• Writing Exercise: TALK!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments No comments

    TL;DR version: This just in: People like to talk about themselves! That’s why this week’s writing exercise is to  conduct an in-person interview with anyone of your choice — family member, co-worker, stranger — and then write: a summary of the experience; a letter on the interviewee’s behalf to a new pen pal; or whatever you want, really. And let us know the results in the comments below.


    I’ve been working on a new writing project that includes oral interviews with a variety of people. And do you know what I’ve discovered? People like to talk about themselves!

    Astonishing, right?

    But here’s something that actually has been a surprise: In nearly every interview I’ve done so far, the subject has talked about something unrelated to the topic at hand but equally, if not more, interesting.

    For example. Although my project is about baseball, one of my interview subjects spent a good deal of time talking about his tenure as a student at the Air Force Academy. And he discussed an incident, totally unrelated to baseball, that is worth becoming its own project.

    I’ve known the guy twenty years and he’s never mentioned it. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t come up in normal conversation.

    But something about the formality of an interview tends to get people talking more than they usually do.

    Your turn: Here’s something we’ve all been asked and can always have some fun with. If you could interview one writer, alive or dead (or in between?), who would it be, and what would be your first question?


    Why Am I Telling You This?

    Because lately, both here on the blog and over email, I’ve been involved in numerous discussions about how difficult it is for some of us to find ideas.

    So here’s an idea: This weekend, or as soon as possible, interview someone in person. Whoever you want. A family member. A co-worker. A friend. A willing rando.

    You can have a topic in mind if you’d like — even something as simple as “What are you up to this weekend? — or simply ask your subject to tell you his or her life story.

    And record it! Not only will it help you later, but contrary to what you might assume — and again, this is only in my experience; results will vary — the subject is usually more open when a tape recorder is rolling.

    My guess is that it’s easier to find a rhythm if the person conducting the interview isn’t constantly saying, “Slow down, damn you, my hand hurts from scribbling all these notes.”

    Your turn: What is the most interesting interview you’ve ever read? Even if it’s not with a writer, we want to know about it. But! Extra points if it’s with a writer.



    And when you’re done with the interview, write about it. Write whatever you want, but here are some ideas to help you get started:

    — Choose the most interesting thing he or she said, or the most interesting topic you discussed; or

    — Pretend you’re writing a get-to-know-you letter on behalf of your interview subject to his or her new pen pal; or

    — Flip it and write about your experience while interviewing this person; or

    — Whatever!

    Just write.

    The worst thing that happens is that you’ve completed a writing exercise.

    Or maybe this experience will lead you to a great idea for your next writing project.

    If so, you can thank us on the Acknowledgments page.

    Your turn: Let us know in the comments below how this exercise went for you. Who did you choose, and what was the experience like? Will you do it again?

    And if you’re super-duper brave, paste the results of your exercise.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and writes about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”



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