Recording vs. Note Taking

I spoke last night as the guest of the Charlotte Writers’ Club about my career as a nonfiction writer (and the strange places it’s taken me sometimes), and fielded some excellent questions about the craft of the job. (It was a lively crew of people–if you’re an aspiring writer in Charlotte, you should check it out.) I got a bonus question via email this morning, asking about when I take notes while reporting a story and when I record events. I’m putting my answer here in case it’s helpful to anyone else:

My rule of thumb is that if I’m doing a formal interview–we’re sitting at a table having a Q&A–I tape it. (On a little digital Olympus recorder.) That lets me concentrate on being part of the conversation, not trying to record it. If I’m just following somebody around–let’s say I’m backstage at a rock club while a band is killing time for a couple of hours before a show–then I take notes. There’s inevitably periods of downtime, and I use them to make notes about whatever seems interesting about the environment (the graffiti on the wall, the cut of the guitarist’s trousers, what have you). That’s mostly a practical move–I don’t usually have time to wade through hours of dead air after the fact looking for that one nugget–but it has the advantage of making me pay attention to where I am, writing down whatever seems most salient. (Lots of writers make a point of scribbling in their notebook when nothing much is going on so that everyone gets used to the writing and it doesn’t call attention to their presence later on if somebody says something newsworthy and they start writing it all down.)

posted 18 September 2019 in Tasty Bits and tagged , . no comments yet

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