You agreed to do how many articles? Wow. Too bad you can’t clone yourself.
Imagine being asked by three editors to write three different articles – all due within days or a week of each other. How are you going to be able to handle the workload?
Having been in that position a few times, I’ve created a way to write articles with interviews smarter. With minimal effort, you can use the same method to train yourself to work smarter, which can help you complete those article assignments hours faster than it would normally take.
Here’s how I do it. It starts right at the query stage.
Streamline the Query
When I get an idea, I don’t just dash off a query without thinking. I come up with a title. From there, I create my intro, which is almost always the same one I use for the article. And I use a statistic when needed, or some study finding, if it applies.
It’s not necessary, but including names of intended expert sources helps editors see what direction you plan to take. And by finding three sources at the outset, you’ve just narrowed the focus in your own head (not to mention you’ve located people to talk with).
Once you know your direction, take a few minutes to formulate questions. Those questions, which you intend to ask your interview sources, go into the query you’re writing to the editor.
I try to include at least four questions, but no more than six. It’s less tedious for an editor to read. I can ask more of the interview sources, but my intention is to show the editor where I’m going, not bombard them with too much information.
Once I’ve sent the query and been given the assignment, my work at the query level begins to pay off. Here’s where all that information is used:
Contact the Experts
You don’t have to dig up their information again – it’s all in the query. Get in touch immediately and schedule phone calls. Here’s where the questions come in handy again; you send them in your initial note to the experts so they understand what the topic is. It helps them think of the best responses, which is also a time saver.
I don’t always wait for the experts to talk to me. I put my initial ideas on paper, including my title and intro.
Now is when you’ll do a little more research and get some preliminary work done. Before you talk to your sources, have at least 300 words of an intro written or roughed in. Also, try to frame in your subtitles.
Use Questions as Subtitles
This is the best method I know to really focus your article and trim the fat from your writing.
My questions in my query are my subtitles. For example, my last article included this question: What’s missing in a retailer’s sales process? That became this subtitle: The Sales Process: What’s Missing? It doesn’t need to be rocket science – keep it simple.
Record and take notes
Once you get your source on the phone, record the conversation (with source permission always – and get that permission on tape, as well). While they’re talking, write quick notes.
When they say something you think will fit the article, put a star next to it and write down the time stamp on the recorder. When you add their quotes to the article, you can find the relevant ones that much faster.
Fill in the blanks
Because you’ve set up your article in sections, you can now go through each interview and add quotes and research to fill up each section. It’s not cheating to do it this way, either. You’re answering the questions you promised, and by focusing on each question as a section, you’ll be able to eliminate the information that’s not relevant.
That’s it. Using this method verbatim isn’t necessary if you’d rather ease into it. But if you adopt even one of these strategies, you’ll find the writing going just a little more smoothly.
Writers, how have you made your writing process easier?