By: Nancy East

Have you ever considered writing an adventure story about your experiences in the wild? If so, you’re not alone. Through the ages, outdoor enthusiasts and explorers have documented their intrepid pursuits in writing, with eager readers waiting to devour the tales as quickly as town food on a thru-hike. 

I published a hiking memoir in 2021 following my fastest known time (FKT) of all the trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Writing my book, Chasing the Smokies Moon: A 948-mile hike—fueled by love, loss, laughter and lunacy, helped me process my emotions following a feat I hardly believed I achieved, even after living through every grueling day of it. 

By the time I finished writing my account of the FKT and the backstory of what led me to chase the dream, I could speak more clearly about what I learned from the experience and how it changed me. I also intimately relived my journey through a less sleep-deprived state of mind. At the end of the process, I had the bonus of a book that has gratefully resonated with many readers. 

If you’ve ever considered publishing your own adventure story, read on! I hope my experience and tips I learned along the way will help you get started in the right direction.

What Makes an Adventure Story Worth Writing About

Think about the adventure stories you’ve read and enjoyed. What made them stand out and keep you turning the pages? Undoubtedly, the physical journey an author undertakes is a powerful pull. Reading a book about a long trail might be the only way we get to experience it, such as in Barney “Scout” Mann’s Journeys North, his adventure story about his thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail with his wife, “Frodo.”

I’d argue, however, that the internal struggles and stories Scout shared about the people he and Frodo hiked with are what most readers walked away pondering more than the adventure itself. And even if we don’t identify with the need to set a speed record on a long trail like Heather Anderson described in Mud, Rocks, Blazes, the undercurrent of our shared humanity throughout the book is what draws readers to her words like moths to a flame.

A good adventure story validates our own complicated feelings and emotions—the kind we think no one else can relate to until someone describes them as their experience too. The poet, Mark Nepo, once said, “To be human is to look far enough inside of you that I see myself.” I reflected on this quote as I wrote my book, hoping my journey might validate others facing a middle-aged awareness of their mortality; or fellow parents grieving their adventurous spirit, which got lost somewhere between changing dirty diapers and navigating the pitfalls of social media with a teenager.

How to Start an Adventure Story

I’d like to tell you that reading other well-known hiking memoirs motivated me to write my book, but I’d be lying. It actually had the opposite effect, at least initially. We are our own worst critics, especially with subjective tasks, and I wallowed in self-doubt. My blank computer screen was as daunting as setting the FKT as I reflected on the works of authors I admired.

My mother once gave me a pillow embroidered with: “Contentment begins when comparison stops.” I finally took this message to heart and started typing. I can’t say contentment came easily once I started, though.

A small minority of people are born with a gift of prose that flows from their brains as effortlessly as water from a new Sawyer Squeeze. The majority of us have to work a lot harder at it though, and writing can be an agonizing process. The good news is that outdoor enthusiasts are not strangers to hard work if they embark upon an adventure they want to write about. 

So don’t let that blank page stare back at you forever. Find the courage to type that first sentence. It will eventually morph into a first draft that may or may not please you. My first draft sucked. Yours probably will too. It’s the way writing works for most of us, unfortunately. A wise English teacher once told me that the best writing is rewriting, and it’s one hundred percent true. With each revision, you’ll get better at “showing versus telling” your story (something my editor had to remind me of often) and eventually create a narrative you believe someone will want to get lost in one day.

5 Tips for How to Write an Adventure Story About Your Time in the Great Outdoors

If you’re inspired to write an adventure story, here are some additional tips to help you get started with your project.

1. Decide if you want to self-publish or publish traditionally.

This is one of the important decisions you’ll make, and I recommend researching the different routes to publication extensively before you start writing. There are pros and cons to each method, and it often comes down to a preference that aligns with your personality (and even your finances—self-publishing requires more risk and money from your own pocket, at least initially).

If you self-publish, do not neglect to hire a reputable editor and graphic designer. Even the best writers have editors. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft teaches us that, “To write is human, to edit is divine.” 

2. Take a writing course, join a writing group, or read books on writing.

If you’re insecure about your writing skills (or even if you’re not), it’s wise to seek the counsel of trusted sources. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, and extroverts may gravitate to joining a writing group with a trusted mentor. Writing courses can help guide you through the more technical aspects of writing, or even teach you the various routes to publishing a book. 

Reading books on the craft of writing was my favorite method to learn. The aforementioned book by Stephen King is an excellent resource. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is another favorite.

3. Be receptive to constructive feedback and brace yourself for criticism. 

Be receptive to constructive feedback from your editors and friends who are willing to give you feedback as your adventure story takes shape. Trust the editing process and remember the end goal will be a more polished product with professional help.

Also, be prepared to read negative reviews. Even award-winning books are criticized. You will probably pour your heart and soul into every word you write, so it’s easy to take that criticism personally. Some authors don’t read reviews of their work to avoid coming across opinions that might sting. I read all of mine, because I don’t want to miss out on reading the positive ones. I remind myself that even if someone didn’t enjoy or glean something from my book, the people who do far outweigh that number.

4. Read a lot.

Good writers are often avid readers, and you’ll benefit from reading (well-written) books before writing your adventure story. You’ll subconsciously pick up important elements like structure and flow, as well as increase your vocabulary.

5. Take notes. 

If you haven’t yet lived the adventure you might write about some day, take good notes while you’re experiencing it. During my FKT of the Smokies, I typed short snippets of notable moments and observations on my phone. Those notes often helped get my writing flowing, and I likely would not have remembered the minutiae of my days on trail had I not written about it along the way.

Writing an Adventure Story of Your Own Is Worth the Effort

If you feel compelled to share your story with the world, don’t let “imposter syndrome” get in the way. Put those thoughts to paper. At a minimum, you’re creating a historical narrative for you and your family that will be treasured by future generations. If you decide to take it a step further and publish it, you never know who you might inspire and motivate (and I suspect it will be more people than you think).

Publishing an adventure story is a long process when done well. But the benefits far outweigh the agony, and there’s nothing like holding a book in your hands that you poured your heart and soul into writing.

Nancy lives and plays in the mountains of western North Carolina with her husband, three children, and rescue dog. She is an avid day hiker and backpacker and is passionate about her position on her county’s search and rescue team. She retired from a rewarding career as a veterinarian to pursue her passion in writing and outdoor education. She is also a strong advocate for curing “nature deficit disorder” in children and leads by example, showing what’s possible in wilderness areas with kids on her family’s many adventures. Follow along with Nancy’s work at: Hope and Feather Travels.

You can purchase a copy of Chasing the Smokies Moon here. If you liked this article, you may also want to check out these other Light Feet blogs:

April 14, 2022 — Gossamer Gear