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.
When I was younger I didn’t really plan ahead long term. I did well in school each year to move up to the next grade and eventually go to college, get a degree and a good job. What college that should be and what job it might lead me to wasn’t something I thought too hard about. I imagined and day dreamed about different careers but it seemed so far off that I’d have plenty of time to plan for the future. I was also over confident that everything would just fall into place as they had in the past. I didn’t really put much effort into applying for college. I waited until the last minute to take the SAT’s, didn’t research many schools and didn’t visit any.
I stumbled upon DePaul University as part of a scholarship program I applied for. I wanted to go because of their communications and journalism program. I didn’t get the scholarship and ended up at SUNY Brockport. I was also accepted to Nazareth College but financial aid only covered half the tuition and boarding. I didn’t see anyway I could afford it and didn’t think it really mattered where I went anyway. I went mostly because I felt obligated. I didn’t think I’d learn anything useful, it was just a hurdle to getting a better job later on. My main motivation was to get away from home. I was very independent, wanted to get away and experience different places. I didn’t even look at any schools in New York City. I’m not sure if I would have gone to school right away if I stayed home. I was tired of learning in the classroom and more excited about hands on experience.
I admit part of me was trying to run away from a life that I was unhappy with. I thought maybe leaving home would change how I felt. It didn’t work, my heart wasn’t into school and it possibly made things worse. I ended my first year on academic probation because of my low grade point average. Having little else to do in the small college town I let myself get wrapped up in partying and enjoying the freedom of being away from home. I focused on enjoying the present instead planning for the future. When I returned to school in the fall things didn’t get much better. By October I realized I was wasting my time upstate and it would be my last semester there. I came home depressed and discouraged. I owed the school my full tuition for the last semester because I never finished the financial aid paperwork and had bills I neglected to pay. Before I could think about planning for the future I had to get a job, any job in order pay my debt. I planned on going back to school after I payed off the debt and had a better idea of what I wanted to do. I still occasionally wrote but didn’t invest any real time, money or energy into writing. Instead I pushed it aside for later when the time was right.
So I’ve made a lot of mistakes, we all do, right? I would have made just as many no matter what I decided. So I would probably do it all the same if I had a chance to do it over. I may not have learned anything in classes but the experiences were well worth the time upstate. My writing career may have been stalled because of the lack of planning. Then again I’m not sure if I would have a writing career if things played out differently. I needed to make those mistakes and take some detours to realized what it is that I actually want. The only thing I regret is not making writing a priority in my life. I let it become something to do when I had the time, instead I should have been making the time. I got caught up living life and trivial little things seemed very important. I wasted many years because I forgot what was really important to me.