Let’s talk about writing. An interview with Maureen Nolan.

Author:

Introduction

Words move the world. Wether the words are written, spoken, or sung, words have impact. Many of us speak and read words everyday without thought to how people use words to tell stories, present facts, and share opinions. We rely on writers to inform us of what’s happening around the world and we seek entertainment from them as well. Writing is all around us, but most people don’t even notice.

Have you ever thought about being a writer? I think many people have had this dream at one point in their life.

For this interview, I found a writer. Maureen Nolan was gracious to answer my questions about her career as a writer. If you’re thinking about starting a career in writing, Maureen’s perspective can help.

Interview

GigsOnline: Hi Maureen, can we start with an introduction of yourself and your story.

Maureen: I grew up in Queens, NY, the daughter of an amateur painter from North Wales and a factory worker from Whitestone.  I began my career as a writer at about the age of f of it, when I would pull volumes hardback books from my parents’ bookcase and scribble in the margins.  Eventually I learned to write actual words and sentences.

After grad school, I worked for several large media companies in NY ad a script and story analyst.  Later I quit to form a startup and pursue my own projects.  I have also taught workshops, including script development programs, and h

GigsOnline: Do you think people are reading more or less long form content now then in the past? How should writers approach consumption of media versus how it worked previously?

Marureen: I don’t have figures, but certainly the audience for long form prose hasn’t gone away.  There are a couple of factors that help inspire readership.  One is the current trend in publishing to develop a book with an eye towards adaptation.  The book might not make it to screen, but readers who also enjoy screen stories will find the structure, plot, characters very graspable because they’ve been designed in a filmic way.  The second factor is the trend towards book series, a trend that also mimics screen media.  Just as viewers will follow characters and plotlines through multiple episodes of a show, readers who are engaged by certain characters and storylines may well read multiple books in a series 

I think that, though stand-alone titles are still popular, writers should also attempt to develop certain projects that have series potential, as part of the writer’s repertoire.

GigsOnline: Are there tools that you routinely use as a writer? Were there any steep learning curves you experienced with the tools you use?

Maureen: I tend to keep software and tech tools to a minimum – sometimes they can distract a writer from the words on the screen or page.  For word processing and formatting, I prefer MS Word and Movie Magic Screenwriter.  For first drafts or pre-drafts, I like the simplicity of a cell phone app such as Google Docs or even paper and pen.  Anything that helps the work appear malleable.

I also regard as tools books on craft or creativity; one of my favorites is Ken Dancyger’s Alternative Screenwriting which is like a whole course in shaping and building plot and taught me much of the material I have used when coaching writers.

I think the steep learning curves happen with some of the features-heavy software choices, but usually there are ways to use a program simply and quickly.  I can type a script in Screenwriter without learning all the finer details of the program   

Personally I tend to expand the notion of tools to include any items that help inspire the work or help me keep going.  Is it a pleasant place to write in?  A cup of coffee to keep up the energy level?  I think writers do best to experiment and find what is most productive for them.

GigsOnline: Do you have any advice for someone that would like to become a writer? 

Maureen: It’s usually a long haul from content creation to marketing, so be prepared to deal with the time gap and the obstacles   Patience and confidence are key, as is persistence.  One trap to avoid is compulsive revisioning.  Writers trying for a sale sometimes begin to fiddle with the work and make random changes.  Don’t.  Make sure the material is as good as you want it to be, then move past the editing phase and focus on finding the right placement for it 

If you receive rejection letters with notes for changes, weigh the suggestions carefully.  If there’s no deal pending, notes may not be that useful.  I’ve seen writers undo the great work they’ve done and end up with a text that is very different from what they want.  Keep your own goals for the work in mind throughout the process.

GigsOnline: If a person decides to become a writer, where should they start? Do you know of any paths that people routinely follow to become a successful writer?

Maureen: Always begin with creating solid, engaging material – work that speaks authentically to other people.  Popular questions asked of writers in the film industry are “Why this story?  Why now?  Why are you the best writer for this work?”. These questions apply to writers in every format; the answers help define how best to shape your content so it’s as true to your creative goals as possible.

I don’t think there are any proven paths to success; every career path is different.  However, there are steps in the process of building this career that are routinely followed, and many of them have to do with the marketing after the creation   Learning to write query letters, prepare a pitch, assemble a submissions packet, is essential for writers striving for success.  For writers of screen stories, there may sometimes be a pursuable career trajectory – fee rom short scripts and my documentaries to longer works is one example; the shorter pieces are used as examples of talent that open up opportunities   The same is true of web and streamer content – writing and producing samples can help.

I would caution, however, that there is currently a content glut; projects with strong concepts and work with merchandising or franchise potential may have a better shot 

GigsOnline: Have you experienced writer’s block? Do you have any tips or tricks for anyone that routinely runs into this problem? 

Maureen: Writer’s block has never really been a problem for me.  I do have some tips or advice – some of it not always popular 

Getting stuck is usually the result of not knowing where you wish to take the material next.  I believe in doing as much thought work as possible at the start; outlining helps.  Having a content map does not mean that there won’t be surprised that happen as part of the process.  Any outline can be adjusted if surprises occur.

When working with screenwriters, I have occasionally used the opposite strategy – overturning the outline instead of sticking to it.  A useful exercise is to pick one plotline in the story, write a break down of it, then reverse the action beats and plot choices at ceach story point.  Write that breakdown.  While you may not use the new version, this exercise gives you a fresh perspective and helps you get unstuck 

One other technique I’m fond of is to end each writing session without writing to the end of what I know.  Do I know how the next two scenes will play out?  Then I can write the first and leave the second to be written the next time I begin.  So I know where I’m going at the start of every work session.

GigsOnline: Do you have any experience with or knowledge of gig or freelance platforms?

Maureen: I have tried a few and haven’t had a great experience with them.  I think the large numbers of participants work against standing out   it’s probably more useful to develop an audience through promotional activities like blogs and classes, then direct traffic to your freelancer sites 

I have some slight experience with a limited number of them, but it hasn’t been successful, given the traffic and competition on these sites.  I think writers who have developed a reputation outside these sites, through classes, talks, chats, and other promos, have an easier time marketing and can certainly direct clients to these sites.  Also key is gaining a thorough knowledge of how the platform works and what best practices they recommend 

GigsOnline: With the rise of the gig economy, do you think a writer can survive and/or thrive in this space?

Maureen: This is a complex question because most writers have always been part of a gig economy – every work is always a gig u to itself.  When Shakespeare wrote a play and managed to have it produced, did he know if the next work would be staged?  Probably not 

I think the gig approach is tough on writers and their incomes.  Perhaps developing a set of markets and contacts receptive to your work – whether these are agents, editors, publishers, publications, producers of online content, and so on, is crucial to survival.

GigsOnline: Thank you so much for your time and insight. What else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?

Maureen: My most recent projects are the first book in what I hope will be a series of middle grade novels and a pilot for a comedy-horror series for adults   Also trying to grow my startup media company by offering services such as creative consultations and VA for creatives 

If people would like to connect with you to ask questions or explore an collaboration with you, how can they reach out to you?

Honestly simple email is best: ma_nolan@yahoo.com.

Summary

Maureen is extremely talented and has real experience as a professional writer. Our world is changing rapidly. Trying to keep up with changes in the world is a tough battle. Not everything changes though. Great stories hardly ever change.

Think of the stories written centuries ago. Religion text like the Bible, Quran, and Torah come to mind. Even in the US, people still read and discuss works of Shakespeare. These works remain in tact and will stay that way for centuries to come.

That’s the power of writing a great story. Your work can exist through the ages. Having a person read your work 200 or 300 years from now and relate to it is a heck a reason to write. If you choose this path, writing can be very rewarding.

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