February 25, 2011
Over the years, I’ve interviewed Oscar winners, bestselling authors, billionaires, mad men (and geniuses). Here’s a tip sheet on what I’ve learned about the one-on-one.
Arrive 10 minutes early. Expect them to be 20 minutes late.
Dress well but not so well that they’ll remember.
The first 60 seconds tells you everything. Take note of eye contact, palm sweat, shoulder tics, head scratches, impulses to command the room.
Have a long list of prepared questions but try not to take it out of your pocket.
Make sure you know which questions your editors need you to ask. Ask them all.
Start gently. Open with a self-deprecating aside. Introduce yourself, your plan for your time together and then your recorder. People need to feel comfortable before opening up.
Running two recorders simultaneously is not a bad idea.
Get them in a car, a plane or on a walk. Conversation flows best when two people are side-by-side, eyes gazing forward.
It’s not about you. Until you sit down at the keyboard.
Don’t fill in their pauses. Let the awkwardness be a prompt for unexpected commentary.
Practice good manners with publicists, agents, managers and assistants but the interview must always be one-on-one.
Remember you’re the eyes and ears of the reader. Ask questions you would normally be afraid to ask.
Get them to talk about their childhood bedrooms.
Ask them about the best day of their lives.
If you’re bored, your editor and reader will be, too. Change the subject by saying “Let’s change the subject.”
Don’t be above stealing questions from Table Topics.
Reassure, comfort, affirm but make no explicit promises.
Sometimes it’s best to address the white elephant in the room right up front.
Then again, you might want to save the scariest question for last.
Leave the recorder running until you’re back in the car on the way home.
Photo of Jon Hamm by James Minchin III for Rolling Stone’s “Inside Mad Men” shoot.
February 4, 2011
Make Noise Especially now, you need to make yourself heard. Hound editors, badger sources, broadcast your bright ideas and latest bylines to your networked minions. Gaze-averting humility is no longer an option.
Be Boring If you’re the most interesting one at the party, something’s definitely wrong. Strive instead to feel outclassed, outsmarted, depressingly dull. It means you’re in superlative company. Ask questions, take notes, skulk home with genius-grant-worthy story ideas.
Other People’s Money Pretend it doesn’t exist. Fixating on the fortunes of others — whether higher or lower — ultimately only has one effect: making you feel like a small-minded wretch. Writing what you love is a richer reward.
Write for the Apocalypse What if the ridiculous blog entry or Kardashian charticle you’re writing today ends up being the only surviving fragment of human culture? It could happen. Edit, sharpen, write like eternity depends on it.
Stay Calm In Thai culture, mai pen rai – “it’s nothing” — is more than an attitude. It’s a way of life. No worries, no dramas, let’s move on. No wonder the Thai economy is booming while the rest of the planet kvetches.
Form a Council Here’s an idea: Every other Monday evening, bring together the ten wisest people you know. Sit in a circle. Dim the lights. Pick a conversation prompt. Respect the person with the talking piece. Watch the transformation unfold. To learn more about the 30-year-old council movement, see www.ojaifoundation.org.
Shower Not only will you smell better than most freelancers, you’ll generate fresher ideas. The New York Times recently reported on the neurologic benefits of zoning out — like when you’re showering — for making the nonlinear connections essential for true creativity.
Spend to Earn I just returned from a month in Thailand. Now I have no choice. I have to write about the experience to pay for it. Make your Visa statement your writing coach.
Be Brief Some radical honesty: People care less than you think about your random musings on the college road trip you took to Florida. Take a hatchet to your draft before pressing send.
January 2, 2011
A freelance life is what allows many of us to work from home. Writer David Hochman is one of those people who lives the freelance life very well. He occupies that space between writing like a fiend and napping at 11am with grace, intelligence and wit. His work regularly gets published The New York Times, Forbes, Esquire and O:The Oprah Magazine. He also runs UPOD, an online community of freelancers. This is the first in a series of tips from David on how to make a freelancer life run more smoothly. Cerentha
I just made these up. It only took me 18 years of freelancing to think of them:
1. Stop Being Paranoid.
People aren’t stealing your ideas, they don’t hate you, they’re not being passive aggressive. And if any of these things actually are true, move on. Life’s too short and brutish to be eaten up by pettiness and small-minded paranoia.
2. Set fake deadlines and meet them.
The editor wants the story December 15. Great. Your deadline is now December 12.
3. It’s about relationships, stupid.
Good pitches will get you assignments. If you want an actual career, work on nurturing and building your relationships with editors instead.
4. Lose the Emoticons
Rid your emails of the following: your smiley faces, your inspirational quotes, the websites of your 15 different businesses. It makes you look flaky.
5. Be nice
Why would YOU want to work with someone who’s cold, whiney, hard to reach on the phone, sloppy with the facts, defensive or a drama queen. Exactly. Editors don’t either.
6. Go back to school
Specialize in something that will give you an advantage over everyone else in your field. Afterwards, you might decide to go for that career full-time and bag freelancing permanently.
7. Have a kid or buy a house
Adding big incentives to making money will force you to behave responsibly and meet your financial goals in ways child-free, mortgage-free people can’t quite imagine.
Every morning. For at least a half hour. Doesn’t matter which god or non-god or spaceship you pray to. Just do it for 30 days and see what happens.
9. Ixnay the naysayers
By 5 pm today, remove or block all the negative grumps on your Facebook and Twitter lists; make an appointment to see one person who’s been really supportive of your work; whenever good or positive thoughts or people emerge, think of ways to sustain, develop, nurture, augment and encourage them.
10. Put others first
Say thank you. Do things without expecting thanks. Surprise people with your generosity. Give more money than you expected this end-of-year tax season. Do things for free even though you don’t think you can afford to. Say yes when people ask for your support and help.