Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Weekend Dilemma

Are you working for the weekend?
Photo by phanlop88

I can never decide whether weekends are good for working or if I should try to stick to the five-day work week and give myself some time off.  During the week, I see the weekends as a pool of available hours that can be used to catch up on projects.  Those weekend hours look especially appealing to me on days like to today when I have to help out in my daughter's preschool, take my son to an occupational therapy appointment in Seattle (which winds up being about a four-hour round trip), and there's a sink full of dirty dishes waiting for me too (note: this post was actually started on Monday morning and finished on Wednesday, which is probably indicative of the problem!).

But then the weekend comes, and the last thing I want to do is actually sit down and work.  I got some stuff done this weekend.  I got some reference information to the magazine publisher who needed it for some statistics I quoted in an article, and I have the newsletter almost completely done for the preschool (just waiting on some photos... if they don't get the info to me by today, I'm publishing it anyway though).  Unfortunately, I only got about two hours of real pay-the-bills work in throughout the entire weekend though.

The excuses are, of course, numerous:

  • I need to catch up on housework.
  • I want a break from the hectic week.
  • I want to spend time with the family.
  • I want to catch up on my reading.
  • We rented a movie that I really want to see.
And so on and so forth.

The problem is that if I don't dedicate at least part of my weekend to work, I feel like a total slacker. Part of this is because of days like today when I know I'm only going to log two or three hours of work at most (I'm going to take my netbook to the appointment though and hopefully sneak at least another half hour in).  The other part is that I feel a strong commitment to my clients, and when deadlines are tight, the time has to come from somewhere, and I'd rather not stay up until two in the morning trying to get the work done.  

Another option is to plan to work the weekend and make other days throughout the week my days off.  While making Monday my day off sounds ideal, I think it's not very practical and could make clients not-so-happy, since that's the beginning of the work week for so many people.

Decisions, decisions...

Do you work on weekends or do you declare them hands off?  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Long Overdue Update

I'm always kind of astonished that I get paid for this.
Photo by Michal Marcol

I have a terrible confession:  I've been letting this blog languish while I've been off playing with the other kids.  Poor blog. I know how that feels.  I'll try to do better.

I wanted to post an update on my writing world.  I can't help but laugh when I look at my initial goals from "back in the day."  I also can't believe that "back in the day" was really only about a year and a half ago!  Lots of changes since then...

I'm very pleased to report that all my scraping and clawing and writing anywhere I could has really started to pay off.  I just got picked up as a contract copywriter by a company that designs websites for medical professionals. They have a stable full of clients who need content for their websites, and I can work as many hours as I want in a week.  Granted, like all freelance work, the hours aren't guaranteed to always be this steady.  Slowdowns are kind of inevitable in this business.  But so far, things are looking great.  I just turned in my first time sheet, and I made more this week than I typically make in a month!

I've had a lot of questions since posting about my good fortune on Facebook, mostly wanting to know how I found the job and how I started from nothing and pulled myself up. Here are my typical answers:

  • I signed up for every freelance job board I could find.  I learned quickly which ones were worth my time and focused my efforts on those.  
  • I applied for every writing and editing job I could find that I thought I might be even remotely qualified.  
  • I realized that I had an incredibly useful niche -- I am a healthcare content writer.  There's a huge market for this, and it's an area where I have plenty of knowledge.  
  • While I started out writing for any site that would publish my work, I figured out which sites were more "reputable" in the freelance world and stuck with those.
  • I viewed every piece I wrote as a stepping stone to my next job/prospect.  I didn't try to scale the ladder my first time out; instead, I took it one rung at a time with the goal being to get to the next rung on my next project.
  • I asked for feedback on my work so that I can improve.
  • I followed the blogs of other freelance writers and read what was working and what wasn't working for them
  • I read book written by freelancers, especially those who specialized in copywriting, which was quickly becoming my niche.
  • I was willing to try everything to see what I liked and what worked and where I was most successful.
  • I write.  Constantly.  Every single thing that I write, whether it's an email, a Facebook post, a blog post, or an article for a client, allows my to subtly improve. When I compare my writing from last year to my writing this year, the difference is remarkable.  I want to say the same thing next year, too.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Asking the Best Questions

You won't get the answers if you don't ask the question.
Image by hinnamsaisuy

I had a very humbling experience recently.

After completing a project of a type I had never done before and sending it off proudly to the client, I received it back thoroughly marked up in Track Changes.  I was horrified and was sure that I had screwed up completely and would never hear back from this particular client again.  I responded with a timid "I'm sorry that this isn't what you were looking for. What could I have done better?"

She was wonderful.  First off, she assured me that she was in fact happy with what I had sent her.  Some new information had come to her between the time we had spoken and when she had received my work.  No big deal.  However, she did have some advice for me, if I was interested.

I eagerly replied back.  Lay it on me!  I want to get better, and how will I if nobody tells me what I'm doing wrong?

Her response:  "The best writers ask the best questions."  She was absolutely correct.  I was so afraid of looking like I didn't know what I was doing that I completely failed to get all the background and find out the levels of the committees and other crucial pieces of information that would have helped me get a grip on that particular piece.  I was also so determined to make the piece fit the formatting samples that she had given me that I hadn't allowed myself any room for flexibility, which really hampered my efforts.  I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble by getting more detail up front.  She knew that I was coming in late in the project.  I didn't have all the background... heck, she didn't have all the background.

There was no reason to be afraid of not knowing.  She didn't expect me to know.  The best thing about making a mistake is that I'm far less likely to make it again.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Death of a Coffeehouse

Image by Jeroen van Oostrom

Last Friday, I met a friend at my favorite local coffeehouse, Caffe Felice.  The place was packed, and I had to move quickly to score us a table.  Practically since it opened, it's been my go-to place for writing and meeting people.  A central, public location that's never too noisy but not so quiet that you feel uncomfortable having a conversation. The coffee was fantastic, the owners were friendly...

Yesterday, following an appointment, I decided to go down there for a couple hours with my netbook to get some writing work done.  As I pulled into the Landing, I noticed that the parking was easier than usual.  Well, that's nice, I thought.  I should have no problem getting a table today.  I was lost in my own thoughts until I approached the door.  A brightly colored bouquet caught my eyes, threaded through the door handles.  A printed sign hung on both doors:  Closed.

I looked at the bouquet.  Had somebody died?  There was a card tucked into the flowers.  I hunkered down a little bit to read it.  I don't remember the exact words, but the writer essentially expressed her regret at the "unnecessary death of a small business and a fine addition to the Landing."  I stood there for a moment as the reality sank in.  It was gone.  My favorite writing and meeting place had vanished, suddenly, somehow, between last Friday and today.

I drove home, hoping to find some answers as to what had happened.  They were gone from Facebook (I had, of course, friended them).  Their website only linked to a domain name directory.  I found no links on Google that even mentioned that they had closed, only articles about their opening two years ago and the usual review sites.

What went wrong?  I'm racking my brain, but I can only think of a few things:

  • Over the past year, their hours had slowly decreased.  At one time, they had been open until 9 pm, making them the perfect place to spend time before a late movie (which I had done), a meeting place for a book club (which I had also done), and getting a little evening work done while the kiddo was at Scouts (guess what?).  Slowly, the time they were open slipped back until they were open until 8 (which eliminated the book club option and the Scouts option), and then 7.  My visits decreased, since that evening availability was no longer there.
  • The place was always packed, but I've been witness to people coming in with food from the 5 Guys up the street, eating their lunch, then leaving without buying anything at all.  Really, could you be more rude?  I always made a point of purchasing something when I went in, a coffee, an iced tea, oatmeal, a bagel... Were others not so considerate?  Was the free wi-fi slowly killing them while giving the appearance of a bustling business?
  • While searching for answers on Google, I noticed that some person had written an utterly scathing review of Caffe Felice and proceeded to place it on practically every review site available.  I read through the review and came to the conclusion that the person writing it was... well, a jerk.  The owner, not one to suffer fools, was apparently quite open in letting him know that.  I can't say I don't blame her.  Isn't that part of the joy of owning your own business though?  Not having to kiss up to anyone you don't want to?  Did she need to do a better job of playing the "customer is always right" game?
I don't know the answer, and all of this is merely speculation.  I am sad, and I wish I could find out what happened.  I'm sure that there's a lesson to be learned here for small businesses or anyone who is their own boss.  

What is the lesson here?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The X-Factor, My Cousin, and Risk Taking

This past weekend, my cousin Kristin auditioned for "The X-Factor."  Although in the end she was not selected, she gave her very best, was allowed to show off her immense talent, and walked away proud of herself.  She knew she had given her all and had earned the right to hold her head high.  She's already looking forward to her next major audition.

I watched as the whole thing unfolded on my Facebook page.  Regular updates from both Kristin and her sister Kassie allowed me to vicariously experience the excitement, the nervousness, the sheer joy of performing in front of an audience.  In the end, I wanted to stand up and give Kristin a standing ovation for having the sheer guts, the  faith in herself to do what so many are never able to do.  She took a huge risk.  Maybe she wasn't selected this time, but the confidence she gained and the desire to push on are priceless rewards.

Kristin with Tommy Tutone, one of the judges.
Photo courtesy of Kassie Moxon

Why am I posting about this on a blog primarily about writing?  Any talent-based venture, be it music, writing, dance, art... each begins by taking a risk.  By standing up and saying, "I can do this.  I want to do this."

The way I see it, success in these ventures can be broken down into just two primary pieces:  talent and perseverance.  Bicker all you want about how big the percentage is of each piece, but without both, there will be no success.

Although a lucky select few are born with a brilliant innate talent, many of us are able to take advantage of a single spark of talent, or the hint of a talent.  Over time, with practice and teaching from others who have gone before us, we are able to hone that talent and make it shine.  Change it into something that others also find valuable.

You can have all the talent in the world, but it is useless without the drive and the perseverance to deliver it.  You must show off this talent.  Let others see it.  Put it in front of their faces if you have to.  If you have something to sing, get up on that stage and sing it.  If you have something to say, post it where everyone can find it.  Artists, paint your hearts out and then show the world.  You will get "no."  It's inevitable.  But eventually, you will get "yes."  Take that first "yes" and make it work for you.  Let it snowball.

Today I applied for a writing position that some might consider above my head.  I have faith that, given the chance, I could rock this position.  And who cares?  I took the risk.  I'll take it again.  You remember what they say about the lottery, right?  You can't win if you don't buy a ticket.

Monday, April 16, 2012

An Update on the Schedule Change

This is what we're trying to avoid.
Photo by Stuart Miles

As you may recall, I was working on trying to shift my hours to take advantage of those morning hours that I prefer to sleep through.  Since it's been a week, I thought I'd post an update.

Last week was spring break, so my thought was that I would kind of "ease into it."  It worked pretty well.  I was working by 9 am every morning, so that's an hour improvement right there.  I definitely felt more productive throughout the week, so I'm pleased with that.

Today was going to be the more difficult day.  I was going to be up by 6:30, sending my kid out the door by 7:30 and working by 8.  Wellll.... it's 9 am and I'm writing so it's not as bad as it was before.  But I found myself stomping off to go lie down a little longer at 7:30 rather than heading into the kitchen to start my coffee.

I see some success and I can identify the obstacles, so maybe I can still make this work.

First off, I'm working at 9 instead of 10, so that's still a victory, even if it's a small one.  Just like any other behavioral change plan, you have to celebrate the small successes, so yay me! (haha)  Secondly, I went to bed waaaaaay too late last night.  Then once I got to bed, I had a really hard time getting to sleep.  While I don't know of any way to force myself to go to sleep (at least any that I'm willing to try), I do need to work on getting to bed earlier.

Tomorrow I have to be up early because I have an IEP meeting for my son scheduled for 7:30 am.  Yuck.  It's not going to be a productive day in general though... too many appointments.  But hopefully it will help with the overall schedule reset.  I'll update in another week and we'll see where I'm at.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Don't Get No Respect

Seriously.  This is not what I do all day.
Photo by graur codrin

What do people see when you tell them you are a writer?

Option 1:  You in your pajamas and fuzzy bunny slippers at 2 in the afternoon, sitting at your desk and playing solitaire.

Option 2:  You in your pajamas and fuzzy bunny slippers at 2 in the afternoon, sitting on your couch and watching reruns of Judge Judy.

Option 3:  You in your pajamas and fuzzy bunny slippers at 2 in the afternoon, lying in your bed and taking your second nap of the day.

What exactly is it that we do?  Does anyone know?

If writing is your full time occupation, are you somehow lazier than your counterparts who get up and drive into the city wearing high heels or a tie?  Does planting butt in chair and allowing words to stream from your brain into your fingers, regardless of whether they are fictional or researched, make your work less serious?  Is it playtime, all the time, when you write?

I know it isn't for me.  It's been almost a year since I looked at my options and decided that making a go of freelance writing was the best decision.  I don't regret that.  But I wonder how I'm seen through the eyes of the people who know me.

I work hard most days.  My daily schedule is filled in from morning until about 9 pm.  I write in my breaks.  Just because my work is flexible doesn't mean it's less important.  I've come a long way in the last twelve months.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Get Up or Sleep In?

Prepping to do battle with my mortal enemy... my alarm clock.
Photo by Keattikorn

This is one of those eternal debates where everyone has chosen a side and no amount of persuasion will ever convince you to change.  Right?

Then why am I finding myself on the fence?

I've always been a late riser.  Happiness is sleeping in past 9.  But I feel like I should be getting so much more done during the day, so I've been giving those hours before 9 the hairy eyeball, trying to decide if I want to reclaim them or not.

This should be an easy decision!

Let me walk you through a typical workday:

6:20 am  Alarm starts going off.  I begin slapping the snooze button.
6:40 am  I relent, groan, roll out of bed and pull on my sweats.  I stagger down the hallway to drag my son from his bed so he can get ready for school.
6:50 am  I check my email, bleary-eyed, while my son gets ready for school.  I'm mostly on autopilot, but I am alert enough to make sure he's getting himself ready and hand out reminders as necessary.  If my daughter gets up, I send her back to bed.
7:15 am  Elias leaves for the bus stop, and I stagger back to bed.
8:30 am  My daughter begins pestering me.  I roll over and she either climbs into bed and snuggles or heads back to her own room.
9:30 am  The pestering wins out and I drag my sorry self from bed, once again feeling guilty for sleeping so long and wondering whether I could possibly handle getting up earlier.  I fix breakfast for myself and Maddie, get her hooked up with her favorite show, read email and Facebook while I eat, then start my workday at 10 am.

I could be doing a lot more with those hours in between.  Or could I?  Do I actually have it in me?  Or would I just stare at the screen for two hours waiting for my brain to wake up?

I've read plenty on resetting your circadian rhythm and whatnot.  After all, I used to work a job where I had to be in seat doing productive things by 7:30 every morning.

So how valuable is that sleep time?  The main question is -- is it more valuable than the work I could be doing during that time? 

Next week I'll experiment with getting up a bit earlier.  It's spring break for the kiddo, so I won't be getting up quite so early, so maybe it will be a way to gradually ease into it.  I'll report back on my success (or lack thereof).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why I Don't Outsource Transcription

Photo by Brandon Sigma

As you may have noticed, I love interviews.  I don't love the transcription process quite as much, though.  It can be incredibly time consuming and monotonous.  Transcribing an interview is one of the times that writing really feels like work.

Some time ago, I was involved in a discussion on a writer's board about the value of transcribing interviews.  I just won't do it.  Why?  If transcription is such a nuisance, why don't I just outsource it and carry on with my writing?

Here's my main reasons:

1.  I'm seriously cheap.

Quality transcription is expensive.  At this point in my writing career, I just can't afford it.  Period.  But I think that even if I could afford it, I still wouldn't.  I don't want to spend money paying someone else to do something I can do myself.

2.  It's a great way to review the subject.

Listening to the interview again as I transcribe keeps the information fresh in my mind.  It also helps me find little nuggets of wisdom that I might have missed the first time.  I can use the time to really think about what quotes I want to include and how to incorporate the interview into my finished piece.

3.  I'm kind of paranoid about transcription.

In a previous job incarnation, I had to rely on transcribed pieces to do my job.  I was horrified at how many errors I found.  While sometimes the errors were funny, sometimes they were scary, since doctors also relied on these transcriptions, which were a part of the patient's permanent medical record.  The doctors were supposed to review the transcriptions before they approved them, but it didn't appear to happen very often.  Some of the scary mistakes I found were centered around doses that sounded similar, but could potentially kill.  For example, a common error was 15 vs. 50.  Said out loud they do sound alike.  But when the patient's normal dose of insulin is 15 units, a 50 unit dose could do some real damage.

While my articles aren't likely to kill or maim anyone (I hope!), I still want my information to be accurate.  I don't want to misquote anyone or state a false statistic.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Freelancing Around Asperger's

Use waiting room time wisely.
Photo by Ambro

I got a nice shout-out today over on the Urban Muse's website, in an article entitled Freelancing Around Doctor and Dentist Appointments.  The question raised was:  How do you do it?

The problem of multiple doctor appointments was one of the main reasons I turned to freelancing in the first place.  As nice as the security of a 9 to 5 (okay, 7 to 4, yuck) job is, it's practically impossible to weave it around a schedule involving multiple appointments every week.  As much as I tried to keep all the appointments on a single day, unexpected situations that were beyond my control continued to crop up.  To make matters worse, when all my sick time was being used to stay on top of the situation with my son, it really left us in the lurch when my daughter or I would get sick.

We did our best for as long as we could, alternating sick leave between me and my husband, riding the edge of the FMLA line.  But it simply couldn't last.  When my son required inpatient hospitalization, that was the last straw.  It occurred to me, as I was leaving work to try and make rounds at Children's, that this wasn't working anymore.  I was tired of arguing with my boss, I was tired of meeting with HR to discuss "my attendance problem," I was tired of worrying about the phone calls from school.  I was just plain tired.

At that point, I took a month of unpaid leave to figure out if we could make it if I left work.  I had already been dabbling in freelancing; maybe now was the time to see if it could really work.  Things are tight, but building fast, so I have a lot of hope.  We certainly aren't rich, but we are slowly digging ourselves out of a hole.  And I can work around the crazy appointment schedule, free to drop what I am doing to go put out any fire that might arise.  Not to mention, I've been able to use my experiences as fodder for writing, and I've discovered that I have a powerful voice in the autism/Asperger's niche.

Here's all the ways I work around the appointments:

  • As mentioned in the post by the Urban Muse, I bring my netbook with me whenever possible to get work done, especially if it's going to be an especially long or tedious appointment.
  • I use the downtime to check emails, read other blogs, tweet... things that are easy to do from my phone and that get lost in the shuffle of writing sometimes.
  • I can make the appointment work for me too.  My son's doctors and therapists are a wealth of knowledge and are perfect interview subjects.  I discuss potential ideas and articles (briefly) and ask if they would be willing to schedule an interview later.
  • Sometimes it's nice to just kick back and read a bit on my Kindle app. I don't get much time to just enjoy a book and the waiting room can be the perfect place to recharge.
What's your biggest time challenge when it comes to getting the work done?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Interviews Part Four: How Will You Conduct Your Interview?

I prefer face-to-face interviews.
Photo by Ambro

Are you  planning to interview face-to-face, via telephone or by email?  Each one has definite advantages and disadvantages.  Keep in mind that sometimes what is a clear advantage to you will create a hassle for your interview subjects.  You want to make this process easy for them as well, as you may wish to interview them again in the future.

Email Interviews

As a writer, these are likely the easiest type of interviews to conduct.  You craft your questions, send them out and poof!  like magic, you have a handy set of information to read through, in a format that allows you to copy and paste quotes, if you so desire.  Sounds great, right?  Here's the dark side:

  • If your interview subject isn't a very proficient writer, you may get a lot of garble that you need to "translate."
  • If your interview subject doesn't like to write, they may resent the extra work.
  • You don't have the opportunity to ask other questions based on the answers your interview subject gives you.  This is actually the email interview's crucial flaw.  Often interview subjects will bring up some piece of information about the topic you might not have even considered.  But to follow up, you'll need to send another email, and then you risk annoying your interview subject.
Phone Interviews

I really don't like phone interviews, and I avoid them if at all possible.  Part of the problem is just that I flat out don't like the phone and I have a hard time hearing people on the other line.  That's kind of my own personal problem, but if you are anything like me, you probably won't like a phone interview either.  I also like to record interviews (always ask your interview subjects for permission to record an interview!), and that's difficult to do on a phone without special equipment.  

I also don't like that I can't read someone's expression when they are answering the question.  That can tell you a lot about what they think of the question, which, if you are observant, may allow you to change your line of questioning a bit or interpret the answer differently.  

So what are the positives about phone interviews?  They're convenient.  You can easily fit one in without having to leave the house, dressed in your jammies even, if you so desire.  They're convenient for the interview subject as well.  They can just write you in on their schedule, not have to go anywhere, and go right back to what they're doing when the interview is complete.  

Face-to-Face Interviews

Far and away, my favorite interview.  While it means you have to make yourself presentable and leave the confines of your comfy office (maybe not altogether a bad thing), it's really the best way to have full communication with your interview subject.  If you are meeting them at their place of business, it's also respectful to them and convenient for them.  You can take advantage of any openings they give you and go down extra paths that the interview opens up (time permitting, of course).  Even better, they may be able to bring someone else helpful to the interview, who can shed additional light on the subject.  To me, a face-to-face interview always feels like a friendly conversation between two people who are both interested in the same subject.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Interviews Part Three: Creating Your Questions

The right interview questions can make or break your article.
Photo by graur codrin

Now that you know who you are going to be interviewing, it's time to set up your interview questions.  While you might come up with a couple during the course of the interview, you need to know ahead of time what you are planning to ask.

Guidelines for Creating Interview Questions:

1.  Don't ask yes/no questions.  Keep questions open-ended.

2.  Work toward your interview subjects' strengths.  You chose these people for a reason.  A great starting point is "What is your position on..." or "How does your work directly affect the...."  These could also provide cues for some great off-the-cuff questions.

3.  Be careful to avoid bias.  You likely are trying to prove/disprove a thesis statement in your article, but there's no reason to advertise this fact.  Frame your questions carefully to avoid any appearance of bias.

4.  As writers, we have a tendency to write flowery sentences.  Knock yourself out in your article, but keep your interview questions short and to the point.

5.  Put a limit on the number of questions.  As tempting as it is to ask everything under the sun (especially if it's a topic that is especially dear to your heart), asking five really good questions can provide you with all the information you need for your article.  Remember that your interview subject's time is just as valuable as yours, and unless you are paying them for the interview, they are doing you a huge favor.  Want to increase your chances of interviewing them again?  Respect them by keeping your interview short and to the point.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Interviews Part Two: Asking for the Interview

I prefer to email my potential interview subjects.
Image by Stuart Miles

Now that you've chosen your interview subjects, you need to somehow convince them that they are eager to speak to you.  This can be a little bit tricky, but a little honesty and flattery go a long way.  The main key here is to let your potential interviewee know that you have a problem and they are the only ones who can help you solve it.  This may or may not be true, but if you can get them to feel like they are the gatekeepers of knowledge, you will pique their interest and stroke their ego a bit at the same time.  And don't we all want to be special?

1.  I like to approach a potential interviewee via email.  It isn't intrusive and they are free to get back to me at their convenience.  The other benefit to this is that I can carefully craft exactly what I want to say and not have to worry about getting caught off-guard.  A possible drawback to this method is that it can be slightly impersonal, but I think that as long as you aren't sending a form letter, you should be just fine.  We are all pretty comfortable with email at this point, after all, and I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  If you don't hear back within a few days, though, I do recommend a followup phone call.

2. Explain your problem.  Tell your subject exactly what your article is going to be about and why they have such a unique viewpoint.  Going back to my article example, the director of special education is one of the people who actually makes the policies (following legal guidelines, of course).  She also sits in on the IEP meetings for many of the kids entering secondary schools, so by this point, she's seen it all.  She really is in a unique position -- she clearly wants to do right by these kids, but she has to do so while adhering to the guidelines.  The professional advocate has sat in on possibly hundreds of these meetings, but has a completely different perspective than the school district.  I want to capture that, and I want to let her know that she is going to be the counterpoint in this article.

3.  Hand out a touch of flattery.  We all like to know that we are important.  If you've met the person you are interviewing, remind them of that and point out something positive about them.  I met the director of special education at my son's last IEP review and I was impressed by how concerned she seemed to be about the situation and how dedicated she seemed to finding solutions, so I told her that.  I have worked with the advocate and learned a ton from her about working within the system, so I told her that.  Nothing untrue, and letting your subject know his or her value can go a long way.

4.  Check your tone.  Use a respectful tone, regardless of how well you know your subject.  Your subject may need to request permission from a higher-up to grant you the interview, especially if they work for a large company or agency.  If your email gets forwarded up to a boss or media representative, you need to consider how they will receive it.  I don't think you'll get approval for "Hey man, I'm gonna write an article about how to screw over the district rofl!!! You in??????  See ya later, you up for drinks???"  Keep it professional.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interviews Part One: Choosing Your Victims, I Mean Interviewees

Picking the perfect interview subject takes your article to a higher level.
Image by vichie81

One of my favorite research resources for articles is an expert interview.  An interview from someone who really knows their stuff doesn't just provide soundbites for the article, it can often provide thought-provoking extras and maybe even send the article off on a completely new tangent.  Without the interview, we might be just rehashing the same old research someone else already conducted, providing no new viewpoints or information.

I like to reach for the top when I go after an interview.  I want to get the most influential person I can, the person who is making the policies and who has the power to create change.  I want people who are working on the subject every day, from every angle.  I want people opposing viewpoints, I want controversy.

Sometimes I have a vague idea for an article and I conduct an interview just to see what ideas pop up.  I got a great article out of an interview I conducted with my son's Boy Scout leader.  It turned into my first feature story, and I'm very proud of it.

This time around, I have a very specific idea of where I want to go.  I'm writing an article about advocating for kids on the autism spectrum.  I know from my own experience and from other moms I talk to that dealing with the schools is difficult.  Even though we are supposed to be on the same team, it often feels like we aren't.  I work with a professional advocate to navigate the system.

When picking my interview subjects, I decided to snag the exact people who are at odds with each other.  I want the director of special education for the school district and the director of the advocacy program.  Two rivals, facing off.  I'm looking forward to hearing what each one has to say, where their opinions are the same, and where they differ.  Finding the common ground is going to be the meat of the article, but figuring out why there are differences in the first place might not only make some nice garnish, but could even provide fodder for a second piece.