Update: Gaining Confidence

September 15, 2010 in Blogging, On Writing, Study

Just a quick one because lately I’ve been flat out with assignments, articles, reviews, interviews and so forth, most of which are unrelated to this blog.  I still have a bunch of drafts of posts waiting for me to attend to them, including Joss Whedon’s talk at the Sydney Opera House, my visit to the Moscow Circus, a new trip in November, a website where I am buying loads of books from, and a final post on my Hunter Valley trip.  I am hopeful that after today, I’ll have some time to pump them out, even though the pace does not look like it’s slowing down (no pun intended).

In related news, I am seriously contemplating extending my writing course for another 6 months, which would give me a Masters degree as opposed to a diploma.  Most people I have spoken to are in favour of the idea, though there have been a couple that suggested experience as being much more important than a piece of paper in this industry.

I dunno, but I need to make up my mind soon.  Another 6 months of this would be terrific, especially as I am finally starting to figure out what the heck I am doing.  I’ve been reading like a madman, writing articles and reviews (some of which are finally appearing or will be appearing in various publications), and conducting interviews.  I’m also in negotiations to write for a couple of other things.  It’s insanely busy and at times insomnia-inducing (too much on my mind) but I’m enjoying the ride at the moment and trying to learn as much as I can.  It would be good if I had a bit more time to work on my stagnant novel (untouched for months) and get started on the non-fiction collaboration I had been planning with a friend, but right now, I’m not complaining.

I’m still scared most of the time, but even I can tell I’m beginning to gain a bit more confidence in what I am doing.  I did a post a couple of weeks ago about my first face-to-face interview, which I declared an absolute disaster (and make no mistake, it was).  I stuttered and muttered the whole way through and it was a miracle that the guy even understood what I was attempting to say.  Since then, I’ve done 3 more (2 in the last couple of days), and I’ve noticed a significant improvement in each one.

People say it’s the most obvious thing, but the most important thing you can do in an interview is LISTEN.  I was too nervous to do that at the beginning, constantly trying to think of what to ask next, and it stuffed me up.  Being genuinely interested in what the person has to say (which, I must admit, I was not in my first interview) also helps a great deal.

Now, instead of writing down a mechanical list of questions, I just jot down a few general ‘areas of discussion’ I want to go into, and let the conversation take us wherever it decides to.  The responses usually end up being a lot more candid and natural that way.  Rather than an ‘interview’ per se, I try and treat it like a ‘guided conversation’.  It’s worked so well that yesterday I didn’t even need to use pre-prepared notes at all.

Anyway, I hope this confidence thing continues to grow because I’m going to need it.  As one of my subjects (a top Australian journalist) told me, it’s good to be nervous because it keeps you on your toes and reminds you that you’re alive.

Stay tuned.  More posts are coming.  Maybe…

PS: not sure if any bloggers have experienced the same thing — but after a few weeks where my blog hits have almost halved, they appear to be back on the rise again.

Interview with a moron

September 2, 2010 in On Writing, Study

In this case, the moron is me, the interviewer.

My writing course is really going crazy at the moment, even though we’re only about a third of the way through.  Assessments are coming at me from all directions, and quite a number of them require calling random strangers and important public figures for comments and interviews.

At first all my attempts were futile.  People just don’t want to talk to strangers, even if it’s their job to do so.  I found that there were generally two types of people and you have to tell them what they want to hear.  There are those that are more willing to talk to a student writer because students are less intimidating than “real” journalists and they won’t necessarily get their work published.  On the other hand, there are those that don’t bother with helping students because all they care about is getting themselves out there, so if you can’t boost their profile, then get lost.

I certainly don’t fault either type.  Who people want to talk to is their choice.  I just needed to find out which type they were so I could either be honest and say I’m a student or lie and say I am a freelancer.

Calling up people you don’t know is quite nerve-wracking, especially those first few times.  The key is to persevere and not give up too easily.  If they don’t return your email, then send them another one.  If they don’t return your call or message, then call again.  In the beginning I was way too timid and polite, and a gentle pushback would be enough to send me scampering in the opposite direction.

Anyway, after struggling for the past week with more than half a dozen rejections from various individuals, organisations and institutions, things are finally starting to come together.  Yesterday I interviewed a lawyer who specialises in civil liberties, and today the general manager of a circus.  Both are for potential feature articles.  There really wasn’t any trick to it.  You just contact them and see if they want to talk.

The hard part is getting through the interview without seeming like a complete lost case.  I was lucky because I didn’t really to take notes, as I had my handy Pulse Smartpen ready to record every word that was said.  I can’t see how anyone can transcribe conversations without a recording device.  I don’t believe it for a second that Truman Capote had more than 90% recall of all conversations.

Nevertheless, interviewing really is an art.  You can’t just go in with a list of questions and run through them methodically, because you never know where the interviewee’s responses may take you.  It’s all about listening to what they say, responding to what they say, and asking the right questions.  You not only have to listen intently but you also have to simultaneously think about what question to ask next.

In my first interview I was a complete shocker, full of “ers” and “ums”, and asking questions that really didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Listening back on the Pulse Smartpen was brutal, especially when I reduced the playback speed, which made me sound completely retarded.

Today, the interview with the circus manager was a lot better, but I think that had a lot to do with confidence and a genuine interest in what the man had to say.  I had a great time.

Tomorrow I have another interview with an author for a profile, and a couple of weeks after that I am interviewing a very famous writer for another one.  Man, I need to improve!