Seattle Writing Class Discusses Travel Writing

Seattle Writing Class
The scallop shell, symbol of the Camino de Santiago, a portion of which we’ll walk during the Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class.

My winter Seattle Writing Class, Follow the Story, will focus on genre in narrative writing. We will discuss travel writing and many other genres during the eight- session class. Here are some tips for the would-be travel writer:


  • START WITH FAMILIAR, GO TO THE UNFAMILIAR – Good travel stories meet the reader’s expectations about a place, but take them a bit further. Good stories take the readers as they are, and in the course of the journey, bring them to someplace new.
  • STRUGGLE – Don’t forget to struggle a bit as you travel. If you fly from destination to destination without a hitch, you’re going to tell a BORING STORY. Conversely, if you have to work to get through your vacation then chances are you’ve got some drama to provide interest and suspense in your story.
  • FOCUS ON PEOPLE as well as the place, especially people who are characteristic of it. Ever notice how the folks you met along your journey conjure up the strongest memories? It’s the same with readers. They want to be introduced to the folks that made your trip special. Add QUICK CHARACTER SKETCHES of the most memorable folks you met.
  • ORGANIZE STORY AROUND SCENES – Don’t include every event that happened, just the important, lively, funny, fearful, memorable ones. This is one of the techniques I’ll discuss in the winter Seattle Writing Class.
  • GENERALLY SPEAKING, USE FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW – Make yourself a character in the story. Filter the place through your point of view. Describe how it impinges on you.  In first person point of view the “I” is the focal character and it selects, colors and shapes the material related in the story.When I write in first person, my feelings, thoughts, impressions are added to descriptions of the actions, so that the reader gets a sense of how they affect me, but the “me” is a very selective one, because I understand that readers are looking for a surrogate in the story and that my job is to fulfill that role without boring, irritating or putting them off

Restaurant exemplifies ideal of Travel Writing Classes

Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes
In my Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes I love to visit restaurants like the Sooke Harbour House, where I had the pleasure of dining with my family.

In my Travel Writing Classes, I love to visit restaurants with a strong sense of place.

Though European restaurants often exhibit this connection with place, North American restaurants are making this a priority, too.

Thus, it was a great pleasure to visit Sooke Harbour House on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It was one of the first restaurants to place a strong emphasis on local foods, a natural outgrowth of its location on a beautiful inlet, with access to abundant local seafood, meats, and an extensive flower and produce garden.

I have been wanting to visit Sooke Harbor for years and finally got the chance this summer with my family. We sat outside in the sunshine at a table overlooking the sea, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance. I ordered the delicious charcuterie plate, which came with a side of wonderful figs and local produce. My children, not easily impressed by fancy food, agreed that the fish, soup and ice cream were some of the best they’d  ever enjoyed. My wife, Lisa, raved about the plum dessert.

Everything was perfectly prepared, with a light touch and the freshest of ingredients. The amiable waiter even made our dog, Stella, feel at home. It was everything I had expected and more. As is the case with the restaurants I visit for the Travel Writing Classes, the place reflects the philosophy and practice of the owners.

The Sooke Harbour House has been owned by Frederique and Sinclair Philip since 1979. Sinclair Philip is the Canadian representative to Slow Food in Italy and some years ago was a Slow Food Vancouver Island Convivium leader. Mr. Philip has a doctorate in political economics from the University of Grenoble in France.

The restaurant reflects this heritage, taking cues from French, Japanese and  Northwest Indian cuisine. If you have a chance to visit, don’t miss it!

Business of Books at Seattle Writing Class

Business of Books speaks at Seattle writing class
Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn of Business of Books speak at The Writer’s Workshop’s Seattle writing class

In my Seattle writing class, I teach the art and craft of writing as well as the publication process. As part of this, I bring in outside experts to talk about various aspects of writing as well as publication. The process of getting a book published always ranks high among the interests of my students. The process seems mysterious, powerful, and complicated, which it is, but if you have someone to guide you along its much more comprehensible. I help with some of this in my Seattle writing classes, but my latest guests provide a valuable service in packaging book proposals.

Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn, the dynamic duo behind The Business of Books (, are uniquely qualified to do this. Jen and Kerry have been “on both sides of the desk”— as both editors and authors. Kerry is the former executive editor of Chronicle Books and the author of a variety of titles, including How to Have Your Second Child First, Good Drinks for Bad Days, and Mama’s Big Book of Little Lifesavers. Jen, previously editorial director of Running Press, has co-authored or written more than 25 books, including her newest, Things I Want to Punch in the Face, and the New York Times best-selling Worst Case Scenario Handbook: Dating and Sex. During their publishing careers, they have reviewed many proposals and brought many successful books to market. They offer workshops, speak at conferences, and work with individual clients on book proposals.

“The benefit of self-publishing is that that you don’t have to pitch it and wait,” says Colburn. “But we’ve learned over the last few years, you still need a team of pros to make your book the best it could be. A lot of businesses have sprung up to help with that.

“With traditional publishing, you get a team, the expertise of the sales and foreign rights teams. Yes, they take a bigger piece of the pie, but it’s in their best interest to give your book a chance. :Your book will be assigned a marketing and publicity specialist and the publisher’s sales reps will take care of selling it to retailers all over the country. You’re part of this big machine.”

The downside is that you have to get your manuscript accepted by that company. I This is exactly where The Business of Books comes in.

“It’s like online dating,” says Worick. “Make your proposal specific.”

They’ll be teaching an intensive workshop on book proposals Saturday, May 14, 1–5 pm on Queen Anne hill in Seattle:

Steve Smith: Recommended Travel Guide for Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes

Steve Smith: Recommended Travel Guide for Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes
Steve Smith: Recommended Travel Guide for Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes

One of my favorite places to run Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes is France, one of the most geographically varied countries in the world, with everything from towering alpine peaks like Mont Blanc, sybaritic beaches of the Riviera, and wide swaths of rolling hills covered with vineyards in places like Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Steve Smith,  coauthor with Rick Steves of the Rick Steves France guide, is arguably one of the most knowledgeable experts on the country, one of the reasons I recommend his books to the students in my Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes.

Smith is an avid Francophile, having visited Europe early on with his family. His father was an English professor and went to France to teach in the Fulbright program. Smith so enjoyed his time in Europe that he eventually went to work for Rick Steves, who at the time was just launching his tours to Europe.

Smith has now worked 24 years with Rick Steves, finding all the best hotels, restaurants, and sights in the amazingly diverse country.

“We’re covering fewer destinations in the country, but in more detail,” he said of the current approach to the guides. “We’re very diligent about checking destinations. We want the guides to bring things to people–restaurant and hotels, and local guides.”

My parents, Nicholas and Marie O’Connell, did several trips to Europe with Smith and enjoyed the trips immensely. My father, who reads widely, engaged in long and spirited conversations with Smith about Europe’s history and culture. Smith’s familiarity with this is evident throughout his guides, which include valuable, up-to-date service info on hotels, restaurants, and sights as well as informed discussions of  the culture of the place.

“We can always work harder to improve and describe the place and what people can take away from it,” he said.

Smith has what many travelers would consider an ideal job, traveling to Europe regularly with his wife and family, leading tours, and researching guidebooks. He now owns a home in France where he can relax between tours and work on updating the guidebooks. “I can write upstairs in the house,” he said, “looking out over the Burgundy canal.” No wonder the guidebooks are inspiring.

Seattle Writing Classes Students Benefit as Independent Bookstores Bounce Back

Seattle writing classes students benefit from independent bookstores.
Seattle writing classes students benefit from independent bookstores.

As I mention in my Seattle writing classes, writers need to support local independent bookstores. These are the folks who will schedule your first reading, promote your books, and create the literary community that will help all of us thrive. I encourage the students my Seattle writing classes, online writing classes and Travel Writing classes, to support these local enterprises. I’ve had the pleasure of reading at a number of great independent bookstores in the Seattle area, including Elliott Bay Book Company, University Bookstore, Third Place Books, Queen Anne Books, and other independent book stories around the country including Village Books in Bellingham.

Over the years, these bookstores have struggled to compete with larger chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders. They discovered if they added amenities like cafes, people would stick with their local bookstores. As the world gets increasingly digitalized, people crave a comfortable physical space and the sense of a community that independent bookstores can provide. They offer something beyond the conversations that take places at universities, involving many different communities and readers, from kids, to teens to adults, interested in every subject under the sun.

These bookstores survived the chains, which have imploded or are imploding, only to face a bigger rival in Amazon. As the story below shows, some independent book store owners are finding ways to compete on price and convenience with Amazon. These bookstores also benefit from the emphasis on buying local, which makes sense whether you’re purchasing tomatoes or the latest sci fi novel. The key for the bookstores is to emphasize this and locate their stores in a place that’s convenient. Elliott Bay Book Company bounced back once they moved to Seattle’s thriving Capital Hill neighborhood.

The article below shows how such bookstores can innovate and find ways to complete with larger chains or with Amazon. These changes are good news for independent bookstores AND authors:

Travel and Adventure Writing

Travel Writing classes
Writer’s Workshop founder Nick O’Connell skate skiing at Home Ranch, CO, gathering material for a travel and adventure story.

Travel and Adventure Writing is some of the most enjoyable writing I do. It gives me an excuse to get out into the wild and leave behind all the email, texts, phone messages and other things I need to keep track of as a writer and founder of The Writer’s Workshop.

I had the pleasure of going on a press trip recently to the Home Ranch in Colorado. During the three-day visit, I took skate skiing lessons from Matson Tew, one of the guides at the ranch. The ranch offers lessons for cross country, skate skiing and even telemark skiing, which allows guests to try all kinds of skiing. I have telemarked for years and done classic cross country skiing a lot, but I had done little skate skiing and the times I’d done it, it had kicked my ass. It was so strenuous that I could only do it for a few hundred yards. But I figured if I had good instruction and the right equipment and a good course, I could at least make some progress, and get some material for travel and adventure writing.

In addition to taking lessons, I planned to write about it. The lessons and trip were essentially research for me. I no longer attend many city council or county commissioners meetings, as I did when I was a newspaper reporter, but I try to get out in the field as much as possible. I always learn a lot on such trips, soaking in the geography, the landscape, the people. And I usually return with a story as I did on this trip. As I teach students in my Travel writing classes, Seattle writing classes, and online classes, I like to use scene to organize such stories. Take a look at the story I wrote about the trip for a demonstration of how to do this.

Travel Writing Marketing

Nick O'Connell speaking at the Travel Writing Marketing Workshop.
Nick O’Connell speaking at the Travel Writing Marketing Workshop.

I had the pleasure of speaking at Roy Stevenson’s recent Travel Writing Marketing Workshop. I’m including below a guest blog post from Roy about how to market your travel stories, including some very helpful books and articles:

The majority of travel writers struggle with marketing and selling their articles to print publications. Most of us just want to write, but the stark reality of travel writing is that if you can’t sell your stories, you don’t get to write them.

My books address this dilemma by presenting travel writers with a suite of manuals and guides that show exactly how to go about pitching, querying, and selling your stories to travel editors.

  • The Complete Guide To Query Letters For Travel Writers

Everything you need to know to craft compelling query letters. Includes 20 sample query letters that were actually used successfully to get assignments.

  • 100 Print Magazines That Want To Publish Your Travel Articles

Save yourself hundreds of hours of time and accelerate your travel writing career with this travel magazine distribution list.

  • Fifty Websites That Want To Publish Your Travel Stories

50+ quality travel websites, along with ten pages of advice on getting published online.

  • How To Land Press Trips And Fam Tours

How to leverage travel assignments for free or discounted travel, meals, tours, accommodations, and entry to museums and tourist attractions.

  • How To Break Into The Luxury Travel Writing Market

Break into the luxury travel market faster because you’ll know how to do it right. This 130-page book includes a listing of 55 print magazines and 21 travel websites that publish luxury articles – sales leads that will save you time and get your story ideas out to editors faster.

  • The Complete Guide To Marketing And Selling Your Travel Articles

Everything you need to know to sell your travel articles: how to select story ideas that are enticing to editors, how to pitch your ideas the right way, how to find magazines that will be interested, and much more.

Please feel free to check out these guides and manuals at:

While you’re at my website, please sign up for my free weekly freelance marketing eZine. If you haven’t signed up for it yet, you’re really missing out on solid, actionable advice about selling and marketing your travel stories and landing press trips. And you’ll get insider discounts on my eBooks, coaching, and upcoming workshops. Please sign up here:

New Bookstore in Seattle’s Seward Park

Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, is overseeing construction of Third Place's new bookstore in Seward Park, Mon., Feb. 8, 2016, in Seattle.
Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, is overseeing construction of Third Place’s new bookstore in Seward Park, Mon., Feb. 8, 2016, in Seattle.

Third Place Books is building a new book store in Seattle’s Seward Park Neighborhood, which is a good thing for readers and writers, including students of The Writer’s Workshop and other Seattle Writing Classes. The new store is being built inside the former Puget Consumers Co-op building in Seward Park, and it will be the third in the Third Place Books chain. Owned by entrepreneur Ron Sher, who currently owns Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Third Place Books in Ravenna, the new store will demonstrate Sher’s idea that the best book stores build a community of readers and writers.

According to the Seattle Times, The store’s 7,000 square feet will house an espresso bar, a full restaurant called Raconteur (breakfast, lunch and dinner), a full bar downstairs, an event/reading space capable of accommodating up to 100 people, and books. Sindelar estimates it will stock 15,000 to 20,000 titles and 50,000 units (individual books). There will be a separate children’s department.

As with the other stores, the stock will consist of both used and new books — approximately 50 percent new, 50 percent used.

The renovation budget is about $1.4 million, Sindelar said.

The store’s most distinctive architectural feature is its arched roof, uncovered when the renovators knocked down the dropped ceiling and found both the ceiling and the original wood trusses. Now the interior ceiling is clad in beautiful overlapping wood, like a warm wood floor. Skylights let the light in.

The Third Place formula has become a template for these stores: books, food, community. “They are places people want to come and hang out in … they have become community centers,” Teicher said. “Certainly Ron helped pioneer that movement. I hope he believes that this is one of those cases where imitation is the best form of flattery.”

These stores provide an excellent venue for book readings, especially by regional authors. They also can serve as locations for a Seattle Writing Class.

For more:

The Quest Narrative: A Great Way to Tell a Story

A quest narrative is one of the oldest and surest ways of telling a story. The Odyssey is essentially a quest narrative, with Odyssey’s journey back to his wife and son serving as the basis for the quest. Since then there have been thousands of quest narratives written, including King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, detective stories, Moby Dick, and many others.

The form of a quest narrative is simple. Basically, the author describes his or her desire to do something, see something, experience something, discover something. In describing the object of the quest, whether a grail, or castle or insight or pot of gold, it’s helpful to “sell” the quest, emphasizing why it’s important either to the writer or the reader. Since the writer is the reader’s surrogate, describing why you want to go to Mexico City is often enough, especially if you can make it seem an especially appealing destination. Some quests are so compelling they don’t need to be sold: the quest to find the Green River Killer or a cure for cancer but remember to be very specific.

The description of the goal for the quest encourages a sense of seeking, questioning and curiosity, propelling readers forward into the narrative. It gives a structure and suspense to a piece that might otherwise be flat and static.

This is a very adaptable form, appropriate to all kinds of subjects, whether personal essays, travel pieces, investigative journalism, memoir and even literary criticism. You can write a quest narrative about seeking to find the perfect peach, or the perfect glass of Pinot Noir wine, or about coming to terms with your parents. The quest narrative can be used effectively in many different contexts.

The form fits very well with the emphasis on curiosity as the basis of fine nonfiction writing. The description of the quest immediately poses a quest in the reader’s mind: will the author or narrator achieve the quest?

Quest narratives can be written in a number of points of view. First person is probably most common in nonfiction, but third person can also be used, as in the description of a scientist searching for a cure for the common cold.

Writing a Quest Narrative

  1. Describe the object of the quest and why it’s important. You don’t have to start the story with this statement, but it should come near the beginning, explaining why you’ve arrived in New Guinea, for example, and what you’re looking for there.
  2. Set out on the quest. What do you bring? How do you prepare?
  3. Dramatis personae – Who will accompany you on the quest? Who is the person (s) who will help you complete it? Attempt to thwart it?
  4. Describe the journey and the difficulties of achieving it, remembering to use scenes to highlight the conflict and drama, showing rather than simply telling, and making the story come to life.
  5. Describe whether you complete the quest or not.

Secrets of Writing in First Person Point of View

First person point of view remains one of the trickiest strategies for any writer, as well as one of the most effective and popular ways of telling a story. This class will provide key insights into writing in first person: thinking of yourself as a character in a story; changing your point of view in the course of the story; reaching a meaningful conclusion that will interest readers. We will discuss first person point of view in memoir, travel pieces, humor, and other genres.
Here is the second of a series of tips on how to write in first person:

EMPHASIZE THE UNIVERSAL – Though you can sometimes get away with prattling on about personal fetishes and pet peeves, you’re most likely to connect with the reader when you write about the parts of yourself that are similar to those of the reader. You want to become a kind of everyman character. You want to make your experiences representative. Phillip Lopate’s wonderful essay, “Against Joie de Vivre,” contradicts this strategy, following the tradition of the contrarian essay, but this is a much more difficult path to follow. Generally, emphasize the intersection between your point of view and that of your readers. In the next few days, I’ll include addition secrets of successful first person writing, ones I discuss in my Seattle Writing Classes, Travel Writing Classes, and online writing class. Thanks for reading!