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Writing Non-Fiction
because I say so
Friday, 5 September 2014
My Finest Feature

It was some time ago. It is difficult to narrow down the era specifically because I recall it was during a period I was particularly dissatisfied with my day job.

Those times number beyond that with which both hands and feet could render assistance.

At any rate, during one of my many attempts at re-inventing myself, sometimes known as developing an 'exit strategy', I fancied myself a freelance feature writer. This seemed to offer the best possible outcomes: I could work for myself (I was willing to concede I may need to keep the day job, at least part time, at least for a while), write about the things that interested me (surely untold numbers of readers would be interested in the the things that interested me), and no doubt I would be pulling in the big, Vanity Fair sized pieces that would have me not only earning enough for my wife and I to travel to all the haute destinations, but to be invited to all the best society parties when we got there.

How hard could it be?

Turns out it was harder than I had anticipated.

There were a couple of writers, even local ones, who came to mind as potential role models. These were people whose work I would regularly stumble across in publications like Vancouver Magazine (because I was planning to pretty much instantly become cool I was quickly referring to the publication in the much more colloquial Van Mag), The Georgia Straight, even, dare I dream, the Globe & Mail. Sometimes they reviewed, others they editorialized, but often they were putting out features on important people or issues.

I was humble enough to recognize I might need some training, at least to polish my pitches. So, armed with laptop and notepad, I registered for UBC’s freelance article writing class, taught by one of those freelance writers I had seen splashed across various Canadian publications, Jennifer Van Evra. Admittedly, I was a little concerned that Van Evra’s career included lowering herself to having to teach others – that was the day job career from which I was attempting to flee, after all. I reassured myself by believing she must surely be in it just to share the love with up and coming scribes, not of financial necessity.

I was so enthused by the class I quickly went out and bought myself a handheld tape recorder (yes, tape), which still resides in the bottom of my desk drawer in the home office, along with the adapter so I could record telephone interviews. And I got to work.

The first feature I attempted ultimately became the one I posted in this space a few weeks back. And the first thing I discovered about writing a feature was how much work it was.

As one who is, at no doubt clogging heart, lazy by nature, this came as more of a shock than for which I was prepared. First there was interviewing subjects. Getting the right people to speak “on the record,” so to speak, was much more difficult than I had intended. The story, about moving towards a more independent real estate transaction, perhaps limiting the role of realtors, I thought was relatively tame. Until, that is, I tried to get anyone in the real estate profession to talk to me, other than the proprietors of the two businesses who were coming at the industry from a new angle.

Then there was the practical slog of doing something with all the interview information I had acquired. My instructor, successful writer that she is, convinced her students of the importance of actually transcribing the tape we’d gathered so we had it to refer to when we finally got around to crafting the story. This took hours! And who knew, at least in practical reality, that interview subjects rarely acted so conveniently as to speak in usable sound bites?

Next week: Part II – Adventures in the Freelance Trade

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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