As I dive further into the world of writing nonfiction, one thing is becoming clear. Interviewing people as someone with social anxiety sucks so hard.
What the hell was I thinking, putting myself in a position where I was going to have to like, talk to people? As a professional?!
Okay, all that aside, conducting interviews is something that I had to learn how to do. I’ve also developed some ways to make it easier on myself. Are any of these world-shattering revelations? No, not really. But they’ve all helped me. And if you’re writing a nonfiction book, they might help you too.
Especially if you, like me, don’t like talking to people. I mean, that’s why we became writers.
When you’re setting up interviews, common courtesy comes into play. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time. While there are benefits to being interviewed, largely your subject is doing you a favor. So act like it, and value their time.
Start by doing some research ahead of time. No, forget that. Start by doing a lot of research ahead of time. Don’t ask this person things you can google, is what I’m saying.
It might also help if you check out interviews they might already have done if they’re a specialist that gets interviewed frequently. I can imagine it gets tiresome to be asked the same questions all the time. Try to shake it up a little. Or at least not waste their time, and yours, asking them things that you don’t need them to answer.
Another part of not wasting their time (or yours) is to write up your questions ahead of time. That way you’re not fumbling around, trying to think of what to ask next. This helps with anxiety, too. I’m sure that as you’re thinking of someone you want to interview, you’ve got millions of questions in your head. Writing them down might seem useless. Until you’re face to face with another human being that you probably haven’t met before. Then all of your questions vanish from your head like a puddle on a hot day.
It also just makes you look like you’re a professional. Like you’ve got your shit together.
When you’re writing out your list of questions, you’ll want to start with some basic release stuff. This is always useful, but even more so if you’re working on an emotional topic. Once you start talking, you might forget entirely. So let me help you get started.
1. Do you want me to use your name?
2. If so, how do you spell it?
Ah, but before we get to the questions, you have one very simple piece of information you need to give them. Repeat this sentence with me.
I’m going to record our discussion today. If you’d like, I can send you a copy.
That’s it. Don’t give them the chance to say no. If they don’t want to be recorded, maybe don’t talk to them.
I understand that I’m being a little hard line here. And of course, you don’t have to listen to me. What the hell do I know?
Well, one thing I know is that having a recording of a conversation protects your subject and you. If you fuck up and misquote them, there’s a record for them to fall back on. If they claim you misquoted them and you most certainly did not, you have the record too.
There are a lot of other good reasons to keep a recording of the conversation, of course. You’ll need it along with your notes to refer back to. And you do want to make sure you’re not misquoting anyone.
One thing that’s helped me when conducting interviews is not doing them face to face. First off, Covid. Second off, lots of people I want to interview don’t live near me. Or, they’re super busy people who find it hard to make time to sit down and be interviewed by some random woman.
That’s why I utilize zoom interviews and email interviews.
Honestly, the emailed ones are the best. It gives your subject time to consider the questions you’re asking and give you thought-out answers. It also lets them answer the questions in their own time. It’s just a lot more schedule-friendly.
Also, once again, you’ve got a complete record of what was said. #protectyourass #notlegaladvice.
Finally, remember that in most cases you’ll be interviewing professionals. While you might do some personal interviews, most people are informed members of their field who are qualified to talk about your topic. Treat them as such.
But remember that you’re a professional too. You are writing a book, and that has some clout to it. Your subject is adding to your book, and you should be grateful. But you don’t need to be scared of them. This book is your project. Hold your head up high. You’re doing something most people only talk about doing.