Featured Expert: Nick Zaino
Nick, what brought you to the vast and varied world of online content creation?
One of my first jobs out of college was as editor-in-chief of a regional online magazine in Buffalo, NY. It was an interesting job – I wound up writing every section, doing movie reviews, posting local news, sports opinion (for which I attempted, unsuccessfully, to learn about hockey), and features. When I moved to Boston, I got a job on the Boston Phoenix Web team, and without really realizing it, started writing both online and print content.
What do you like most about writing for AOL?
Being able to brainstorm my own ideas and put things in front of people that they might otherwise not have seen or considered. I truly enjoy finding a comedian whose material stays with me, or a band that I wind up following for the rest of their career – it's one of the joys of life. This may sound cheesy, but I would hope that I could point people to something like that, a small thing that they might carry with them. And there's some autonomy in the process to allow for that.
On the other hand, I have also enjoyed the assignments I've gotten from Spinner, for similar reasons. I interviewed PJ Harvey for them, someone who has a bit of a reputation for being cold in interviews. I hadn't really paid attention to her career since I was a college DJ, and found myself enjoying going back and listening to her music to prep. And she was delightful in conversation. We wound up talking about the Daleks from Dr. Who.How long does it take you to write an article? What's your process?
That depends. If it's an interview piece or feature, there is obviously a bit more leg work. For an opinion piece, sometimes it's already done by the time I sit down to write, and I just need to organize it. Sometimes I think it's done and I write it, realize I haven't quite said what I wanted, and have to rewrite. Then I never know how long it will take, just until the idea finally works. The process then is just writing and rewriting. Sometimes running away screaming, and then coming back and rewriting. Most of the time, unfortunately, it involves snacks.
Where do you find inspiration? What sources are useful?
Ideally, whatever I'm writing about should be my inspiration. If I'm not inspired by this week's episode of House, positively or negatively, there's no reason to write about it. To flesh out an idea, I'll sometimes just Google the subject and see if more pieces fall into place. Sometimes going to IMDB for a TV or film piece and exploring a bit gives me some perspective. If it's a music piece, obviously, just listening to the music and the back catalogue helps. I also have a lot of books on music, television, comedy, and film I'll pick up and read through. A few different perspectives help, and if you can find something close to the subject you're writing about, especially if it's a source people have forgotten about, you might come up with something new.
You've written a lot of articles that readers have elicited positive reader response and helped you to gain a following. What about the not so successful articles? Did you learn anything from them that has helped you become a more confident and effective writer?
I wrote a review of a show called "Royal Pains" that sparked a lot of negative comments about me. People questioned whether I should actually be writing about television, what the point was of me expressing my opinions in a public space, all while expressing their opinions in a public space. My opinion of the show was that it was just a big nothing, not bad, not good. I learned that nothing upsets people more than ambivalence. If I were to write the article again, I would have cited more specific examples, but I think the tone was right to solicit comments.
Do you ever get writer's block and, if so, how do you deal with it?
I get it all the time. I write for a lot of different sources, so sometimes going to a different kind of writing can help. If I can't finish an article, I can pick up my guitar and work on a song. Or try to write some stand-up comedy ideas. But sometimes you have to get away from it completely and toss the ball to your dog.
Can you share some practical tips for writing online?
Everyone says to write short, which means editing at least once, even if the article is already short. That's the mainstream idea of writing online content.
Also, know what you need to get out of writing online when you take a gig. If you just need the clips to get started, you may want to approach it differently than if it's your main profession. If you're a professional writer, look at how it fits into the rest of the writing you're doing, and schedule your time accordingly. People who write quickly will do better in this environment. I can do it, but I like to take time when I can to refine the idea behind what I'm writing.
What do your friends and family think about the time you spend online?
I joined Second Life this year to play music and do stand-up comedy in a virtual environment. That made people worry for me.
Where would you like your writing to take you? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
The modest goal is really just to make a good living writing about things I love and helping people find things they might love, too. I'd like to be able to explore all sorts of different kinds of writing – music, stand-up, sketch comedy, straight journalism, and criticism. And you can do all of that online, which is a plus. I'd like to be in a position where I can do all of that and not have to beg in the street for spare teeth. I know. I'm a dreamer.
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