So far June is turning out to be the month of field trips for me, which is a good thing. In 2008, I guest blogged about how I think more reporters should venture out from behind their desks to cover stories. Everything I said still holds true, and now I see the value in other areas as well.
Field trips increase our power of observation. All too often we overlook the things we see every day because they’re routine. This month’s field trips have included taking in the Beach Boys 50-year-reunion concert with my mom, my recent journey to New Jersey for a writing conference and covering a press conference in downtown D.C.
Henry James said, “A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.” I agree. By observing and noticing the little things, we become better storytellers. And whether you write fiction or non fiction or newspaper articles or novels, the details are what make your story come alive.
At the Beach Boys concert, the band was great and they played all their hits, but the best part was watching how generations of families showed up together. If I were writing an article about the concert, I would have included the four-year-old little girl who danced and clapped for two hours straight and then fell asleep on her grandpa’s shoulder. He carried her out during Surfin’ Safari, and I pictured both of them snuggled in a quiet spot while the rest of the family continued to cheer and sing.
Field trips can encourage us to start up conversations and make new connections. I’m a firm believer in writing conferences. My recent trip to New Jersey gave me concrete ideas on how to improve my craft, but more importantly, I walked away with a handful of great new friends I’m continuing to connect with online. That initial conference registration fee is going to continue to pay dividends all year.
The few hours I spent covering a press conference last week gave me enough material to file a story that day and I jotted down a list of story ideas that will come in useful for several months. The conference speakers were interesting, but they were just part of the experience. Some of the best learning took place during the casual lunch that followed the event. You never know where you’re going to find your next great idea or that one thought that makes everything click.
Field trips don’t have to take us far. Even checking out a new restaurant or grocery store can exercise our observation muscles, and the more we use them, the stronger they will get.