A very public rough draft

draftIn the past few weeks, I’ve been on a couple of radio shows, and even on regional TV. I enjoy doing this: it produces a pleasant state of sharpened mental alertness, I am asked questions that I’m capable of answering and it stimulates book sales, which helps me make a living.

But hearing or seeing the recordings is something I abhor. And it’s not vanity about my voice or appearance, believe me: I’ve got used to what I sound and look like. What bugs me is the spontaneous and unedited nature of the lines I blurt out on these occasions. As a writer, I wouldn’t dream of imposing a first draft on innocent bystanders. An unfinished text is an ugly thing, full of banal statements, non sequiturs, clunky transitions, typos, needless repetitions. All these horrors somehow manage to keep under the radar while I’m writing the first rough draft.

On radio and TV, good interviewers will wipe the worst of the drivel away by asking for clarification, but even so, speaking off the cuff tends to result in babble. It’s not as if I feel that I make an exceptionally lousy job of it; most of us do likewise. To my mind, marginally coherent babble is what defines radio and television.

But – you may ask – isn’t it normal for conversations to be a bit chaotic? Surely I don’t dislike spontaneous and unedited talk among friends, do I? Yes, it is and no, I don’t. But in these informal situations, there’s no need to be done after exactly 3, 7 or however many minutes the script ordains. We can continue to talk for as long as we like, until everything is clear.

Moreover, when talking to friends, we have a pretty good idea of their views and knowledge, which simplifies matters a great deal. And we already like each other, which means that, even if the entertainment value of the conversation occasionally sags, we needn’t fear that our audience will change the channel. (In my world, at least, it’s still considered bad manners to go on Facebook in the midst of a conversation.)

All of which comes down to this: I am willing, indeed keen, to talk to radio and TV hosts, but I would very much like to rehearse these interviews a few times. Rethinking, revising, refining: that’s how I like to write. My own raw utterances make me cringe and writhe.


A word of welcome to all new readers of this blog! Since Lingo came out in the US, last December, the number of subscribers has nearly doubled. I try to write a new post every month, but bear with me if I don’t. I hope you’ll agree that I should give priority to my new book.

4 thoughts on “A very public rough draft

  1. I sympathise with every part of this! I always try to have them send me the questions beforehand so I can at least think of something good to say. I notice many journalists tend to be resistant to this, I think because they actually like it when you put your foot in it … makes for a better headline after all 😉


    • Well, having a fair amount of journalistic experience myself, I feel compelled to come to the poor guys’ defence – up to a point anyway. The trouble with sending people your questions beforehand is that they will sometimes prepare slick and long answers, and to protest when you ask things that were not on your list. Also, a journalist will often prepare an interview at a very late stage, having worked on other items in the meantime. And yes, I’m sure they hope you put your foot in when you’re a politician or some such big shot, but I think they prefer the likes of you and me to be at ease and articulate.


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