Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Writer's Woes

Yeah, that's me this morning. Lots of junk surrounding me, because we had a big event this past weekend and my office looks like a tornado went through it.

I run a museum during the day, but I freelance write in my spare time. I will typically get to work an hour or so earlier to check my "freelance" email.

This morning I did just that and what did I find? Something writers often find after doing an interview....

The subject of the interview wanted to review the copy I wrote on him. Before it goes to print.

Uh... yeah. Not gonna happen.

Here's what basically happens: I'm asked to meet with someone and do a feature profile on them. I enjoy these for the most part, because I genuinely enjoy uncovering someone's story. I like to just hit record on my phone and have a conversation. It usually takes about 15 minutes before the subject actually loosens up, and after that, the flood gates usually open. By the time I am finished chatting with this person (and spending a small portion of that time putting them at ease,) I have enough to fill a whole publication. I always end with: If you have anything else you want to share, simply email me by xyz and I can see if I can include that information. It tends to give them a sense of comfort and an opportunity to send me a tid bit of info they forgot to mention. Rarely, if ever, do I get that email.

But every once in a while I will receive the insecure subject. The one who desperately wants his or her name to shine brighter than anyone else's, and feels like they know what the story needs to say. (Typically these people are trying to promote something.)

I always tell my subjects when my deadline is. I submit and that's that. The only way I will contact my editor (and I better have a damn good reason after deadline,) is if I find a fact that is incorrect due to my error. And it happens.. believe me, it happens. Heck, sometimes there are errors or typos that I did not even do and that has to do with the person transcribing for the publication.

So this morning, one of the people I interviewed sent me a quick email (sent from an iphone, because, well, it tells you it was sent from one,) and it simply said:

 Send me a copy of the story to review. Thanks. 

I sat there for a minute. I took a deep breath. Then I remembered the lessons of freelance past. I made the terrible mistake of sending my copy over after I finished it to at least two different "subjects." Granted, both were very much the "real deal." One was a Grammy nominated person and the other was the relative of a major music legend... and yes... that was a HUGE mistake. Why? Because no one actually sees themselves as they really are.

Here's why:
I'm in the interview with you. Maybe we are in your office or at a coffee shop or in your home. We sit down and begin to chat. I get the formalities out of the way quickly. It's what I do. As a journalist, my job is to get you to talk. Sooo... remember.. not only am I a trained journalist, I've worked in public relations for almost 20 years. I'm really good at disarming people. So we talk.

I give you the email bit and go on my merry way. I sit and replay our entire conversation, capturing and transcribing each quote: word for word. Then I have to create your persona based on our conversation. Report the facts, certainly. But also interpret, ever so slightly. I have to decide which way I am going with the story, who is this person and what do people need to know.

Then I write. Then I reread it. Then sometimes I read it to a friend, because I typically catch issues by reading aloud, then I read it again. Then I trim. Then I read. You have to remember, I typically only get 800 to 1200 words per story. Not 1250, not 760.. whatever number they give you, it has to fit to a T.

Then the magic is done.

I hit submit.

Then of course I reread and reread again. Then I let it go.

When I get an email asking me to share the copy it does one of two things:
1. Shows me either your ego is large or you are very insecure about what you said. Perhaps both.
2. Tells me you want to put a spin on the story.

The typical rule of thumb is NEVER SHARE YOUR COPY WITH THE SUBJECT. You can send over quotes that you use for verification, but never the entire story. You lose some type of journalistic integrity when you do that.

Ah... the woes of a writer.


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