All Writing is Travel Writing

As I’ve been rambling about on my book tour for The Moon, Come to Earth, I’ve been interviewed here and there, and it does the mind good to be sharpened by questions coming at you from unexpected angles. After a good conversation, I can find myself mulling over the exchange for days afterward.

After all this chat about travel writing, I’ve been thinking about its dual nature, how the external journey is strengthened by an accompanying, echoing inner journey. Travel can be both an exhausting and exhilarating experience, one that can push us past borders of comfort we had perhaps never before recognized. The unsettling immediacy of travel heightens our awareness and encourages unexpected insight, and when one is able to lean into the strange pull of another country or culture, one’s inner landscape is correspondingly altered, the moment comes when plodding thought sprouts wings. Also, because our past travels travel with us, those overlapping inner maps can add complexity to our expectations of what we will experience.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all writing, whether non-fiction, fiction or poetry, is a type of travel writing, and that a reader experiences an imaginative or literary work as a form of travel. That experience, of course, is often interior: a journey through a narrator’s thoughts, the discovery of empathy for an initially unsympathetic character, or tracking the unfolding flight of a poem’s central metaphor. From this perspective, one could say that house-bound Emily Dickinson is one of our greatest travel writers. The best writing takes us to a place we’ve never been to before so that, on return, even if only in a small way, we return changed.

Travel isn’t simply a geographical exercise. A journey into the land of adolescence, for example, is perhaps the loneliest type of travel there is. The acceptance of one’s suppressed sexual orientation is another form of travel, from one state of personal understanding to another. The list could go on and on. And so every work of literature should offer a journey, the challenge of an interior excursion, a secret mapping that leads a reader to him or herself.

While you can’t say that all writing is actuarial table writing, or all writing is cookbook writing (well, maybe), I think it’s safe to say that all writing is travel writing.


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November 20th, 2009 by admin