Interviews & Oral Histories: #4

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

You’ve done it!  Regardless of whether an interview is the first or the hundredth, I hope you will feel a sense of accomplishment while parting company with whomever you’ve interviewed! By this point, you should have an audio (if not visual) recording of the dialogue, plus notes you’ve composed prior to and during your conversation. You should also have a signed interviewee release that can allow you to draw from the experience indefinitely.

The Significance of Your Relationship with Your Subject
In my last discussion of general and oral history interviews, I noted that it is good to impress your subject positively.  Doing so includes: projecting a pleasing appearance and voice; demonstrating the level of your commitment, as shown by your research and organization of pertinent questions; and, your sensitivity to their physical, mental, and emotional circumstances.

That last issue is one that is often neglected by professional, as well as novice, interviewers.  Too often a sense of righteousness on the part of the interviewer as truth teller can prevent development of a significant rapport with the interviewee.  While it is important to maintain a professional relationship, the lack of a rapport with your subject may lead to a diminished level of trust and desire to reveal themselves fully.

Your Parting Words
As you prepare to depart from an interview, you will want to leave the door between you and your subject open to further communication.  After all, they’ve trusted you with a part of themselves and they want to know that you’ll value what they have shared with you. Even if you have not established a warm relationship, you will want to facilitate future communication and assure them that they will have an opportunity to view a transcript of the interview.

This does not mean you are relinquishing your role as the interviewer, nor does it imply you are going to change revealing the realities of your conversation. However, if errors are found by either of you, there should be a means for adding explanatory notes. This is especially useful in clarifying names, relationships, numbers, dates, and sequences, which may have been transposed or mistakenly described.   

Editorial Procedures
During the transcription and editorial process, you may need to communicate with your interviewee to gain clarity on numerous points. To maintain accurate records, it is good to receive replies to your questions by email or other written documentation

This is especially useful if there are conflicts regarding the meaning of a passage. After all, the interviewee is relaying answers to your questions through the lens of their point of view.  While you  may never agree with their explanation, the transcript and your notes will allow future readers and/or listeners to experience a close approximation of the event and draw their own conclusions.  This is why clear records of all your communication and notes are so important.

The method[s] of annotation you choose for your transcript can take several forms. This is where your creativity comes into play.   Personally, I try to avoid footnotes.  Instead, I employ bracketed statements for minor clarification and section endnotes for issues dealing with proper nouns and other facts that may stimulate a future reader to pursue answers to their own questions.

Although the interviewer should not remove actual dialogue, you can provide clarification of key points by including a glossary of foreign and specialized vocabulary, as well as an index. Some authors dislike the use of indices if they plan to publish via a downloadable vehicle that may render pagination inaccurate and irrelevant. However, readers of a work published on the Internet may be able to utilize a find/search tool to locate terms they wish to revisit and readers of a hardcopy edition will be pleased with the inclusion of an easy reference tool at the back of the work. 

Another means for heightening the usefulness of your final product is separating your transcript into sections. If the interview was conducted during multiple sessions, utilization of chapter breaks is quite logical. Even when the conversation was held on a single occasion, separating sequenced questions and answers provides natural breaks.

Such a layout should facilitate communication between you and your subject[s] as you review the nearly finished project. Once you have completed editing and annotating your transcript, you can proceed to shaping a final format to meet any requirements for publication. [See my previous blog, Interviews & Oral Histories #3, for the closing  discussion of interview publication.]

Future Interviews with The Subject
The potential for scheduling future interviews may depend on issues beyond a mutual desire to do so. For example, if the interview is part of a larger project controlled by someone else, you may be limited in continuing your relationship with your subject.  And, although the current publisher may express an interest in further interviews, shifts within their organization may preclude future publishing through them. Even when you are working on a wholly freelance basis, your ability to publish may depend on your finding a new source willing to take on the project. And if you decide to expand the initial work into a series of articles or even a book, the task may become even more challenging.

As I’ve noted before, planning, executing, and publishing an interview is a unique experience. Even without the permanency of the Cloud, an interview lives far beyond the event itself! The effort you put into researching your subject’s life and work may prove of interest to people far beyond your targeted readership.  The dialectical elements of the conversation, introductory remarks, annotations, and other explanations will serve not only to illuminate your subject, but also your own life’s work.

In my next blog about interviews, I will discuss the renewal and publication of oral history interviews I conducted more than 25 years ago with a dear Hawaiian auntie whose family history is very interesting…The title is, Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder,  Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox Delima Farias, and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website, ImaginingsWordpower.com.  

THE AUTHOR RECYCLES

New Creations From Old Work

 In past blogs I’ve talked about examining your previous work as a writer.  Not only does this allow you to measure your progress, it also provides a pool of sources for new directions in content and style.  I am a member of the National Writers Union and the local chapter recently asked me to be their featured speaker at a monthly meetingOften, their speakers read from current projects, but since I’d help to fill in the previous month with a reading of both the Prologue and Epilogue from PROSPECT FOR MURDER [the debut title of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series], I decided to give a talk on how I’ve recycled parts of past projects.  While there’s nothing novel in this concept, I thought that in detailing how I’d used pieces I’d created during my years in Arizona, I might stimulate my listeners to consider the ways in which they might draw upon works in their own files…

Wordsmiths Don’t Fall into a Single Demographic Description

When you look around any gathering of writers, you’ll find that we’re: Young and old; formally educated and barely literate in the grammatical sense; gifted melodious speakers and hoarsely halting readers; technical prodigies and flawed yet persuasive explorers of every topic imaginable.  The breadth and depth of our compositions are as varied as we are.  And usually, if we’re old enough, such variety will be found spread throughout our individual bodies of work.  

In projects of both fiction and non-fiction, I draw on a background in business, education, and the performing arts.   As might be expected, there is no consistent pattern to my output—except for the decades of public relations, marketing, and design consultation I’ve performed for executives and their profit and non-profit entities. 

Forms from the Past…

In preparing for my talk, I looked over previous work I had drawn upon for recent print, audio, and Internet projects.  Not all were inspirational gems of form, content, or style, but each item I had chosen to re-purpose fulfilled a specific need.  With every new project, I contemplate how the assignment fits within the scope of my professional history.  Not only do I look for concepts, data, and text that may yield something I can reuse, but also the bits and pieces that should be moved to the recycle bin.

…Reshaping for Today and Beyond

This year’s springtime file pruning produced some of everything.  I found business cards, ads, and brochures that could be used for marketing workshops. As I continued my file and closet clearing, I eyed posters and signage that could be augmented with a large artistic label for some future event.  I quickly dismissed them as ineffective for a speech delivered from a podium.  There was, however, one item I could share:  a copy of Stephen Covey’s famous matrix of time and productivity management.  The gist of this true jewel of philosophy is that if we focus on aspects of both our personal and professional lives that are important but not critical, we’ll be better prepared for challenges that may arise.

After a brief introduction of this principle to open my talk, I noted how elements of past writing had been folded into my writer’s blog [for samples, please visit https://www.Blog.ImaginingsWordpower.com].  From project inspiration to background research, through the phases of writing and editing, production, and marketing, I discussed how I select issues that may be of interest to other authors and artists.  In addition to mentioning a few of those blog topics, I provided examples of material I’d chosen to use in recent book projects.

~  When I joined with five other authors to publish UNDER SONORAN SKIES, Prose and Poetry from the High Desert,  I contributed both fiction and non-fiction.  With new and as well as re-shaped pieces, we all expanded our repertoire.  Knowing that publication of  Prospect For Murder was approaching, I included its prologue.   I also featured historical articles such asThe Holidays in Tucson, 1878,” which I read at the NWU meeting.   

~  In  Murder on Mokulua Drive [the second book of the mystery series], I’ve drawn on notes from my studies in history, plus a series of oral history interviews I conducted many years earlier.  This has allowed me to mention the first woman registered to vote in the Territory of Hawai`i in 1920, and to place a major scene in the historic and ecologically significant site of Kawai Nui Marsh.  

~  The compilation of the oral history interviews, Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias has indeed proven to be an invaluable resource.  Carol was a dear friend seeking to preserve her family’s history, library and other artifacts.   Descended from Hawaiian nobility, her recollections of life in upcountry Maui in the early twentieth century and dancing hula in Waikīkī on December 6th, 1941, delight both readers and listeners.  In reshaping the layout for a book of the seven interviews and an audio edition comprised of the original recordings, I described how this resurrected project is benefiting from the comprehensive glossaries I’ve constructed for the Hawaiian and other non-English vocabulary included in the Hawaiian mysteries. 

~  Finally, I referred to the fourth mystery, A Yen For Murder, for which I examined promo materials I wrote for Highland Games and the Hilo International Festival on the island of Hawai`i during the 1970s.  This led to having Natalie reminisce about hearing a remarkable young woman play the Japanese koto at the Festival…and decades later having that woman, then a Buddhist priestess, become the victim.

In the future, I anticipate giving talks on the authorship process, for which many of these examples will be useful.  Of course, there will also be samples of flawed book covers, changing email addresses, and evolving reviews to reference.  How does all this relate to your work?  Well, I wonder what awaits you when you dive into your own files.  Will you choose to build on your dramatic successes?  Or will you determine that what was once viewed as a failed project may rise to the realization of full and positive fruition?

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

Acknowledging Mentors & Consultants, A Key Authoring Strategy

There are so many aspects to the art and science of writing that it is easy to lose focus of mechanical details while completing a project.  Empowering your words fully means having access to technical experts for fiction as well as non-fiction.  Sometimes when we think of the people who’ve advised us about our work—or regarding life in general—it’s difficult to remember them all.  But the demands of book publishing eventually require authors to compose an acknowledgments section, which can be a key authoring strategy in gaining the respect  of those who help you, as well as your readership.

In my own experience, I have learned that it is not good to wait until the end to begin documenting everyone who has contributed to your final product.  The simplest solution to this aspect of the editorial process is to keep notes on the people and organizations that are of assistance to us as a project develops As I have moved from Prospect for Murder to Murder on Mokulua Drive, and from Murders of Conveyance to Yen For Murder, I have copied the Notes and Acknowledgment portion from one manuscript into the next.  After removing references that are not pertinent to the current work, I continue to make quick notes as I progress through each book.  By the end of a project, I may not have beautifully composed text, but I have complete references that will allow me to polish the section. 

The easiest citations to track are for people connected to a library, institution, or government agency.  Of course, such organizations often have considerable turnover in staff.  That means you’ll need to verify whether a person remains in the job you’ve cited. Strategically inserting a phrase like “at the time” allows you to recognize a person’s help, even if you cannot verify their position as you go to press. 

During a professional writer’s research, some individuals will provide meaningful counsel for several years.  In my case, this category of advisers includes both generalists and specialists. Having described my protagonist Natalie Seachrist as the widow of a naval officer, I’m fortunate to have a husband who is a retired Lieutenant Commander.  When unexpected questions about ships and naval protocols have arisen, he’s been able to answer them quickly at unusual times.

There are also people whose contributions move beyond their specific area of expertise. For example, Kevin C. Horstman, PhD (specializing in geological sciences and digital image enhancement) has shared concise knowledge of the realm of geology.  In addition, he’s provided understanding of geographical features and general scientific terminology.  This invaluable input strengthens my ability to write descriptively, and has inspired writing of passages I had not foreseen.

Through appendices and footnotes, an author can reference the contributions of such technical, scientific, or artistic professionals in non-fiction pieces.  Unfortunately, this is not appropriate to most works of fiction.  However, fictional wordsmithing can utilize prefatory remarks, or dedication of a book or other major work to recognize such people.  For even if you do not realize it, a reader’s expectations usually includes a desire to gain insight into how you have researched and shaped the work you are presenting to them. This is particularly true in the case of a series in which you will hope to gain a following from one book to the next.

Audio books require additional levels of attention to enhance the sensory experience of listeners.  As I prepared to produce the audio recording of Prospect For Murder, I remained alert to aspects of production that could fulfill a listener’s expectations. A major consideration was providing precise chapter breaks, so that listeners know where they are within an audio book.  It was also important to provide a distinct voice for each character.  As someone trained in the theatre arts, I know it is easy for a solo performer to become confused in presentation of multiple characters. 

Fortunately, I work with Jim Waters of Waterworks Recording. His experience in audio production positioned him to serve effectively as my director, as well as my recording producer and engineer.  One of the best formatting tips he shared with me for preparing recording scripts was ensuring each page concluded with the end of a paragraph and/or an individual character’s voice.  In addition I utilized various formatting to indicate how each passage was to be read.

As this first book in the Natalie Seachrist series reached its release date at the end of July 2016, I prepared Internet announcements through Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com, plus a new author website, Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com and a Facebook page designed as a simple billboard for announcements.  For these and other purposes, I’ve needed a professional photograph to accompany cover art and promotional text.  This task seemed straight forward.  However, on the day of the shoot, the weather was muggy, the activity took place in a space using evaporative cooling rather than air conditioning, and I was definitely having a bad hair day.

Perhaps I should have paid a cancellation fee and rescheduled the event.  But with deadlines looming, I proceeded.  At the end of the shoot I learned that the digital photographic firm could make image enhancements…at $35 for each element they adjusted.  By the time I would have had them amend several parts of the picture I’d selected, I could have spent as much as for the shoot itself.  Fortunately, a friend’s daughter, Lindsey Burlingame, offers graphic art fixes at a reasonable hourly rate.  While this valuable service does not fall within a normal range of publishing credit, in the future she may become one of my advance readers, and I’ll be able to acknowledge her professional services in my notes section.

In summation, there are varied means by which you can thank and give credit to those who help you present your thoughts to the public!

Wishing you the best in your endeavors in the art of communication, 
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

To learn more about Prospect For Murder and my other writing projects, please visit my author’s website:  Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com

Interviews & Oral Histories, # 3

Conducting the Interview

Few people willingly give up control of their personhood to allow a stranger to delve into their inner thoughts.  But those private thoughts are what an effective writer must access to produce a true facsimile of any interview they conduct.  For as a professional or even an amateur writer, your goal is to meet your listeners or readers expectations that they are sharing your sensory experience while gleaning the particulars of why the highlighted individual is worthy of their attention. 

There are four statements I can make about my perspective on the interviewing process:

~  The interviewer has one chance to make a good first impression
~  The interviewer may not get another opportunity to interview their subject
~  Despite a subject’s agenda, an interview should encompass a non-fiction record of fact
~  Regardless of the premise for an interview, the subject may become reluctant to speak about topics previously authorized for discussion

The Importance of Preparing for Interviews
In several blogs, I’ve stressed the importance of preparation to conduct both general and oral history interviews.  In contrast, there are some writers who feel that research and other preparation is unnecessary, or even unwarranted.  I strongly disagree.  I believe research is vital to empowering your words in the interview process.  It will also help with establishing your credibility as a wordsmith who has mastered the art and science of writing.  In short, it’s one of the best ways of demonstrating your skill at the art of communication and making your subject trust you.

Contrary to the theory that “winging it” in an interview demonstrates you are a “common man,” and therefore likely to establish a connection with your interviewee, I’ve observed the results of people who conduct interviews without appropriate research.  For when an interviewer demonstrates little knowledge of their subject, their interviewee may judge them inconsequential.  If that is the case, responses to the interviewer’s questions may be superficial.  In fact, the subject  may be thinking, “If you don’t care enough to do your homework, why should I care about your project?  So I’ll just keep the kernels of my truth to myself until the right interviewer comes along.”

Summarizing Your Research
By the time you’re ready to conduct a cogent interview, you should have completed a great deal of fact checking in several areas of your subject’s life, including:

~  The historical era of their life and the category of work they’ve performed
~  Their biography and career…as reported by them, and as available in public sources
~  Materials they’ve published, and speeches and interviews they’ve given previously
~  Comments their colleagues and other contemporaries have expressed about them

 Shaping Your Questions
The bulk of your questions will be determined by the purpose of your project. In some cases you’ll need to conduct interviews with multiple persons.  By asking parallel questions of each, you can compare and contrast their views of the primary subject, as well as one another.

Regardless of whether there’s any obvious controversy you must address, beginning your interview with general questions about the unfolding of the subject’s life, can assist in putting them at ease…if their mental processes are fully functioning and there are no hidden elements in their early life.

By delivering the early portion of your questions chronologically, your interviewee can mentally relive moments with which they should be comfortable. Additionally, taking them through the recognizable patterns of the decades of their life may trigger remembrance of small details.  This will not only enhance the interview itself, but also add color to your subsequent reporting of the event. This can, of course, lead to some sidetracking, but you should be able to steer the conversation back to the key points you need to cover.

Prior to, or during the interview, you may uncover facts about your subject’s life and work that are at odds with information the person has released in the past In this case, you’ll have to decide whether to directly question these inconsistencies. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind that true or false, the opinions of others may have colored the public record.  Also, the perspectives of most people change with time and life experience.  And, whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has gaps in their memory, without necessarily being conscious of it.

Approaching the Interview
It’s nearly show time.  That’s right.  I said show time.  While serious scholars and journalists may dislike hearing me say it, an interview is usually a semi-public performance.  Unlike a play, the dialogue is not set in stone; unlike an evening at an improv theatre, it’s not without direction and form—for that’s your job.  But like a play on Broadway, it will be frozen in time, even if you conduct subsequent interviews.

Location of the Interview
It’s been my experience that interviewees often set and control the location of the interviews they grant.  This may not be the case for broadcast media and bloggers with sets in which the subject is expected to appear, but you are probably not working in these situations. Admittedly, it’s best to conduct an interview at a site to which you’re both agreeable, but sometimes you must accept interviewing your subject in their office, home or other location of their choice.  Nevertheless, there are things you can do to balance the situation so that you’re able to subtly declare your professional standing, while still putting the person at ease. 

There are many authoring strategies that can help to distinguish your work as an interviewer.  Establishing a good rapport can be the key to making the interviewee trust you with the information they’re imparting.  To do this, you might bring something with you to enhance the experience.  This could be an edible item, or, if you know they are fond of a particular author, you might obtain a copy of that writer’s work to share with your subject.  Please note that I’m not suggesting you spend a significant sum of money to buy your subject’s cooperation.  But small acts of kindness can help warm the atmosphere, demonstrate the thoroughness of your preparation, and make the entire experience positively memorable for both of you.

Interviewer Anxieties
Anxiety will undoubtedly arise, regardless of your preparation.  Despite previous contact you may have had with a subject, being in their presence (even by video conferencing or telephone) changes the balance of your relationship. There is another factor that may detract from your rapport with your interviewee:  If there’s an aspect of their lives that makes them suspect in the eyes of the public, they may be hesitant about granting you an interview.  They may be apprehensive about information you may have uncovered already…or what they might reveal in conversation with you. 

The Atmosphere of the Interview
Even when you have secured the location for holding the event, you cannot be certain of being able to completely control the environment.

~  Despite previous agreement, additional people may be present during the event
~  As recording devices can fail, carry a back-up unit, cordage and microphones with you
~  Regardless of their response, your subject may be distracted by ringing telephones and other interruptions

As you set up your equipment, be aware that recognition of the permanency of the record of their interview may be upsetting to your subject. Even if you have provided them with a copy of your primary questions, they may dislike seeing the list set out before them.  They may also have negative feelings about seeing any reference notes you’ve brought. But since such materials should be in easily read styles and sizes of fonts, you’ll be able to quickly reference pertinent facts, while maintaining eye contact and keeping the dialogue between you as natural as possible. 

The Ebb and Flow of Your Interview
Establishing and maintaining a smooth flow of conversation is a primary goal in the interviewing process.  Regardless of whether your personal views are in accord with those of your interviewee, it’s important to approach what they have to say with a calm, if not fully open mind.  This does not mean that you have to forfeit your role as the honest broker of truth.  However, you can adjust your personal style of behavior and other elements to maximize a positive atmosphere. After all, as in any natural conversation, your subject will periodically lead the discussion. That’s fine as long as they do not deviate greatly from the purpose of your dialogue, or delve into personal details of your life.

Be Prepared for Shifts During Your Interview
After opening pleasantries, you can help direct the flow of the interview by verifying the amount of time you’ll have with your subject.  This establishes a guideline for both parties and should make your periodic redirection of topic easier to explain.

Although you’re guiding the overall direction of the conversation, information will arise that may surprise you, or at least call for cursory examination. This may occur because the man or woman to whom you are speaking may have talking points of their own that they wish addressed.  If that’s so, let them express their concerns, and then try to deftly redirect them to the specific information you need in order to complete your project.

The Editorial Process
Sometimes an author feels stressed about the relationship between the creative process and editing.  As you review an interview, you will not only want to envision how you will shape an accurate account of the event that reflects truly inspired writing as well.  One thing that can help you achieve this dual pronged goal is to remember that the way in which you report your findings may be wholly different than the substance and sequence of the questions you posed. 

For example, if you’re part of an oral history project, there may be a specific format for you to follow.  This generates a record that harmonizes with the results of other interviewers within the larger body of work.  Typically you’ll prepare a transcript of the actual dialogue between you and the subject—often with punctuation or other markings to indicate accents, pauses, stresses, and other notable features of your conversation.  You may also write an introductory passage explaining your methods of preparation and your evaluation of the results you’ve achieved.

If you’re working on assignment for a media outlet, you might have the opportunity to write a personable article containing both dialogue and narrative prose. In this case, you may be allowed to offer your candid view of the person you’ve studied.  Be aware, if you’re working as a freelance researcher and writer, you may need to prepare multiple versions of your report in order to secure one or more appropriate outlets for its broadcast or publication.  I should note that there are situations when an interview will be available to only a select audience, or may be held in private for release at a future time.

As you finalize your work on an interview, you’ll want to remember that in this day of permanency in data recording and retrieval, the words you shape after the interview will live as long as the event itself.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

 

 

 

Taming a Writer’s Clutter: #1, Thinning the File Forrest

You may have stumbled into this blog without an apparent need to address the topic.  You may not be part of a group planning to generate an anthology.  And, regardless of whether you are an amateur or professional writer, you may not think you would ever wish to publish a collection of your individual pieces.  Yet over time, a number of works, large and small, may have accumulated in your electronic as well as hardcopy files. It’s simply part of the life of a wordsmith. And whether you realize it or not, handling your files is part of the editorial process!

Reviewing Previously Composed Works
It might be relatively simple to assemble a publishable collection of your work, if you find a repeating theme.  Sadly, it’s more likely that you’ll find disparate pieces lacking a common unifying thread.  In such cases, cobbling together a publishable piece may seem a remote idea. However, periodic and systematic review and notation of your existing materials may reveal something of publishing value.  You’ll never know unless you take the time and energy to explore the possibility.  Projects like this demonstrate the technical side of the art and science of effective writing and should be one element in your authoring strategies

Systematic Review of Your Files
Having a comprehensible writer’s filing system can prove to be invaluable.  As a wordsmith, there are many good reasons to revisit your electronic and hardcopy folders and files on a regular basis.  The first benefit is controlling clutter.  When you no longer recognize what a folder or file contains, it’s time to consider deleting it, or combining its contents with another.  Of course, it is not advisable to delete material, until you’ve looked at it closely to see if there are any hidden gems.  For if you discover something that generates an unexpected revenue stream, the entire process is justified, even if it means using creativity in your file naming After all facilitating communication should include you!

Another reason for looking over your work is to review your journey as a professional writer.  Like an artist moving through various media and periods in the body of their work, you may find definitive patterns in your creations.  And, the process may impress you with the distance you have traveled and the progress that you’ve made.  You may also find there are topics, choices in voice, vocabulary, and sensory detail that you would like to employ in the work you are currently generating…

Facilitating File Review
In order to examine your work effectively, you need a filing system that facilitates easy access. Regardless of whether you’re dealing with hardcopy or electronic form, you’ll want to organize folders and files in a way that will make sense to you in the remote future. That means ensuring that each one is both recognizable and trackable.

Formatting Tips For Hardcopy Folders
Being a visually oriented person, I use color coding, abbreviated naming, and alphabetical sorting for hardcopy materials—of course, that’s after designating separate file drawers by category.  For all reference materials I use the color yellow.  These folders include:

~  Historical Reference
~  Geographical Reference
~ Organizational Reference
~  Miscellaneous Reference

For easy separation, I use Burgundy colored filing materials to designate Imaginings’ operational information and records.  This section includes topics such as:  accounting; computer hardware and software reference information; current and past marketing materials; handouts for clients; public speaking information and tools; and, current and completed writing projects.

Current clients are differentiated by teal colored folders and files.  For ongoing organizational volunteer projects, I use blue filing materials.  The great thing about a hardcopy folder is that its name can be changed whenever necessary by simply changing removable labels.  And once I’ve completed a project, (or am no longer working for a client), I transform most files into categorical records stored in the Burgundy color I use for my own files

For example, when I was no longer writing historical pieces for Realtor X, I removed materials I deemed irrelevant to any future work with them, and placed samples of the work I’d performed for them into a general topic folder [in this example, Real Estate].  This allows quick examination of all materials I’ve written about land and real estate. And, by retaining electronic files regarding individual companies, I can revisit the particulars of my association with them when necessary.

Electronic Folders & Files
I find that creating and naming Folders is easy…since I base the process on titles composed of descriptive words and folder placement on alphabetical sequencing.  To prevent having excessive numbers of folders for related topics, I use subset folders.  For example, within a Chinese reference folder, I have subsets for Chinese art, funeral customs, history, jewelry, language and dialects, names, philosophy, and Shànghăi, And within each of these categories, there are further folders for specific topics such as dynastic history, types of jade, elements of Shànghăi deco artwork, and male and female names.

When I began the Natalie Seachrist series, I had one unnamed book and a nameless protagonist.  After a while, the original file named “Book” became “Prospect For Murder.”  By then, the protagonist was Natalie Seachrist, so some files in the PFM Folder bear her name in their titling.  Many other files begin with the abbreviation “PFM,” followed by descriptive words, and finally, a date—if the material is NOT reference information. And, as with hardcopy files, reference data for the three books I’ve completed have been migrated to a generic Folder labeled “NS Research.”

Aside from logical alphabetical abbreviations, I urge you to date electronic files that are not reference information.  This is because one of the most difficult aspects of being a writer is the number of re-writes required. I fought dating my files for many years, but after repeated difficulty in locating the files I sought, I have followed the example of more scientifically-oriented authors.  The dating format I use is two digits each for the current year, the month, and day For today’s Blog, I might title the file, I_Blog_Taming_Clutter_Pt_1_160421.

Other issues in naming electronic files are the use of capital letters and underscores between words or other elements In the past, techies insisted on never using capital letters and always using dashes or underscores—or simply cramming alpha-numeric elements together without spaces.  I haven’t noticed such definitive instructions recently.  So, I use cap letters for readability, with underscores between the elements of a file name, as in one I created for recording the audio version of Prospect for Murder, PFM_Chapt_1_Vision.

Determining Files to Delete or Save
I offer one cautionary note to all authors when it comes to the potential deletion of files:  Author know thyself! This is crucial for all of us to internalize in many areas of our work.  It is particularly important for writers noted for being too quick to delete something they may later need…as well as those tending to hoard every word they write, as if each were presented in a vision from a higher authority.

In general, I de-clutter files by removing as many as I can in both hardcopy and electronic formats.  However, I have mechanisms for saving favorite material: I maintain two hardcopy sample portfolios.  One is a master with published examples from my best work.  The second one is smaller, with basic promotional materials focused on me and the general scope of Imaginings WordPower and Design Consultation.  In the smaller binder, I’ve allowed space for inserting material from the master portfolio that might be appropriate to meeting with a specific person or organization.

For each major writing project, I create a file named “Unused Verbiage.”  It is the destination for words, phrases and passages that I decide are inappropriate to my current endeavors, but which might prove useful later or in another piece of writing.  These favored words can also facilitate your re-editing of a piece, such as when your editor or publisher requests insertion of some element you had deemed irrelevant. 

Through such files, I track snippets of my writing, without needing to save a large or duplicative file.  In addition, I rename files with differing presentations of material, such as PFM elements that were too detailed for inclusion, but contain potentially useful information, i.e. RMS_EmpressofBrit_Orig_Description or Pearl_Wong_Orig_Shanghai_Story. Both of these files reside beside the completed manuscript of Prospect for Murder.  I don’t know how they might help me achieve goals and objectives in the unpredictable future. Perhaps I might revisit those passages as I complete Pearl Wong’s story within the series’ fourth book, Yen for Murder. 

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com.

Sidestepping Writer’s Block

The following is a commandment I often recommended for serious writersThou shalt set and maintain a schedule for daily composition—or other work related to the art and science of wordsmithing

Unfortunately, regardless of whether you’re an amateur or professional, any author can face Writer’s Block.   The term often conjures the image of a twentieth century writer of the great novel—rumpled, frazzled, and hazy from exhaustion abetted by alcohol or other drugs.  Seldom do we picture an elegantly clad person poised before a blank computer screen in a well-appointed office.

Surprisingly, today’s writer is more often focused on commercial or academic composition than fiction Stymied by the inability to produce the required verbiage, the valiant wordsmith in this scenario may continue to drill down in a repeating exercise of seeming activity…with the hope that it will produce a new dynamism.  But an episode of slugging away at wordsmithing without inspiration often yields the same result:  N o t h i n g  o f  V a l u e.

Is there an easy solution to the dilemma of low motivation and poor productivity Sometimes the answer is no.  At least for the time being, leaving the project alone may be the best answer.  But what options are available as an alternative to abdicating your role as a writer and hitting your head with the hammer of guilt? 

In the Southwestern desert, simply drinking water can restore one’s ability to concentrate, if not one’s creativity.  Another option is exercise .  Going for a run or walking in a garden will remove you from an atmosphere of defeat and inhaling fresh air re-oxygenates your bloodstream and enhances your brain function Recent biochemical research has shown the benefit of eating brain-stimulating foods.  But if preparing a meal of nut-encrusted fish with broccoli and tomatoes is not doable, you could consider taking a power nap, perhaps serenaded by Mozart or Vivaldi.

Beyond tangible physical benefits, these strategies provide Attention Distraction.  Wait a moment, you say?  Attention distraction is usually associated with magicians misdirecting audiences…or mystery writers dropping false leads into their text to confuse readers about the true direction of their plotline.

Regarding the quandary of writer’s block, consider that scientists exploring attentional focus and problem solving have discovered that too much mental focus can reduce one’s creativity, as well as the ability to solve problems.  Therefore any strategy that redirects your energies is indeed useful for refreshing your body and your mind.

For me, the key to my productivity is my frame of mind.  For even if I’m poised to bring form to a fully visualized project, extraneous noise like ringing phones, talk or even music can stall my work.  Sadly, I’ve found that food and water, or a change of scenery with heart stimulating activity, can only help to a limited degree.  

Attentional distraction via the dovetailing of the creative and editorial processes I mentioned in my first blog is my best method for sidestepping writer’s block.  If all else fails, cleaning house or playing a few games of solitaire allows me to return to productive writing for hours!  All of the techniques I’ve mentioned in this blog helped me through the myriad phases of writing, working with my publisher, and promoting Prospect For Murder, the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.

Remember, the Universe will provide the answer…when you’re ready to receive it!

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors, 
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com