The outrage on Twitter this week over an article guest written by a small YA fantasy author on “Teen Librarian Toolbox” flooded my timeline.
The article in question, “Want to Be a Fantasy Writer? You Need to Travel” by Jill Criswell, sparked a lot of debate.
To me, although Criswell acknowledges her privilege in the ability to travel, the article reeks of tone deafness. A lot of writers on Twitter said the classism is strong.
After reading through the article, I found it to be lacking in substance. The author touches on how her travels inspired the setting of her book, but doesn’t really touch on her premise or much of anything else.
The article is more of a self promotion for her book rather than advice for other writers.
This leads me to question who wrote the title and why? If they wanted to drum up the outrage machine for promotion, they did a great job catching people’s attentions.
If not for that, the title in my opinion is misleading and an apology should be sent out to the wider community and to the author (if it was not her intent).
So instead of focusing on the article itself (which is disappointingly short), let’s focus on the title instead.
Do fantasy writers need to travel to be a good writer?
It is of my personal opinion that this is a wrong assumption.
Travel does have a lot of benefits including exposure to new ideas and ways of living, healthier lifestyles, spending money on experiences vs things, etc.
However, while travel can improve our writing and make it richer, it is merely a tool and not a must have.
Travel even to other parts of your country is still a luxury and not something every can or afford to do.
Some writers might never be able to afford to travel from one side of the country to another or have a job that allows them to take off more than a couple of days at a time.
Other writers might have illnesses and family members that require them to stay home and make travel difficult.
However, unless you’re a travel writer, no one needs to travel to write.
Maybe in the past, travel was the only way people learned what other cultures and places were like. They had to rely on what other people said and sketched in order to learn more about the wider world.
But these days, thanks to the internet, we can learn a LOT about other places just by going on the internet.
We can watch videos, look at pictures, look at museums, read books, listen to other languages, even talk to people living anywhere in the world.
ESPECIALLY when we’re talking about fantasy.
Depending on what kind of fantasy you’re writing if it’s High Fantasy or Urban Fantasy, the majority of what we’re writing is purely fiction.
All you need is imagination.
A lot of writers might pull inspiration from other cultures and places in the world, but most is only high level inspiration. They are foundations upon which new ideas and worlds are built upon.
Even if you want to heavily base your fantasy story on another culture or country, it’s really easy to do in depth research all without leaving your home.
Not to mention that there is a lot of fantasy based on historical countries, cultures, time periods, etc, that we cannot travel to. The only way to “visit” these is by reading, watching video, doing research.
We will never be able to travel to Europe 1500s, Africa pre-colonization, or Meiji-era Japan, but we can still learn as much as possible and still write about them.
Even if you’re not basing your fantasy stories on any one thing, you do not need to travel to write about them.
Tolkien could never visit the lands of the Hobbits in person, although he did draw a lot of inspiration from his travels. But Lord of the Rings was also inspired by his time in the military fighting in WWI, and by his friend C. S. Lewis.
Fantasy is only confined by the limits of our imagination and what we define as the fantasy genre.
To say that you need to travel to be a good fantasy writer excludes a lot of people from ever trying to write fantasy and excludes all the authors who have come before us.
Fantasy is a genre I’ve always loved because it is so accessible to readers in terms of its breadth and uniqueness. If you love romance, you can have romance within a fantasy, if you don’t, you don’t have to.
You can write about goblins and elves or witches or even non existent planets and star systems (since there is some cross over between science fiction and fantasy).
You can also write about fantasy in historical settings or parallel universes of historical events. You can write fantasy within the current year if you wanted.
I think a lot of genres are limited by what they can and cannot include, but then fantasy genre can include so much.
I’ve always loved the genre by its ability to let me explore new worlds and viewpoints without ever leaving my house. Even if they’re fake worlds, it’s always an adventure.
Let’s also not forget that we’re in the middle of a Pandemic with a raging virus. If you live in America, we’re barely even allowed to visit other countries if we want. Most of the world has closed their borders to us.
Traveling isn’t the safest option right now for a lot of people. Being stuck on long plane flights, crowded airports, in a new place where you’re likely to be already vulnerable to other illnesses is all a recipe for disaster.
If you really wanted to travel within the US, this is a great time to see the national parks and let that spark your imagination. But for anything else, we can “travel” safely through the internet.
Although I think there were good intentions behind this article, I think it really missed the mark overall.
The article itself could have used more depth and thought while the title needs to be rewritten completely.
This is the time where publishers, writers, and editors need to be really careful about what we’re putting out there. People are tired and already at their limits. Let’s not stress each other out more than needed and focus on what we can do within our capabilities to become better writers.