Genius loci

Book Archetypes, Werner Herzog on Practice & ‘The New Tourist’

1 July 2024

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A Morning Walk Diptych - June 2024

While I struggle to find the time to write the book proposal and sample chapter, I’d be completely lost if it weren’t for the literary archetypes helping me. Sitting across from me is a stack of books. The stack is small. The books are archetypes of the book I want to write, in style and spirit.

On my desk are books by Cal Flyn, Robert Macfarlane, William Atkins, Peter Mattheissen, and Rebecca Solnit.

These books act as guidebooks. They lead and prod me. Like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno, these books have already been to hell and back. They’ve underwent the grueling process of being made. And they’re showing me where to go.

It is not just me to whom they’ve granted this vision; they’re happy to show anyone who bothers to look.

People in internetland speak of creative models as “archetypes.” To find an archetype isn’t about copying. It is more about inspiring, showing what is possible. Which writer doesn’t get influenced by another?

Reading an archetype in the morning before facing the blinking cursor makes the process of writing easier. It gets the juices flowing. It mitigates “writer’s block,” which is something I’m not sure is a real thing.

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A Morning Walk Diptych - June 2024

Werner Herzog on Practice

Taking the time to read and get inspired is important, but it might be less important than taking the time to do the work. This is a lesson I was reminded of in Werner Herzog’s autobiography Every Man for Himself and God Against All, which I’ve been listening to in audiobok format on my morning walks. Herzog narrates the audiobook; it is as wonderful as it sounds.

At one point in the middle of the book, Herzog discusses his difficulties in getting into film school. He eventually decided to teach himself film, first by reading a few pages in an encyclopedia and then by picking up a camera and just getting to work.

I learned the basics about cinema in about a week from reading the 30 or 40 pages on radio, film, and television in an encyclopedia. I still think that’s about all there is to know. Studying literature won’t make you a poet. Being able to type won’t either.

Herzog’s point is clear. That, if you want to become good at something in the creative field, you must do the thing. Praxis is more important than theory. There is an unmatched value in getting one’s hands dirty, in doing the damn thing, over studying. And his last point is the kicker: being a good artist goes beyond mere technical proficiency.

The theory/praxis dilemma is partly why I’ve fallen quiet on the Travel Writing World podcast. Part of my silence is being busy caring for my 4-month old son. Part of it is motivation. Part of it is disillusionment. And a part of it has to do with using my free time doing the work of writing instead of getting lost in the work of others. Instead of being a critic or talking about other people’s work, I’d rather spend the time producing my own work with a few notable archetypes in hand.

Being a primary source is preferrable to being a secondary source.

The New Tourist

Though, it is hard to completely ignore newly-published books, publishing calendars, and publicists’ emails.

I want to point your attention to a recently-published book: Paige McClanahan’s The New Tourist: Waking Up to the Power and Perils of Travel. It is a wonderfully-researched, level-headed book about tourism in today’s world. It is among the better books on the subject of tourism. It is aimed at the general reader who hasn’t thought too deeply about the impact of their itchy feet.

I promised Paige to chat with her on the podcast to support the book, so hopefully our schedules can align in the next few months.

For a taste of the book, you might want to check out this article: We’ve All Become Travel Influencers. It’s Ruining the Planet.


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