“In teaching writing, I like to emphasize getting beneath the surface of things and probing those areas that make you who you are…” –Larry Habegger.
photo by Andrea Johnson
We are over-the-moon to have Larry Habbegger teaching at our Deep Travel Morocco workshop from March 22-29th, 2018. I grew up reading his Travelers’ Tales anthologies and dreamed about being published in one, but never imagined I would actually get to travel with him! When I first met Larry, I was amazed at how accessible he was and how much he cared about writers. As the Executive Editor of Travelers’ Tales, he has made a career of coaching writers from their first tentative drafts of a story all the way to publication. Larry’s Morocco writing workshop will be invaluable to anyone who is in the travel writing business or who aspires to be.
1) You’ve ushered quite a few new writers into publication. What tips do you have for aspiring travel writers/bloggers?
The first tip, and an obvious one, is to write. Write as often as you can. Write every day. Write about experiences you’ve had or about what’s around you right now. The world offers an abundance of ideas to explore if you simply pay attention. And your own experiences provide a rich trove of material to play with. Dig into it and see what you can find.
It’s also important to write about topics that you care about. It’s easier to write about things that have meaning for you than subjects that don’t light you up. It’s also easier to create a meaningful experience for your reader when you write about ideas or places that are important to you. A good rule of thumb is that if it has meaning for you, it’ll have meaning for the reader.
Always be curious, and always look for connections. What does the behavior of that child in Mexico say about the child you were where you grew up? What connections can you draw between the two? Be prepared to connect the dots in your past experience with the details of your current experiences, especially in different cultures and places. You can learn a lot about yourself and others if you do so, and communicate something universal to your readers.
Be persistent. Keep going. Don’t give up. And initially, write for yourself. Don’t worry about an audience, write the kinds of stories that speak to you. That’s how you get your best stuff, and you can always adapt this writing for a particular publication or audience later.
2) You’ll be teaching our Morocco writing workshop next March. What intrigues you about Morocco?
This arid country bounded by the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea feels like the stuff of legend. It’s a culture of storytellers and traders, artists and merchants. Its old cities are mazes of shops where you’re just about guaranteed to get lost, and getting lost is one of the best ways to learn about a culture and people because you have to ask for help. And exploring these warrens allows you to see how people live, how they meet their material needs, how they treat visitors. I’m looking forward to these tight teeming cities and the wide open landscapes, the people, and, of course, the food.
3) Describe your workshop sessions and your ideas about teaching writing.
The workshop sessions may vary based on group size, makeup, and interest. But each day I plan to send us out into the world with an assignment, whether it be taking notes on everything we see and hear and smell, finding someone to interview, drawing a word portrait of a person or place, describing the weather and how it affects the locals or visitors, or some other aspect of our direct experience in Morocco. We’ll then share and discuss these writings in our group sessions and assess how we can apply these techniques to writing of all kinds.
In teaching writing, I like to emphasize getting beneath the surface of things and probing those areas that make you who you are, places within ourselves we don’t often think about. Writing helps us discover and uncover these places, helps us understand ourselves better, and aids us in extending what we learn to find universal meaning not just for us for but others. I simply try to be a facilitator in this process, helping others find a voice they didn’t know they had, or knew they had but didn’t know how to access. We write, we discover, we learn, we share. And in the end, we all teach each other.
4) What are the benefits of traveling in a group with other writers?
Writing is a solitary endeavor, and usually you’re alone with yourself and the characters in your mind. Traveling with other writers can give you not just the company of others to get you out of your head, but also likeminded people with whom you can share the joys and frustrations of the creative process. You can be alone when you want, and with a friend or several friends when you want company. And in a group, you have to concern yourself less with the minutia of travel than you would otherwise. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone else handle the practical arrangements so you can concentrate on the experience. Plus, writers are fun!
5) Sometimes when I travel, I have a hard time recognizing when we are in a story (or when a story is happening to me). The other day Ira Glass was quoted saying, “Good stories happen to those who tell them.” Thoughts?
Ira knows a good story when he hears one. If you get in the habit of telling stories, or writing stories, you begin to train yourself to see the details of a story as you’re living it. This helps you see small pressure points in a seemingly mundane experience that can be emphasized to create drama or tension, which every story needs to hold a reader’s (or a listener’s) interest. It also helps you remember details that become important to the story, details that if you weren’t in the habit of telling stories you might not register. So the act of telling or writing stories helps you recognize the stories in the experience you’re having. I know this might sound circular, but I think it holds true. Just be careful not to spend so much time looking for details of a story in your experience that you miss out on the experience! But get in the habit of telling your stories. It’ll help you learn to shape them better.