Monday, June 06, 2005

Some Writer's Choices

When we write anything, we make an infinite number of small choices—which topic to address in the first place, which audience to address, how to start, how to write the middle and how to end it. These choices are clear whether we write a single page or a magazine article or a full-length novel or book.

Today, I’m thinking about the choices after you conduct an interview. You talk with someone on the phone or in person for 15 minutes or longer.  Then you have a wealth of material from this person.  As the writer, you select which quotations you will use and which you will ignore.

This weekend, I saw the issue from Writer’s Digest on Personal Writing (currently on the newsstands).  From an email, a reader told me this blog had been included in the issue. I dashed out to the bookstore and picked up a copy of it. The author interviewed me months ago and I had practically forgotten it and wondered if he would include anything from our conversation (some times they do and some times they do not).

At the time, I only had a few days of writing these entries under my experience. He selected a quotation from this entry titled Urban Writing Myth Is Real. The writer was amused with some of my comments in the fifth paragraph about the handwritten manuscript. His choice did showcase what I’m doing in the various entries and was a wise one.

After an interview (if possible), I will write my quotations into a computer file—or I will star them on my notes. I’ve discovered it makes it easier to return to them and use them in the particular magazine article at a later time. Some writers transcribe their tapes. I’ve never found that particularly valuable. I do return to my tape and spot check the quotations but I do not transcribe the tape. The transcription process seems to cement the information and stop the fluid nature of it. Years ago, long-time Guideposts Contributing Editor Elizabeth Sherrill described writing after an interview as like the sculptor who takes a block of stone and sees a beautiful statue inside.

It’s the same process for the writer after an interview. You see a well-crafted article that comes from your research and interview—even before it is written. Be aware of your various minor and major choices in this process. I believe it will help your craft.

3 Comment:

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Unknown Left a note...

I am a freelancer for many christian mags and newspapers. And most of my writing assignments are interviewing Christian news makers. I appreciate the entry.

I don't use tapes, because when I first began doing this I would either have a dead battery in my tape recorder or water(don't ask) in the speaker. So I rely on my eyes and ears. Use shorthand and then go home and type the interview out. Wait a day or two and begin to create an article from there.

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Tapes provide a level of comfort for the journalist--and accuracy for the quotes. I encourage journalists (or any type of writer) to use tape recorders--of course with the person's permission. It's wise for phone interviews and it's wise to use it in person. It also frees me from being tied to my note pad during the interview for more thoughtful interaction with the person.

I've written literally hundreds of articles from these interviews--and maintained my relationship with each of these high profile best-selling "newsmakers."

Each of us have to figure out what works for us, Dee. I'm glad you have a system that works for you.

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Terry, you offer sound advice for anyone who's preparing for an interview. Several years ago you recommended a little Radio Shack gizmo to me, and I've used it ever since. It tapes a phone interview (with the interviewee's permission, of course), and is a huge benefit for a relatively small price.

I've never had anybody refuse their permission to tape. I'd much rather end up with a taped record than to have to rely solely on my notes. Thanks for the reminder! /Bonnie


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