Interviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Self

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Interviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Self

The Nervous Breakdown invited me to do one of their “self interviews.” I like their online magazine, but was dreading this a bit. Felt like it would take, well, effort.

Because in regular interviews, you don’t have to take the creative initiative. You still have to be on your game, but reacting is generally easier than creating ex nihilo.

[Quick tip: I inadvertently learned, when sending an email to my friend Adrianna who is a publicist at my publisher, that putting “Nervous Breakdown” as the subject line in your email is a sure way to get your email opened quickly.]

Possible results in traditional interview:

1. Double the energy. The back-and-forth can ratchet up the intensity and exchange of ideas. (George Stroumboulopoulos is a good example of creating energy.)

2. Half the energy. A few times I’ve hung up and regretted being too passive or vague. Other times the interviewer hasn’t prepared, so you have to fight through limp, vague questions to try to create momentum. And worse case scenario, if neither interviewer nor interviewee are on their game, unfortunately the regular rules of addition don’t apply. It’s more like subtraction that creates a vacuum.

3. Somewhere in between.

But what can happen when interviewing one’s self?

Okay, let’s assume most of us aren’t brilliant comics and so the TV self-interview is a non-starter. In writing, potential for all the above: it can be doubly dull or increase insight by honing in on questions that will evoke the moment’s most deeply felt answers.

I used this technique in my first book in a chapter titled “Three Scenes of Fear and Improbable Vengeance.” My wife and I were living in Haiti during a turbulent political time. I wanted to capture the fear I felt for her safety. Every attempt failed: too clinical, not bringing the reader into the experience. Then I wrote the worst-case-scenarios in first person, interspersed with interviewing myself. I needed to make it way more personal, yet find a little distance. The self-interview worked.

That chapter came to mind when writing this new interview for The Nervous Breakdown, though this is not as heavy as the book chapter.

“So what do you think of the self-interview?” I conclude, asking myself.

Occasionally useful for public writing. Maybe more often for private writing — as you, or I, or our respective divided selves keep trying to figure out what we feel and think.

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