I have two assignments I always give my students when I teach a travel essay workshop. First, I ask them to read a poem every single day during our six-week course, recommending they subscribe to a poem-a-day site (I like writersalmanac.org), or check out some books of poetry. I do this not because I hope my travel-writing students will suddenly discover a deep passion for poetry (though they usually do), but because reading poems is a great way to encounter beautiful language. So my first tip is to read a poem every day and pay close attention to the words. Read for pleasure, but also for vocabulary.
The second assignment I call “word harvesting.” While reading these poems – and anything else you happen to be reading, keep a running list of words that strike you as special, beautiful, evocative. They needn’t be fancy or esoteric—just lovely words you don’t tend to use in your own writing. I’ve been word harvesting for over a decade now, and it’s one of the best tools I’ve found for keep my writing fresh. During the final editing stage of any piece of writing, I refer to my lists, plugging in these words wherever I can. I keep word lists on my phone, and I update the lists constantly. Word harvesting is an easy way to elevate writing—and it’s fun. And it’s also important, because as writers, it’s up to us to keep beautiful language alive.
Note Two: What We’re Reading Now