Assignment 4: 3-to-5 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

  • 1,500 words MAX
  • Bring copies for me and peer review partners on Tuesday, 10/2


In this week's writing, I want you to focus on interviewing.  To that end, I will ask you to write a profile, but with a twist.

For Tuesday, write a profile of the person of your choice.  For our purposes it doesn't matter if the subject of the profile is somebody you know well personally:  it should work either way.  But here's the twist:  for this piece, you're going to try to build your picture of the subject out of interviews with other people.  So do this:

  • Choose a person you'd like to write about;
  • Find a minimum of three and a maximum of five people you can interview ABOUT that person;
  • Interview those people;
  • Write your profile, using the material you've gathered from the interviews as your chief support.

This will take a little bit of planning on your part.  Before you start the interviews, be sure to read and think about the Gerard chapter on "The Art of the Interview."  You can prepare forever for interviews, but you're not really going to learn how you do them best until you do some.  So prepare, and think about what you want to know, but then relax and be ready to enjoy whatever happens in the conversation.  A couple of general things help:

  • If you can record the conversation, do.  If you interview somebody over the phone, you can download an app that will record the phone call.  If you do record somebody, make sure they know you're doing it and they're ok with it.  If they say they don't want to be recorded, don't record them.
  • Take notes.  But don't try to write down every single thing -- it will remove you from the conversation, from the flow.  That's why it's helpful to record -- then you can just use your notes to hit the highlights.
  • Think of some questions you want to ask in advance.  Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or a no.  Often the best questions are just invitations to tell a story.
  • Don't feel compelled to follow the script.  If the interview goes someplace unexpected, but the place it's going is interesting, let it go.  You can come back to the questions later.

Above all, have fun with this.  Interviewing is weird sometimes, but it's fun.  You get to have somebody's undivided attention, and they get to have yours.  That's rare, and people often like it a lot more than they thought they would.  And don't worry.  Experiment.  You will fuck up.  You will get confused and stuck.  You will ask a question and not know how to follow it up.  You will trail off, and so will they.  That's fine.  Get over it.  Laugh.

  • 1,500 words MAX
  • Bring copies for me and peer review partners on Tuesday, 10/2


In this week's writing, I want you to focus on interviewing.  To that end, I will ask you to write a profile, but with a twist.

For Tuesday, write a profile of the person of your choice.  For our purposes it doesn't matter if the subject of the profile is somebody you know well personally:  it should work either way.  But here's the twist:  for this piece, you're going to try to build your picture of the subject out of interviews with other people.  So do this:

  • Choose a person you'd like to write about;
  • Find a minimum of three and a maximum of five people you can interview ABOUT that person;
  • Interview those people;
  • Write your profile, using the material you've gathered from the interviews as your chief support.

This will take a little bit of planning on your part.  Before you start the interviews, be sure to read and think about the Gerard chapter on "The Art of the Interview."  You can prepare forever for interviews, but you're not really going to learn how you do them best until you do some.  So prepare, and think about what you want to know, but then relax and be ready to enjoy whatever happens in the conversation.  A couple of general things help:

  • If you can record the conversation, do.  If you interview somebody over the phone, you can download an app that will record the phone call.  If you do record somebody, make sure they know you're doing it and they're ok with it.  If they say they don't want to be recorded, don't record them.
  • Take notes.  But don't try to write down every single thing -- it will remove you from the conversation, from the flow.  That's why it's helpful to record -- then you can just use your notes to hit the highlights.
  • Think of some questions you want to ask in advance.  Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or a no.  Often the best questions are just invitations to tell a story.
  • Don't feel compelled to follow the script.  If the interview goes someplace unexpected, but the place it's going is interesting, let it go.  You can come back to the questions later.

Above all, have fun with this.  Interviewing is weird sometimes, but it's fun.  You get to have somebody's undivided attention, and they get to have yours.  That's rare, and people often like it a lot more than they thought they would.  And don't worry.  Experiment.  You will fuck up.  You will get confused and stuck.  You will ask a question and not know how to follow it up.  You will trail off, and so will they.  That's fine.  Get over it.  Laugh.

Last modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012, 8:05 AM