jump to navigation

Interview with a moron September 2, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Study.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

In this case, the moron is me, the interviewer.

My writing course is really going crazy at the moment, even though we’re only about a third of the way through.  Assessments are coming at me from all directions, and quite a number of them require calling random strangers and important public figures for comments and interviews.

At first all my attempts were futile.  People just don’t want to talk to strangers, even if it’s their job to do so.  I found that there were generally two types of people and you have to tell them what they want to hear.  There are those that are more willing to talk to a student writer because students are less intimidating than “real” journalists and they won’t necessarily get their work published.  On the other hand, there are those that don’t bother with helping students because all they care about is getting themselves out there, so if you can’t boost their profile, then get lost.

I certainly don’t fault either type.  Who people want to talk to is their choice.  I just needed to find out which type they were so I could either be honest and say I’m a student or lie and say I am a freelancer.

Calling up people you don’t know is quite nerve-wracking, especially those first few times.  The key is to persevere and not give up too easily.  If they don’t return your email, then send them another one.  If they don’t return your call or message, then call again.  In the beginning I was way too timid and polite, and a gentle pushback would be enough to send me scampering in the opposite direction.

Anyway, after struggling for the past week with more than half a dozen rejections from various individuals, organisations and institutions, things are finally starting to come together.  Yesterday I interviewed a lawyer who specialises in civil liberties, and today the general manager of a circus.  Both are for potential feature articles.  There really wasn’t any trick to it.  You just contact them and see if they want to talk.

The hard part is getting through the interview without seeming like a complete lost case.  I was lucky because I didn’t really to take notes, as I had my handy Pulse Smartpen ready to record every word that was said.  I can’t see how anyone can transcribe conversations without a recording device.  I don’t believe it for a second that Truman Capote had more than 90% recall of all conversations.

Nevertheless, interviewing really is an art.  You can’t just go in with a list of questions and run through them methodically, because you never know where the interviewee’s responses may take you.  It’s all about listening to what they say, responding to what they say, and asking the right questions.  You not only have to listen intently but you also have to simultaneously think about what question to ask next.

In my first interview I was a complete shocker, full of “ers” and “ums”, and asking questions that really didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Listening back on the Pulse Smartpen was brutal, especially when I reduced the playback speed, which made me sound completely retarded.

Today, the interview with the circus manager was a lot better, but I think that had a lot to do with confidence and a genuine interest in what the man had to say.  I had a great time.

Tomorrow I have another interview with an author for a profile, and a couple of weeks after that I am interviewing a very famous writer for another one.  Man, I need to improve!

500 Posts! August 2, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Novel, On Writing, Study.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Can you believe it?  This is my 500th post!

I started this blog on 11 January 2010 while I was (supposed to be) studying and bored out of my mind.  18 months, 420,000 hits and 1,200 comments later, I’m still studying (albeit a completely different field) — but the crucial difference is that I love what I’m doing.

Anyway, after a lengthy semester break (where I naturally did less writing than I intended do) I attended my first post-break class tonight.  Editing.  I took the elective because I thought it would be helpful for my writing (and in case I wanted to pursue a career in the publishing field).  So far, no complaints.

It was a little depressing to learn just how rough it is these days to crack into the publishing world, and how tough it is even if you do end up selling that first book (ie for most people there’s little money but lots and lots of pressure and stress), but the class was informative and fun.  We learned about the publishing hierarchy and the publishing process (I had no idea!).  We were getting real world and practical advice as opposed to merely theoretical advice.  Plus the readings have all been excellent pieces.  I never thought I’d say or admit this, but I’m enjoying studying.

On the writing front, not much progress on the novel(s), sadly, but I am finally making some progress on the non-fiction writing, getting my reviews and article ideas out to publications.  Still lots more to do, but it lLooks like I’m going to have a busy 6 months coming up.

Update: Writing, Writing and More Writing July 19, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Novel, On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Image: knowabouthealth.com

It’s been brutal.

My parents and sister have left the country again and I have just returned from a short trip to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

Now, with a couple more weeks to go before the next semester in my writing course begins, I am determined to make the most of my time and write, write and write a bit more (with a bit of reading tossed in there).  I want to experience full-time writing and see how I like it.

Day one — so far, so good.  There are only two problems.  First, I lack the stamina and concentration to last all day.  After a couple of hours I may need to watch an episode of Seinfeld/Scrubs, or have a snack, or surf the net for 20 minutes.

Secondly, there is always more stuff to write.  It never ends!  I finally finished my Indian Journey series of posts (about my recent trip to India), but I still haven’t put up the posts on my culinary adventure in Hong Kong (which followed the trip), my even more recent trip to the Hunter Valley (which will be a series of posts for non-drinkers visiting the wine region), plus reviews of the books and films I’ve seen.  And did I mention a couple of weeks ago I visited the house of a published author who shared some of his insights with me?  I need to put all of that stuff up.

Which brought me to the realisation that I’m never going to get to work on my novels (yes, I have two now), enter into any writing competitions or accumulate writing credits if I keep working on my blog posts.  There’s just always more!

So as much as I love writing them, tomorrow is going to be the last day that I’m going to try and catch up on my back log of posts.  After that, one post a day (two tops), and I will dedicate the remainder of the day to real writing.

Let’s see how that experiment works out for me…

The Importance of Location in Writing March 24, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Study.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Last night’s narrative writing class was about the use of location in writing.

To be honest, it wasn’t something that I had given much thought to before.  When I write a story, the location is not really something I consider.  I think about the plot, and I think about the characters, and what they want to do and where they want to go.  Those things usually dictate the location where the events take place.

But what if you take a scene from a story and change the location?  How would that change things?  If you take a murder and place it in the back of a hospital as opposed to a dark alley?  Or if you take a road trip and put it through the desert rather than the jungle?  How does that change the dynamics, the tone, and the imagery?

Do you ever wonder why a particular story or event takes place in a certain location?  For instance, why do some writers always write about the outback, where it is open and barren, while some others like to write stories about confined spaces?

And how a character perceives a location or setting is always telling of that person’s mood.  If you get a person who just found out about their impending death to describe a setting, it would no doubt be completely different to the description of a person who just fell madly in love.  The way a setting is described can give plenty of clues as to what the character is feeling.

I’m usually horrible at describing the setting and location.  I never know how much to put in and what to leave to the imagination of the audience.  I always end up going with the cliches and hoping that I’ll be able to fix things up in rewrites.  I envy those authors who are able to pinpoint a few features of a setting that stand out, and just focus on those things.  While it might not give you a full picture, it does give you enough to get a feel of what the place is like and what the character is seeing or feeling.

I found it all to be quite fascinating, and can’t wait to apply more thought to it in my own writings.

[PS: Unfortunately, we had the insufferable lethal duo in class last night.  Up to that point, the two dudes had, by some stroke of fortune, never been in the same class.  One guy was always away for whatever reason.  Last night, the two of them sat together for the first time, and the results were brutal.  One of them loved to comment on everything, and felt the urge to comment on everything we read or what anyone says.  The problem is, the comments are usually always negative, and as we found out last night, often wrong.  Various comments he made were shot down by other classmates as plainly incorrect (eg the meaning or use of a particular word or phrase), but he somehow managed to hold on to those erroneous views to the death.  The other guy spoke less, but he was a waffler that loved to talk about the past and his many old stories, even if they had nothing to do with the discussion.  Once he starts on something you might as well take a nap.  The two of them worked like a well-oiled machine, not jumping over each other, but like the perfect wrestling tag team.  It was one after the other, a negative comment followed by an old-time story, and vice versa.  A seamless performance.]

Getting into it! March 18, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Study.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

We are currently studying the "realism" of Madame Bovary

So I’m sitting here in the computer labs at university waiting for my next class.

I’m really enjoying the course at the moment, and finally getting into it.  By “getting into it” I mean I am going to all classes, doing the readings on time, doing the writing exercises on time, and doing all of it with enthusiasm.  I haven’t really gotten into my own writings though.  But I have a feeling it’s coming.  Soon.  Every now and then when I am doing my readings I get a burst of inspiration and I randomly scribble down some notes or prose for one of my projects.  Even though most of it is crap, it still feels good when I do it.

The best part about the course is that most of my readings are things I would read in my spare time anyway.  An interview with a famous director or screenwriter about their methods.  Breaking down scenes in a popular film.  Tips and guidelines to help you become a more proficient writer.  Excerpts from classic novels and books and award-winning short stories, most of which I had never read before.

The only thing that is killing me right now is my writing theory class.  It’s brutal.  The readings are so dry.  Slightly more interesting than my law readings (maybe not even that), but most of it sails right over my head.  I still don’t understand why we need to read these complex articles written by life-long academics with massive words I’ve never heard of, circular reasoning and Latin/French-infused passages with no translation, written always twice as difficult to understand than they should be.  I wonder whether there is a point to what they are saying (or trying to say).  And if so, if there is a point in understanding that point.

Speaking of which, I better get ready for the class.

%d bloggers like this: