We asked writer Monica Nolan to interview herself about her writing. What is it really like to be a writer? Read Monica´s answers to Monica´s questions below!
The Writing Life: An interview with myself, by Monica Nolan
(with a tip of the hat to Paris Review’s Writers At Work interviews)
I met with myself, the author Monica Nolan, on an uncharacteristically sunny morning in San Francisco. Monica is the author of two books of fiction, Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary (Kensington Publishing, 2007) and Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher (Kensington, 2010). She is the co-author (with Alisa Surkis) of The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, and she has written articles about film and pop culture for two magazines, Release Print, which has ceased publication, and Bitch Magazine (Feminist Response to Pop Culture) which struggles on. Monica generously shared with herself her insights from ten years of marginally successful writing for publication.
Monica-the-interviewer: What is your writing routine?
Monica-the-author: I’m still trying to establish one. When I’m earning a living, writing gets squeezed into any available corner. When I’m able to set aside a couple of weeks, for example to finish a book, I have a more established schedule. I get up, have my breakfast, drink half my cup of coffee, and begin work while I’m drinking the second half. The second half of the cup of coffee is what lures me into work, what pastes over the crack between not working and working. I generally start by rereading or revising what I’ve written the day before. When I’m first drafting, I’ll look at plot notes and write a summary of a chapter, sort of instructions to myself of what to cover, and then I’ll draft the chapter.
Monica-the-interviewer: Do you work longhand, on a computer, what?
Monica-the-author: I draft with pen and paper. I use a fountain pen, a refillable Esterbrook. I recently read that Patricia Highsmith only wrote with Esterbrooks, but I didn’t know that when I got it.
Monica-the-interviewer: Tell me more about squeezing your writing into available corners, while earning a living. I think many aspiring writer’s struggle with that.
Monica-the-author: Well, for example, I’m writing this in the time I’m waiting to meet a friend for a noontime screening at the SFMOMA [San Francisco Museum of Modern Art]. I’m sitting in the sculpture garden on the roof, and a man just interrupted me to ask if I’d take his picture as he stands next to the George Segal sculpture. He obviously didn’t realize he was interrupting a writer at work, even though I was scribbling away on my yellow legal pad.
Monica-the-interviewer: How many visitors to the museum take a picture of themselves with that sculpture?
Monica-the-author: A lot.
Monica-the-interviewer: Going to the movies in the middle of the day, that sounds like you lead quite a leisurely life.
Monica-the-author: Should I feel guilty?
Monica-the-interviewer: You talk about squeezing your writing into the corners around earning a living, But here you are, going to the movies and sitting around a sculpture garden on a weekday afternoon.
Monica-the-author: I’ll probably work late tonight. And shouldn’t I take advantage of my current low-level of employment? In fact, my movie-going routine is much better established than my writing routine.
Monica-the-interviewer: Since we’re talking about work, earning a living, why don’t you tell me and our readers what you do.
Monica-the-author: A variety of things. I freelance as a video editor and animator; I help my girlfriend out with her graphic design business; and when things get desperate I temp.
Monica-the-interviewer: So you don’t make money from your writing.
Monica-the-author: Not enough to make a serious impact on my financial health. However, I try not to let that prevent me from taking my writing seriously.
Monica-the-interviewer: Isn’t it a little pathetic that you have to be interviewed about your writing life by yourself?
Monica-the-author: I’ve been interviewed by other people as well. I do get taken seriously, by others than myself, from time to time.
Monica-the-interviewer: Let’s move on. Do you keep a journal?
Monica-the-author: I do. I have since I was eleven or twelve.
Monica-the-interviewer: Is it helpful?
Monica-the-author: In terms of developing a writing habit I think it is. Writing regularly in my journal is now a habit so strong I can’t imagine not doing it. I would feel lost without it. I also think writing in my journal has made me more observant. When I’ve reread entries from the past, I’ve always been bored by the parts where I go on and on about my feelings, anxieties, relationships, etc., while I treasure the conversations I’ve recorded, or concrete descriptions of an incident I witnessed. The bits that feel like documentary evidence of a past I’d forgotten. Knowing that’s what will interest the future me, I consciously write more in that vein.
On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever actually used any of the snippets of overheard conversation or incidents in a work of fiction. It’s less about the collection of material than the exercise of writing.
Monica-the-interviewer: Can you give an example?
Monica-the-author: Okay, sure. Let see…(pulls open a desk drawer and takes out a 5”x8” medium rules yellow pad of paper). An old friend Carla, who works for an AV union in San Francisco, met me at the film screening. (note: since I’m now typing this up on my computer a week and a half after the original sculpture garden interview, and adding in new bits, the noon time film screening at the SFMOMA, mentioned earlier in this interview as about to happen, has already taken place). Here’s what I wrote later that afternoon: “Carla was running over on her lunch hour and kept muttering ‘get on with it’ and snapping her fingers during the curatorial introduction and calendar rundown. Then she got a call on her phone in the middle of the first movie she had to take (the school about Kai going home sick). We were in the back row and she would feel the vibration, get up leaving her seat to snap up with a thunk, go down the stairs and out to the hall. The films were silent so you could hear every step of her progress (this happened twice) as well as the conversation of late arrivals.”
Monica-the-interviewer: Do you have a blog? I think for many people that’s the contemporary equivalent of a journal.
Monica-the-author: No, I don’t have a blog. I’ve thought about it, and I even went to some blogging panel, but all the panelists were talking about marketing and creating a brand and it depressed me so much I abandoned the idea. I do like the idea of a forum, a regular public venue for my writing but I haven’t figured out how that might work.
Monica-the-interviewer: Have you ever taken writing classes, or participated in a writing group?
Monica-the-interviewer: Why not?
Monica-the-author: I haven’t felt the need. I think classes give you two things, a deadline and feedback. I’ve been lucky enough to have a deadline imposed by my publisher, and I seek out feedback from people whose taste I trust. I suppose there’s something to be said for exposing your work to a random cross-section of people such as you might find in a writing class, but I don’t think it’s essential.
Monica-the-interviewer: What other writers have influenced you?
Monica-the-author: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Patricia Highsmith, Proust.
Monica-the-interviewer: Laura Ingalls Wilder?
Monica-the-author: The Hemingway of children’s literature. A vastly underrated writer, or mother-daughter writing team, to be precise.
Monica-the-interviewer: Why do you write?
Monica-the-author: I’m not sure. Do I want to communicate with the world? Maybe. It’s fun and I get paid for it, which is an improvement over my previous creative work, making movies, where I ended up in debt after finishing a film. I enjoy the process of writing. Living in a fictional fantasy world I’ve created cheers me up. Also, people seem impressed that I’ve been published, which boosts my self-esteem. I guess writing has more caché than temping.
Monica-the-interviewer: I sense you’re getting a little bored by this interview.
Monica-the-author: I am. You?
Monica-the-interviewer: Me too.