Writing Out of Order

I am in the process of putting all my travel photos into albums and I have realized that I am extremely anal about it. It all has to be in chronological order from my very first night in London to the moment I landed back home in San Francisco. While I remember the exact order of my time in London and my two month trip around Europe, I now feel the need to read through my journals to make sure I have all the pictures organized along the correct time line. When I first thought of doing this, I said to my self, “You are such a freak.” Then I remembered that Carrie Bradshaw once said that “You gotta let your freak flag fly.” I saw my compulsiveness as a good opportunity to read my journals again so I could find a good story to write about.

How I wrote before I went to the Travel Writer’s Conference and how I write now are very different. Before the conference, when I first started this project, I read every single page of my journal and jotted down what I thought were the most important moments. Then I just started writing about the very first day I flew to London, intending to write about the week after that and the week after that until my trip was over and I was back home. It took me a while to write just one page because I kept referring back to my notes and to my journal and I also analyzed every sentence as if I would be turning it over for publication the very next day. Over a span of a couple months, I had only  managed to write a measly 15 pages so I was looking forward to the conference because I knew it would give me some ideas as to how best to write this book.

At the conference, I attended a seminar called “Shaping Your Travels into a Book” and the most significant thing I learned was that I did not have to write in chronological order. This was a shocker to me? How would any of my trip make sense to the reader if I bounced all over the place with no organization to the story? My teachers recommended reading my journals over and over and over again until I could commit each page to memory or until I was absolutely sick of my journals. At that point, I should be able to just write. The order does not matter, but the story is what matters. The first draft is all about getting everything onto paper and I can worry about order, format, and grammar when it is time to revise.

This little piece of advice was an eye opener to me and I honestly didn’t have much faith in the strategy until I went home and tried it.  I read my journals a few times over until I had a list of stories that I wanted to write about and then I just went to town with my paper and pen. I did not feel restricted any more. One week I wrote about a perfect day spent riding a four-wheeler up and down the island of Santorini and the next week I backtracked five months earlier to my Christmas in London, my first away from my family. All I cared about was the story and that helped me get a lot more writing done than the measly 15 pages I first wrote. I will read and read and write and write until  I don’t have anymore stories to tell and only then will I put them in order so that whoever does read them can follow along on my journey from beginning to end. For now, I’ll just focus my chronological compulsiveness on those photo albums.

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