As you probably know, I am a professional writer and journalist. I like to call myself a professional blogger too because I do get paid to write stories online. In fact, this is how I earn nearly all of my income.
Tonight as I sat here organizing my latest story I thought about how much of a puzzle it is and how it is like building an airplane or a desk from Ikea, wait, I’ve never done either of those things but writing a reported story where you have to research and interview people takes a lot of time and you have to know how to pull it together so it will end up like this.
Even the stories I write where I just interview one person are a process in itself. How do I do it? Well, I have things set up in my mind and I’ll share them today.
First, I come up with a topic that I’d like to write about. Today I am deciding on surrogate mothers. I chose this topic because one of the websites that I write for is a parenting website. I then look up an interesting angle and see that there is a woman in the news who says surrogacy should be banned altogether.
That is a pretty aggressive stance so in order to sell an article with this topic, I will probably have to agree with her or disagree. I decide to disagree. Then I decide if I want to merely write an opinion piece about why this lady is crazy for what she’s saying or I can write a reported piece that leaves out my personal opinion but still supports my opinion, allowing others to say what I think by collecting evidence I need to prove my point. Sometimes I can’t find any evidence to prove my point and I’ll have to adjust the focus of the article to share my new findings.
I reach out to online forums and all of my social media and other PR contacts and ask for someone who was born to a surrogate mom, a surrogate mom and a doctor to give me interviews for my story. I am flooded with people who are willing to share their stories so I go through each email and choose the ones that fit my story best.
I then send them each a very detailed list of questions that I craft for them individually. I always interview via email unless it is very important that I speak to the person but I try not to do phone interviews because I really don’t like doing them. When I do email interviews I can get to the point and be done, phone interviews are so awkward for me. I hate doing them.
I craft the questions based on how I want the story to read. Yes, I basically write the story before I even find people to interview. I mean, there are only so many formats for a story anyway. You can begin with a flashback and then revert to the present situation. You can start with a narrative and then back that up with facts. You can always begin with a strong quote or a moment of confusion or clarity or movement.
So many ways, but there are still not really that many ways to structure a story so in my mind I decide how I want to do it and I craft questions that will fill in the blanks for me.
If I want to start with a surprising fact I will ask: What doesn’t the world understand about the process of becoming a surrogate?
If I want to start with a warm hearted emotional moment I will ask: Tell me a story about a time you felt sad and defeated during this situation.
I do this process for all of the people I need to interview and list out the questions and email them. They usually reply within 24 hours and in the meantime I do research online looking for facts, statistics, stories or videos that support or oppose my topic. I copy and paste links into a new blank word document with a brief description of what the link is.
Once all of the interviews have been completed and returned to me I go through each one to read what they had to say and copy and paste the strongest quotes onto a new blank word document.
Once I have these quotes, I go through deciding which ones can be paraphrased and which ones need to be directly quoted. Strong quotes are quotes that I can not think of better choice of words. Basically, if I can’t say it better myself, it’s a strong quote.
Now I have all of these strong quotes and paraphrased quotes all in a row on a word document so I begin creating transitional sentences or paragraphs in between each quote so it will flow. I use the information I gathered about opposing views, statistics and supporting views as transitions as well.
Then I go back to the beginning and write the intro. The intro is special, I have to feel it before I can write it or I won’t be happy with it. It comes on its own and I usually re write it a few times.
I adjust words, copy and paste. Move things up, delete things that don’t flow. I use the thesaurus a LOT, making sure that I don’t use weak vocabulary words or repeat the same word over and over again.
By the time I’m done, it’s about 4 hours of steady work and that’s AFTER the initial info gathering process. But when I’m done and I delete all the extra stuff that got pushed to the bottom of the page and see the final word count and read the article and its good- I feel great!
I feel like smoking a cigarette, which I used to do but not anymore. Now, to celebrate finishing a story, I’ll allow myself time to do something for pure fun like watch Youtube videos or even write a personal blog post like this one.
In fact, I just finished organizing all of the information from a story and took a break to write this. Now I am at the point where I have to start pulling quotes from all of my interviews and- well, you know what happens next.
Wish me luck!