, but here’s what we found out about keeping our water hoses from freezing….”). Many RVers blog along these lines.
If you like the idea of doing some travel writing but don’t want to deal with some editor somewhere (and you don’t mind writing for free), you can use your own blog to share your experiences. Where did you go? Where did you stay? What did you see? Unfortunately, too many travel blogs I’ve seen by RVers spend too much time repeating what anybody could find out online. Readers would rather find out something new or see something specific to the RV experience in your posts.
A few RVers use their blogs as sort of online journals, sharing their emotional journeys as much as they share their highway travels. This means being willing to reveal yourself to strangers, which might not be comfortable – and it could be dangerous, if you’re not careful about how you do it. Some blog hosts allow you to keep your blog – or individual posts – private rather than public. This is worth considering if you need to write very personal things that shouldn’t be shared with strangers.
Books and articles: Just type “RV books” into a Google search and you’ll see what a popular choice this is for some writers.
How-to RV books: Even though there are dozens of these published doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another one (has anyone written something on customizing your own RV? Building one from scratch?). If you can’t find the book you need about an RV issue – write it!
How-to RV articles: are like hungry beasts – they need to be fed on a regular basis. The good news is that new RVers are also constantly coming on the scene, so every now and then these publications have to cover the basics. What have you had to figure out how to fix on your RV? If you can write a clear description of the problem and provide step-by-step instructions anyone can follow on how to solve that problem, you probably have an article an RV magazine editor wants to read. Saving money, saving space – these are popular topics to devote your pen to as well.
RV cookbooks: Who doesn’t appreciate finding out how somebody made a great meal in a kitchen the size of the desks we used in grade school? If you’ve figured out some easy to make, great-tasting recipes using a few ingredients and no space, you’ve got a cookbook for RVers in you.
RV fiction: When I approached the editor of a widely -read RV newsletter about my first Rollin RV Mystery (even offering a free copy so he could see what it was all about), he politely declined to review it, saying RVers just aren’t interested in buying fiction. (I’m not telling that to my readers!) The fact is, many novels featuring RVers as main characters have been very successful. If you have a novel in you and it features RVing, write it! (And let me know about it – I’d love to read it.)
If your brain is going a million miles an hour, hitting you with all kinds of possibilities – or maybe just one excellent idea – good for you! You’re on your way!
Writing about RVing – about anything, actually – helps you sort things out, make a little more sense of them, see angles and edges and potential you might otherwise miss. There’s a reason psychologists suggest journaling for healing, and why Yale researchers have recently found that reading helps people live longer (so think of what writing does for you).
Don’t let your amazing travels sit passively in your memory banks: write about them! That’s what I do. And my husband? Still trying to find the time to fish!
About The Author
Ellen Behrens is the author of the Rollin RV Mystery series, featuring full-time RVers Walt and Betty Rollin as the main characters. Pea Body, the first novel in the series, received widespread praise from reviewers and readers alike who identified with the real-life RV situations embedded in the who-dunnit mystery. Walt and Betty are back in Yuma Baby the second in the series. Behrens is also the author of None But the Dead and Dying, a literary novel which received positive reviews from publications such as the New York Times Book Review, Library Journal, Kirkus, and others. The second edition of her short story collection, Road Tales: Short Stories About Full-Time RVing, includes a short story featuring Walt and Betty Rollin.
The Rollin RV Mysteries are available in print and e-book formats. Find out more about them at ellenbooks.com. She and her husband, Robert Craig, have been full-time RVing since 2009. Follow her blog about their travels, Bob and Ellen’s Great RV Adventure.
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