Friday, 2 October 2009

Be Prepared

It's been a very busy week for me on the article front. I seem to have them coming out of my ears! No sooner have I crossed the last 'T' in one article, or I've read through another one, two more article ideas appear! Not that I'm complaining. I'd rather have too many ideas than I can handle than none at all.

I have been e-mailling a fair few companies and fellow writers/potential interviewees for various articles over the last week and I have to say, although I still find it nerve racking, I've been encouraged by the positive responses I have received from the majority of those I have contacted. It's a wonderful feeling when someone agrees to be interviewed and it builds up my confidence the more I do it.

I'm still waiting for replies to my questions on copyright laws and requesting permission from some of the companies to use quotes from their websites. I'm erring on the side of caution and taking no chances. After reading the article in one of the writing magazines last month by a freelance writer who got stung by aparently unwittingly plagerising stuff, I am being ultra careful. The last thing I need at this point in my writing career (or at any time) is a lawsuit on my hands!

It pays to be prepared when approaching people/ companies for interviews/ permission to use quotes. I have found the following helpful and I hope it helps you too:

Write it down - write down exactly what you want and why.This is a must if you are telephoning them. There's nothing worse than forgetting what it is you are ringing them for in the heat of the moment - don't scoff! It happens, believe me.

Be clear - Make your e-mail clear, logical and concise. Make sure your name, contact details, what you write and why you are contacting them is in there. Make sure you check your spelling and grammar and be professional. If your e-mail is full of glaring mistakes they will assume whatever you want to write about them will be of poor quality too.

Slow down - Don't gabble on the phone - use your notes as a prompt and concentrate on slowing your speech down. Practice your questions by using a dictaphone or tape recorder. Playing it back can really show you what you sound like on the phone and you can improve your technique.

Face to face - If you can, try and arrange to meet with the person you wish to interview. I think you get so much more out of meeting them in person that you wouldn't get over the phone or by e-mail: facial expressions,how they are dressed, their mannerisms. It might mean more work, but it's the best way. If you can't get to meet them for whatever reason then see if they are willing to answer questions by e-mail or you could conduct a phone interview if you have a recording facility on your phone. Which ever method you choose - ensure your recording equipment is in good working order. You don't want the embarrassing and frustrating situation where you have recorded nothing and have to ask for another interview that you might not get.

It's always advisable to take some notes, but don't scribble frantically trying to get every word down on to paper - it's more important to listen to the person you're interviewing - and it can be off putting for them if they see you writing. Write a few words or 'buzz' words to signpost you to the gist of the conversation.

Try and relax! - I know it's not easy but it is essential you don't let your nerves get the better of you. Remember that the person you are interviewing is probably just as nervous as you are. They are people just like you and me and will be only too pleased that you have taken an interest in them and want to write about them.

Use Open Questions - Use some simple questions first to help you both to relax. Then ask questions that encourage the person to talk more than just saying yes or no. Don't be afraid to probe them further if their answer is too short or off focus.But don't make them feel uncomfortable - it's an interview for a feature in a magazine, not the police!

I've certainly learned a lot since I started writing articles and I have a long way to go. But at the moment I am doing far better with my articles than my short stories and poems - something that surprised me. I am determined to do the best I can and carry on writing. The most important thing I've learned so far on my journey is to be flexible and never say never - I've written articles about writing, archery, Charles Darwin, Wenlock Olympian Games, amateur dramatics, alcohol, waiting, communication, community meetings, beating the recession, and my local area! I haven't had them all published - yet, but I'm working on it! Variety is, as they say, the spice of life!

Happy writing!
Julie

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