The British have a great saying: If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will do.
That saying is all about planning a journey before you set out on it. And that has everything to do with writing another person’s story. Or more broadly, about writing anything but fiction for that matter.
Planning is underrated these days. The tendency now is to “try things out, see where they go and take the best options you discover.” While this might be great for brainstorming for new or creative ideas, it is a bad idea when you want to capture someone’s story. Of course, I don’t mean you should be close-minded as an the interview process unfolds, but you also should be mindful that not everyone you write for knows there they want to go.
Being explicit about where you want to wind up before you start on any nonfiction writing project is not only a good idea, it’s a necessary thing to do.
In particular, a couple things to consider before you start into writing the story of someone else the interview proper are audience and truthiness. Click on either to see an earlier post about it in this blog. Both of these are discussed elsewhere in this blog. Knowing who you are writing FOR and knowing how much of you partner’s story you’re prepared to take on faith are pretty crucial to writing another’s story. You need to consider these in advance of starting into detailed interviews. you start the interviews since questions about these inevitably prop up later.
So that’s a little about where you want to wind up, but then there’s “how do I get there?”
This question is about your process, can covers things like how may interviews, how long each, and over what time. Since interviewing is never a solo activity, you need to consider the needs and expectations of you partner as well as yourself. What do you want to get out of this? What do THEY want to get out of this? The more explicit you are in defining your–and their–goals the better off you be as you choose roads to get to them.
Some writers, particularly fiction writers, believe that a story gets a life of its own–that the characters develop to the point where they are creating the road ahead. While I am certainly a big believer in creativity, I am also pragmatic about how I work at writing. I know that making stories glow for the reader is up to me and my skill. That just does not happen. won’t just happen. But even if I have epiphany moments of insight into how to say or write something, I know those insights actually came from me. Maybe spontaneously. Maybe unconsciously. But I am the only one at the keyboard. I am doing the writing.
I feel that a very real, yet highly intangible, benefit of planning before you start into writing of any kind, is that it seeds insight as you go along. Once thought out the destinations and whatever plan deatil you care to elaborate plant seeds in your subconscious, the home of those much-vaunted muses. Whether or not you believe in the metaphysical, I think you ill find that when the muse(s) visit, what they have to say and will be more cogent if they know where you want to get to. Maybe they (you) will change their (your) mind. And that’s OK too. But without the initial overview of some sort of plan, you ask your muses (mind) to conjure too much.
So before you start on a project with another, or even on your own personal withing, I think you might, like me, find it helpful to jot down where you”re trying to go with a little of how you plan to do it before you start.But especially if you are writing another person’s story.
After all “If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will do” is all the more important if there is passenger riding along with you, don’t you think?