Trying new things, as it happens, doesn’t have to be reserved only for your first year at Yale! (And as I’ve learned this year, you often keep encountering new activities and clubs and kinds of classes later in your time here regardless!)
I’ve never done any kind of lengthy (or substantial at all, really) reporting project. But this fall, I enrolled in a creative nonfiction writing seminar and workshop centered around the idea of being at home in America. Much of it is first-person writing, and talking about yourself and your family (which you can probably guess, from reading my blogs, I’m more comfortable with), but also a large reporting project that’s the set piece of the course (and also, its largest assignment).
After combing through the New Haven Yellow Pages, my eleven other classmates and I reached out to someone within (mostly skilled tradespeople, but anyone listed could be contacted — dog trainers, bike mechanics, dancers, florists, jewelry repairpeople, to list a few options!), and spent a little under two months interviewing them and getting to know their work. From there, it was a return to the title of the course — we wrote about being at home and working in America; about headstone sandblasters and stained glass craftspeople; about ourselves; about our joys and internal worlds and passions.
Here are some experiences and little revelations I had over the course of the project!
The story is so good in my head! Brilliant! And then I sit down to write it, and… Well, I’d rather be on the other side of the bus by then.
“How’s your first draft going? Your revision? Where do you see the piece going from here?”
How nice it would be: to have a smooth brain, no thoughts, head empty. Sometimes, the best solutions to writing problems are the simplest. But it can be difficult to allow yourself to accept (and feel good about accepting/have faith in) less complicated ways of doing things.
Me, when I turn in a rough draft I’m not fully confident in. Just, uh, give it a second read! It’ll grow on you! Maybe?
1. As someone who’s generally more introverted, talking to new people is far less scary than I’d imagined! After I made my first few attempts at outreach, I slowly began overcoming my perfectly rational fear of phone calls (cold calling is awkward, but maybe I’ve found a way to live with that). Even when potential interviewees said no, it was never as bad as I’d anticipated it would be.
2. Plans change! And that’s okay! My first choices changed often, and when I finally settled on who I wanted to reach out to, many businesses said no. Some ghosted me. Others left me on hold for, well, a pretty long time, caught in a limbo soundtracked by unexpectedly cheery pianos. But who I ultimately settled on interviewing ended up being the perfect choice, and we wouldn’t have met if my first choice had worked out undisrupted.
3. A lot of writers I’ve talked to, professionally established and otherwise, have often told me that their work is rarely the shapely, synthesized execution of a good idea that it is when it’s published. (This is the exact opposite of what I want to hear every time.) Still, as daunting as multiple drafts of a long piece may sound, it reminded me that success isn’t always encountered on your first go-around. And if it is, then there may be a more polished version of that gemstone awaiting you, if you pour in a little extra effort.
4. Sometimes your writing is not good. Well, maybe that’s being uncharitable with yourself. Let’s say, “not up to ideal personal expectations.” Regardless, with writing — or with any kind of work, really — you can’t be excellent all the time, and with everything. But all things hold the potential for revision! Discounting your failures as failures can be preemptive, and a little patience with yourself can revive a wilting bud into a blossom.
5. It can be helpful to give yourself the lenience to enjoy things you’re not good at, or don’t feel good at (yet!) If you can’t tell by now, I’m a perfectionist — but writing, and many other crafts, often require that your first efforts are imperfect. Perhaps I’m not the most conversational and intuitive reporter at my first attempt, now. But I’m getting there! And getting there, if you let yourself feel the bumps in the road, can be just as fun.