I may have mentioned previously that the main focus of my project – the road trip – will not take place until later in the year. In the meantime, I figured, I can sit back and relax. To be fair, I realized that I need to use this time to revise the existing manuscript, getting it as polished as possible preparatory to any changes the trip brings about. Okay, there’s several months left to do that in. No problem for someone who’s used to reading and revising in just a few weeks.
And then I got to thinking.
I should probably contact the Tennessee Humanities Council that I’m coming in for the Southern Festival of Books and give them an idea of the questions I have about their procedures. Any questions I can get answered in advance will be an advantage. And – hey, maybe I can make arrangements to see things from the inside.
Similarly, I should write the historic home we’re going to visit, and see if we can get into some ‘uncharted’ areas, as well as ask questions about what would happen if our sisters did the same. Would it be possible for them to get drunk at a wine tasting held on the grounds? How would the personnel handle it if they did?
Then there are the museums. In at least one of the museums, there is a pivotal event that takes place in a public display room. How would it affect the docents or tour group activity if this really happened at the museum? And are the workrooms at the museum anything like I imagined? Can I see one?
I’ve begun to realize that I am going to have some questions that can’t be answered on a standard tour or by participating in the public side of an event. I’m going to have to contact the people in charge at every venue, open a conversation, and make arrangements for interview time during which I can get questions answered. Early contact will make visits go smoothly, guarantee I get my questions answered, and maybe set me up for some special privileges. (I’ve found that most people are positively eager to help artists and writers out; they like to be personally involved in someone’s creative venture.)
This isn’t going to be about sitting around waiting for a trip to happen. This is going to be about planning and prepping the way. It’s going to be about emails, phone calls, and lists. It’s going to be about pre-contacting and setting up interviews and gleaning new ideas from the information I get. It’s going to be about meeting new people and being able to spend efficient, meaningful time with my sources.
Writing non-fiction magazine features dependent on research, interviews, and sources has taught me the benefits of good preparation. When I meet up with people at these venues, I want to take up as little of their time as possible – after all, I am not their business – but I have to collect as much information in that time as I can. I can make things go smoothly and efficiently if I know exactly what to ask going in, and if we’ve gotten easy questions out of the way before I even arrive.
Sometimes we forget that non-fiction skills come into play with fiction projects. And vice versa. Writing well means calling on all of our skills and bringing them to bear on the project of the moment. No skill, no method is out of bounds in producing our best work.
So, I’ve got work ahead of me, way ahead of packing my bags and getting behind the wheel. It may be time to start making out a list. Which my kids will tell you is probably my favorite, most indispensable writing tool outside of my imagination.