Diary of a Guidebook Writer: Editing and strolling through Trondheim

Photo: David Nikel
Closed to traffic, the Old Town Bridge links Bakklandet with downtown Trondheim and is a popular spot for photos.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

As I submitted my draft manuscript for the Moon Norway guidebook, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I’d done it!

Except, I hadn’t. I’ve quickly realized that the editing process is almost as much work as the writing itself. For the last few weeks, I’ve been receiving notes from the project editor on a chapter-by-chapter basis, mainly taking the form of questions and requests for clarification or more detail. It’s the equivalent of a structural edit for a fiction novel, before the copyeditor gets their hands on it to turn all my Britishisms into American English.

As frustrating a time as this is, I’ve quickly realized how vital this phase is to a quality final product. By having someone go through every chapter and write down questions, I am making sure the most obvious questions my readers will have are already answered. For example: How long does this journey take? Is it easy to walk this distance? What century is this building from? Should I visit neighborhood X or Y? Even though the draft manuscript hit 150,000 words, I still missed a lot of detail in the rush to get it finished.

Another benefit of this questioning phase has been the opportunity to fact-check. This isn’t to fix mistakes, rather to check that things like opening hours and prices haven’t changed. In the most extreme example, the editor asked about a cover charge for a nightclub in Bergen. When I gave the nightclub a buzz on Facebook, I was told the club had just this week closed for good. Thanks to this questioning phase, Moon Norway will be the only guidebook on the market with the correct information!

The role of the guidebook
This brings me to an important question I’ve been asked several times on my travels: Why write a guidebook when everyone just uses the internet?

My focus for the guidebook is to provide travel-planning advice on a national level as well as within specific regions and cities. For example, should you base yourself in Bergen, Ålesund, or Stavanger to see the fjords? What sort of person would enjoy a trip to Trondheim? What is the best way to get to Lofoten islands, and how long do you need to fully appreciate these dramatic islands? This sort of information is more timeless than a restaurant or hotel listing and exactly the sort of thing I am trying to prioritize.

The last time I went on a proper vacation, I noticed a lot of my fellow airplane passengers browsing guidebooks. I walked the length of the cabin for some exercise, and on my stroll I counted 17 people studying a guidebook, so there’s plenty of life left in the format!

Photo: David Nikel
The imposing western front of Nidaros Cathedral.

A walk around Trondheim
Throughout this intensive editing process, I’ve spent much more time here in Trondheim. On my breaks, I take a walk around the city, and it’s dawned on me that I haven’t shared much from my adopted hometown. It’s time to fix that!

I’m fond of Trondheim because of the mix of old and new, by which I mean it’s a historic city filled with forward-looking people. As the home of Norway’s primary technology and engineering university (NTNU) and the SINTEF research institute, many people in Trondheim are here to research the solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

All this exceptional work takes place in a delightful historic setting. The compact downtown area, almost entirely encircled by the river, is easy to explore on foot. The wide boulevards of the main streets are a more recent addition, but pockets of narrow cobbled streets and timber houses still dot the neighborhood, whispering their secrets to you as you meander past.

Within one hour you can take in the casual atmosphere of the riverside Bakklandet district, once a trading hub and now home to cafés, restaurants, and boutiques. Cross the famous Old Town Bridge for some great photo opportunities of the colorful warehouses, the Nidelva river, and the bridge itself. You’ll then be in the shadow of Nidaros Cathedral, the highlight of the trip for many.

The historic Nidaros Cathedral

The cathedral tower can be seen from across the city, and its imposing carved western front—reminiscent of those at Salisbury and Wells in England—delights curious visitors from around the world.

Because intense reconstruction has taken place on the entire structure over the years, it isn’t known exactly how many sculptures there were on the original design of the western front, but today over 50 sculptured figures line three rows around the restored rose window.

Immediately adjacent to the cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace has changed a lot over the centuries. A museum built over the ruins of the original buildings reveals its complex history, while you can get up close and personal with the Crown Regalia, including the actual crown of the King of Norway.

Trondheim doesn’t feature on as many bucket lists as Bergen or the fjords do, but the city offers a lot for the curious visitor.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 30, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.