I’m the kind of person who likes to analyze and codify my life. Whatever I learn, I share it by writing about it. So when I started my job as an art reporter, I began noting down the things that helped me through the job. I’ve shared these lessons through Ja’s Reporter Rules Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and now I’m at Part 4! Yey! But the sharing is still not over, so stay tuned for more. Anyhow, here’s part 4:
Think of a press con question in advance aside from your one-on-one interview questions
When I was starting out, I was too shy to ask questions during the press conference’s open forum. Everyone will stare at you as you possibly ask a dumb question. I also didn’t know how to balance asking a relevant question and keeping things to yourself so you’ll still have a unique angle for your story. So I decided to prepare in advance so that I’m not racking my brain during the press con.
Ask questions in the order of the structure of your article
This is what I learned from Ruel de Vera when I took his writing workshop. He said that when he writes down his questions for an interview, he does it in the order of the possible structure of the article that he will be writing. In this way, the answers follow the flow of the article, so when you type up your notes, then it’s pretty much in the order of how you want your article to progress. This saves you time and effort at restructuring your article. This was such a common sense advice, but before I heard it from Mr. de Vera, I never thought of doing it myself. This advice made things so much easier for me.
If you’ve read Ja’s Reporter Rules (Part 1) and (Part 2), you’ll know that I worked as an art reporter for a newspaper for three years before I became a freelance writer. When I was just starting as a reporter, I received a typical manual from the office, which stated the guidelines on being a reporter. The manual helped but only up to a point. Experience taught me more nuanced advice on how to be a reporter, so I started writing down my own rules, and here they are.
1. Create a post-interview analysis: What makes me comfortable? What is the structure of a good interview?
When I was starting, I didn’t know what constituted a good interview. So my interviews were super long because I was just grappling in the dark. One time, I interviewed an artist for two hours and the only reason why that interview came to a close was because he ended it. “I’m sorry, I really have to leave now,” I remember him saying. I was just so insecure about being able to gather enough information that I’d “overinterview” constantly.
As you know, I recently took a big risk. I resigned from my stable job as an art reporter in a newspaper so that I can become a freelance art reporter. Prior to resigning though, I experienced something I’ve never felt before. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was afraid to take the risk. This was alarming as I’ve always defined myself as a risk taker. During that time though, a palpable fear swept over me. Maybe I couldn’t take risks anymore, maybe I had finally grown old and settled in my ways, and maybe my days of bravery were just simply over.
I am thankful that all I had to do was wait and that day came, that day when my decision finally solidified. Looking back, I have some theories as to why I was able to break out from my rut, and I realized it while I was reading Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way. I also made a pact with myself. The next time I experience this prison of inhibiting fear, I will bungee jump. So how does this all connect and how did I get to that bungee jumping conclusion? Stay with me.
In Ja’s Reporter Rules (Part 1), I said:
I’ve been an art reporter for a newspaper for three years, and now I’m a freelance writer. My last job was my first job as a reporter and my second regular job in my life. When I was new to the job, I had no manual on how to do things, so I just learned on my own. Whenever there was some new thing I learned, I’d write it down in my list of “reporter rules”. Here are a few of those rules:
So here’s the second half, and I still have more rules to write about, so stay tuned!
1. Batch small tasks and do them all just once a week
When I was starting out as a reporter, I was terrible at time management (see The Time Management Matrix that Saved Me from 16-Hour Work Days). After a while, I realized that I spent a lot of time doing small and unimportant tasks like transferring the cd contents of press releases, camera photos, and audio files to my computer; cleaning out press kits; replying and cleaning out my email; etc. Of course, these tasks have to get done at some point, but, as a writer, it’s not that important to excel in the art of transferring files or emailing. Obviously, the more important thing to do is to actually write.
The light dawned on me when I read somewhere (I forgot where, sorry) about batching tasks. This is a technique where you allot a particular time to doing a certain kind of task. Every time one shifts to a new task, your brain sort of does a reboot, so you aren’t as fast in completing the task. But if you group all the similar small tasks together, it speeds you up. So instead of emailing every now and then, thereby disrupting my writing days, I make a decision to only check my email for 30 minutes in the morning and do extensive cleaning up and replying on Fridays.
When you’re a newspaper writer and your job is to produce stories every week, you learn to build defenses against writer’s block. A few days ago, a friend asked me how I dealt with writer’s block, and I wanted to tell her that I didn’t have writer’s block anymore. It was an honest answer, but it was too arrogant to admit.
So I told her something else, which was also true, but I wasn’t as satisfied with my answer, so now I’m here writing this entry. I want to tell everyone what I mean when I say I don’t have writer’s block, and what are the things I’ve realized and the measures that I’ve set in place to ensure that I keep that nasty writer’s block at bay.