Thursday, June 3, 2010

On Writing

I remember a while ago, my uncle and I were discussing a project that I was thinking about writing. It was one of those ideas that had a seed to build on but in thinking about it more in depth, I realized that it really wasn’t much of a story. It was just a scene. He suggested that I do it since I was “such a good writer”. Compliments aside, it struck me as an odd thing to say as I’m pretty sure that he has never read ANY of the stuff I’ve written. I can understand that he could look at all the books I’ve done and he’s likely glanced at the reviews…but still, he hadn’t read any of them himself. So, how could he say I’m a good writer?

It was all based on perception. It made me realize how many other writers out there also have a perception about them. I remember reading on a message board about a writer who has had some success in comics, but certainly nothing to build a career on and he definitely couldn’t hope to live on his writing income. However, he does do quite a bit of self publishing as well as working on projects which undoubtedly make little if any money. Now, I’m not equating income earned with being “good”, but the point is that a lot of the forum members tout him as a good writer yet it’s obvious that many, if not most, don’t actually read his stuff. Yet, they call him good writer. That’s the perception.

Sometimes, a writer is a writer simply because he calls himself one. I know of a few writers who constantly critique output from other writers, mainly in the vein of spouting off of where they veered off course and in turn, offer their own take on the project. In other words, how they would have done it. I seldom, if ever, do that. When I read someone’s work, I may not agree with their direction or style, but I figure they did it the way they wanted. I accept what they have done and base my decision on whether I liked it or not simply on that. That’s why I’m such a lousy editor sometimes. I follow their direction instead of trying to instill mine into their work. It seems to me that many of these writers would be better served critiquing as a critic instead of doing imaginary re-writes in their heads.

It seems in the comic business that everyone that is not an artist, wants to be a comic writer. This is true in the book market as well…all you have to do is to look at the enormous number of books that are written that go unsold except to family and friends. One person said (and I’m not sure who originated the quote but I think I heard it from Paul Storrie) about how so many people say that “one of these days when I get the time, I’m going to write a book.” The implication is that the only thing holding back all of these would be writers is time and not talent. I’m asked often about writing and I have to say, I usually have very little to say about it. Yes, part of it is the old adage that if you want to be a writer, than write. It’s a simple statement and much truer than most people want to accept but it’s not the entire picture.

One thing I see quite often is how many would be writers like to discuss the story they’re working on. They outline the plot, discuss the narrative structure, develop scenarios, and even throw in some of the dialogue. I can’t do that. I may jot down a few notes about something (in fact, I have files full of these jotted down notes) but I can’t even think about a project until I’m doing it. To me, part of the experience of writing a story, whether a novel, short story, or comic story, is to unveil everything at the time of writing it. If I work in advance, then the story is told. It may not be in publishable format, but I’ve told the story and seldom do I have an inclination to go back to it and retell it by directing it into its final form. The story is done.

I get asked quite often to contribute to various writer conferences or even just forum discussions. I find them to be a waste of time…for me. Perhaps they’re useful for other people. Far too many people write about writing instead of just doing the actual writing.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I know what works and what doesn’t. I certainly am not burning up anyone’s sales charts or anything. But overall, I’m very happy with what I’ve done with the caveat that I still have a long way to go and have a lot more tales to tell, hopefully better than I’ve done in the past. Writing is a very subjective thing…not just to the writer himself (or herself), but to the audience as well. I sometimes find it difficult to accept that I have fans out there and am embarrassed when I meet them at conventions or online. The embarrassment comes from the fact that I’m accepting I have fans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great feeling yet somehow, I feel conceited accepting their praise.

But my fan base is limited. I understand that. For one, in comics, I don’t write what would be considered traditional fare. Yes, some writers succeed without doing that but most of the comic audience is geared for the typical superhero market and even though many of today’s top writers manager to twist and turn the genre on it’s head, it still starts with well known characters and established profiles. I give them all the credit in the world for doing what they want to do and succeeding at that. I don’t know if I would be capable of doing that. I had a good friend who landed a job at Marvel and while working for them, I was privy to what he was going through. I didn’t see that as writing…it was just putting words on a page. Granted, the “big names” at Marvel and DC have a lot more latitude and undoubtedly a lot more freedom to do what they want but it seems at the entry level, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

I am often asked why I have never written for the Big Two. The first reason is pretty obvious. I’ve never been asked. The second reason is that I’m not sure if I could. I don’t know if I could work in a manner where I would have to suppress my writing to fit into that on an editor’s or a convoluted storyline/crossover. I’m not saying that I’m “above” that, I’m really saying I don’t know if I could do that. To me, the major incentive for working for the “Big Two” is money but if its not something that’s enjoyable, I don’t know if the money is worth it. Of course, the recognition would be nice…not so I could the cover of Wizard (if its even around any more) but using that recognition to direct people to my other stuff.

Putting words on paper is a term I use a lot...internally. Sometimes when I’m reading someone’s work in an editorial capacity, I wonder why they’re just slapping together words. Even in novels where the word count can be exceptionally high, every word counts and has to contribute something. I see far too often, especially in comics, that words are just fodder to fill up space to move from one scene to another. I think that writers need to take advantage of those interludes to reveal something more about the characters or to help establish personalities, settings, etc. No word should be wasted.

Ironically, this idea is used in many motion pictures nowadays and it has sort of backfired. If you watch movies, virtually every character and every scene in the beginning is actual foreshadowing for the end of the movie. The economy of words actually work against the story as the script has been gone through so many times, that the flesh is cut away and only the meat remains. You can almost always tell who is going to be the bad guy or what is going to play a role later in the movie because they were introduced in the first act. That’s why independent films often have so much more of an impact. There are wasteful characters and scenes and so by the end, you don’t necessarily see everything get tied up in a nice final ball. Of course, this didn’t apply to the conclusion of Lost and a lot of people were fine with it so maybe that portends well for the future…until we get a slew on unanswered finales.

I do believe that anyone can write. And everyone should. It doesn’t mean than someone else will find it appealing but that’s a different thing. Even writing for oneself can be a cathartic experience for a lot of people and sometimes, it’s a way of just getting it out of your head. It’s funny in that most writers have certain ideas or storylines rolling around in their heads that they can’t get rid of. Often times it isn’t a “great” idea that’s a sure seller or anything but just something that doesn’t let go. Perhaps when it is finally done, it goes nowhere (in terms of publishing) but still, it has to be done. I’d imagine it’s the same way with songwriters.

In today’s market with the incredible exposure of the internet, there seems to be a lot more people getting their stories out. Whether it’s a web comic, fan fic, self published work…whatever, I think that the opportunities have never been so prevalent. Yes, it does lead to some incredibly bad writing out there but also some really interesting stuff. I believe that some people may only have one compelling story to tell and then everything else after that doesn’t work, but at least they got the chance to do that one story. How many comic creators end up being one trick ponies. When I was running Caliber, I saw quite a few of those.

My usual response when people ask me about writing is pretty simple. If you want to write----write. Don’t spend your time rewriting someone else’s work and write for the sake of writing. Worry about the publishing later.

Remember, artistic expression should never be based on sales.

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