Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Never work with children or animals

I had the opportunity to visit a local wildlife rescue center this week for an article (or several) I want to write on them. It was a wonderful place and I was intrigued as to why I'd never been there before when I'd lived in the area since before the center opened.

They didn't have many animals in as it was the wrong time of the year really. Note for new writers - make it a habit to get to know when the busy periods of a place you want to go to are as you'll have more photo opportunities and get to speak to more people for quotes. I was lucky in that because it was so quiet I had the luxury of speaking to the owner at length and she had some photographs I could use. I did manage to take some super photos of a tawny owl and a hedgehog but the kestrel was camera shy. And I got snaps of the owner and the grounds. But remember if, on the day you go, you aren't able to get the photos you want you can make arrangements to use the photos they might already have, or go back at a more appropriate time. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need and you can always ask the owner to give you a call if they get something of interest in.

I use a Dictaphone but I also write a few notes in case of technology failure. I spent the evening after the visit transcribing the info from the Dictaphone and writing down my observations and trawling through the newsletters and other information the owner kindly gave me. Tonight I'll be making a start on writing the article. I like to get the article written fairly soon after the visit/interview as I think I still have an impression of that place in my mind that would be lost to memory if I didn't get in on paper asap.

Tips on interviews/visitsHere are a few tips which I have found helpful:

Take your time - don't rush into the interview. Think about how you can maximise your opportunity.

Plan - Before you even contact the person in charge of where you want to go, do your research. Find out as much about the person/place as you can. The Internet is a real advantage here. If you show the person you've done your homework and know about them it shows them you are genuinely interested in them and their cause.

Be polite - Be professional and polite at all times. You won't get a good response if you are aggressive or rushed.

Don't interrupt - It wasn't until I first heard myself speaking when I replayed the Dictaphone that I realised I have a tendency to interrupt the interviewee and (shock horror) I even finish their sentences! DON'T DO THIS!! Resist the urge and once you've asked the question shut up and let them speak!!

Take notes: In case your Dictaphone fails. Make sure you check your equipment before the interview and that you get a clear recording. Make sure your note taking isn't intrusive and doesn't stop you from listening to what the person is saying. You will be surprised how much you will remember when you get home so just note down key words and phrases to jog your memory.

Check: If your not sure of something the interviewee has said or some facts ask them about it. It's better to get the facts straight than make mistakes.

Be careful: If the interviewee gives you photos/books to borrow then take care of them and get them returned to them asap. You don't want to upset them by losing or breaking something of theirs.

Have fun! You're supposed to enjoy it and will get much more out of it if you relax and smile.

At the recent Wrekin Writer workshop, where we had professional writer Nick Fletcher in talking about article writing, something he said really resonated with me and it's something I am determined to act on to improve my writing and publishing opportunities: You can get several articles out of one idea or interview. So that is my top tip of the week! I am determined to go back through my notes on articles I've done and re-market them!

I have many ideas for other articles and next week I'm meeting up with a motivational speaker and I will be trawling through the local press for other article ideas and people to interview. I have no news on any of my projects out there in magazine land to report other than I got letter of the week in the local newspaper this week which is nice and the prize - a lovely Cross pen - came this morning! It's such a boost.

Happy writing and good luck with all your writing endeavours!

Julie xx


  1. I've never tried to use a Dictaphone so it's interesting to hear of your experiences. Sounds like it's going to be an interesting article.

  2. I'd never used a dictaphone until July this year either and it's made such a differnce. I do worry that it won't record properly or I'll erase it by mistake before I've had chance to transcribe it! So I always make sure I take a few notes at the time and write down everything I can remember as soon as I get home.

    I hope I can do the place justice in the article. It's truly remarkable.

    Julie xx

  3. Some great advice there, Julie. I've often thought of getting a dictaphone to dictate stories in the car, but know I'd cringe at the sound of my own voice. It's a terrific idea for interviewing, though - the mind's a funny thing at times and it's possible to mis-remember even with good note taking, if everything's recorded then there's no problem.


  4. Very true, Suzanne, It is easy to think someone has said something when they haven't! I was self conscious to begin with, when I first started to use a dictaphone. But it's actually been a good teaching aid for me on how I sound when I'm asking questions and how I can improve my interviewing technique. I have been known, before I got my dictaphone, to record stuff on my mobile phone as I'm walking home from school and a good idea has come into my head for some dialogue of a storyline and I'm walking along talking to myself!

    Julie xx