B&N Week 76: Looking Back

| June 5, 2012

It’s another glorious Tuesday out there, and I’m ever thankful that you’ve decided to spend some time with me. We’re deep into Spring, and I know that Thanksgiving is usually the time for reflection, but I think it’s time to talk about looking back now. So, that’s what we’re going to do! Let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of it, shall we?

I think it is incredibly important to look back every now and again, especially when you’re first starting out. It can give you a direct sense of accomplishment, seeing where you were, and comparing that to where you are now.

When you first start out, you’re generally pretty bad. Don’t get upset, and don’t feel bad about it. Remember, there’s a learning curve. Everyone’s bad when they first start something. Talent will only take you so far. Talent has to be honed, and that honing is a long process that takes years.

Think artists make it look easy? There’s years of practice behind every stroke of the pencil, pen, or brush. When you go hire an artist, you’re not really hiring their talent. What you’re hiring is their years of practice.

Looking back is instrumental to growth.

When it comes to writing, one of the easiest ways to look back is to save your work as different versions of itself. Let’s use Pen-Man as an example.

You have Pen-Man issue 3. You’re going to be sending it to your editor, but before you do, you want to sit on it for a little bit, let it marinate for a short time. Possibly about a week, but no less than forty-eight hours [unless you’re under a deadline]. What does letting it marinate do? It lets you go away for a while and then come back to it with fresher eyes. This should [hopefully] let you catch mistakes more easily. You know the ones I mean: missing or incorrect punctuation, word usage, tenses. Things that make your editor sigh and roll their eyes as they fix your women to woman for the seventeenth time.

But that’s hopefully not the only thing to get changed.

Maybe you found a better way to say a piece of dialogue, or you thought of a better camera angle for a panel, or you decided to do some cutting and combining. It doesn’t matter. Every time you make a change, you’re going to save that change as a new version.

I don’t care about your naming conventions. Just make sure that it is understandable to you. Because I have limited imagination, I use a point system. This is what I’ve told Kletus Jerkovitch to use, and it seems to work for him. This is how it goes.

Kletus’ first version of Pen Man issue 3 will be called PM 3.1. Then he lets it sit for a few days, and then comes back to it, making some changes. He tracks all of the changes made, so that it shows up easily whenever he needs to review it. When Kletus saves the new file, he calls it PM 3.2. Then he lets this sit for a bit, and comes back to it. He sees one more change he wants to make, so it’s now PM 3.3. He then cleans this up, accepting all the changes that were made, and turn this in to his editor, me. I track the changes that I’m going to make, and save the file as PM 3.3-sdf, which I then send to Kletus. Kletus goes through, incorporating the changes, and makes more changes to make sure everything stays consistent. He then sends over PM 3.4. I look it over, comparing what was done with what I said to do, and if there are more changes to be made, I make them, sending back PM 3.4-sdf. Kletus then sends back PM 3.5, which we both call finished.

The point system is simple and works. You have to do to things for it to work well, though: you have to track the changes, and you have to remember to save the different versions.

Fast forward six months.

You’ve got more scripts under your belt. You’ve been putting in the work, you’ve been working with an editor, and your powers are growing. What do you do? You look back to see how far you’ve come. You go back to PM 3.1, and you look with a little dismay, seeing all the mistakes that were made in that initial script. You’re still making mistakes, but they aren’t the same ones. You’ve grown, and you can see that growth right there in front of you. It feels nice, because you can see where you’ve come from.

Fast forward two years. You’ve done the work, you’ve been submitting projects to publishers, and you’ve finally got one accepted. While that’s underway, you get the hankering to look back and see how far you’ve come. You open up your Pen-Man folder, and you look at PM 3.1, and you wince. You see all the mistakes you made, or all the things you would have done differently had you known more at the time, and you can see your progress in a timeline that you’ve made and created for yourself. You can see your growth, and be proud of yourself. It’s a good feeling.

Looking back isn’t just about your work. It’s also about your beliefs and approaches to things. One of the best ways to look back is to visit message boards and forums you frequent [or used to], and do a search on yourself for posts. Read the conversations you’ve participated in, and see if any of your views have changed over time.

Here’s one, from Digital Webbing. While the entire discussion is interesting, in looking back at my part in it, none of my views have changed. I still don’t think of a certain class of creators as my peers. [I also believe in aliens, certain conspiracy theories, and that the Bible is nothing more than a history book. These are my beliefs, and it is amazingly difficult to prove a belief to be either right or wrong. Thinking of certain classes of creators as peers of mine does two things at the same time: it elevates me, and denigrates them. I have a pretty realistic view of where I am on the totem pole. While I aspire, I have not yet reached.]

Why is looking back on your views essential?

No one stays where they’re at forever. We’re always in the process of becoming. Things change, sometimes without us even knowing it. This self-reflection is instrumental to seeing how you changed. However, you need the outside view of yourself in order to accurately assess the new you.

Let’s take another look at that DW discussion, but let’s say that over time, my stance changed. How would I know that, if I didn’t have my previous words directly in front of me to see? There are those of us who don’t have the ability to step outside of themselves and look at themselves as a stranger. [Really, it’s more difficult than it sounds.] That ability can now be taken care of by the internet. All you have to do is do the search and read.

A bit of navel gazing is good. It lets you know where you are, and should hopefully inform you of where you came from, so you can see more vividly where you’re going. This should hopefully help you to become a better creator.

There is a downside to this, though. It takes time. Just like the lottery, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

You have to do the work, you have to put the work out there for public consumption, you have to take your lumps, and you have to do it over and over again. In order to look back, you have to have something to look back to, which means you have to put in the work. Stopping and taking the time to look back and assess where you are and where you’ve come from are important steps.

Homework: Time for an assessment! Look back over your early scripts, and compare them to what you’re writing now. Also, look for any conversations you’ve been a part of in the past, and see if any of your views have evolved over time. Take a look at where you are and where you were, so you can better see where you’re going.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

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.

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