A guest post by Lisa Johnson
A few years ago, I started a food interview series called “You Pick Six.” To my surprise, I have now completed 21 interviews of local food bloggers, food publicists, authors, news anchors, food entrepreneurs and others.
When I started blogging in 2006, I wrote at least one weekly post. But sometimes life gets in the way. Late 2014 into early 2015 was a blur of stress. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and our family dynamic changed. I had a lot more responsibilities and still had to work for a living. It was also one of the worst winters that the Boston area had ever seen. Between family and the snowstorms, it felt like a constant state of emergency. I thought that winter would never end.
Then it did. Realizing that life had changed, I wanted stay strong for my family, but also for myself. Blogging had always been a source of happiness and I wanted to continue.
Launching this interview series has been a learning experience. Here are five lessons:
1. An interview you enjoy reading may not be the same type of interview that you want to conduct.
Ask yourself if you want to interview people in person. Do you want to record the interview? Video? Audio? Maybe you prefer a phone call and taking notes. Will you ask each person different questions geared to just them, or give the same general questions to everyone?
When I thought about some of my favorite interviews, I thought about Inside the Actors Studio, hosted by James Lipton. At the end, he asks each of his guests the same ten questions. It was amazing how the same questions could elicit such a wide array of answers. I thought that format would work for me.
I came up with a set list of 19 questions to email to the interviewees. They pick six questions to answer. Each interview is unique, because everyone chooses different questions, and nobody answers the same way. Posting the interview to my blog requires writing an introduction, putting together the pictures and some editing. But overall, it’s not too labor intensive.
2. Serendipity helps you find people.
When I started the series, I had a few people in mind. My mom suggested Maria Stephanos, a local news anchor who is always talking about food. I loved the idea and gratefully, so did Maria! This interview would not have happened if it hadn’t been for the conversation with my mom and my openness to the possibility.
One of the perks of being a food blogger is being invited to food-related events. I went to an event showcasing new food companies in the Boston area. While I was there, I started talking to Helen Rennie. It turned out that her food blog was one of the first I read after it began in 2005. Now she has a cooking school. I wanted to learn more about Helen and thought she might like to do an interview. She agreed! If I hadn’t gone to that event and started talking to Helen, that interview would not have happened either.
3. Be clear on why you are doing these posts.
Any long-term blogger will tell you that there will come a point when your blog will become tiring and you may wonder if you should quit. To keep going, you will need to remember why you started in the first place.
For me, I needed a flexible schedule. If I had a rigid idea of when to post, and I didn’t meet my self-imposed deadline, I would find that stressful. So I decided that when my interviews were ready, I would post them. There could be a lull between interviews and that would be okay.
What is your motivation to start an interview series? More readers? Writing samples for paying freelance opportunities? Regular content on your blog? You need a reason that will make this project sustainable.
4. You can change your mind.
When I first started You Pick Six, I didn’t plan to keep going.
I didn’t know how to keep getting interviews. It takes time to find people and get the answers back from them. But surprisingly, I found that whenever I seriously considered stopping, serendipity would strike and bring me a new person to interview.
Originally I wanted to do interviews with people whose work directly involved food. But I eliminated that restriction. Everyone has to eat, and there are so many fascinating people to interview.
I also wanted interviews with people in the Boston area only. Then I got an email from Vermont cookbook author Tracey Medeiros, who was interested in doing an interview. So, I changed my mind again and decided to open the interviews to all of New England.
Every once in a while in life, I realize that just because I did something one way doesn’t mean I have to keep doing it that way forever. I can always change course. When I started doing the series, I had a much more limited idea about them. But life opens up different opportunities and it’s fun to see where they lead.
5. Be persistent to a point. You can only push so much.
To do almost anything worthwhile, it takes time and persistence. But when you have limited time and energy, you have to decide how you will spend these precious resources. I’ve sent many emails that resulted in nothing. Some people never answered. I corresponded with some who agreed to get back to me, but never did. Some sent incomplete answers and no photos, and didn’t respond to further emails.
Now maybe if I sent 50 emails or 100 emails, eventually I’d get what I needed. But when it gets to the point where I’m pulling teeth, I remember that I’m not a dentist and they aren’t paying me. I have to focus my time and energy where I think it will bear fruit.
Overall, the positives have outweighed the negatives in writing my interview series. The main negative is when I’ve been working behind the scenes on interviews that fall through. But I have a billion other things that are bigger priorities, so I’ve learned to let that go. If the interviews come to a natural end, then so be it. But maybe serendipity will send me someone new.
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Lisa Johnson is an attorney and freelance writer who has been blogging since 2006. She writes about life, food and current events on her personal blog Anali’s Next Amendment and also writes for the group blog Kwanzaaculinarians.com. She lives just south of Boston in Quincy, Massachusetts.