Attempts to unravel the relationship between scholar and subject are common in life writing and underpin the emphasis on reflexivity in interpretive research. However, while the conceptual basis for reflexive practice is well established, there is less written on how it is actually done. In this article I reflect on how I created a collective portrait of politicians in the Pacific Islands. My rationale for describing how I produced knowledge in this project echoes the call for interpretive researchers and biographers, who wish to become reflexive, to engage in and describe reflexive practices. In doing so, I illustrate how empathy, emotion and intuition shaped my sources, analysis and writing, and argue that these non-objectivist tools, reflexively considered, have the capacity to enhance our descriptions of the lives we choose to portray.