Maybe you have an outline for your next big project, the premise for a new company, or just the beginning of a great idea. Don’t let those things slip away. If they excite you, they’re worth pursuing.
In this series, we talk to creatives around the world who have made their passion projects a reality. They’ll share every part of the process — the successes and, more importantly, the mistakes. Learn from them and then go out and make your passion project a reality, too.
This week, we talk to Briana Moore, creator of Travels with Quigley, a creative retelling of John Steinbeck’s travelogue, “Travels with Charley.” She spent three months in 2016 driving around the United States with her dog, Quigley, to find out what America is like right now. She’s currently in the midst of writing a book about the experience.
Where did the idea come from? In what form was the idea when you first had it?
I still vividly remember the moment. I had wanted to do a passion project for a while, but nothing had clicked yet. I was reading “Travels with Charley,” and I was about two chapters in when everything in the world just paused and my entire brain just zeroed in on this project. I could see the entire project laid out. And I became obsessed with it.
Not every passion project has to have that moment, but it was the definitive moment for me. That was when I said, “This is it, this is what I have to do.”
How long did it take you to get the ball rolling on this?
It took me about a year or so to really pull it together. I sat with the idea for a few months — I had a little notebook and would jot ideas down as inspiration came. I talked to my husband and a few other confidants about the details of the journey. But it was a strange process because I saw it so clearly, so early on; I took a few months to refine it, but after that I just jumped right in. Pretty much everything I did in the next year was shaped through the lens of the project. The biggest hurdle was figuring out when I could do it.
How did you know that it was a good idea?
A big confirmation was the fact that I could see the big picture so clearly. I realized that it was something I could realistically do and was a project that stayed true to my own story and my own life. It involved travel, road trips, my favorite author, writing, photography, sociology, community engagement — everything about it clicked with who I am and what I do. So it wasn’t a stretch, it was a part of me.
I think it’s very important to have an authentic drive behind any passion project. It needs to be a part of you. It needs to be something that is a natural extension of who you are already.
What went into the planning of Travels with Quigley?
It was so much work, but the effort was so much fun. That’s partly due to the fact that I’m an obsessive/enthusiastic nerd and I like planning things and I like research. It’s like a marvelous scavenger hunt. I don’t think I’ll ever take the color-coded tabs off my copy of the book … I went through the text in great detail beforehand because I didn’t want to be obsessing over the details when I was on the road.
I approached this project like I do anything else: crazy intense research ahead of time so that you can know enough to not have to freak out on the road. Some of the biggest challenges for me were the things like the Kickstarter and pitching to brand partnerships. Planning the trip and the project itself were second nature, but then I would hit these moments when I needed an informational video, or a pitch deck, basically multiple ways to explain the project to people that made sense, and I had to reach out to people I knew who had been through something like this. I had to say, “I’ve got this idea, now I need to invite people into it if it’s going to be successful.”
How was the idea received by the people in your life?
When you do projects like this, you learn a lot about yourself and your relationships with others. I had some pretty funny moments when people either got it, or left the conversation puzzled. People who connect with me on a deep artistic and social level immediately said the project made sense and I had to do it. My husband, on the other hand, is more of the skeptic. He was very balanced and was always saying, “Of course you can do this, but have you considered this detail?” He was my technical touchstone. Still, many others were baffled by my motivations, or simply found it too daunting to understand. Some thought it was just a vacation. But each reaction completely reflected my relationship with that person, and that experience was just one of the many aspects that delighted and informed me along the way.
Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to fund the project? What was that process like?
I knew I had to get funding. Something like this — three months on the road — was a big undertaking and I’m not independently wealthy. I didn’t have the kind of social media following that would lend to big sponsors or other special perks. Doing something like this when you don’t have those privileges means that you have to do fundraising!
I love Kickstarter, so that platform was a no-brainer. I’ve backed a significant number of projects on it. I like the community aspect of the program and knew that was where I wanted to go to fund the project. I didn’t want to just ask for money — I wanted people to be involved from beginning to end. Kickstarter facilitates an experience that allows backers to become more personally involved in the process.
I think a lot of people look at Kickstarter and assume other people are just giving you money. But running a successful campaign is actually A LOT of work — you need to create an engaging video, find a succinct but enticing way to explain the project, form realistic rewards tiers, and really understand the best way to communicate with the crowdfunding community. And after all of that prep work, you launch your campaign, and the real fun begins. It’s all about engagement. You have to keep the momentum going without being a narcissistic salesperson. There’s so many details I learned about this process that I never would have guessed before this experience, and it has changed how I interact with other fundraisers now.
What would you say is a sign that someone should use Kickstarter for their passion project? What are some of the benefits to using Kickstarter?
Kickstarter is so much about having a big community. Of all the crowdfunding websites, it’s by far my favorite. What makes Kickstarter exciting is all the different rewards tiers and ways you can get involved.
A big part of the benefits is how many people connect with your project. There is a considerably supportive community aspect. But also, it’s just so straightforward. The organizational tools provided in the program are incredible to use when you’re going through the rewards planning. I could completely organize everything in Kickstarter. I don’t have to worry about neglecting anything important — it’s all there. It gives you the chance to be legitimate.
They do take a cut of your funding, which some people don’t realize. But it’s worth it to have such an amazing platform to use.
When you were in the planning process, was there ever a moment that you doubted the project?
I never doubted the project. But I did reach a few points and wonder, “How am I going to do this?” A big part of it was the finances. I run my own photography business and my husband was in grad school, so it wasn’t a simple task. Even having a $10,000 Kickstarter doesn’t go very far when you’re traveling for three months, and having to turn away work during your busy season in order to be on the road.
I went through moments when I thought, “If I have to fundraise to make this happen, will other people believe in it?” That was a period of time when I was sharing it with photographer peers and they weren’t getting it. There were moments of doubt, not in the project, but in whether or not other people would connect with it enough to get it off the ground.
I think everyone goes through those moments of self-doubt. The “Is it/Am I good enough?” And that’s when you have to just push through.
How were you feeling right before you left?
Overwhelmed. I was half excited and half terrified. And the entire time I was doing the trip, I couldn’t believe it was happening. It felt very real and very … not … all at the same time.
Most of your project came after the actual trip, so how did you go into the trip and make sure you got what you needed to see the project through?
A big part of that was planning ahead — knowing where Steinbeck pulled over in the Badlands, those kind of details. I had jotted down key visuals that I needed, or things that I had to compare and contrast, so it was an interesting balance because I wanted the trip to be its own entity, but I also had moments from the book that I wanted to bring to life. In the book, he hiked this one particular peak in California at sunset, over his home in Monterey to say goodbye, so that was important to me. Right before I left, I hiked that same area at the same time. So there definitely were key moments and emotions of the original journey that I prioritized.
Now that I’m back, I’m going through this self-doubt of “maybe I should’ve gotten this or that,” and I’m still trying to find this balance. But this project confirmed that a significant tip for success is planning ahead and putting in the work before you go.
How did you decide on the overall tone of the project was going to be?
It really evolved. The most significant detail that changed between the start of this project to when I went out on the road was that my original version of the book was all images. Just a complete visual retelling of “Travels with Charley.” But there were so many intimate details that were key to his original story … I realized there was no way I could do this and say everything I wanted to with images alone. I love photography, it’s my prime medium for storytelling, but it’s not everything.
Then, on the road, there were experiences and observations that I found so beautiful or painful that I preferred to process without my camera. And I had to let myself be okay with that. The tone really comes from Steinbeck. I love that he’s not afraid to get a bit dirty. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. That’s something that I’ve always been drawn to about him. He tells very powerful and uplifting stories, but they’re not sweet. That’s what I felt going into this, and the book will have that tone. With social media, there’s this tendency to put out a persona of, “We’re deep, but we’re always happy.” And I just wanted this to be a very real look at how things are right now. Life is not always shiny. Our country as a whole is feeling a desperation that we can’t ignore, but there is beauty and power and knowledge in our response to that. I wanted to share our truth, while seeking out stories of hope as well. Text became essential to the story.
What were some of the challenges you faced while on the road in the middle of the project?
The absolute biggest challenge for me was not getting distracted. It was such a difficult balance between wanting to engage with people and have others join me on the road, but also not allowing my focus to dwindle, or allow them to force their narrative onto my own. I went through some frustrating times, and to be honest, I struggle with how I am going to share those times in the book.
That’s something I learned about myself — how much I need to focus on the balance of community and self care, and not letting other people step in and take away from the story I’m telling.
Once you were finished with the road trip and back home, what was your plan for tackling all of the material you’d accumulated?
I declared myself a hermit for a few weeks. I was so tired when I got back … I needed to decompress and process months of information. I also realized I needed some time to figure out how I wanted to write the piece, finding the tone, and how I wanted everything to come together.
I took the winter to work on some of the tangible Kickstarter rewards, and whenever I thought of something I wanted to put in the book, I would jot it down. But I decided to tackle the photos first. Which was great because now, as I’m writing, I have those visuals completely organized and I can go back to them to revive all of my senses.
Another good piece of advice I got during planning was, “Think about what you have to do when you get back.” Questionnaires, post office runs, all of those behind the scenes details that take up hours of time (and a portion of your funding). Make sure that what you are promising is realistic!
What are some of the benefits to putting everything you have into a passion project and seeing it through?
It has been so challenging and so fulfilling. This project completely changed the way I run my business and the way I live day to day. Because it was something that resonated so deeply with me, and something that I felt truly aligned with what I want to be doing, it has honestly changed my life. This experience helped me realize what I value and what’s worth my time, especially concerning my business. Being able to take the time out from my regular commissions to do “Travels with Quigley” made me realize that a long-awaited shift in within my work was going to be possible. It was very empowering and educational. I feel so excited moving into this next stage. If I hadn’t taken the steps to (thoughtfully) follow my dream, I don’t think the next few years would be taking shape the way that they are.
What advice do you have for people who think they want to do a passion project, but haven’t?
Email me! I really believe that talking it through with the right people is very important. It’s very easy to just find a lot of “Yes people” or a lot of “No people.” It’s important to talk through your ideas with people who are close to you, but also people in the artistic community. Find someone who can dialogue about the inspiration and the passion, and the dirty, sweaty, painful parts of it, too.
If you go in thinking that it’s not going to be grueling work, you’re not going to succeed. You have to find a good community. You have to put in the MANY hours. You have to plan well. And you have to really love it.
The best way to figure all of that out is to find the right people and just talk it through.