As a journalist, you are not allowed to be star struck. I’ve interviewed people like Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Edwards, and even John Kerry. The key is to not giggle like a little girl during the interview (on the ride home, however, do what you like) but instead present yourself as a professional. Someone who is good at her job and who knows how to behave with a certain amount of decorum.
It takes skill and practice not to utter the Oh. My. Gods., when you meet someone big or someone important for the first time. After all, these are the people you read about in the news. There are thousands of people who want to get near this person and here you are getting their one-on-one attention. How cool is that?
When I interviewed Michelle (call me Michelle) Obama, it was during the Primaries in New Hampshire. Even back then it was pretty clear that this guy named Barack was going to win the Presidential election. Sitting down in front of her and her friend (want some carrots? Um no thanks) I realized that I was most likely going to be asking questions of the next First Lady of the United States.
Take a breath.
I was impressed, definitely impressed. But as I pulled out my notebook I focused on her shoes, yup, I’ll bet that woman put her shoes on one at a time just like I did. From then on, I could talk to her, look her in the eye and even appreciate her joke or two. On some level, she was just another mom, another woman who worried about her kids and who juggled ballet lesson driving with her friends. The only difference was that this mom was married to the man who would most likely be the next President of the United States.
But then I had to remember that she was not me. It was not my job to be her friend but instead to be an interviewer, I needed to get answers to my questions (by the way she loves Lawry seasoning on french fries.)
It all comes down to you being just a tiny bit schizophrenic. You have to distance yourself from, while at the same time relating to, the other person. It’s a juggling act and a skill used not only by journalists but by all writers. We have to remember that our characters are not us but we also have to use our experiences in life to give our characters their life.
It’s kid of like falling into the looking glass.
Over and over and over.
Next time you write (or conduct an interview) pay attention to how you position yourself against your character or that person. How is it that you relate? And also, just as importantly, how is it that you keep your distance?
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)
When asked if she prefers diamonds or pearls, Michelle chose diamonds.