How to Prepare for a Profile Feature

November 8, 2018

After two years, 12 profiles, and a shit-ton of time wasted looking for the “right” way to write profile features, I’ve figured out my own system of doing things. I didn’t discover these tips in a blog post or learn them in a classroom. They’re the lessons I’ve failed, braved, and weathered in the trenches. Every interview and article is different, but my tactics remain the same.

My Hard-Won Lessons

There’s no such thing as over-communication. Check in with the person you’re interviewing a week before, a day before, and the day of. Seriously.

Have a recording device. Play with it before your interview, so you know how to use it. I put this app on my phone and love it (though it isn’t pretty, it picks up the softest of talkers even in the loudest of places).

Bring pen and paper to scribble your notes, observations, and so you have something for your hands to do. Fidgeting is distracting and makes the person across from you nervous, too. That’s the interview kiss-of-death.

Prepare more questions than you think you’ll need, but don’t stress about adhering to them like a script. Let the conversation flow naturally (that happens best when the person gets to talk without interruption). If there’s a lull, or you too far off topic, you’ll be glad you have your questions as an anchor. (This will become less important with more experience.)

My interviews last about 45 minutes, then at the end, I ask, “Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you’d like to?” They’ll say, “No,” followed by a pause, “well…” and talk for 15 more minutes. That’s usually when I get my best material.

Immediately after the interview, I like to write a draft. Full of stream-of-consciousness writing, run-ons, errors, and odd transitions, it’s certainly not a masterpiece, but it helps me capture how I felt, what they were wearing, their expressions or mannerisms, how the place looked. Those are the tiny details you won’t get from your recording that takes a piece from Q&A snooze-fest to literary gold.

Put it away for a couple of days. Let it simmer.

You’ll need to transcribe your interview. oTranscribe is my favorite transcription website. Note: people either love transcribing or hate it. I’m the latter, but I’ve learned I don’t have to transcribe every single word from beginning to end. Transcribe the parts you’ll want to reference or quote directly.

Unclench. Writing doesn’t have to be serious, stiff, or pedantic to be good. Let your own style shine through. Authenticity leads to better, more engaging writing, and that’s what makes for entertaining reading. If people don’t want to read your work, what’re you even doing? Let your freak flag fly, baby!

If you need inspiration, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker have the best-written profile features, in my opinion.  I also love to watch or listen to master interviewers—think Barbara Walters, Howard Stern, Oprah, and Charlie Rose—to emulate their tactics. I’ve learned the hard way: the better the interview, the better the writing.

Friday five

October 5, 2018

ONE || A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper kills. Lady Gaga slays. Though it follows the same formula as the other three iterations (with Janet Gaynor in 1937, Judy Garland in 1954, and Barbra Streisand in 1976), Cooper’s directorial debut of A Star is Born deals with pop vs rock, female vs male, and selling out vs artistic integrity. If you weren’t a Lady Gaga or Bradley Cooper fan before this movie, you will be when you leave.

This is an event movie—the first in a long time—and I have a feeling many a pre-teen will leave the theater with a marriage proposal for Bradley Cooper and/or Lady Gaga.

But you guys, the music; oh, the music is amazing.

TWO || Silent in the Grave

The first in the Lady Julia Grey murder mystery series, written by Deanna Raybourn, Silent in the Grave is a pretty interesting, intriguing read. It’s great for that fall feeling since it’s set in Victorian-era London. I can just feel the fog and strict social conventions. At well over 500 pages, it falls victim to the same complaint I have about all whodunits: 98% exposition, 2% resolution.

THREE || Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

This YouTube channel is sheer delight. Though the content tends to be a tad depressing, the cartoons really make the informative, oft-scientific information easier to understand and digest. Dealing with topics like space, time, and history, these videos are really entertaining, and Brian and I find ourselves watching them more often than not.

My favorites are The Size of Life (and The Size of Life 2) and Moon Base: How We Could Build a Base on the Moon Today.

FOUR || Indoor Smores

Indoor smores, y’all. Enough said.

FIVE || Things to Do in New Orleans

An encompassing guide from Trek Bible, this guide to New Orleans is thorough and informative (even for a NOLA local I’d imagine). I’ll be in New Orleans in March, and I cannot wait to visit a couple of these new-to-me, intriguing spots..

I’m adding Faulkner House Books (I had no idea William Faulkner rented rooms in the city, let alone in “America’s Most Charming Bookstore”) and F&F Botanical to my to-visit list.

 

Friday five

September 7, 2018

ONE || Big Little Lies

Brian and I binge-watched this in one night—literally 8 hours straight of nonstop Big Little Lies. Per usual, we’re late to the party on this one (it premiered in early 2017), but we’ve been on a murder/darkness kick with Castle Rock and Sharp Objects and needed something to fill in the queue

Thus, we broke down and watched the first episode. AND IMMEDIATELY LOVED IT.

According to my sweet husband, Reese Witherspoon’s character Madeline Mackenzie is my id. Her dark, petty sense of humor has her saying lots of things I think but would never dare speak aloud.

The show is a thrilling peek into the lives of California’s mega-rich families and their drama.

TWO || What If

Featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan (from The Big Sick), What If is really charming and quirky. It straddles the rom-com genre lines without being too cliche. That being said, the plotline is centered around the age-old question: Can men and women be just friends?

I really enjoyed it, and I think it could be the perfect movie to turn on once the weather starts to change and the days get shorter. It’s got that hygge vibe.

What If is a new favorite.

THREE || The Best Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage

This article is based on a divorce attorney’s recently published book If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late

The advice is good, though somewhat cliche—communication is key? Who knew?—but it offers sage foresight: hints of things to look out for before it’s too late. It’s helpful info all couples need to hear, even those who aren’t married.

FOUR || The New Yorker: Fiction

If you want to feel intellectually superior but aren’t super into NPR, then may I recommend the literary podcast, The New Yorker: Fiction.

Featuring renowned authors/writers each month, the podcast is centered around the magazine’s fiction section. The invited author chooses a favorite story, reads it aloud, and discusses it with Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor.

There’s like no reading involved, so it’s perfect to stimulate your brain without having to, like, use your brain. Because that’s a major headache.

FIVE || Solvang, California

We went to Solvang over the Labor Day weekend, and it’s one of our favorite spots in CA. About an hour away from where we live, Solvang was settled by immigrants from Copenhagen in the 1900s and is still a beacon of Danish culture. There’s lots of wine, delicious pastries (Aebleskiver is a must-eat), and not much else.

Empowered Women Empower Women

September 3, 2018

Every decision I make seems to lead me back to a pivotal crossroads—a career change, a cross-country move, and a stint in graduate school, each of which dropped me onto another crossroads. There’s a consistent theme of failure in my life, and I find myself walking in circles until I’m knee-deep in a ditch. While there are those who argue failure isn’t failure until one gives up, I would happily punch them in the face if they said that to me.

What I am learning from my many brushes with change and chance is it’s all so much more manageable with an empowered woman in my corner. It’s a different form of support than what I lovingly receive from my spouse (who happens to be a man). A woman knows what it’s like to be female in the creative community and writing industry. She understands how doubts can creep up my spine, paralyzing each vertebra until all that’s left is self-doubt and ash.

I reached out to my empowered woman in a desperate what-the-hell-am-I-even-doing moment. Her name is Christy Wolff, and her advice, thoughtful and provoking, helped me disengage from my doubts and anxieties.

She writes:

Dear one,

You asked…

Writerly advice, How do you think is the best way to get better at this lifestyle journalism? I don’t want to fall into the same old thing. I want to grow and improve and do interesting, creative things, so is it just “keep doing it; practice makes perfect” or is there something else to actively do?

To uncover the answers, we need to ask even more questions!

First off…WHO do you want to connect with? Who do you want to speak to and share with? Get specific. Real specific.

Ok, once you have your audience in mind…ask yourself, why? WHY do I want to share with them?

That’s a big question. It may take lotsa time to noodle over.

When you’re ready, write down what it is that ONLY YOU can say.

You’ve been sharing reviews of books and movies. You interview creative folks and share their stories. You shine a spotlight on content and products from around the web.

Does that set your soul on fire? Do you love it so much that you can’t wait to create another post?

If yes, then you have your answer – “keep doing it, practice makes perfect”.

If not, do something else.

Ashlee, you can do anything. Anything.

How does knowing that feel? For me, it’s equal parts terrifying and liberating.

I’m confident with my whole heart that you’re going to kick-ass at whatever it is you choose to pursue, or keep pursuing.

Take all the time you need to explore what it is you want to write about. Try new shit. Mess up. Make yourself proud. Start all over and try something new. Whatever you do, don’t stop.

You got this.

Love and hugs,

Christy

I read her email through tears. Sometimes it can feel so lonely out in the world, especially for writers who have chosen (semi) solitary careers. Christy breathed new life into me, and I feel like I can climb out of the ditch of my own making and start afresh. In so doing, I find myself standing in front of yet another crossroads. I don’t know which path I’m going to choose, but I do know that with empowered women like Christy walking alongside me, there’s no wrong choice.

Things I Do When I’m Writing-Resistant

August 31, 2018

Scrub the toilet.

Rearrange the bedroom furniture.

Exercise. But like not too hard. I just moved the bed and chest of drawers.

Bathe the cat.

Delete emails (aka read college emails from 2010 and the attached class assignments and feel super proud of some of that work).

Call my mom, knowing we’re going to be on the phone for an easy 45 minutes.

Try on all of my clothes in the closet.

Go down a deep, dark psychological sinkhole because I don’t fit into the dress I wore to my high school graduation a decade ago.

Exercise again. Because of 10-year-old dress.

Read comments on my grade school boyfriend’s sister’s husband’s cousin’s Instagram photo from her vacation in Galveston, Texas.

Google Maps how long it’d take to drive from here to Galveston, Texas (27 hours).

Find Galveston’s tourist attractions, museums, and the best restaurants on Yelp.

Get lost down a Yelp review thread about Galveston’s best sushi restaurant and how it gave one guy intestinal worms but another lady saw on Fox News that it was all a hoax, and it’s a fine spot for after-Church evangelizing on Sundays (because they’re the only restaurant open anyway, y’all).

Skim half an article about being productive when writing. It says go for a walk.

Go for a walk.

Stare out the window and remember all the most embarrassing things I’ve ever said or done.

Nap.

Write shitty blog posts.