B&N Week 28: Keep Writing

| July 5, 2011 | 4 Comments

It’s a lovely Tuesday morning! I guess it’s time for Bolts & Nuts!

I thought it was time to lay off the genre stuff for a while, and get back to the business of creating. The next few weeks will be about the trials of writing.

So, let’s get started!

I’m going to be the first one to tell you something you already know. (Steven, I hate to tell ya, but you’ve been doing that for weeks now!) Yeah, but did you know that writing is hard? (Yeah, I knew that.) Okay, so are you actually writing, or just calling yourself a writer? (…)

The fact of the matter is, writing is really, really hard. You look at the paper in front of you, the blank screen, the napkin, and you think that you’d like to cover them with words that are rich and lush and that will be a panacea for all mankind, if only mankind would stop and listen. And you’re probably right, if only the words would come out.

I’ve heard writing described as slitting your wrists and bleeding all over the page. And honestly, for some, this may be true. You may be pouring out your life’s blood onto the page, for people to ridicule, revile, praise, or worst of all, ignore. Do I find writing difficult? Of course I do. Knowing where to start, where to end, what happens in the middle..it’s a mystery, to be sure, but it’s almost always satisfying to know you’ve come to the end of the road with a story or a passage [only to have to go back and edit it down to make sure it reads the way you want it to]. Writing is hard.

And what’s harder than starting to write is continuing to write. When I was in the Marine Corps, I took a computer class. The teacher was another Marine, and he was also a writer. He told me something that’s stuck with me to this day: when it comes to writing, the more you don’t, the more you won’t. Now, of course, that can be applied to anything, but it’s still true.

The more you don’t, the more you won’t.

Before I decided I wanted to write comics, I wanted to write novels. Roger Zelazny is the cause for me wanting to write in the first place. The man had a command of language that hasn’t been duplicated, although Neil Gaiman, a good friend of Roger’s, comes close. Anyway, I wanted to write short stories and have them collected into novels, or write novels and have them become required reading for new writers. Lofty goals, sure, but they were mine.

And then I stopped writing. Life got in the way. I went to boot camp, and then more training, and then more training, and then I was in Japan, and then I wasn’t writing a word. I was calling myself a writer, but I wasn’t writing anything. I was thinking about writing, I wanted to, but there was something more interesting to do in Japan: go out into town, chase women, go to work, do whatever else, almost anything else besides writing.

It sucked.

And then I took that computer class, and the instructor took an interest in me after I told him I was a writer. Then he gave me the words that he got from someone else, and I’ve been writing in some form or another ever since.

And that’s what you need to do. You need to write. That’s what we do. Writer’s write, and if you’re walking around calling yourself a writer without writing anything, then you’re not a writer. You’re a wannabe writer.

There are a lot of things that are going to distract you. A TON of ’em. My ex-wife would literally get mad at me for thinking about a comic book story instead of thinking about her, or get upset that I was always on the computer talking to someone about writing something. She didn’t understand what I was trying to do, and believe me, it was harder to make connections then than it is now.

When it comes to writing, the best thing to do, like anything else, is to set aside a schedule for writing. Set aside that time, and make sure that no one bothers you while you get the monkey off your back for a little while. If this is what you want to do, then you’re going to have to sacrifice in order to attain it.

Sacrifice. It’s a harsh word, and always brings the Inca to my mind. I see a guy wearing feathers, wielding a knife, ready to plunge it into my chest and pull my still beating heart from my body and show it to me as my eyes go dim. Sacrifice. Who wants to do it when there are other things that can happen—parties to go to, movies to see, friends to hang out with, sleep after a long day at work. Besides being hard, writing is also often lonely. It’s just you talking to yourself as you type. It’s not glamorous, and we writers are often seen as over-sensitive fops. We deal in words, and it’s hard, because we know the use of them, the power of them, the depth of them.

But if you don’t put them down on paper, you’re not a writer.

So, you have to learn to sacrifice. Start with what’s not important: some tv shows, that party, some sleep. Write after you’ve put the kids to bed. Hell, if possible, tell them the story you’ve started working on as a bedtime story! This will keep them wanting to hear more, which will keep you writing, which is the name of the game. If you live by yourself, or don’t have any responsibilities to anyone other than yourself, you really have no excuse. Finding time to write in that situation isn’t hard at all. Put the porn away, get off the internet, stop watching Facebook and Twitter, and write. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to get done. Good comes later. Continual writing [and reading, and learning] will do that for you on its own.

Unless you’re actively looking something up, the internet is the second biggest time waster, right behind the television. I know you’re watching MTV, BET, and VH1, all of which show more shows than they do music. Instead of watching the latest The Real World, do something constructive with that time. Write.

You get the idea. (Yeah. And The Real World is a good show!) [Honestly, it’s not.]

I touched on this before, but I figured I’d touch on it again here, and that’s dealing with stories that are similar in nature to yours.

Let me tell you a story. (Groan….) Trust me, it’s relevant.

I had a story called Manaday. It was set in the old west, and I had thoughts of it being a character piece, with only the gun being the only recurring character. I would have been able to tell all kinds of stories with it. You see, the gun is cursed, and forces its wielder to kill a man a day. It was something I pitched to an anthology that’s now defunct, and the editor there liked it, and said he wanted to develop the story with me. It really has potential, he says, and he can see it being something of a recurring story. I’ve really hit upon something with the premise.

Well, instead of developing the story with me, he told me to rewrite it, to rework it, but didn’t give me anything tangible to rework. Frustrating, right? How am I supposed to rework something if you don’t give me any direction? Then he tells me it’s not his job to hold my hand as I write the story.

Nope, I wasn’t happy at all, and the anthology folded not too much longer. I was bummed, but I still had the concept for the story, and everything would be fine in the future.

About a year or so later, Jorge Vega wins a Platinum Studios contest with his story Gunplay, about a buffalo soldier that has a gun that forces him to kill a man a day.

Oh, was I depressed! I was in a slump for about two weeks—not because Jorge won the contest, but because I was now going to be unable to use the story without seeming like I copied the premise. A premise that I had first. He was just lucky enough [and good enough] to have his story published first.

This happens to all of us, if you write long enough. You have a premise, and someone either does it first, or does something very close to it. What’s worse, they do it [seemingly] better than you could.

(Okay, tough guy, what am I supposed to do when that happens?)

Write. It’s really that simple. You’re supposed to write. You write, and keep writing. You may need to rework the premise a little, or some of the window dressing, but you should be continuing to write. Just how similar is your story to the other one? Will any cosmetic changes hurt the integrity of your tale?

Answering these questions may be the last thing you want to do when you’re depressed and thinking that someone stole your idea, but look at it this way: someone else had an idea similar to yours, and was able to make something of it. This means that, conceptually, you’re on a good track. That’s something to take heart in.

I’ve had many writers steal the names of either my characters or come close to concepts of mine. I’ve been disheartened, disillusioned, and wanted to give up. Instead, I continued to write.

I’ll tell you now that characters are the easiest thing to overcome. A lot of times, you can even keep the name of the character, depending on the popularity of the character. You cannot have Wolverine or Superman—high powered lawyers will descend upon your head faster than you can read this sentence—but you could have Slyde or other lesser known heroes or villains, as long as they didn’t infringe too much on the looks and powers of the other company’s. Worst case scenario is that you pull an Alan Moore, and just rename the characters and use them as you will.

Story premises are a lot harder. Readers may see it exactly for what it is. How many different ways have we seen The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Arthurian legend, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey… (Steven…) Stories are very recognizable, especially when done over and over again. Let me tell you, even the most obscure story you can find to mold a story around will be recognized by someone. Red Riding Hood as a werewolf story, the trials of Heracles, an apocalyptic end of the world scenario through the Long Count, Cain and Abel…they’re all someone’s favorite story, and the readers will be more than happy to tell you when you’ve got something ‘wrong’.

Now, that’s just speaking of old story premises. When coming up with something original, it can be even more difficult, especially when your story idea is close to someone else’s, but they’ve published it first. When that happens, you almost have to read the other story to see how closely it resembles yours, and then decide from there. I’m going to use my Manaday premise, but in a different way. Just because someone else has a story close to mine doesn’t mean that my story isn’t viable.

I want you to realize the same thing.

And that’s it for this week. Your homework is to write. See how easy and hard that is? Just write.

See you next week.


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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (4)

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  1. John Lees says:

    A great column, Steve. A real shot of inspiration, and a call to arms for us all. And it also makes me feel a bit depressed about how unproductive I’ve been lately.

  2. Belated thanks, Steven. I REALLY needed this. I guess I was giving myself excuses in the past month, telling myself life wasn’t giving me the chance to write while I should have been instead asking myself what I was willing to sacrifice in order to write.

    “The more you don’t, the more you won’t.” is going up on my Staring wall right next to Wally’s 22 and Tyler’s Dip.

    Oh and I know I should be the absolute last person here to tell you this but not only do “Writer’s write”, as you say, they also use apostrophes only when needed.

    Sorry, sorry, sorry! 😛

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