On Writing

After, possibly, decades of talking about it, I’m trying to step up my ambitions about writing from “I would like to write something” to “I should write something”. Part of that has been reading a lot (inspired, to be honest, by Stephen Mooney’s approach on Half Past Danger where I think he read every book on writing he could get his hands on before starting the story. It worked for him).

My excuse about not writing has always been “but I work with so many great writers” – and I do. From Gordon Rennie (first professional writer I’d ever worked with) to Garth Ennis (with whom I’m doing a World of Tanks series with) and every writer in between (Rob Williams, Michael Carroll, Al Ewing, and more than I can currently remember) I’m been particularly lucky in who I get to work with – I think in 18 years of working in comics, I’ve had one script that I think was a bit iffy (and that was a LONG LONG time ago). In fact, even when I was a younger artist starting out, I was usually the weaker link with writers who went on to become professionals in writerly fields (Journalism, teaching, notably). And so, if I come up with a fun notion, I can usually chat to a writer and find them running with the idea in directions I’d never think to go in (because they’ve moved way past the cliches I’d get bogged down in).

But I’ve always wanted to be in more control of my own destiny – writing and drawing and colouring and lettering my own work (though, as with writing, I’m cursed – CURSED I SAY – with friends who are far better at those things than I am).

Anyway, I’ve started the process. It begins with reading, so far:

On Writing by Steven King. (Great book, as much a King biography as it is a book on writing).

Save the Cat  A book about screen writing by Blake Snyder. Pretty good breakdown of what a movie requires. I’m honestly not 100% convinced by the idea that you can follow a simple formula and get an award winning movie, on the other hand it feels like if you’re going to write a block buster style film these are the things the audience might expect – so better to go about it with some notion.

How to Write Dazzling Dialogue James Scott Bell. I picked this up, because I felt that dialogue was gonna be a weak point even before I started writing (I can tell a good yarn when talking, but translating that to words on a page felt like it was way tougher than I could possibly imagine). I actually enjoyed this book, felt good and useful advice. Suspect I’ll go back and reread it too.

I’ve been trying to avoid “How to write Comics” type books, largely because I’ve seen so many comic scripts, I feel fairly confident that I know how to do that (and of course, the moment you write a comic script you realise instead of having the perfect inside knowledge of the craft all you’ve really done is formed a little comic writer cargo cult, where you know what it should look like, but instead of building a radio from dials and electronics you’ve built it from twine and sticks)

I also tend to feel a lot of writer/artist advice is survivor bias – ie tips that writers/artists think helped them, but in fact, made not a jot of difference, they just happened to be things that they did WHILE things where going gang busters for them. I know enough people who’ve failed and succeeded to know it’s hard to formulate success.

My to-read pile still contains a couple of writing books (notably Into the Woods and Words for Pictures – by Brian Bendis) and I wanna get through those before I pick up any more.

I should say, I talk to Rob Williams a lot – and we’ve talked about writing before and anything I know about writing has come from him – structure, theme, all that good stuff (so thanks for that Rob)

Now, I’ve started writing. Finally sat and wrote out a script for four pager than I’ve been noodling with for years (this is partly why I want to write “think of an idea, write it, draw it, move on” sounds a lot better than “think of an idea, write bits of it down, forget about it for a year, write bits again, repeat FOREVER”). I’m ok at ideas, I think. I can plot reasonably well (or at least string a bunch of things together) it’s making it work as a cohesive narrative is my problem. Though, it turns out I write really badly for artist-I Took the four pager and started doing layouts and it was like “this writer is TERRIBLE – I can’t draw this”. I need to work on that.

On another writer front, I found a neat little podcast/exercise thing called “Couch to 80k” (I’ve never successfully completed “Couch to 5k” so I’m hoping this is different). It’s a daily podcast with a 10 minute writing exercise as part of each episode. So you sit, listen and write when it tells you. I’ll blog about my experience with it separately, because goodness knows, this is already more writing on the topic of writing than I’ve managed to write as narrative story.

I’ll get there.