Tag Archives: interviews

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for January 31, 2012

Photo courtesy SXC. 

10 tips for recording a better interview

UK journalist Adam Westbrook links to a short presentation he did to help his video journalism students record better interviews by focusing on storytelling.

His tip #1 is worth a visit to the post in the first place: “Know your character and story before you start filming” puts an emphasis on pre-interview research and rapport-building that is often lacking in quick media-gathering sessions.

10 ways journalists can use Twitter before, during and after reporting a story | Poynter

Mallary Jean Tenore, writing on Poynter.org, provides 10 solid suggestions for journalists who want to get more out of Twitter as a work tool.

A good example of how she uses the new medium’s strengths while avoiding its challenges to good reporting is reflected in her tip on building credibility.

“Misinformation can spread quickly on Twitter, especially during breaking news situations. …

“As a journalist, you can show your credibility by debunking incorrect information and only tweeting information you’ve verified. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tweet during breaking news situations. You can phrase your tweets by saying something along the lines of, ‘X is reporting Y, but we haven’t been able to confirm this information yet.’ Or send a couple of tweets saying: ‘We are working on this story and will tweet updates as soon as we have them.’ … ‘Here’s what we do know …’

“This enables you to get your voice in the mix, while letting your audience know that you’re on top of the story and care about getting it right.”

NPR’s Infinite Player: It’s like a public radio station that only plays the kinds of pieces you like, forever

Andrew Phelps, writing on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog, reports on the unveiling of National Public Radio’s Infinite Player, which functions as a Pandora-like web app for audio segments from public radio stories.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that the app came about as part of NPR’s “rapid iteration” culture:

“Infinite Player is a product of NPR’s culture of rapid iteration and a peek into the future of radio. The project came together in one-and-a-half development cycles — that is, about two weeks plus a few extra days to squash bugs.

“And it’s not a product release in the traditional sense, said Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s general manager of digital media. ‘It’s not nearly as baked as something we would launch even as a beta project. But it’s a way to do some rapid innovation and see if we’re even close to the mark and how people react to it.’”

Are You Too Scared to Write? Stop Thinking and Just Do It

Lifehack contributor Marya Zainab offers simple steps for reducing the amount of overanalyzing that often precedes writing sessions and increasing the amount of time spent actually writing.

The benefits of brainstorming for freelance writers | Helium

Contributing blogger Natalia Jones discusses several ways in which engaging in classical brainstorming techniques can kick-start a freelancer’s idea-generation process and boost their productivity.

AP Stylebook’s New Tool Automatically Proofreads Your Writing

A Mashable.com article that notes that the Associated Press will be releasing a Microsoft Word plug-in, AP StyleGuard, which provides guidance on writing copy that conforms to the AP’s standards for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and journalistic style.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Writing in Two Worlds: An Interview with Novelist and Journalist Jessica McCann

Novelist and nonfiction writer Jessica McCann

We have a real treat today: I recently conducted an e-interview with Jessica McCann, a magazine writer and freelance editor whom I’ve worked with several times over the years. She’s also a budding novelist — her novel “All Different Kinds of Free” is due to be published in April of next year.

Her story of how she got her start in nonfiction writing, and how she reclaimed her childhood love of fiction in order to start writing it, is inspiring and contains valuable lessons for any writer would would like to work in both fiction and nonfiction.

Write Livelihood: How did you get your start as a nonfiction writer?
McCann: I’ve worked at least part-time as a freelance writer since I was 17 years old. I started freelancing as a high school senior for an amazing group of women in the communications department at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Each of them mentored me in their respective areas — external communications, media relations, community outreach and employee communications. They exposed me to so many types of business and journalistic writing styles and approaches. I consider the time I spent there to be my formal education in the writing profession.

A few years out of high school I landed a full-time job in communications, then as went on to work as the editor of a regional business magazine, and finally editor for a custom-book publisher. To make extra money and build up my portfolio, I continued to freelance on the side. In 1998, I quit my editing job to freelance full time, and I haven’t looked back since.

What role has fiction writing played in your development as a professional writer?
Fiction didn’t have a role in my professional writing career for a very long time. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a novelist. In eighth grade, a misguided English teacher told me a short story I had written was lazy and unimaginative — that he expected more (out of me). Maybe his assessment was accurate. Maybe he was hoping to fire me up and get me to work harder. But all he really did was crush my confidence.

It took me 20 years to work up the courage to dabble in fiction writing again. I focused instead on nonfiction and built a successful career as a business writer and journalist. Once you’re on a certain path, it’s pretty hard to find the motivation and courage to wander off into the dark scary woods in search of something different. So for a long time, I stayed with what I knew I could do well, stayed with what was safe.

What inspired you to write your debut novel, “All Different Kinds of Free”?
The work was inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 1842. I first read about it when I was doing freelance copyediting on a book for MIT about Supreme Court justices.  The case  appealed the conviction of a bounty hunter charged with kidnapping Margaret Morgan, a free woman of color who was alleged to be an escaped slave. The court case focused on state’s rights, and the ruling represented the first time a major branch of the U.S. government made a proslavery stand. But I was most interested in Margaret and what became of her.

My original goal was to write a biography, and I spent about three years researching her life — or, at least, attempting to research her life. The sad truth is that Margaret and her fate were irrelevant at the time. The issue for most people in the mid-1800s was much bigger than one woman’s fight for freedom. Yet, to me, it was all about Margaret. When I realized I didn’t have enough facts to write a biography, I was devastated and grudgingly packed away my research. Then my mother-in-law loaned me a book, a fictional biography about George Washington, by Mary Higgins Clark. It was a fun read, and it gave me the idea that a fictional biography might be the only way I could tell Margaret’s story and really do it justice.

At what point did you decide the novel might be publishable?
In its earliest stages, I never really believed it would ever get published. It was just a story I felt compelled to write, and I was enjoying the creative process. Then I entered the first few chapters in  some writing competitions as a novel in progress. I didn’t win, but I received semi-finalist recognition in two respected contests. That’s when I started to believe I might have the chops to actually write a novel that people would want to read. When All Different Kinds of Free was named a finalist in the Freedom in Fiction Prize, publishing my novel was no longer just a fun dream. It became a tangible goal that I wrote  into my business plan.

Does your writing process differ for writing fiction?
Not much. I enjoy the research phase of writing. That’s often what fuels my creativity, whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction. The interviews, digging through articles and books at the library, searching online for little-known facts and resources — it’s a process that helps ideas form in my head, helps me arrange the pieces of my story to create the picture I want my readers to see.

How does writing fiction impact your nonfiction writing, and vice versa?
As I mentioned earlier, for many years I was quite literally afraid to try my hand at fiction and was content writing magazine articles and corporate work. Then, after more than 10 years freelancing for the same clients, I hit a sort of road block. I was bored out of my mind, to be blunt. My clients were still happy with my work, but I felt like I was writing the same old articles again and again. I could do it with my eyes closed.

I felt stifled creatively, felt I was doing my clients an injustice, and felt it would soon catch up to me in a bad way. So I started writing short stories based on writing prompts, just to flex my creative muscles and work my brain in a different way. A couple of amazing things happened. One, I remembered how much I enjoyed writing fiction; and two, I realized that good fiction writing isn’t a whole heck of a lot different than good nonfiction. Being efficient with the language, using vivid imagery, telling a compelling story — these are universal to good writing, regardless of the genre.

Going forward, how do you see your fiction writing fitting in your career overall?
I would love to become a full-time novelist. It’s a challenging, slow transition, but that’s the ultimate goal. My debut book releases April 2011 from Bell Bridge Books, and I’m deep in research for my second novel.

What advice would you have for nonfiction writers who’d like to get started writing fiction?
Just get started. Start small to build up your confidence if you need to — write a short story or two, enter a contest here and there, research literary journals and submit your work. As you gain momentum, the fiction writing will start to play a bigger role in your writing life. If it’s important enough to you, it will eventually take on a life of its own.

Any final thoughts or advice for writers who work in both genres?
Be brave. Keep writing. That may sound trite or hokey, but for me it’s that simple. Look to other writers for inspiration, encouragement and motivation.

The following quotes in particular have come to mean a lot to me recently:
“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” ~Anne Rice

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” ~Mark Twain

“The one talent that’s indispensable to a writer is persistence.” ~Tom Clancy

“Forget about becoming a great writer. Work instead on writing great stories.” ~William Tapply

That pretty much sums it up for me. Writing is scary. When you’ve already experienced some measure of success in one type of writing, switching genres and starting from scratch is even scarier. You’re putting yourself out there, vulnerable to fresh criticism, with every new thing you write. Why subject yourself to the hard work, the anxiety and the potential rejection again and again? Because you have a story to tell. So tell it, in whatever genre does it justice.

***

You can learn more about Jessica’s work by visiting her website.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twitter as writing coach, part 3: Digesting bite-sized research

221837_8064

Photo courtesy of SXC.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how the microblogging service Twitter can improve your writing and teach writers a thing or two about creating compelling content . However, there’s one last way in which Twitter can be useful to you as a writer: finding the information you need to write a rich, nuanced and credible story.

Our last post on this subject for now covers some posts that discuss ways to use the service while researching a story. And since talking about using Twitter and actually using it effectively are two different things, these resources provide plenty of case studies and links to nonfiction writers out in the field tweeting away.

Twitter for research: why and how to do it, including case studies
Good basic intro from TwiTip to how Twitter works and how to tag your own tweets for future reference. It points out that the two easiest ways to find something out on Twitter are to ask (and ask to be retweeted) and to search, using Twitter Search as your search engine.

Another useful feature of Twitter explained in the article is the hashtag (#creative, for example) concept. Similar to putting tags on blog posts, hashtags are a simple way for Twitter users to slot their content for later retrieval. You can search hashtags by visiting Hashtags.org.

This post also has a comprehensive list of Twitter tools (many research oriented) and a number of research “success” stories.

How we use Twitter for journalism
Marshall Kirkpatrick gives a breakdown of the primary ways the ReadWriteWeb staff was using Twitter to write their stories: uncovering breaking news stories, conducting interviews (either multiple folks contributing short answer to a question or asking followers to help frame questions), doing QA checks (i.e., asking if people remember the name of a particular software, etc.) or promoting headlines once the story is online or published.

Marshall makes an interesting observation about the relationship with readers that develops as he interacts with them during the story development process (The bolding of the next to last sentence is my addition):

“If we’re working on something we think will be of interest, sometimes we’ll prime the pump a bit and let people know what’s coming up. So far, we’ve heard almost entirely positive feedback on these practices. That’s probably based largely on the relationships we’ve got with our readers, many of which were developed using Twitter. If you had 20 to 50 people that consistently offered feedback on your articles, wouldn’t that be great? That’s what it feels like we get on Twitter.”

If Twitter isn’t part of your online strategy, it should be

Chrys Wu’s Richochet blog is all about good ideas in online journalism, which should be a natural match for tweeting nonfiction writers. This short post, from the end of 2007, focuses mostly on examples of good uses of Twitter by journalists and news media. As Chrys says,

“Perhaps the real power in Twitter is in speed and community. Not only were media outlets able to broadcast breaking news updates (in the examples here), non-media people also sent updated, on-the-scene information. Talk about crowdsourcing…”

Twitter to journalists: here’s how it’s done
Monica Guzman of Eat Sleep Publish taught a class on social media to the (now) online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer last November and gathered the collective wisdom she presented in part by putting out a big public tweet about it. This post shares a lot of the “for journalists, from journalists” tips she got, and includes a number of case studies. Lots of journalists recommend following potential sources and give good advice for how to “come out from behind the byline” without sacrificing any journalistic principles.

Sweet tweets: Journalists using Twitter

Journalists on Twitter – Muck Rack
Muck Rack publishes up-to-the-minute tweets from reporters and writers for many major news outlets.

My Creative Team Wiki / Media People Using Twitter
A long international list of media folks who are active on Twitter.

One more Twitter “tool” (mostly for fun)

Visible Tweets – Twitter Visualizations.
Addictive visual display of current tweets on terms (search operators, hashtags, etc.) selected by the user. Might make a fun background screen for a presentation.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,