How to Make Friends and Write About People

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During the year I write news articles with the occasional feature for a small local newspaper. I’ve been doing it for about 10 months and am learning a lot about myself as both a new writer and as a person.

In terms of writing, I’ve discovered I really like writing feature stories and profiles, although I am the first to admit I am a horrible interviewer both for my inability to think of interesting questions and my tendency to interrupt and tell personal anecdotes. Transcribing said interviews and listening to all of this is my own personal version of Hell.

I’m also enjoying the process of getting my name out there through social media in an effort to find more paid writing opportunities. I’m not looking for a lot of money (picked the wrong profession for that), just enough to fund activities for the kids. Twitter is a frustrating new medium for me, but I’m enjoying the challenge of painstakingly writing within 140 characters that I obsess on for a following of 10 11.

Battling with a porn peddler on Facebook who has co-opted my name is also proving to be an amusing distraction since it involves both my interest in research and deductive reasoning/revenge. My name is pretty unique and it turns out that I’m not good at sharing it. If the person in question was real I could let it go. Who am I to judge what another Karina Coombs does for a living? To whomever runs the site – a “model” from Australia should not be writing posts in broken English nor should her face be completely different in 50% of the photos (without her followers seeming to notice). But I digress.

What have I learned about myself as a person? I’ve learned that my tendency to procrastinate makes me a better writer, but a horrible parent and spouse. My best work comes out at the last-minute, but that doesn’t mesh well with having two little kids that don’t understand why I’m sitting in front of my computer for long stretches of time when I’m not also walking around the house complaining about how dirty it is and compulsively cleaning things. My spouse? As the middle child of two writers he is patient, but also discovering unresolved childhood issues that involve being the middle child of two writers.

I’ve also learned that I am as shy and non-confrontational as I was when I was 8. I have a difficult time asking to interview people who I don’t know and suffer horribly when they simply say, “No.” I take it as a personal slight. Did they see my last piece? Do they think I’m a bad writer? These qualities also make me too shy to ask the “tough questions” a journalist is supposed to ask. Perhaps if I was writing for a big city paper and wouldn’t have to see people again it would be different. Writing news for a town of under 5,000 that you also live in gets dicey and I probably apologize for asking a question more than I ask a question.

A bigger problem is that I now have the summer off from writing for the paper and want to spend more time writing on my blog. That involves writing about personal things and I’m struggling with how to have both a professional and personal voice. My blog writing is very different from what I get paid to write. If I’m making myself supremely searchable and public, how do I also keep from offending future employers or subjects? Or does that suggest I’m writing for the wrong groups?

I’m also suddenly aware of privacy issues. Simply put, I’m trying to figure out how to write about people I know (family or otherwise) with the awareness that they might actually read it. I established a basic ground rule when the blog first started and that was never to write about my kids. I’ll write general references, but try to never write about them specifically or individually. I know there are a lot of parenting blogs out there, but my thought is that I shouldn’t use my kids to generate content. I have a window into their existence that nobody else will ever have and I just don’t feel it’s right to share it with the world, even if I had their permission.

Relatives, neighbors, friends, acquaintances? That’s different. I can only write about a shared experience, interaction, or conversation so it’s never a full picture of a person. I like to think it doesn’t reveal too much. But I’m aware that not everybody wants to be written about, not everybody sees things the same way that I do, or finds humor in the things I find funny. I’m also aware that people are multi-dimensional and how they appear in one setting might not be fair to who they are the rest of the time.

So the question is, how do writers write about real people knowing there could be fallout? Because I’m not going to get much of a word count until I figure this out.

2 Comments on “How to Make Friends and Write About People

  1. That’s a good idea, thanks. Showing my own faults is something I try to do when I write, that’s for sure. I think it not only helps me write candidly, but also helps readers identify with the work. Writing about family can be a touchy subject so I’m going to venture into that territory slowly and only when really inspired. Thanks for the tips. I enjoyed looking at your blog!

  2. It’s a good idea to change names when writing about people you know. When writing about touchy subjects, I try to portray myself in a realistic manner (showing my own faults), because, as you said, not everyone sees things the way you do. This can help diffuse a misunderstanding. Hope this helps. I’m learning as I go along, too. :)

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