I’ve written in the past about how nervous interviews make me and the mistakes I think I’ve made. While I’m still working on improving my interviewing skills I’ve discovered a somewhat new anxiety about writing nonfiction and reporting. These are related to the editing process and incorporating information and quotes from sources into the final piece.
I worry about paraphrasing people and simply how I use the quotes to support the story. I end up obsessing over how the person I interviewed will react to the story. I worry that I might misinterpret their words while paraphrasing or even when using direct quotes they’ll feel it was taken out of context. For whatever reason I feel like I need to satisfy them in addition to readers and my editor. I guess I feel like I do have a responsibility to them since I am using their words and taking up their time.
Though recently I had a big boost. After interviewing several people for an article I sent them all a link to the live story and more than one replied complementing me on the story. It felt like a huge weight lifting off my chest. Seriously, the stress has made me question if I should continue with this work. But those emails gave me the boost I needed to at least pick up one more assignment.
In the past I sent sources stories to review before submitting them, but that’s not always possible when working on a deadline. I’ve also read lots of mixed advice about whether or not this should be done. I wonder if anybody else deals with this kind of anxiety when writing nonfiction, or using sources for any kind of writing. I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on the subject.
The one part of nonfiction writing I dread the most is interviewing people. Well actually I think it’s asking that I hate the most. It seems weird to ask a complete stranger and I’m tired of asking people I know. As a result I haven’t done many interviews, but I have made plenty of mistakes. Here’s a few I thought might be helpful. I know I’ll be avoiding them in the future.
- Interviewing friends I thought everything I needed to know was already in my head. I didn’t think there was any need to do research like I did for strangers. But I realized that research stage was helpful for many different reasons. It gave me a chance to narrow down what information about them would be relevant to the final story. I’m also able to brainstorm questions and start to form the main topics that will be covered.
- I admit I’m a big procrastinator. More than once I’ve waited a long time to start writing. The longer I’ve waited the harder the writing process become. It’s harder to focus, remember details, or feel excited about writing.
- I once did an interview with my notes in three different places. I don’t know why but I had everything organized in different ways. It ended up making things kind of complicated for me during the interview. It also made it harder when I went back to them in the writing process. The best part being I misplaced one of the notebooks that had most of the notes I made during the interview.
- I think my biggest mistake has been avoiding doing a live interview. I started doing interviews by email because it was convenient and easy. Especially if scheduling was an issue, it let the subject answer whenever they had the time. It became my go to thing and I didn’t even consider other options. Then I realized that email can also easily be forgotten or ignored. I’ve had people commit to an interview then never respond after I sent the questions. After a reminder or two I finally gave up. I lost out on an interview and experience that I needed.