Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On Writing

I get a lot of emails and invites via MySpace to join various writers' groups. Overall, I think they're a good idea, especially for writers starting out as it helps to solidify some concepts and lets their work be evaluated by their peers. And judging by the submissions I received at Caliber (and still receive), there are many new writers that could use the guidance.
What I find in many cases, however, is that there are a lot of beginning writers who spend an enormous amount of time dissecting the craft of writing, looking for the magic formula to launch their careers spinning tales.
I don't think there is one. Obviously there are tools to be used and understanding all of those with the rules will help in the storytelling but sometimes I think that some writers write more about writing than actually writing the story. I'm not suggesting that to be a writer, you just have to write because there are some fundamentals you have to understand and rules, even if you're going to break them, that you need to know. But I still say the best way to move ahead on the writing is to write.
Does that mean I think writing is purely an innate process? Partially. As in many genetic traits, I think it is a case of not being either nature or nurture...but both. Some people are born with "the gift" but never develop into good writers. Others may be taught even though they seem not to have inherent skills to become good writers. But the good ones have both. Some might narrow it down to having both innate skill AND a sense of desire.
I am always reluctant to participate in discussions about the craft of writing. It seems to be a bit presumptuous to expound on how someone should write because I think the process in more personal and subjective. Besides, when I read about someone extolling their skills and I don't respect their writing, well...I just don't want to be that guy. No matter how good some think you are, there are others that don't like your style...your approach...your flavor.
That's where reviews come in. In a way, a review is an ego stroke but I find most writers view them as confirmations. You release a project and you think its good. When a review appears with positive comments, it's confirming what you thought and you successfully got your message or idea across. A negative review can sometimes be constructive but often times a negative review is no help as the reviewer approaches the story from what he/she wanted it to be rather than evaluating what it is.
I think that's one of the reasons I don't like editing. I go through a script and I can deal with the obvious flaws and evaluation of story elements. I can point out the lack of inherent logic in a story, confusing scene shifts, etc. But the "voice" of the story has to be from the writer, not the editor. I see some editors' notes and they intrude beyond the structural aspects and contort the voice...and that shouldn't be done. I look at scripts I have to edit and I think to myself, "well, I wouldn't have done it that way but that's the way the writer wants it" so I let it go. The problem is that I extend that permissiveness quite easily. A good editor has to know the difference...reigning in the story yet still let the author's voice be the backbone. I find myself letting the voice dominate.
So, I always cringe when people ask me about "how to write". What works for me won't work for others and vice-versa. I enjoy talking about a specific story, for example, when someone asks me about the details of a particular story but even then, I found that I didn't really plan it out...it just happened. Of course, once I start to discuss it, I find where I got the inspiration and what I was developing but usually it wasn't a process of planned design, it just happened as I was writing it. That's the innate part.
I was just on a panel with Dan Mishkin and Rob Worley at an Ann Arbor book fair and we were discussing elements of writing. I thought Dan summed it up very well when he mentioned the first time that his writing led to a character developing on the pages and essentially came to life and determined what he would say and do. The writer wasn't the character any more...it was as if the character took off on his own and just had to be moved around. I think that's a feeling that most writers have about their characters and if you don't, I think that's when things get difficult and foggy. But it happens and that's when your learned skills have to keep the character vibrant even though to you, the writer, it isn't alive.
Another theme that developed during the panel was one of restriction. If you're writing a comic for a publisher and dealing with someone else's characters and situations, that is an incredible box that you're put in. This is especially true if you're writing a comic for one of the majors and you have a limited amount of pages and certain events have to occur within that narrow range. That's a whole different type of writing. Some writers enjoy that and see it as a challenge whereas other writers would feel so restrictive that it's almost as if they couldn't breathe. I've been on both sides and they're different processes. I think that for someone like myself who is accustomed to writing virtually free form in the sense that I'm not limited by page count or events, it's necessary to do it every once in awhile to re-evaluate what I call constrictive writing. It forces me to monitor myself and keep a check on wandering. I certainly wouldn't want to do it all the time but I think mixing up what you're writing is important as it serves as constant reminders on story structure.
So, I don't really have many tips for writers. My suggestion is that instead of evaluating writing before you write, is to write and then evaluate what you've written. The hardest part of writing is just doing it and I know you hear that from so many writers, but it's true. Wanna be a writer? Write. It's that simple. Sidenotes: Is it just me or when looking through the comic news sites about upcoming projects, there seems to be a lack of anything exciting? Not that I get too worked up about too much anyway but the light seems especially dim the last few months. Over on Todd Allen's Publishing Follies posted on Comic Book Resources, he includes a short interview with me that was done during Chicago Con regarding Transfuzion.


ShojinStudios said...

Hey Gary, You know you speak a very simple but often unused truth about writing, drawing or anything that involves doing. To simply do it. I'm a very good example of that, it took me various tries and many blank pages to finally work up a plot for this story I'm doing. Once I started to spill my thoughts unto the pages, I couldn't stop. I know exactly what you mean about wandering, I had to take a few steps back and rewrite and rewrite some more until I condensed my thoughts into a sentence that made sense. I'm not a writer by trade but I have a complete and new respect for the artform. Raf makes it look so easy, but I can see how extremely hard it can get just making sense of all the thoughts and ideas in ones head. Again thanks for writing this down, it helps alot.

Gary Reed said...

yep, that's about as far as my writing "tips" go...write. It is amazing how many writers don't sit down and actually do that. I get that way sometimes as well...venturing off on exploring ideas instead of finishing off the current stuff. The idea phase is the most fun and when you actually have to wrap things up, it can be less inspiring that to explore new stories.

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