What do I mean by this, exactly? Why, a journalist is always prepared!
This was a lesson that I had not considered in several months. The last time that I had a job remotely in the field of news, I was writing articles for the official newspaper of an Air Force Base in Montana, as a summer intern. Before that, I interviewed the editor of a book on Tolkien scholarship, and before that I copy edited at my high school newspaper.
I learned to improvise. I learned how to react to a sudden change of events. You can be the most talented writer or talker on earth, but if you can’t think of what to say if a situation suddenly changes, your talent is worth very little.
Let me show you what I mean. Remember those interviews I posted yesterday? I didn’t have time to prepare for those. I was wandering a book festival, and saw some booths with authors shaking hands with people.
“I say,” said I. “What if I featured those guys on my blog, took their picture, and wrote about them on my blog?”
“Wait a minute,” said my sensible self. “Think this through for a minute. You don’t have any questions prepared. What if you make a fool of yourself?”
“Maybe you’re right… I should have thought of this beforehand…”
“And you didn’t. Just don’t try it!”
“I could make some sweet contacts, though…”
“If they say yes! They might be too busy for an interview while they’re shaking all those hands, Sean! Don’t waste their time! If you stutter, they won’t be happy! A contact who’s pissed off at you isn’t much good, is it?”
“Fragnabbit! I can’t let this opportunity pass! I do know what questions to ask them. If I stutter, I’ll look confident as if I didn’t, and keep asking questions. I mean, they’re authors. All I gotta do is get them talking about their writing journey, and work my way from there to find out what makes them tick!”
“But- wait- how are you going to find what makes them tick? What exact questions-”
“Shaddup and get out of my way.”
“Wait. You don’t even have a business card for your blog!”
No. I didn’t. If you must know, I wrote down the URL of the blog on a piece of paper, and added my signature- adds a more personal touch if you ask me. I’ll probably use business cards next time, since that is the formal way people share that kind of information in person. And writing down that stuff with a pencil looks really, really tacky. Don’t do it.
But the point is that I took my chances with what I had, and wound up having a blast. Tom Kinkrade, Jay Falconer and Drake Maxwell welcomed me with a smile. I chatted for 5-10 minutes with each of them at their tents, learning about the stories they have written with both their pen and with their own lives. I enjoyed writing my mini-features about them.
All that is the journalism instinct at work. When doors open, you have to walk through them. When a curveball comes your way, you have to try your best to hit it. You’d be surprised what instinct can do. Do what you do with confidence. In uncertainty, it is better to make a mistake with a smug confident look on your face as if you know what you are doing. Tentatively making a mistake with a self-conscious frown will kill your enterprise, whatever it may be.
With that said, do prepare everything that you can. Think through every possibility, and always bring more tools than you think you will need. But if something happens that forces a change in your gameplan, improvise! Trust your instinct. In writing and all other endeavors this will serve you well.