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An Interview with Jonathan Small: Transcript

This is a rough transcript of an interview between Mignon Fogarty and Jonathan Small for the Grammar Girl podcast. Listen here.

Mignon: Grammar Girl here. I'm Mignon Fogarty, your friendly guide to the English language. Today, I have an interview with, Jonathan Small, a long-time magazine writer and magazine editor, and also the host of a podcast called Write About Now. I’m a guest on his podcast this week, and after we talked, I thought he had so much useful writing and editing information to share that I wanted to bring him on this show. 

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, I want to tell you about another podcast I think you’ll enjoy! It’s called TED Talks Daily. 

Every weekday, you’ll hear great speakers share revolutionary ideas on all the topics that shape our world. 

Hear from children’s book writer Jacqueline Woodson on why reading slowly can be a comfort in the midst of a fast-paced day.

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And now, on to the interview.

Mignon: Hi, Jonathan. Thank you for being here.

Jonathan: Well, thank you for having me. 

Mignon: You're welcome. And why don't you tell us a little bit about your podcast before we get started talking about all your great information about interviews and story structure and things like that?

Jonathan: Sure. So Write About Now is a podcast in which I talk to writers of all types and stripes--screenwriters, novelists, journalists, rappers, anybody who puts pen to paper. I talk to them about their process, how they got to where they are in their career, and just the various things they learned along the way. And I also like to help certain writers tell their stories. So every so often I'll do an episode, say somebody writes a really interesting magazine article about a topic like a serial killer. I once had somebody on talking about that. I will sort of recreate this story through audio and have a lot of fun...not so much fun sometimes when it's a dark topic. But you know what I mean by recreating the story through an audio audio medium as opposed to just a written medium?

Mignon: Great. And the reason we're talking is because you have this long list of publications you've written for or edited. The New York Times, TV Guide, Cosmo, Details, Maxim, Good Housekeeping, Stuff, Glamour, it knows it goes on and on. And so, you know, you really have some great advice for writers.

Jonathan: I hope so. I've been...If there's one thing that I feel like I've done for a long time in my life, like it or not, it's been writing, and it was really the first job I got out of college writing for a magazine called Child Magazine, which was a parenting magazine, which was kind of a crazy job for a 21-year-old single guy that knew nothing about kids to have. But my first assignment ever was to interview George Carlin who, this is a long time ago, but was had had a role on Thomas the Tank Engine. And I was a receptionist at this magazine called Child. And they said, "Hey, we've lost a writer for the day. Would you be interested in interviewing George Carlin on the phone about Thomas the Tank Engine?" And I said, I think so. And, you know, I was just a receptionist. And that was the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.

Mignon: That's great. Oh, and I and I almost forgot. You have some interesting advice columns you've written over the years.

Jonathan: Yes. At one point in my career, I was tapped as sort of the guy expert. And I think this is, I don't know how this happened, but it was because I often in the very early part of my career, I worked for a lot of women's magazines. I worked for Glamour magazine, and I worked for Cosmo. I worked for Fitness magazine. And I know the women on staff were always asking me for advice about dating.

Jonathan: And so I would, you know, give them advice because I was one of the only guys on staff. And it kind of translated into me writing these advice columns for magazines. And there's a pretty famous column in Glamour called Jake and the little industry secret...it's been around for about 80 years. So there hasn't, there hasn't just been one Jake. There's been many Jakes, but I was Jake for a little while. And basically the Jake column is that this guy named Jake is writing about various topics that might be relevant to those in the dating world and sort of trying to give you a little bit of an inside scoop on the male brain and how we think about things like dating.

Jonathan: So it was an unusual job. It certainly was a conversation starter at the time.

Jonathan: And it just kept on going and going. And, you know, I first I did it for Glamour and then later when I was freelancer, I did it for four years at Cosmo and with a column called Ask Him Anything.

Mignon: That's great. That's such a neat story about Jake. It reminds me of Carolyn Keene, who is the name of the author of the Nancy Drew novels. But it was actually a whole bunch of people over time.

Jonathan: Oh, yes, yes. There's these kind of iconic figures. And you just keep on filling the name in with different people. Different people just write these columns. It's fun, though. It's very fun. I think I'd love to have a Jake party where all the Jakes kind of get together and share share stories. I don't know how I'd find them.

Mignon: That sounds like a made-for-Netflix show.

Jonathan: Exactly! I tried to, when when Sex and the City was popular, I tried to do my version of Jake, and I actually had a fictional diary that I was writing for Redbook.

Jonathan: That's another. I forgot about that. That was something called Diary of He. And that whole...that was a fictional account of a again, a guy living in the city dating and sort of explaining what you know, what it's like to be a guy dating in the city. And it was...so he was supposed to be a bad boy. So which I will confess, I'm not really a bad boy, but I was able to sort of tap my inner bad boy. And I did try to sell the rights to that eventually. And it just wasn't as cute, I guess, as Sex in the City. And people didn't want...it was popular. People wanted to read the blog, but they didn't want to watch the TV show, I guess. Huh.

Mignon: Well, let's back up a little. Because you talked about being a young single guy writing about for, you know, for a parenting magazine. And that leads us into one of the things that I want to talk to you about, which is how to do an interview, because if you want to make a living as a writer, sometimes you need to write about things you don't personally know about yourself, which means interviewing other people. And you've done so much of it. I thought you'd have some great tips about, you know, how to conduct a good interview.

Jonathan: Thanks. Yes, I have done a lot of interviews and it's took me, it's taken me a while to sort of get it down. I still get nervous before interviews even, no matter who I'm interviewing. I still always feel like, oh, I'm not prepared enough. I have to, I have to write the right questions. I don't have the right things. But somehow it always, always ends up working out. But I've had the opportunity to interview a lot of interesting people from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Snoop Dogg to you.

Jonathan: You're on my podcast as well.

Mignon: I'm honored to be included with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Snoop Dogg.

Jonathan: So, you know, one of the initial things I always tell people is you really should prep for an interview. I think a lot of people kind of want to go in cold and keep it spontaneous. But if you don't know anything about the person you're interviewing, then I would spend at least half an hour to an hour just researching the person that you're about to interview. And there's, you know, back...and now that the Internet is around, it's a lot easier than it was back in the old days when you didn't have the luxury of be able to go online. So there's a wealth of material online. I tend to like to read other interviews that people have done with my interviewee because a lot of things will come up. I try to read current, which are more current stories. So I'm up on sort of the more current things that are going on in that person's background. And definitely don't just stick to Wikipedia, you know, go a little deeper than Wikipedia because that's just a great...

Mignon: The Wikipedia page about me as is like 10 years out of date.

Jonathan: Right? Hey, at least you have one. So. So, yeah, I stay away from Wikipedia.

Jonathan: I try to go a little bit deeper. If they've done a podcast, I sometimes like to even listen to the podcast, just kind of get it like with you. I listened to a lot of your podcast, just get a sort of sense of your personality and your interests and some. And it also will bring up a ton of topics. And while I'm reading all those interviews I am or reading all that material, I'm also just writing down questions.

Jonathan: The first questions that come to my mind when I when I'm reading the, um, these interviews are these stories about the interviewee because, you know, later I'll organize them into sort of a coherent list of questions. But just getting down the information on the page is really important. So as soon as I have a question, I just write it down. I say, oh, that's that's an interesting point that you just brought up. And then later all sort of go in and look at all my questions and sort of organize them in a way that kind of flows naturally as a conversation that sort of prep. The other thing that is that I've learned over the years is to not start with tough questions, to kind of know how to pace and interview and to not not necessarily ask a lot of softball questions. But if you're if you're trying to, you know, if, you know, there's a few wingers that you have to throw in there that might get a response that, you know, might or might kind of throw off your interviewee, then I tend to, you know, start with questions that will kind of ingratiate myself to the person or make them feel comfortable. Like, tell me a little bit about yourself. Tell me a little about your origin story. Tell me a little bit about how you got started, that kind of thing, thing. People love to talk about themselves.

Jonathan: So I tend to kind of go there listening. It seems obvious, but it took me a long time to realize that really good interviewers are really good listeners. And it's something I actually learned in acting when I when I thought for five minutes that I want to be an actor, that I always felt like it was much I was much more natural and organic in the delivery of my lines when I was listening to the actual what the person was saying to me and actually responding rather than just, you know, saying my lines. So when you're listening to someone give an interview, you know, some of your interview is gonna not go exactly the way you want it to. In fact, most major viewers don't they kind of take a little bit of a turn because I am listening and I am following up. And if there's a question, if somebody says something I don't quite understand or I'd love some more clarification on or I'm just interested in, I'll respond then I'll respond to that statement, and I'll ask a question about that. So listen, the number one rule I would say is be a good listener and don't just be ready to ask your questions. Be curious. Good interviewers. You know, I love Terry Gross. I always listened to her interviews.

Jonathan: I've learned a lot from her just listening to the way she interviews. And she's always so curious about the people that she interviews on fresh air. And I think that curiosity is really what makes there's a lot of people you listen to who do an interview, especially in podcasts, who are seem to more want to just talk about themselves than they are curious about the other person. So I think curiosity goes a long way in being a good interviewer. Let me see. Don't be afraid to say you don't understand. And when you're doing reporting, you know, a lot of times you're nervous when you're interviewing and somebody saying something and you're not following it, but you're like, oh, I don't want to...I'll go back and listen to this later and I'll figure it out. But it turns out, no, you did you didn't understand it because it wasn't really making sense or it certainly wasn't making sense to you. So it's OK to say, you know, oh, can you hold on one second? Can you just clarify that for me or just help me understand a little bit what you were saying here? And, you know, so don't be afraid to say, you know what? I didn't quite catch that. Can you rephrase it or it? Can you? Can you say it in a way that that becomes clear to me?

Jonathan: And yeah, as just as you just as you might say of the softball questions for the beginning, you might want to save the harder questions towards the end when you've already kind of, you know, kind of won the trust or the confidence of the person you're interviewing. And they don't they don't feel like you're just out there to get them. Not that I ask like bombshell questions, but if I have some questions, that might be a little bit more sensitive. And I often would preface like, you don't have to answer this, you know? But I'd like to ask you, if you're not comfortable answering this, please just tell me. But I do want to ask this one question, and then you put it in his gently a ways you can. Last thing, I wrote this down. Always bring two tape recorders.

Jonathan: Yeah. Oh, yeah. If you're doing something live because this just happened to me, and I won't say who it was because then she'll know.

Jonathan: But I was interviewing a pretty famous person at her home for a story, a big story. And I looked at my tape recorder. I usually always record things twice, but I was I don't know, this day I was it was rushed, and I just didn't have it together. And I, you know, 15 minutes into our interview, I looked at the tape recorder and it was a blinking pause button. It was the most horrible feeling, that empty, gaping feeling in your stomach. That 15 minutes of the interview you just did is not on tape.

Jonathan: And every journalist has this horror story. And just to avoid it, you know, we have smartphones put put a smartphone down. And if you have a little handheld tape recorder, use that as well.

Jonathan: But always try to record it two times, especially when you're doing it in person. So what did you do? I just I, I made a note. I didn't want to tell her because I felt like that would just that would just screw up the whole interview because then she'd feel like I was unprofessional. And then she'd feel, what a waste of time. So I just decide I'm going to continue the interview and I'm going to kind of go back to some of the things that I remembered that she said that I really wanted on tape and kind of rephrase the question so that I could sort of get her to say a similar thing. And it kind of worked. I felt like maybe she was a slightly annoyed at one point when she was like, you know, I think she kind of knew that she had already said that. But I but I phrased it in such a way that, you know, it's just what's up?

Jonathan: Help me understand a little bit more about this thing you said about that.

Jonathan: So, yeah, it was a terrible feeling. And it was, it was the second time that's happened to me. The first time was really early in my career. And this is not really my fault. But I was interviewing Lucy Lawless, who I don't know if you're.

Mignon: Oh, yeah.

Jonathan: She was Xena. She was Xena, the warrior princess. And I was interviewing her for a magazine article. And she wanted to go to an amusement park. And for some reason in the interview, which I was like, I take people to places on interview if they want to do that, especially famous people. It just adds color to the story. And so we went on this crazy like loop to do loop to loop de loop roller coaster. And I brought my handheld tape recorder. And of course, during the loop, I just in a complete panic because I'm not very good with rides.

Jonathan: I dropped the tape recorder flying off the ride and it was gone. So everything. Everything that we had done up until that point was gone on this tape recorder that we couldn't find. You know, they asked the guys to look for it. There's no way they were gonna find it. So that was another lesson. She was very kind and she felt bad. So she kind of let let me ask some questions, but I'm like, yeah.

Mignon: So hopefully you didn't hit someone.

Jonathan: I know. Yeah, I never thought about that. Actually, that's probably more dangerous. Yeah. Never bring a hand-held tape recorder onto a a moving rollercoaster that's going 70 miles an hour upside down.

Mignon: Oh my gosh. Definitely a good interview tip.

Mignon: So I'm curious. You say you do a lot of background research and you read other interviews that the person has done. How do you balance like how, you know...there's so much public information out there, but then your readers or listeners might not already know that information. So how do you know it's a valid question? Yeah,.

Jonathan: I get getting getting that. But like giving new stuff to you.

Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, it really depends on the sort of fame of the person I'm interviewing. So if I'm interviewing somebody who might not be that well-known, it's OK to kind of go back and really explore like, where are you from? You know, tell me a little bit about your upbringing or something. But if that's very public knowledge or people know a lot about that, then I probably won't. You know, I will avoid questions that I think most people know the answer to anyway. Look, tell me a little bit about the TV shows you've been on. Lucy Lawless of Xena, the Warrior Princess. I mean, you know, everybody knows she's on that. So, you know, I wouldn't ask her that.

Jonathan: It also depends a lot on the publication that I'm writing for. So if I'm doing it for my podcast, I know that my audience is interested in writers and writing. So the questions that I tend to have have to do a lot about, you know, the craft of writing and the process of writing and how they became writers and how they became successful writers. If I was writing for Glamour, that same story or doing that interview with somebody for Glamour magazine, I would have a different perspective. It would I would come to it from, you know, tell me about it depends depending on where it would be. Tell me about, you know, being a woman in this in this age. You know, time's up. Me too. You know, issues that might be more relevant to the readership of Glamour magazine. So it does make a big difference whom you're writing for, who you're writing for.

Mignon: For whom you're writing.

Jonathan: See, when you're talking and Grammar Girl, it's extremely stressful with the grammar stuff.

Mignon: I know it but it shouldn't be though.

Jonathan: Well, I know, but it is.

Mignon: OK. Well, you've told me also that you have some some tricks about structuring a story. So we're gonna take a quick break for a sponsor. And when we come back, I want to hear about your story structure ideas.

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Mignon: OK, we're back. Thank you. And so now, you know, you've written so many articles and you told me that you sort of have this aha moment when you realized there's there's a structure that needs to be followed, and that it can be really helpful to have sort of that idea of what it is. So can you share that with us?

Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, really it wasn't till I started teaching writing that I realized that there was actually a method to the madness. I think that I had just learned how to write articles through osmosis. I had just been doing it for so long that I had been reading so many other people's articles that it just sort of naturally came to me eventually. But it was when I actually had to start to teach it and break it down that I realized, oh, there is a structure here. So I'll tell you the structure, I mean it, and of course, it like any formula, they can be broken. And great writers often will break formulas. But you will find that a lot of the stories you read follow this formula. And I'm always surprised at how many freelance writers I work with, because I do quite a bit of editing, that don't seem to know this formula. And so here we go. Stories generally start with what we call in the business, a lede. And the lede is sort of a you can be a question. It can be a moment. It can be a story. But it's something that hooks the reader. It's something that somebody, an editor once told me to grab them by the lapels and don't let go. And the lede is really important because it's the first thing that people read. So they often want to you know, you want to make sure that you capture their attention, you know, in this sort of attention where it's very hard for people to catch people's attention in this age. It's very important that your lede does that. So the lead is sometimes an afterthought I think for people. But it should be one of the most important things in your story.

Jonathan: And that's the first, you know, two or three sentences, maybe even the first two or three paragraphs. And I can't you know, I had to actually I had written down that we had talked before about, you know, ledes. And I was saying how that seems to be a lost art form. So I had, I was looking through some of my stories, and I was looking at some of the stories that I had written as a first draft without a strong lede. And then when an editor went in there and says this needs a better lede, kind of how I fixed it. And so I'm well, if you'd like, I can share an example with you.

Mignon: Oh, yeah. Before and after would be great.

Jonathan: Before and after lede. OK. So I did this story for Good Housekeeping magazine last year. And I'll just read you the first... My first attempt at a lede. A Washington mother has made an incredible recovery after experiencing horrific third degree burns to her body last year while saving her children from a house fire. Angel Fiorini was able to rescue her three young children before her home burned to the ground. "It was a miracle that it happened," she says.

Jonathan: So that was my lede. And you know what's interesting? A mom saving her kids. But I think the editor said this is, you know, I want it to come to life. I want to, I want to you know, I really want to be there with the mom during this fire. So this was my--and I won't read the whole thing, but I'll read some of it--So this is my new lede: Angel Fiorini woke up gasping for air. She'd just fallen asleep between her children, Vinnie and Rosalie, a few feet away. Her 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, slept soundly in her own bed. Their new 2,600 foot dream home was under construction, and the master bedroom was one of the few finished rooms left in the house.

Jonathan: Angel was the only adult in the house. Her husband, Aaron, was out with some friends. It was the eve of their 15th anniversary, and he'd spent that afternoon putting together a care package that he planned to give her in the morning. Holding her chest while a strange chemical smell burned her nostrils, Angel rolled out of bed and cracked open the door. "My heart dropped to my stomach. It was blazing flames from floor to ceiling," she says. Panicked, she scooped up Vinnie and Rosalee under each arm, telling herself she'd come back for Gianna. "There was no doubt in my mind that I'd be able to get the little ones out to go back and get her," she says. She raced towards the door and through the thick smoke, which stung her eyes with such intensity that she had to shut them type. The fire had started on the opposite side of their single house. But now it was hurtling towards them, consuming anything in its path.

Jonathan: Anyway, it goes on and on and turns out, so it turns out that she wasn't able to get that...She basically, once she brought her two children outside, she went back to get her daughter, Gianna, and she fainted because because of smoke inhalation. And just as she fainted, a man who was driving down the street who just happened to be an ex-firefighter noticed that a house was on fire, pulled his car over, ran in, and found her fainted. There she actually no, she had gone to Gianna, and had taken her to the door. And just as she was about to open the door to get her out the door. She fainted with this girl in her arms. And so the firefighter found them at the door and he pulled them out. And it's an incredible story. It's a miraculous story. But as you can see, that the lead was a lot different, and it really kind of brought you in the room right in the fire. And it didn't start necessarily right in the beginning of the story because I go back and tell a little bit more of a backstory later. But it kind of took you in sort of in the story already in progress. And I think that's also a very powerful way to do a lede anyway. So that's a lede.

Jonathan: And the next paragraph or a few paragraphs or what we call in the business, a nut graph. And that is usually a paragraph or two that gives sort of the thesis of your story, tell sort of a little summary of what you're about to hear and sort of why this story is important. And almost all articles you read have that nut graph in some way.

Jonathan: These sort of sort of make this point of why, why it's why this story is important. And then the following paragraphs are usually building your argument or whatever it is or telling your story either in a linear fashion, but you're sort of making it point by point. And that's kind of the bought what we call the body of your story. So that's, you know, and within that body of your story, you can go back and tell some backstory you need to. But it's telling. That's the sort of heart of the story.

Jonathan: And then a good conclusion is, is one that sort of, you know, again, makes the sort of reiterates why this story is important or what you've learned, but also kind of harkens back to the lead. So I always feel like the best stories end with this sort of button when you sort of like um, when you sort of referenced the sort of moment in the lede, you know, so I can't remember exactly how I ended the Angel Fiorinae story, but I probably said something about, you know, next time she opens her door, you know, hopefully flames will be...whatever it is. I would I would go back and I would reference the lead in some way. And that's a special little trick that I'm sharing with your listener, that really good writers know how to do. And if you read a lot of like the best writers, especially in journalism, they're great at that.

Mignon: Yeah, I had an English professor who called that full circle wholeness.

Jonathan: I love that.

Mignon: We always talked about full circle wholeness.

Jonathan: Yeah, it's totally what it is. And it's it's amazing that more people don't do it. So I do that. And you will impress any editor that ever works with you the fact that you know how to tell a story.

Mignon: Wonderful. Yeah. And you're second lede, the better second lede reminded me of some tips that I've heard of from fiction writing teachers. I noticed that you brought in her senses, some of her five senses of the smell and the burning in the eyes. And and that those little details really bring a reader or listener into a story.

Jonathan: Details. Somebody once said writing is in the details. Now people can overdo that. They're like, well, he wore a hat, you know, a hat. And his buttons were this color. But if like if it's the different senses that you are capturing and able to stimulate, I think you're doing a great job as a writer.

Mignon: Yeah. Hopefully that will help that structure...the idea of that will help a lot of writers out there. So you had mentioned that you also know some great tools that writers can use. So, you know, we've got the recorder that you should never bring on a roller coaster.

Jonathan: Don't bring the recorder.

Mignon: What else do you know? Yeah. What else is sort of working writer, do you find to be especially useful tools that other writers might might not know about?

Jonathan: Well, a laptop, of course, but beyond the obvious, you know, there's definitely certain things that I've...apps and devices that I've used over the years or that have been invented over the years that have been quite helpful. And I find that a lot of writers aren't aware of them. So I will share what I know when I do interviews, I tend to use an app called Tape-a-Call. I don't and I don't know if you use that, but that isn't a free app. It is a free app that enables you to tape a call quite seamlessly from your cell phone to anyone. And I know some people have told me that it hasn't worked for them. I have used it thousands of times and I have never had a problem. And once the interview is recorded, you can upload it to Dropbox or one of your, you know, just to make sure it's there. So, you know, so it's on your phone, but it's also on Dropbox, so you've got it twice. You know, you also can record using Skype has a app that that attaches to Skype that enables you to record your Skype calls directly from the computer or from your phone. So just very you know, a lot of people wonder how to how to record calls and what they use. So those are the two that I recommend.

Jonathan: I find the hardest thing about doing as much interviewing as I do is dealing with all these transcripts. Like I'm not a fast typer. So a lot of people can listen, can can type their interviews as they as they're conducting them, which is amazing to me. They can listen to an interview, talk and type notes. I can't do that. So I do tape all my conversations. And when I'm done, there's a few services I use to transcribe that are very inexpensive. One, if you if you want really a human to do it, I recommend Fiver or Transcription Puppy or Rev. These are three different services. So Fiver is a service that enables you to outsource some of the jobs of writing that you might not have time to do. And so it enables one of the services they offer is a transcription service and you can kind of go in there and read people's reviews of different transcribers that they've used and try to find one that's highly reviewed and highly rated. And they offer very good rates for their transcriptions and are often quite fast. So if you want a human being to actually transcribe your interviews, I recommend fiber. I've used it.

Jonathan: Somebody told me yesterday about a service called Transcription Puppy, which I have not tried yet. There is also a service that's a little bit more expensive, but definitely more professional called Rev, which. But it is a dollar a page or, yes, or a dollar minute. Sorry! It's a dollar a minute. So that can get a little bit pricey. If you're doing like a 50-minute interview, that's 50 dollars. So Fiver will usually be a little less expensive than that. Then there is all these services now that are A.I. So, so poor transcribers might be out of work, as is just another one of these gig economy things that you know is happening but or the way technology is sort of taking over.

Jonathan: And there are these programs that you can send your transcripts to and they will do. Artificial intelligence will transcribe them. And I have been using a service called Trint T-R-I-N-T to help me with that. It's not 100 percent accurate, so I only use it when I know that I don't need it to be 100 percent. Like, it's not like I'm going to reprint the entire interview because Trint means I have to actually go through the interview and listen to it. But it enables you to kind of go through the interview in real time, listen to it, and edit it in real time. So as you're listening to the interview back and the words will pop up and you can stop the tape and change a word if it got it wrong. So it's a pretty amazing service, and it's not very expensive. I think it's like a very inexpensive monthly membership to use Trint. And there's a bunch of those different. So that is another tool. And that's just for transcribing and taping.

Jonathan: I, you know, I don't know how you feel about Grammarly, really. I think it's a nice device to use just to make sure that you haven't missed any obvious grammatical mistakes or typos. So I usually will have Grammarly really on my desktop or on my Safari or Chrome, and I will cut and paste the story and run it through Grammarly just to see if it catches some errors. Because, you know, I'm a human being. And even though I've been editing a long time, I find it sometimes hard to edit myself, especially if I've been writing the same story. So I just like to catch it. Now, I would take it like I'm sure you agree, I would take it with a grain of salt because some of the suggestions it makes are really are really corny or it doesn't it doesn't understand subtleties because it's a machine. So you sometimes might repeat a word, but that's a stylistic choice. And it will say, oh, repetition of the same word, that kind of thing. So you don't have to always listen to it. Exactly. But I do find it's also obsessed with passive voice, which, you know, I don't know your feeling about the passive voice, but it hates the passive voice. So it will always flag anything that's passive,.

Mignon: Not always wrong.

Jonathan: Not always wrong.

Mignon: And I think it's a great thing to flag, but it's not always wrong.

Jonathan: Exactly. So again, take with a grain of salt. I tend to walk around with a notebook that fits in my back pocket because I know that I'll actually want to put it in my pocket because I think that writers constantly have ideas and constantly think, oh, I've got to remember that and then forget it.

Jonathan: And so I learned that the hard way. I like what was an amazing idea I had yesterday, driving--well, not driving, cause I don't write when I'm driving--but, you know, what was that incredible idea I had yesterday? Like walking down the street? And then, you know, if you don't write it down, you don't remember it. And so it's important to have a notebook with you or some device where you can you can track your ideas and just set up a separate file. There's a there's a great program, an app called Evernote that enables you to sort of file away. Your ideas and lists, and and I use that on my phone when I'm using my phone, but I tend to like to write. Actually write things down on paper because I somehow the the process of writing it down physically helps me remember it better. So I tend to walk around with a notebook.

Jonathan: I mentioned recorders. People sometimes ask me what I use. I use a pretty fancy one. So I'll just say that the one that's sort of the least expensive of the version of that I use is called a Zoom H1 recorder. I find that to be the best quality recorder and the digital recorder. And you record somebody's voice. Of course there's a recorder on your phone on most phones have a recorder. So you don't really need a recorder these days. But if you want to get one that isn't on your phone, the Zoom H1 is really good.

Mignon: Yeah. I use the Zoom when I'm out in the world too.

Jonathan: Yeah. The zoom is my favorite one. I think that somebody told me that this is really for writing, but it's good for writers. There is a there is a program called Cold Turkey, which is an app that blocks you from going on the Internet for certain periods of time.

Jonathan: It kind of knows which apps you want to check, and it will block them so that when you're writing, it doesn't let you check Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or all the things that you might just be like. I mean, I'm just gonna quickly check this or my email because I because I'm pretty disciplined but there are times when I'm really just in that kind of crazy mood with a lot of things are going on all at once. And I'm writing and I just checking my emails as I write it. And then I get sucked into my email, and I forget what I was writing and, you know. So I think that's a good tool. If you're somebody who is easily distracted.

Mignon: Yeah. That sounds great. It makes me think of Cal Newport's book "Deep Work." Like it's important to.

Jonathan: Yes. Yeah. So important to know. I love that book. That's a great book.

Jonathan: “Elements of Style,” if you haven't read it. I mean, I'm sure you tell your readers all the time to read it. I just find it to be like, I don't know why. It just gets me excited about writing whenever I read the elements of style.

Mignon: Huh.

Jonathan: But let me see what else I like. I like Google Docs. I just find to be an incredible tool for writers because it saves everything.

Jonathan: It's very organized. You're able to share your work with other people in a very easy way. You know, used to be that would send people Microsoft documents of everything. But I don't do that anymore. I'm all about Google Docs and you can work on it together if you're collaborating. You can put in different colors so that one person who's writing might write a different color. You can write together at the same time from different locations. So Google Docs, which is free, is is a great sort of tool for all writers, I think.

Jonathan: I know people love Scrivener. I don't know if you've ever talked about Scrivener on your show.

Mignon: No, I know a lot of people love it, too. I've tried it. I was never able to really get into it, but I know I could get in to really love it.

Jonathan: I thought I would mention it because people have swear it, especially if you're writing a book.

Mignon: Yeah.

Jonathan: People swear by it. Say they couldn't live without. It's the most organized piece of software they've ever had. So big ups to Scrivener, but I have not been able to figure out how to use you yet. And maybe it's because I haven't written a lot of books, and I usually write shorter things, but.

Mignon: Well, and you and I, you and I both used the paper like the paper Post-It method of index cards or paper Post-Its where you're having to physically arrange them. And Scrivener is essentially the digital version of that.

Jonathan: It's a digital version of that. But I like writing things down. So I you know, when I was writing longer things, when I was writing screenplays, I definitely used the cue, the blue cue cards. I love using those and putting them all up on the wall and organizing ideas that way. So those would be my tools, my tricks of the trade and the things that I use regularly.

Mignon: Great. Wonderful. Well, that was so much useful advice today. And that's what I love it. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. So these were all really relevant and appropriate. If you'd like to the interview today. You can find Jonathan Small. His podcast is Write About Now. W-R-I-T-E. Very clever. Write About Now. And where else? Where else should they find you, Jonathan?

Jonathan: Find me at writeaboutnowmedia.com. You can find all information about me on that website.

Mignon: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for being here today.

Jonathan: I was so much fun. Thank you for having me here.

Mignon: You're welcome.

Thanks everyone for listening, and I have one final announcement. You’ve been asking me for video lessons for years, and in a couple of week, I will finally have some! I made a course with all my best tips for LinkedIn Learning and lynda.com, and I’m more excited about this project than I have been about anything for years because not only is it a great course, but many of you will also be able to get it free. So stay tuned. It’s almost ready, and I’ll be telling you more about it in the podcast and on my social media and in my email newsletter really soon.

I’m Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl. You can find me on Twitter and Facebook as Grammar Girl, and you can subscribe to my email newsletter at QuickAndDirtyTips.com.

That’s all. Thanks for listening.