Peter Lourie
 WRITING ABOUT A RIVER 

In the next few dispatches I'll give you an inside look at how I write about an exploration of a
river. Whether the final result is a story, an article, or a book, the process involves three stages: First, I engage my imagination in the adventure before me--with growing anticipation I focus on preparation and research. Next, there's the excitement and unfolding adventure of the journey itself. Finally, I settle down to the last part of the creative process by drawing together the threads of my research and experience into a story that can touch the lives of my readers. 

GET SET WITH PREPARATION AND RESEARCH 
As I tell students in my writing workshops, research is one of the most fun things I do as a nonfiction writer and as a river traveler. Before a trip, during a trip, and after a trip, I conduct research. Other words for research include study, explore, and investigate. Can you think of more?

A lot of people think "research" is something dry and dusty that happens in old libraries. It's true that some research does indeed take place in old--and new--libraries. In fact, articles and books are very important in preparing for a river trip. They can give a mental picture of the experience ahead, which can be important in planning what I should bring and special arrangements I should make--ranging from the need for a passport to warm clothes. Articles and books can also give me  ideas of things to look for in my adventure. Learning about experiences writers have had in the past can clue me in to important aspects of the river that may have changed. Is wildlife as plentiful as it once was? Are people using the river as they did in past times? Are there now dams where there once were wild, flowing waters and deep canyons? I certainly read before I go. I also read during a trip, and afterward. Books are a great resource. But there are other ways to research a river. 

People, for instance. Every river has its experts. Not only scientists and ecologists and historians, but just plain people like your dad or mom, or the man and woman down the street, or especially your grandparents. Older people have a lot of wisdom stored inside them and love to talk about what they know, including river stories, river events, and river lore. Most of us are better talkers than listeners--so you be the listener. They'll love you for listening to them, and you'll get stories and information and expertise in exchange. 

First thing I do when I'm about to take a trip on a river is start a list of articles and books to read and people to talk to. Whether it's a trip on the Hudson, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Amazon, the Everglades, the Yukon, the Rio Grande, or Otter Creek outside my window--first I need to find out who the experts are. I can talk to them in person, or I can talk to them by phone. Or I can write them a letter or an e-mail note. 

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