Jan here. Over this summer, for my two monthly contributions to the CAN blog, I’d like to explore the interview. On the first Friday of the month, today, I’m supposed to address writing craft. On the fourth Monday, writer encouragement is my assigned category. I plan to use both, craft and encouragement, to talk about the interview as part of our writing.
To begin my summer series on interviewing I’ll share a post I wrote in 2007 when I was a year into writing the Live Free series. I had discovered that interviewing had a whole lot more to it than simply getting information for my purposes. Step back with me to some of those initial impressions.
A Story to Be Told
I began writing the Live Free Series for Standard Publishing a little over a year ago. It’s been an amazing journey. Much of what I do to prepare to write each book involves talking to teens and twenty-somethings who have been through some really tough stuff.
Just a few months ago, I met with a young couple in their tiny apartment. They were about to share their story of sexual compromise and the painful consequences of their choices, including the impact on their relationship with each other. As I settled onto their couch, I told them that it would only take about forty minutes, possibly less, to do the interview. I appreciated their willingness to meet with me; I didn’t want to take too much of their time.
It didn’t take long before I heard the words I had heard so often: “I haven’t told anyone else this.” Though these two had never met me, I’m guessing they felt comfortable sharing partly because they knew I planned to protect their identity. With permission, I use real names for the main stories in each book, and change the names for supplementary interviews.
I believe this couple also told me because as they began to share their story, the pain they’d held inside began to push to the surface. Telling someone was something they had needed to do for a long time. I left their apartment more than three hours after I’d arrived.
Most of our stories won’t be written down and published in books, but each are vitally important. They still need to be told . . . if even to one person.
- Have strong, purposeful questions prepared ahead of time (more on this in a future post).
- Treat each person you interview as a person, with compassion and dignity.
- Be aware when some aspect of their story may be a struggle for them to tell
- Maintain professionalism even when the story gets difficult, but offer appropriate compassion.
- Encourage your interviewee to continue through the hard parts of their story through listening cues, responses, and brief questions.
- Be careful not to let your emotions get in the way of their telling of their story.
- Listen attentively, minimizing distractions.
- Realize that your listening is ministry in itself. Be prayerful and wise about your responses while remaining professional. Practice healthy boundaries.
Some interviews will be straightforward. Your gathering of information is what the person expects. You’ll arrive with your questions, they’ll answer them, and you’ll leave the conversation–thanking them for their time, of course. But sometimes God might have more for you to do than getting the story and information for you book or article. Remain open to Him.
Jan writes nonfiction from her home in the foothills of the California Sierras. She is currently working on more material for the teen/ya audience and for those who deeply care about them. She also enjoys life coaching and mentoring writers. Visit her site at www.jankern.com.