Interview Others to Grow as a Writer
By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
For many years, I interviewed authors about their books and the craft of writing for magazine articles. Sitting with these bestselling authors and asking them about writing taught me much more than I could pour into a 1500 word or even a 1,000 word magazine article. Interviewing others is a critical skill for any writer.
If you don't interview others for your magazine articles, I recommend you write some query letters and pitch writing personality profiles. These profiles are magazine articles focused on a single person and many publications love these types of stories. After you get the assignment from an editor, you can secure your interview with the person. If they are well-known and you don't know how to reach them, go to someone in the publicity section of their book publisher. These publicity people book interviews for journalists to reach their authors.
These publicity people will track down the author, nail down a time for your interview. I always ask for 45 minutes to an hour for the interview to make sure I get what I need for my profile. Also these publicity people will send you review copies of any books and background that you need. Gather all of this information from the publisher ahead of time. Then read the books and look for unique insights and questions you can ask the personality.
If the person you are interviewing is well-known or has been interviewed often, your preparation and creating unique questions is a critical part of your preparation. If you don't prepare, you will not gather unique stories and information from your interview. Instead the person will tell you their “stock stories” or material that they always tell journalists during their interviews. For your article, you are looking for stories which have not been told or are rarely told.
As a part of your preparation, write down a list of specific questions. Take time to imagine yourself doing the interview and how you are going to ask different questions. As you specifically write them down, it will help your preparation for the interview. Then during the interview, use your questions but also be flexible to ask other questions as they happen. At the end of the interview, ask if there is something else you should have asked. It gives the individual a chance to sell you something they wanted to tell you.
Whether the interview is on the phone or in person, I tell the other person that I'm making a recording of our conversation and get their permission on the tape. As a practice, in general, I do not transcribe this tape (which from experience seems like a waste of time and energy). Instead I write from my notes but use the tape as a back up tool—and for expansion of information. I can't write fast enough to get down everything (at least in a format so I can read it after the interview). I have found this method of recording and using the tape for additional information as the most effective way for me to use the recording.
Also as a part of the interview, I ask the person how I can check the facts of my story with them before I send it to my editor. The editor may edit and change around the story—but I can protect the accuracy and integrity of what I'm sending. Most journalists never take this step in the interview process. Then if you publish something inaccurate, it will potentially ruin your relationship with the individual. If on the other hand, you check the details with the person, then you are taking steps to preserve your relationship with the person—and can easily return to them for something else in the future (even the distant future).
Last week instead of interviewing another person, Patricia Durgin interviewed me on Facebook Live. I loved Patricia's preparation and questions for this hour-long interview. You can follow this link to watch the interview.
Do you interview others? Has it helped you grow as a writer? Let me know your experiences and tips in the comments below.
Discover interviewing others is a way to grow as a writer. Get insights from this prolific journalist and author. (ClickToTweet)