I spent a day yesterday transcribing an interview. One hour of interview takes me about four hours to transcribe and of all the aspects of doing oral history, I find transcribing the most challenging and yet, the most rewarding.

First I transfer the interview from a WAV file to an MP3 file then I bring it into Audacity where I slow the pace so that I can at least try to keep up with the interviewee. And then I put my headphones on and make a start on a clean Word Doc listing the interviewee name, the subject and a time and date. I make a note of any irregularities I have observed – any odd sounds on the recording – and where the interview took place and any short cuts I will use throughout.

Starting is a bit like sitting down to write. I can always find something else to do to delay it as I don’t enjoy the thought of the hours ahead. I never learned to touch type and my typing is slow, but once I get going I am fully immersed in the life and thoughts of my interviewee – even more so than when I did the interview. The voice is slow, immediate and emphatic and it has my absolute attention.

It is during the transcription process that I really find out what I have captured.This is the time where you differentiate between the practiced and oft’ told stories and the information that the interviewee is articulating for the first time. “I haven’t thought of it like that” or “this is the first time I have told any one this”. They stumble over words, pause, bang furniture, tap nervously, and speak slowly in incomplete sentences. Interviewees often enter into a confessional place and tell you things they have previously kept silent or they have not thought about and these stories are told differently from the practiced stories we use to make sense of our lives.

Sometimes you finish and interview and walk cleanly away from it. Other times the interview and the interviewee haunt you. Deep connections are made when a person tells you their life story.

Yesterday I spent the day deeply disturbed as I listened and typed, replayed and revised and added emphasis and corrected punctuation. I found insights in the close listening that I hadn’t heard during the interview.

I saw where my interviewing was flawed. Where, after listening to a difficult story I came in too quickly with a question that diverted my interviewee to happier times.

I could pay a transcriber $25.00 per hour to do this work for me allowing me to get on with “real work”. But I believe that this is the only time I will ever really listen to the story and the information in the story being told and the deeper story that is told through the way it is told. I wonder if that makes sense.