If you’re going, please stop by and say hello!
That is all.
“Verification of the tale, as one might expect, is difficult, yet certain facts are known. Tanitin Regional Deputy Marshal Miles Drake is, in fact, a lawman of the territory, a position he has held since IV.E.987….”
If you’re going, please stop by and say hello!
That is all.
Writer’s cheat – I’m starting with two quotes, both of them, I think, quite applicable to the subject at hand.
“All happiness depends on courage and work.”
“Discipline can stop my hunger
Discipline can quench my thirst
Discipline can make me stronger
If it doesn’t kill me first.”
~ Joe Jackson, Discipline.
Discipline may be the easiest of my Five to explain, and the hardest of them to achieve. And even achievement is not enough, because the very nature of discipline is that it must continue, it must maintain. Discipline in pursuit of your craft this week does not mean you get next week off. Writers are always writing, even if they’re not always scribbling or typing or dictating. The process is unending.
Sit down and write.
Find the time.
Make the time.
And do it.
Over and over again.
And over and over again.
Easier said than done, I know. But the ability to do it is what matters, may be the single most important thing that matters to your success as a writer. In all sincerity, the greatest single component of success for a writer that I have ever encountered, more than talent, more than voice, more than skill, more than a great idea for a story or the most original characters the world has ever seen or anything else, is this discipline. This is the key to success. It does not guarantee success, but without it, you cannot, you will not succeed.
Yes, it’s hard. It’s hard to find the time. It’s hard to switch gears when you have the time. It’s hard to park it and work when the last thing in the world you want to do is to park it and work. It’s hard to tune out the world and enter one of your own creation. It is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone who has ever said, gee, I’d like to write a novel would’ve already done so. It’s supposed to be hard.
I know writers who work on a strict quota system – they set a word count or a number of pages or the like and each day, every day, that’s what they work towards. I know writers who are violently superstitious about those quotas, who cannot, even will not, attend to other matters if at all possible until they’ve hit their numbers. I understand this. I do this. When working on a novel, I try to average between 3,000 and 5,000 words a day, more if possible. Working on a comics script, six pages a day, more if possible. But I write full-time. I have the luxury of controlling at least a portion of my day. I can block off the time and set to work and, more often than not, I own those hours, and the only person who will keep me from working as I’ve planned is myself.
You’re working ten hour days. You’ve got family to wrangle. You’ve got errands to run and chores to do. Fine. Adjust your goals accordingly. Can’t do 3K words? How about 500? Can’t do six pages of script? How about 3? Set whatever works, but, crucially, most importantly, do the work. Every day. Do. The. Work. Addict yourself to it. Need to do it, rather than wanting to do it. Set a quota you can reach, adjust accordingly, and then lock it down. Develop the discipline, because that is the gateway – do the work whether you want to do the work or not, and you will see the work improve. Every mistake you write is one less mistake to make.
National Novel Writing Month is on the horizon. November.
The month is made for learning Discipline in writing.
No better time.
All said, it comes down to this: if you don’t put your ass in the damn chair and start typing or scribbling or whatnot, it’s not going to happen. A writer writes. That’s not all a writer does, mind. A writer lives. A writer learns. A writer reads. But at the end of the day, there’s only way to create the work. If you want to be a writer and you’re not writing, you’re deluding yourself.
A writer writes.
The next post in the “Greg blathers on about Writing” sequence will be up next week, I think. Been slammed here of late, a lot of travel, and a lot of work what needs doing, and the beginning of the High Holy Days, to boot. If things are going nuts, it’s probably the end of September.
Ironically enough, this managing of schedule is another topic worth covering…but I don’t have the time at the moment.
More towards the end of the week. Until then…
Last time I posted a little about what goes into putting together the art for this site, and so this post will delve a little more into the specifics of the process. I think it should be understood that this is the way I work. There are as many different ways to do comics as there are comic artists, and I feel strongly about everyone finding the method that works best for them.
As I said last post I read over the script a few times to get the feel of the story, the characters, and to note any reference needed for the piece. As to reference, James brought up an interesting question in the comments last time. If you’re dealing with a fantasy or science fiction story where a world is being created, how much reference is actually needed? The general answer is, it depends. The specific answer for this strip is, quite a bit. Greg and I are creating a world of our imaginations, but it’s a world based on the design and technology of a historic period, the Victorian Age. Staying true to that means we need to adhere to those basics as a starting point for our extrapolations. For instance, if we want a flying riverboat, a good place to start would be with a riverboat design from that period. Then we can push it and pull it and add things to it to make our version of the boat one that fits in the world we’re creating. The fashion, the technology, the architecture of the time needs to be researched so we can use them as the basis for the design sense of our make believe world. It goes a long way to solidify the believability of the strip.
Once the set-up work is done I begin to lay the story out. I am adamant about telling the story visually. I tell every writer the first time I work with them that I will not change their story. My job is to interpret the script visually. But, if I find a way to enhance the story, to make it read more clearly, or to enhance the drama intended, I may make changes in the panel directions. I might add panels, combine panels, change the angle of a shot, move in closer, move out wider, anything it takes to improve the storytelling. If the change is drastic I’ll always contact the writer and the editor and let them know what I have in mind, so I can get their approval. In this specific case, Greg is such a visual writer that I don’t often have to do that. Sometimes he’ll call me before he writes a scene to get my input on how it might be staged. That’s one of the reasons this collaboration works so well. We have a mutual trust that we are both heading in the same direction with the same goal in mind.
I could go on about storytelling for days and I’ll come back to it at a later post, but let’s move on.
Once I have an idea of how many panels will be needed for this specific day’s work and how they will be arranged on the page, I take a sheet of 11×14 2 ply Bristol and pencil the boarders and the panels. Then I begin the actual drawing.
Lately I’ve been drawing the individual elements of the panels on vellum and then use a light box to compose them on the board. I like drawing on vellum because of the way the pencil glides on the surface, and the fact that it’s translucent gives me the option of trying different poses and positions for characters without having to redraw everything. I’m sure many of you know that this can all be done on a computer graphics program as well. Maybe someday I’ll move to that, but for right now, I’m comfortable with this.
When everything is transferred to the board and I’m satisfied with the position and size of all the elements, I’ll tighten up the pencils making minor changes as needed. Nothing is engraved in stone. I may make changes in the art throughout the process. I’ve replaced entire panels even after they’ve been inked and colored if something doesn’t work. For me, that’s the biggest advantage of working on the computer. The artist has the ability to make changes at any point without too much fuss.
So, we have our board laid out and the pencilled drawings are tightened up. We’re ready to move on to inks. And we will…
Until next time
Continuing, then. From the need to Tell the Truth, to be Honest, to the intestinal fortitude to do the same. So, courage, in this context, works in two forms that blend and blur.
You can’t tell the truth if you don’t have the courage to do it.
Put it another way: if, as I have argued, good writing is emotionally honest writing, this requires, in turn, the courage to be the same. All writers write from themselves, and thus, in some manner or fashion, they are writing about themselves. English majors and professors of literature and critics of various and sundry qualifications love this; they adore reading into the text, the idea that what has made it to page or screen is more about the writer than the story. That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I’m talking about. This isn’t Mary Sue-ism, this isn’t wish-fulfillment, and rarely is it as blatant as the audience (and particular, certain critics) believe. Just because a character in a novel I once wrote had an abortion doesn’t mean that my girlfriend at the time did the same. The line is not so straight, nor the connections so literal.
A writer’s ability to empathize is part of their creativity, a necessary part. But it isn’t enough to take what we know, what we have experienced, and then to drop it on our characters, into our stories. If it’s going to work, it’s going to have to be raw, unvarnished, naked. It’s going to have to draw on those things that make us uncomfortable and nervous and embarrassed. Our empathy for our characters is going to make use feel those things for our creations, our stories. In pursuit of the emotional core, we strip ourselves, mine ourselves, and thus expose ourselves. We are not writing for ourselves, whatever we may say to the contrary; if we were, we’d never want to be published. We’re writing to show our work to others. We are, always, presenting ourselves to be judged.
That’s never fun. That’s never easy. This is, incidentally, one of the reasons why certain writers often come across as either arrogant or aloof. That’s armor, that’s simple self-defense. When you release a story into the world to be accepted and praised or rejected and loathed, you are putting yourself into the world in the same way, no matter how much you might wish to pretend otherwise, no matter how far you seek to remove yourself from your creation. This is why, for the most part, most writers hate most critics, I think; the critic assumes the role of judge, and much like a FIFA referee, dispenses their assaults and accolades from a position that is almost impossible to assail. The writer – especially in the age of the interwebs – is vulnerable from all sides. And I would argue that the writer must be – if you’re telling the truth, if you’re committed to your craft, then there is a necessary investment in your work. If you spend 100 days building a model boat, only to have your best friend – or a total stranger – tell you that it stinks, you got it wrong, that’s going to hurt.
Even if it’s true.
This is not to say that all criticism is invalid, of course, nor that writers must be handled with kid-gloves. But if you write, and if you publish, you are going to be judged. And amidst those judgments, there will invariably be someone who is braying for your head on a pike. Sometimes literally. Someone, somewhere, someway, some day. Because if the First Rule is “Show, Don’t Tell,” and the Second Rule is “Write What You Know,” then the Third Rule is as follows:
You are never going to write something that everyone will like.
(I think of this as the Mark Twain Corollary, going hand-in-hand with his quote about a classic being “a book that people praise but don’t read.” As far as it goes, I’m totally making up these Rules. There are rules, to be certain. But I’m not actually a huge fan of them beyond the most basic as listed above.)
Thus, you, dear writer, you’re going to get it in the teeth. Sometimes you’re going to get it in the belly. Sometimes you’re going to be taken to the ground and curb-stomped something vicious, and even better, sometimes it’ll be by someone who is accusing you of writing exactly what you weren’t.
So you damn well better have the courage to take the beating. You damn well better have the courage to sit down and write it anyway. You damn well better have the courage to shout down your lesser angels that are telling you that you cannot do this, that you will fail, that it is too hard, too difficult, too time-consuming, that nobody will care, that it will never be good enough.
Writing is not a static craft. I believe, with absolute heart, that one can never be “good enough.” Writing demands better, that what you attempt tomorrow reaches further, is more informed, is more refined, is more expert than what you delivered yesterday.
This leads to a more nuanced Courage. There’s a note above my bride‘s desk in her office, just a little Post-It, I’m not sure when she wrote it, and I’m not sure what the project was she wrote it about. “Courage to Fail.”
This is, more than anything else, crucial, in my opinion. Good writing requires risk-taking. It requires taking the story places you’re not comfortable with it going, sometimes. This is not writing for effect. This is writing honestly, so honestly that you question whether it’s too much, and yes, sometimes it is.
This courage requires a commitment to writing scenes that, frankly, can scare you – both in their content and in your faith in your own ability. These are moments that, as you work, make your stomach clench with butterflies and that make your heart race. And it is wise to remember, those moments? Sometimes, those moments, done right, are the moments that will do the same to your audience. Those moments that scare you, those raw, frightening moments? Those are the moments, perhaps, of the greatest possibility, where you can forge the purest connection with your audience. Those are the moments of resonance.
Those are the moments that are remembered.
Next week, whips, chains, and Discipline.
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