Decisions, Decisions

Just got done with my Morning Pages, which I haven’t mentioned here since this blog is all but a ghost town. I’ve been doing them since… I think late May. Originally it was all on looseleaf paper, though now I have some permanence with composition books. I do it the vast majority of mornings — definitely every weekday — though I’ve had the occasional weekend hiccup.

Last week I woke up every day at 6am and started writing. First with Morning Pages, then with a TV pilot I’m working on. I made great progress. It’s an idea I’ve been sitting on for a few years now. I originally saw it as a comic, something darkly humorous but very specific in tone and execution. It was so specific that I could only see one artist drawing it, and though he’s a good friend and offered to do a design whenever I needed it, I never really saw the book coming together without him drawing interiors. So I didn’t proceed beyond my initial notes and direction.

Not too long ago, while bouncing between too many outlines, I realized that was stupid. I should just write it, get it out there, and then it doesn’t have to take up space in my brain anymore. So I started on a more detailed outline for it as a TV pilot. I figured out what needed to be addressed, worked out some loose ideas that gave me enough freedom to improvise on the page and went to work.

I began writing when I had time, which anyone “busy” person will tell you is never. So I wrote at the end of long days, happy when I could even get ten minutes in at night. Sometimes it would be exactly ten minutes, other days 20-30, and some days I’d find an hour or more before I got too tired to continue.

The problem wasn’t how little I was writing — it was how I prioritized my writing. I’ve had such poor habits when it comes to personal writing work that I was happy to be writing at all. Even five minutes, the “short time method” made me feel better about my day and my writing, because some writing is better than no writing. But I decided to make a change.

I used to go to the gym four days a week, getting up between 5 and 6am every day and going no matter how bad/tired/unmotivated I felt. Once I got there and started lifting I was okay, and when I left I felt great. Plus, since it was the first thing I did, I now had the rest of the day to not worrying about squeezing it in and feeling bad when I didn’t. (I’ve been struggling since last Summer with finding enough time for writing and fitness, but that’s another post.)

Surely I could do that for my writing; prioritize it, make it the first thing I did every day (in addition to the Morning Pages I’ve been doing for 2+ months. And again, I thought, It will be great not having to worry about how I feel after working all day or if I have errands to run since I’ve already done the writing. And for exactly one week, five long days in a row, I did exactly that. When my alarm went off at 6am, I got out of bed and turned it off. I didn’t snooze, didn’t crawl back into bed. I got up, fed the animals and went to work.

The first day I was so tired I only managed about 30 minutes of writing. But that was 30 minutes before work. I would have the option to write again later if I wanted — though I didn’t do any that night. I picked up steam throughout the week. I didn’t track page counts but I think I wrote 30-40 pages in 5 mornings before work. And Friday was a crap day. I petered out. The story went as far as the detail in the outline took me, and then the cracks started to appear. I knew it was way too long. Way too long. And I didn’t know what to write next because where I got to all made sense, but to get to the next part I needed something I hadn’t figured out yet.

It’s Thursday morning and I haven’t written on the pilot in almost a week. I haven’t fixed the outline, haven’t figured out what I needed to figure out in order to move forward and closer to FADE OUT. But I figured out something else in the course of my Morning Pages; something I know, want to change, but never do. I write extremely execution-dependent scripts. There’s not a lot of “Guy wants something, someone/something stands in his way, he has to figure out a way to overcome.” There are a ton of moving parts, a complicated plot trying to hide the fact that I really just want to write about people and not plots. Personal struggles, success and failure,  will they/won’t they. And the best stories do both, of course, but in terms of my own work, the stuff I write for me, I tend to try and make sure there’s something commercial so it’s not just pedestrian struggles — though there are plenty of great stories about every day life when the characters are rich enough.

Call it problems of scale, an attempt to be commercial without being overly high concept, or me just being stubborn. Trust me, in this case, my stubborn adherence to the initial tone of the idea is the problem. There’s an A plot and a B plot that work against one another, and while the A plot should be the thrust of the series… it’s actually something I, and my protagonist, don’t want to focus on. And really that’s what my story problems come down to. There’s the story I want to tell versus the story that should be told based on the dominoes I’ve set up.

So after three frustratingly handwritten  pages and this blog post, I have no idea what to do. Part of me wants to stop fighting, scrap the script and make sure I pay off the promise of the premise. Another part wants to charge through, stick to my guns and just get to an ending so I can work on something new. And the third part of me, the coward who doesn’t write enough, wants to toss it in the circular file and just move on without seeing it through to completion. And each part seems completely valid.

I’m standing at the crossroads, knowing the only way out is through, and that I need to be writing right now instead of distracting myself with this. But even if I open the doc and sit down in front of it, I don’t know what’s next. I suppose I could write out of sequence, get to the stuff I know works and come down and fill in the (current) problem area later (even if there’s plenty in the preceding 67 pages that doesn’t work — did I mention it’s probably going to be 100 pages…?).

Guess the only answer that really matters is that I need to put in the time, no matter what the result.

The Only Direction is Forward

I haven’t blogged since my birthday. That’s the day Elmore Leonard died.

I’d never presume to have the kind of connection with the man or his work that would necessitate four months off. The truth is, I haven’t had much to say. I had finished my pilot and was struggling to move on to the next one. I was buried under a mountain of unfulfilling work (sometimes walking away feels amazing) and generally not feeling great about things. I don’t want this blog to just be a place where I fill up space and waste your time. More than that, I don’t want to waste my time reading it.

My 2013 summary was sad. WordPress sends it out every year, and let’s just say my most visited posts in 2013 weren’t even from 2013 and leave it at that. But I didn’t feel the need. I only need to blog when I have something to say.

Tomorrow is a new day. It’s the promise of something more. It’s the chance to do and be better. So let’s all do and be exactly that.

“No more half measures.”

(Yes, I stole that from Josh Williamson, who stole it from “Breaking Bad’s” Mike. But the sentiment rings true.)

Onward. Upward. Forward.

Elmore Leonard Will Never Die

Elmore Leonard

I woke up to plenty of well wishes and one very sad bit of news on my birthday. Elmore Leonard, celebrated crime author, has died. He wasn’t a young man at 87, but he was so prolific you felt like he might just keep writing forever, churning out great books filled with sizzling dialogue and even sharper characters. The man just plain knew how to write.

I was reading Leonard’s “Tishomingo Blues” when I moved out to Los Angeles in August of 2003. My dad and I split the driving that trip, and when I wasn’t at the wheel I was devouring the story of a high diver, a murder at a casino, Civil War reenacters and gangsters (at least that’s how I remember it). Don Cheadle was supposed to make his directorial debut on the film adaptation, also playing a fast talking gangster with Matthew McConaughey as the lead, but financing never came together and the project fell apart. But I loved the book anyway, and it marked my first true foray into Leonard’s writing.

By that time I was familiar with Leonard from his many Hollywood forays, starting (for me) with “Get Shorty,” and then “Jackie Brown” and “Out of Sight.” The latter remains one of my all-time favorite movies, a perfect blend of writing, acting, editing and direction. So much fun to watch, and hits so many notes. It’s a Hollywood movie in the way that so many aren’t.

As of today, I’ve read just a few other Leonard novels, but his influence on me has only grown. “Justified” remains one of the three best shows I watch on TV (and, short disclaimer, after a DVR glitch mid-way through the second episode of Season 4, I have yet to watch this last season, but I have it all here waiting for me). Even though showrunner Graham Yost and his staff made some changes to Raylan Givens and the original “Fire in the Hole” short the series is based on, it remains a perfectly Leonard-ian show and the characters introduced would be at home in any of Leonard’s other works.

I’m not a historian, and I didn’t know the man, so I won’t belabor the point any further. Elmore Leonard was a damn fine writer, and his loss is a big one. But he leaves behind an impressive legacy and a stellar body of work. There’s a lot to live up to for all of his fans pursuing creative endeavors, and we all need to try a little harder now knowing that he won’t be there to pick up the slack.

***

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
(see full version here)

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

“Bushido” – Get Your Digital On

“Bushido: The Way of the Warrior” #1 cover

If you want the gist on “Bushido” without any filler, you can get it here. If you want the backstory, you can get it below.

Long before “Netherworld” was ever a glimmer in anyone’s eye — or a comic on anyone’s shelf — I was talking about books with Heroes and Villains Entertainment. They offered me my first gig immediately after I left Top Cow… and I turned it down. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it, or that I didn’t need the money (see: The Freelancer’s Dilemma), I just didn’t connect with the material in the way I felt I needed to in order to deliver the book they deserved. They were passionate about the world they created, and I could see it’s value, I just couldn’t find that hook that made it personal for me, and something I’d be able to properly write. So I passed. There were no hard feelings, but I felt an immediate wave (and paralyzing fear) following the passing up of real American moneys.

HVE wasn’t phased though. They understood my position and knew we’d find something else to work on. And thus came a little book about a gaijin samurai fighting off a horde of invading vampires in feudal Japan. It was called “Bushido: Way of the Warrior,” and it was all set to be the second (or third) book I collaborated on with Bryan Edward Hill. We went back and forth a few times on story notes, had a pretty good idea of the overall structure and were all ready to start — and then were told to pump the brakes. First for a short while, then a long while. Then it became “We don’t know when this will start up, but it will eventually.” Hungry freelancers that we were, Bryan and I began talking to HVE about what else we could right for them. The one line for “Netherworld,” then featuring a different plot and title but plenty of the same themes, struck us as a good fit and that moved forward pretty quickly.

Around the time we were finishing “Netherworld,” I got a call that “Bushido” was finally ready to roll. But things had changed. Partially spurred by the success of “7 Days From Hell” and his spec screenplay based on it, and partially because he’s that good a writer, Bryan was busy in Hollywood. Writing specs, taking directing meetings and getting hired to re-write the “Just Cause” film adaptation — among other projects that I can’t divulge. He didn’t have time to take on a comic series, so he gave his blessing for me to tackle “Bushido” solo. And thus my first solo miniseries was born (I’ve written plenty of things solo, but this is the first published miniseries, which makes it a landmark of sorts).

I wrote the first issue in January, 2012. It took a while to get everyone’s brain wrapped around the story again as well as coordinating between HVE and Top Cow, who edits as well as publishes the series. We hired Studio Hive to illustrate the five-issue series in March of the same year and started seeing some killer painted pages. But… painted work takes time. A lot of time. For a while I didn’t think the series would ever finish.

But…

…wait for it…

It’s finally here! And I don’t mean in a “It’s on the schedule soon” here, I mean actually-buy-it-right-this-second-if-you-have-the-internet here. Top Cow and HVE decided to release the series digitally starting today. You can purchase #1 for $1, and the remaining issues should be out monthly or even a little faster than that. So what are you waiting for? It’s just $1. It’s less than laundry, and no one likes laundry…

I am a HUGE proponent of digital comics. I believe in them for their ability to put comics in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and a screen. I believe in their potential to expand the comic format with what we’re seeing on projects like Mark Waid’s Thrillbent titles (and what I’m hearing about DC’s digital-first “Batman ’66”). I also think the potential lower price point (I wish they were all $0.99) has the potential to expand the audience by making books an impulse buy again — you can’t call a 20-page book at $3.99 that you can only get in a specialty store an impulse buy. And there’s the space issue. Digital comics take up space on your hard drive and in your brain. There’s no bags, boards, boxes and — let’s face it — stacks of comics lying around taking up space in your home. There’s no running out of space when your collection gets too big. There’s just megabytes to purchase, and digital space is slim. I’d wage my own digital battles, but Mark Waid is smarter than me, and much more eloquent, and I have a hard time arguing against any of what he’s said at digital to this point. So I won’t belabor the point any further (for now).

Those who love print comics are also in for a special treat. Top Cow will be publishing “Bushido” in October, and there’s more. It’s coming out weekly. All the vampire-samurai you can handle every week in October. I’ve never done a weekly release (if I’m honest, my books have rarely shipped monthly) so I’m excited to see how this plays out and be able to see how people react to the story in almost real-time. It’s kind of the opposite of how long it took the book to go from idea to comic (my first mention of it via e-mail was in January 2010). If you’re a print person (Hi, Mom!), be sure to pre-order the book from your local retailer. It’s in the October-shipping Previews catalog right now from Top Cow/Image Comics.

Check out a pretty substantial preview of #1 here — or just buy it for only $1 here. And don’t forget comiXology now offers subscriptions, so they can let you know via e-mail that your new issues of “Bushido” are ready and waiting for you. Be sure to let me know what you think.

***

You’ll notice the blog looks a little different. I got tired of the old theme, which I’ve never messed with outside of updating the header since I started the site. Not sure if this new theme will stick, but then again I don’t blog much… If you run into any readability issues let me know.

I finished my pilot a while ago. I think I planned to do some major post about finally getting to the finish line, but I didn’t. I wasn’t all that happy when I finished. Don’t get me wrong — clearing that hurdle was a major step. But I didn’t like the work. I knew it marked the beginning of a long journey, not the end. I wasn’t all that happy to tell you, “I just wrote one of the all-time worst pilots!” Because it’s not very good. I’m being hyperbolic, but it’s not very good. No one makes decisions the way they should, the promise of the premise is almost entirely unclear, and there are too many dialogue heavy scenes that do nothing but info dump exposition. And they’re not that well-dialogued.

I’ve actually fallen out of my writing rhythm due to irregular/poor sleep over the last couple weeks while I’ve been slowly working on some paying work and trying to break the outline for the pilot I originally planned to write before this one. I want to get the loose outline finished (it’s already longer than any outline I did for this one) just so I know where to start when I eventually write it, but I’ll get back to the original pilot soon. It needs a good revision before anyone but the one person I sent it to (as proof of finishing) can read it and give me feedback before it gets halfway decent following the third draft.

Like I said, it’s a beginning, not an end.

50

As of today’s writing, I am now 50 pages into my pilot. I haven’t talked about it much to anyone since I started working, just that I’ve actually been working. There’s two reasons for that, and they’re both that it’s more important for me to be writing and getting it done than anything else.

I’m now 50 pages in, and I’m not exactly sure if I have another 5 pages, 15, or how many more it will take to get to a satisfying conclusion. Pilots are tough. Ask anyone who’s written them, watched one that never made it to air, or watched one that was less than stellar to kick off a series. There’s a lot of work that has to be done just to get to “this is what the show is.” I’m not so much worried about writing a good pilot as I am with, you guessed it, finishing this draft. Because it’s not my pilot that will be finished, it’s this particular draft. And, cliché of clichés, writing is rewriting. It’s going to need work whether it’s the best thing I’ve ever written or not. No one bats 1.000, and I’ll be lucky if I hit .270 this season.

What I’m excited about is this. I’ve written 50 pages in 15 working days, spending 30-40 minutes per day. I now understand prolific writers. If you’re doing this full-time — and not the kind of “writing” I used to do where you work from home, screw around, run errands, look for work, etc. — I get how people can churn through seemingly impossible mountains of work day after day, year after year. And I’m not even one of the faster writers I know.

The trick truly is, words on paper.

Quality is a whole other ballgame. I’m not painting the Sistine Chapel here. I’m just drafting. I did it today, I’ll do it tomorrow. And one day I’ll have a draft I’m happy with. Right now I’m thrilled with 50 pages (and I know where I’m headed next).

Writing is Fun

Who knew, right?

I’ve made little secret of the fact that in the past I haven’t written as much as I would like. More specifically, I haven’t written enough to get me where I want to be in my career. I usually write only for profit (i.e. when someone is paying me to do it for them) and if I do write for me (“on spec”) I tend to abandon the projects because of my overactive editor brain, or because paying work has to take precedence. There was always an excuse.

When novelist Lawrence Block joined twitter he was really active, posting advice and affirmations, and if I wasn’t a fan of his work and reputation, it would have made me one based on that alone. I liked what he was saying and ended up subscribing to his newsletter (where he often gives away free books and short stories for Kindle, so hop on that) and he ended up having a sale on an mp3 download of his “Affirmations for Writers” audio. I figured it couldn’t hurt and it was a few dollars, so I gave it a shot.

While I was placing my order, I noticed a sale for another book by another author. In fact, it’s the only book on Block’s store that isn’t written by him (under his name or his pseudonyms). That book? “Break Writer’s Block Now!” by Jerrold Mundis. LB said the reason he carries it is because it was the only book of its kind that he knew of that actually worked. It got writers (and aspiring writers who couldn’t find the time or overcome the mental hurdles) writing. As with the audio, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in Writer’s Block (no relation to Mr. Block). It’s a fake thing people say because they get insecure. Running out of ideas or not knowing where to go next are symptoms of either story problems or problems of approach. Nothing is actually blocked. So why this book?

Because block is just a symptom. This book is about acknowledging all of the myriad reasons you can’t write… and then, literally, throwing them in the trash and getting to business. And its promise is that you can do that in one afternoon and start a habit you can maintain for life, regardless of how busy your life or the demands on your time.

I bought this book in August 2011. I had to look it up, I didn’t know how long it had been. I read the intro, where Mundis tells you you can read it in chunks, but he recommends sitting down for an afternoon and working through the whole thing in an environment free of distractions. I didn’t take the time to do that until last Monday (5/20). And while I was busy not reading this book — and not writing — my career as a writer was busy not moving forward. Enough was enough and I finally sat down and read the book, did the exercises, and created a schedule for myself.

I now have a writing schedule (every weekday morning) that I stick to. I have written every day save for the holiday this week (which I considered a weekend day, where I only write if I want to) since setting up my schedule and don’t imagine missing any time soon. I’ve gotten back to the pilot I was working on in late December and I don’t think I touched after about 1/10. I had stalled out, but my new schedule has me working on it again. I started from scratch because the story felt a little alien to me so I haven’t quite reached where I was, but I know something different about the process of writing now.

Writing is easy and fun. It really is. I used to treat it solely like a job. Sure, I would jot down ideas when they came to me, but that’s brainstorming, not writing. That was most of the fun I got from writing. Now I get joy from my fingers on the keys and words on the screen. And it’s easy.

The biggest takeaway from the book I got is this:

Writing is the simple act of words on paper.

Now read that again. It’s simple, something that we all innately know, but it gets lost in the monolithic idea of Writing and the mysticism of “where do ideas come from?” But while there’s a great deal of mystery to Writing and how your brain helps you craft stories out of thin air, that’s really just there for critics and theorists.

Writing is the simple act of words on paper.

My pilot may not be any good. (I’m pretty sure it’s not, but that’s what revised drafts are for.) I’m not worrying about that. The editor is off and I’m not chasing that dragon anymore. I’m chasing the habit, and the enjoyment, of writing.

A friend of mine and fellow writer has been a longtime supporter of me and nurturer of my talent. Usually he asks me if I’m working on anything, reminds me to write, and we part with, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I need to write more. I will, I will. Just as soon as [insert semi-sarcastic excuse].” When I talked to him yesterday and he asked me about career stuff, I didn’t have to deflect or have the same conversation. I could tell him, plain and simple, things were going well because I was writing. It was a nice change of pace.

Writing is fun. You should try it some time.

Spring Cleaning

  • Sleep is awesome. Not getting enough of it is not. Highly recommended for a healthy mind and body. I grew up in a house where no one slept enough and that’s continued to influence my sleep patterns. I have yet to organize my life and work around my chronotype, but actually sleeping the last few days has done wonders for me.
  • Hawaii (or, at least, Maui) is at beautiful as it’s cracked up to be. I spent my entire life hearing people talk about how much they love Hawaii and how beautiful it is, and despite seeing it in so many movies and TV shows, it still lives up to the hype. “Unbelievably beautiful” and “lush” are the two descriptors that seem to come close using language alone, and pictures don’t do it justice. Go. Now.
  • I’m looking for an artist for a creator-owned project. Realistically cartoony is the best way I can describe the aesthetic I’d like to find. If I could have my pick of any artist in the land my buddy Bernard Chang would draw it, but he’s a little too busy drawing stuff for DC at the moment so I’ll have to settle for maybe getting a cover from him. Don’t worry if your style doesn’t look like his, it’s just a touch stone. The book has some black comedic elements that won’t come across if we go too realistic and high-contrast with the darker elements, so I want the art to fit the lighter, occasionally cheeky tone. Drop me a line if you’re interested or know of an artist who might be.
  • There will be more non-writing/comics stuff on the blog moving forward. Fitness and nutrition have always been a major interest for me, so while I won’t be posting shirtless photos of myself and telling you how to get a 6-pack in 30 days, I will be posting interesting discoveries, articles and links to podcasts or videos. I’m much more consistent with my training than I am with my writing, and while I aim to bring that side of my life into better balance I want to make this site a better reflection of what’s occupying my mind.
  • While I can’t promise regular updates and hold myself to that without fail (blogs seem to be dying left and right), I will be posting “at least occasionally.” (For those who no longer have an RSS reader with the death of Google Reader, I highly recommend Feedly. I can’t figure out how to properly navigate it via the Android app, but as a desktop plug-in and site it’s ace.)

Next up: Struggle!

“Paperman”

I went to a screening of “Wreck-It Ralph” Tuesday night. I really enjoyed it, but I think I’m the right age to get all of the video game references, not to mention I might be in the tank for Disney.

What I have to mention is the short that played before it. “Paperman” is a little story about love, fate, and paper, and it just so happens that the animation is stunning. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the style of it, and I would kill to do a comic (or anything) in a similar vein. Check out these stills and tell me you don’t want to see more right now.