Tag Archives: Interviews

How to Be a Good Writer: Keeping Perspective in Your Writing

Writers are a creative bunch. We love to blow our horns and write about subjects we dig. In our enthusiasm, however, it’s easy to get carried away. Remember the importance of keeping perspective in your writing.

How does getting carried away damage or make our writing lose credibility? One way is to take a quote and use it out of context.

For example, I tell you that someone told me, “John Smith is an alcoholic.” I do not tell you that I believe this is true. I only tell you this is what someone else said.

You write that I said,” John Smith is an alcoholic.”

When you print and publish that I said John Smith is an alcoholic, it’s not true. I told you what someone else said. I quoted that person. I clearly stated who told me. But you quoted me as saying it, when in fact, it’s hearsay. You don’t know if what I said was true or fabricated. Or perhaps it’s what I believe to be true, based on the information I have. Until you go further, to the source of the quote, you don’t know if this is indeed what I was told.

Writers, be careful how you put words on the page. When I interview sources, I tape record the entire conversation (with permission). I also take notes. But that recorded tape is my lifeline for getting the quotes straight.

It’s true that writers often condense or mildly rearrange what a source said. The writing community does not frown upon this practice as long as you keep what’s said in context. So far, I haven’t condensed or rearranged a quote except to clean up “um’s” or hesitations found in natural speech. I store the recorded tapes and a typed transcript should I need to prove what was said during the conversation.

Keep the context of what you read and hear. Blowing information out of proportion, sensationalizing to draw attention, or mis-using quotes damages your credibility.

My rule of thumb? When in doubt, check it out. If the answer isn’t forthcoming, don’t do it. Sitting on a story that you’re not sure of is far better than reporting falsely to get a headline.

How to Be a Good Writer: The Importance of Checking the Facts

As a writer, I know the importance of checking the facts before I publish an article, or prior to sending copy to a client or editor. Otherwise, I end up looking mighty foolish. I take facts seriously, and recent events have caused me to be even more careful about how far I’ll go before I stop researching a piece.

Whether I’ve got the byline or it’s ghostwritten copy, I always go the extra mile to ensure what I’m writing is factual. Writers must be diligent with the facts of a story. Our words are the meat wrapped around the bones, or facts. The creativity to shape the muscle of the story is ours – but the bones are what hold everything together. Facts make stories credible.

Digging on the Web and Why It’s Not a Good Idea

Unfortunately, many writers scrounge the web for information to back up their stories. From recent experiences, I’m telling you to never, ever blindly follow what you read. Because a piece has been published from a credible source does not mean the information is accurate.

Take my sister’s missing persons case. In 2007-2008, I turned to the web for more information and places to publish. I found Websleuths, a resource chock full of folks who help solve cases. My sister’s case was listed there because she had been considered as a Jane Doe named “Princess Blue.”

Words can’t explain how excited I was to see others talking about my sister’s unsolved missing persons case – and I wrote back with a big “thank you.” From that point on, interested people jumped into the thread, helping me to sort through the questions my sister’s case posed.

Because of that, I formulated more questions, posted more information that was purely speculation, in some matters – and in others, factual info from our childhood, impressions, and opinions I had, as well as what I believed to be true information about the case.

Armed with my information and encouraged by the Websleuth community, I went back to the lead investigator, Captain Gay Dickerson of the Katy Police Department, and began asking questions. That was 2008. In 2009, Dickerson brought the entire case file to my mother’s home, and Dickerson, my mother, and I poured over every piece of paper.

Needless to say, I found I had been lied to by the initial investigators. What does that do? It makes what I thought were facts (as posted on Websleuths and other missing persons sites) untrue.

I also did not have complete information. If you read what I posted on Websleuths as compared to what I write about today, the entire picture has changed.

And I didn’t go back and clean up what I’d written. From 2009 until now, I’ve been digesting what I know, while keeping quite a bit under my hat. We also had many questions to answer; most of those were posed during the meeting in 2009. The case needed time to unfold, and there’s still much I cannot divulge. However, at this point in time, I can clean up and restore what is the truth.

Do Your Research and Keep Digging Until You Reach the Bottom

What does this mean for writers? Don’t take what you read on the web as gospel. Even from a credible source, the information can be wrong. In my sister’s case, I worked with what I knew to be true at the time. So that makes much of what you’ll find posted about Elizabeth Ann Pfeifer outdated and wrong.

I’ve had two bloggers write about my sister’s case, one last summer and one in the past two weeks. Both used what they found on the internet. Neither contacted me, my family, witnesses, known suspects who’ve since been cleared, or the suspect, before publishing their stories. The blogger who wrote last summer interviewed Captain Dickerson, but did not accurately reflect what she said. The crux of  this story was based on things the blogger found that I had written in 2007 or so, in spite of getting the low-down and current news from the lead investigative officer. Needless to say, the story was highly inaccurate. I went behind the blogger and had the Houston Chronicle’s editorial department re-write the story. This time the editorial staff spoke with Dickerson before publishing the blog post.

Advice, Consequences and Conclusion

Check your facts, writers. Don’t rely upon reading what you see and regurgitating it. In my sister’s case, it’s more than mildly annoying since the case is far beyond what we knew even in 2009. What’s been written and exposed to thousands of web readers, if not millions, excuses one person (the primary and only suspect) while incriminating all the other people who’ve been cleared.

Check your facts, writers. Always check your facts – it takes more time, it involves more research, and sometimes it’s difficult to put together (when your sources won’t cooperate or are unreachable). Do the legwork, please. Write and publish only what you are proud of, and can stand behind. If you’re not sure, stop. Never send out copy that could be inaccurate or downright incorrect.

Writing well is not as easy as people think. Have you read internet copy that was outdated or wrong? Would you use incorrect information in your pieces? Have you written copy that you didn’t fact check? Or do you always dig deeper and find the right answer?