Mark Newbold: Prolific Sci-Fi and Star Wars Writer Discusses Success
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Today I am excited to share a Success Story interview with Mark Newbold. Mark is a prolific writer and his work can be seen on all of the best Sci-Fi and Star Wars sites. Writers in any genre could learn from Mark's success.
About Mark Newbold
Mark’s Star Wars journey started at the Cannock ABC cinema back in early 1978 and through weekly Marvel UK Comics, Read-Along-Adventures, Palitoy figures and his imagination he’s continued the Jedi Path for four decades. In 1982 he wrote his first Star Wars fiction, the short story Quest For Freedom.
In 1998, after four years online with a variety of sci-fi sites including The Q-Continuum and FantaWar, Mark and Louis Turfrey launched Wirezone, which changed its name and URL to become lightsabre.co.uk on Monday 28th June 1999. During his decade running Lightsabre alongside Louis, Jonathan, Paul Squire and Jason Brown he conducted well over 140 interviews, oversaw the compilation and development of the fictional setting of the Setnin sector and co-hosted 17 episodes of the Setnin Radio podcast during 2005 and 2006.
On Tuesday 31st October 2017, Mark – along with Matt Booker, Brian Cameron, and Dave Tree – launched Fantha Tracks, where he serves as co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of the website. Mark is also the host of Making Tracks alongside co-host Dave Tree on Fantha Tracks Radio.
Mark first contributed to the Star Wars Insider magazine in issue 90 in September 2006. His tenure has included overseeing both Red Five and My Star Wars! features and contributing to Launch Pad as well as providing interviews and cover articles. To date, he has contributed 136 articles.
He has also written canonical material for DeAgostini’s Build The Millennium Falcon partworks magazine, where the Sedapard Cluster was finally made canon.
Mark is also a Lead Writer for the world’s longest running sci-fi magazine Starburst and has had a number of cover articles including issue 440, the 40th-anniversary issue.
He was first featured on the official Star Wars website in 2009 with a piece on the premiere of Star Wars: A Musical Journey and since 2013 has been a featured blogger on the official Star Wars site with over 80 articles published. He was one of the very first non-Lucasfilm staff writers to contribute.
How did you get started writing?
I’d been writing fanfiction since the early 1980s and that got me very much tuned in to Star Wars and anything Lucasfilm related. As a subscriber to Bantha Tracks, my main goal was to somehow be published in the pages of the fan club magazine.
While I didn’t manage that I did eventually start writing for its successor, The Star Wars Insider, back in 2006. Before then I’d written for Model and Collectors Mart and Film and TV Magazine here in the UK, and after Insider I moved on to Geeky Monkey, Starburst, The Metro and Star Trek: The Official Magazine.
What does a typical day look like?
There isn’t a typical day! As well as being a writer, I look after my wife who is disabled, and I also work part-time as a stocktaker. Great work that’s surprisingly fun and very flexible, so it fits in with my writing demands.
I try to be up and about by 7 am (I usually fail) eat, boot up the PC and start on the websites around 9 am. Depending on the demands of the day I will often be up and still writing well after midnight.
What is one thing you have learned from being successful?
In my own small circle, I guess I’ve done pretty well, but the one thing I have learned is that it’s all relative. I’ve now got a good amount of writing behind me, but I’m still hustling for new projects and work all the time, and I take nothing for granted.
For example, a misunderstanding meant I was off The Insider for a year or so, and despite the issue being rectified and apologies made to me, I quickly learned that nothing is a given – no one owes me anything. Geeky Monkey, which was a fantastic magazine I wrote for a couple of years, folded suddenly. Not resting on my laurels.
Is there a mistake you have made starting out that you wish you could change?
Nothing that stands out, although I do wish I had been a bit pushier. I’m not the most forceful person, so I do tend to play down my accomplishments a lot of the time.
If my CV belonged to someone else, I know I’d be impressed, but as I fold in personal work like Fantha Tracks with writing projects like Insider, Star Trek: The Neutral Zone and other paid gigs, it all feels like a hobby rather than a job.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Write, write, write, write and write some more. Learn to edit yourself. My biggest failing is writing so much content each day and not taking the time to pause and re-read my stuff. That’s a habit I wish I’d learned a lot earlier, and one I’m still perfecting.
What are you most proud of?
Other than my first issue of Insider back in 2006, it’s probably a very small piece I did in a 2010 issue of Insider where I tracked down the lady who played Han Solo’s girlfriend in the original Star Wars.
She was cut from the film, but I managed to figure out where she lived and called her house for an interview. I was quite proud of my detective work. Years later I learned that a man who goes to my wife’s church is her nephew – he could have given me her number!
Personally, my proudest moment was interviewing Irvin Kershner. That was a magical 20 minutes.
What has surprised you about being a writer?
Being a freelancer, I very much feel on the periphery of ‘the industry’, but one thing I do find interesting is the very different styles of editors.
My editor on StarTrek.com is a fantastic writer, a bit of a legend in certain circles, and he is very diligent when making sure I get my American English correct. Other editors leave me to it and tweak it later. Some have been so frustratingly off-hand I just want to walk away (which I have done on a couple of projects).
Any advice for people starting out as writers?
Don’t give up. I’m at a stage now where I have enough of a reputation and CV that I can parlay that for gigs. Not all pay, some are for profile and the pleasure of writing, but often it pans out. It only takes one story to get a foothold. Don’t miss deadlines, be as little trouble as possible and don’t miss deadlines.
Did I mention not to miss deadlines?
Do you have any tips for people struggling to write?
If you’re not feeling it then go away and do something else for half an hour. Writing when the mojo has left the building can be intensely frustrating and counterproductive.
That said, oftentimes there’s so many articles and pieces to write you can’t afford to. Put on a soundtrack (I’m listening to Star Trek: The Motion Picture as I write this), grab a drink of your favorite tasty beverage and start noodling. It’s in there, it just takes time.
What is a book you would recommend?
I’ll suggest two, and they are very left of center. Have A Nice Day by WWE wrestler Mick Foley and Miss America by Howard Stern. Both, in their own ways, show the power of persistence and never giving up.
Any upcoming projects you are working on?
I’ve always got half a dozen articles to write or interviews to annotate, but as far as specific projects go right now, nothing to report. That said, I am stage hosting at Star Wars Celebration and hope to take the opportunity to chat with some of the publishing teams at the show as a long-held ambition is to be involved in an official Star Wars book. Nonfiction, I’d rather keep my own fanfic to myself as it’s very personal.
What does your social media strategy look like?
I switch between three accounts. My personal one on twitter, Neutral Zone and Fantha Tracks. I tend to spend the most time on Fantha, although I’m trying to leave that to other team members and focus on my own personal one.
The key, for me at least, is to be polite, respectful, funny when possible and stay out of threads. Social media is like kindergarten right now and I’ve little stomach for it.
Any mistakes you see people routinely make with social media?
Shouting their mouths off. Swearing all the time. It’s boring, and while I’m sure people think it’s clever, very few people can do it convincingly (Samuel L. Jackson is one of a select group who can).
There’s a weird inverse form of bullying going on online these days, where people can be shamed for not taking interest in things that others have deemed important. And everyone is an expert, never forget that. That guy following 100 people with 2 followers of his own knows FAAAR more than you do.
Where can people connect with you online?
@Prefect_timing is definitely the best place to find me on Twitter, the same on Instagram.
Do have any apps, books or tips that you use to be more productive?
Apps, no, but books – a diary. I load the day with the tasks I need to do and strike them out once done. If I don’t get it finished, it moves to the next day or later, depending on urgency. Old school I know, but sometimes it’s good to get tactile.
What is the best advice you have received?
Look after my knees and they’ll look after me.
Do you have any advice for people that may feel discouraged about reaching their goals?
I get it, it’s hard and sometimes it can feel like you’re getting nowhere but persevere and plow on. I have written for websites since 1994 and have been writing my own stuff for 12 years before that.
When the ‘real’ writing isn’t going so well, dive into your own hobby and writing. And never stop writing. Some days it will all be awful. Spelling will be shot, grammar, punctuation, everything. The next day you’re Ernest Hemmingway.
How import is fitness to success?
A lot more important that I give it credit for. I’m at my annual come to Jesus moment, where I realize I’m about 30 pounds heavier than I’d like to be and wonder how I’m going to lose it.
I spend too long sitting on my arse in a chair, or at the wheel of a car and need to find something logical and practical to do to stay trim. If I ever find out the best way, I’ll let you know.
Do you enjoy working out? If not how do you get motivated?
When I have a buddy to work out with, I love it, but I can’t motivate myself to do it alone. I always spend the time thinking ‘I could be writing, I have so much stuff to get done’ and I fret and it all falls apart. I need a gym buddy.
Do you have anything you would like to promote or tell us about?
Fantha Tracks, my Star Wars website which has been going since the end of October 2017 is my pride and joy and great fun to work on. I also run a Star Trek site called Neutral Zone which is a lot lower key but great fun.
How do you manage time, running two websites and writing so much?
Badly. Always have, the days seem to fly by and have done for years. As I wrote this it’s 00.36 am. I really should be in bed, I have a 7 am alarm but if I’m in bed much before 2.00 am I’ll be doing well.
What is the one thing you wish everyone knew?
The key to their happiness. I suspect we never actually find it or figure it out too late to make the most of it, but those who do find their bliss early are the richest people of them all.
Thank you, Mark, for this great interview