The Routine

I’m really trying to find my rhythm.  Between writing, editing comics, editing for CBR and any consulting that comes in, I’m all over the map at any given times.  My schedule, if you can call it that, is in shambles.  I have no sense of routine or consistency, which definitely affects my work.  Right now there are no fewer than 10 actionable items on my To-Do list.

My routine currently goes as follows:

  • Wake up as early as possible
  • Worry about what’s on the To-Do list, money, what needs to be written
  • Try to write
  • Put out fires (AKA answering email and doing anything that results in American cash money dollars)
  • Try to write
  • Look for work
  • Try to write
  • Think about blogging, remember it doesn’t pay
  • Try to write
  • Waste time
  • Try to write
  • Dodgeball/gym/life
  • Try to write
  • Go to sleep as late as possible

Of course, I’d be lying if I said every “Try to write” involved more than me musing, “I should try to write” before inserting a giant “BUT…” and finding something seemingly more productive.  I’m getting more writing done the last couple months than usual, and just turned in a first draft of a creator-owned book to my artist and co-creator, but I still don’t feel anywhere near productive.  And I’m still not any closer to knocking out a screenplay, though after a talk with Hill I’m pretty sure this current idea, once broken, will find its way to finished.

My biggest hurdle is the whole “Creative On Demand” struggle.  My focus is never in one place, and all I have to blame is life and needing to do 12 different things at any given time.  It’s not facebook or twitter or video games, though none help.  It’s the fact that I don’t have any regularity (fiber helps) and can’t seem to find a way to cheat a normal routine into my hectic schedule.

Hell, I was supposed to go to sleep between 9:30 and 10pm tonight and I’m typing this at a quarter to midnight after spending two hours on the phone doing tech support type stuff on two different SlingBoxes.  Unexpected, nonessential, but it’s tough to say no to family.  And I think I had been delaying that phone call for the better part of three months.

Creative people, how do/did you set your routines?  How do you stick by them?

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So 2009 Happened…

This year didn’t exactly go as planned. Two weeks in I got sacked from the job I had for the last 5 years. I knew where I wanted to go, but for the most part I was directionless. Leads came up empty, my writing career didn’t take off as fast as I wanted, and my personal life was pretty much entirely limited to dodgeball (not that I’m complaining about the latter).
But let’s look at what worked:
– I had a back-up story in Witchblade #125 and a 3-page Ragman yarn in the DC Holiday Special. I wrote more, but that’s all that was actually published. Yeesh, was that it?
– I edited Josh Fialkov and Noel Tuazon’s excellent OGN Tumor, in addition to one of the most challenging gigs of my career, Days Missing for Archaia/Roddenberry. I’m also attached to edit Ryder on the Storm with David Hine and Time Bomb by Palmiotti and Gray, both for Radical.
Of course, the biggest news was the announcement of Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box, the six-issue miniseries I’m co-writing with Bryan Edward Hill. Alessandro Vitti and Sunny Gho are handling art, and Tommy Lee Edwards is on covers. It’s a sweet package, and if this year’s crop is any indication, will definitely be one of the better books on stands next year.
That’s all well and good, but let’s get back to the bad. Last year, one year ago to the day in fact, I was getting ready to go out on New Year’s Eve with my buddy Bernard Chang (responsible for that darling caricature you can see of me all over the Internets). Suddenly, I had an idea. I won’t go too much into it as I don’t want to spoil my screenplay, and because the story ended up changing a lot. I wrote up a one-pager, fired it off to Bryan and Brian Buccellato, and felt like I had stumbled upon something I could really get behind. I kept setting deadlines for myself, even stupid penalties like “I won’t cut my hair until I finish this screenplay.”
I didn’t finish. I did cut my hair. I suck.
I haven’t touched the damn thing since before SDCC. Sure, I got busy with some paying work and travel and life, but there’s no excuse. And that pretty much brings us to 2010.
2010 – The Year Shit Jumps Off
The New Year is just hours away. I plan to have a fun time ringing it in, and maybe even taking the rest of the city’s vacation (Hollywood shuts down for two weeks around this time of year) as one of my own. But come 1/4, everything changes. Too many days in 2009 were marred by setbacks. I couldn’t write, editing got in the way, money problems got in the way, I was busy hustling, etc. All of those things are just excuses. And in some of those cases, those excuses prevented me from even trying to write. And there’s no excuse for that.
I’m not setting any goals I can’t absolutely achieve. Saying I’m going to write a screenplay every 3 months isn’t unrealistic, but there’s the inherent possibility of failure built in. If I write 3, I’ve failed. If I write none because I get an exclusive contract writing comics and get too busy, I’ve failed. But no one can stop me from putting in the hours. Sitting down at the desk, cutting out distractions (the Internet, twitter, movies, etc.), and writing. A word, a page, a novel. Doesn’t matter.
In 2010, I will write 7 days per week.
Not because I want to (or as is just as often the case, don’t want to), but because I have to. When I got laid off, I didn’t spend too much time in the dumps. Thanks to the advice of friends and inspired by all of the bad entertainment I’ve ever consumed, I went straight into pursuing writing as a full-time career with no safety net. That’s the eventual goal. Create for a living. Right now I have to do other things to supplement my meager writing income, but I’m getting work. People pay me to do what I’m trying to do.
I already have books scheduled to be on stands for at least the first 7 months of the year, with more potentials in progress. I have artists attached to four original projects. But that’s just comics. I want to work in film, tv and video games as well. And I don’t expect to make money in each avenue just yet, but I still have ambitions. So what it’s going to take to monetize all of them, as well as give me the creative cache and brand recognition, is writing 7 days a week.
My co-writer Bryan is a fantastic role model. He’s a workhorse, and he churns stuff out. His initial ideas are generally better than my (seldom) finished works. And that’s because he’s written out his bad stuff. He just keeps writing and pushing, and his work reflects that. Another friend of mine knows him and is trying to write full-time, and he’s using B as a model to pattern himself after. He goes nowhere without a laptop, and he writes as often as he can.
Since Bryan and I have so much in development, I also need to keep up with his output. The scales are tipping in his favor during the tail end of the year thanks to my lackluster output, but I’m bringing it back to 50-50 soon.
Usually I make a lot more proclamations and resolutions heading into a new year. I look back at things and have a lot of regret. I’m not doing that. I didn’t write enough this year, so next year I’m going to write more. And the year after that, I’ll write even more, and so on and so forth. Whatever it takes for the longterm goal.
2010 appears to be the year things take off. I’m not going to let myself down by not coming through. There’s probably more I want to do, but enough talk. I’ve got writing to do.

Updates! Press! More!

I’ve been behind. There’s a million reasons, but I’ll be blogging better in the new year, just maybe not the way you’ve come to expect. More details on that over the coming weeks. For now, let’s do a quick recap combined with some mild whoring. If I don’t plug it here, how else will my mother know when to run to the comic shop…
I returned from the icy tundra that was Thanksgiving in Ohio to much nicer weather in LA, got a bit of work done, and then have been largely sluggish when it comes to writing ever since. Been rolling on a few things (comics and film) with the immensely talented Bryan Edward Hill, and we just secured an artist for a new project that should make it a no brainer sale. Now all I need is more time in the day to hit him back with some thoughts on this other story.
Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box has taken up the bulk of my time of late between scripts and idle thoughts, not to mention interviews. Here’s the latest on that:
Opening Up Pandora’s Box – Part 1
Opening Up Pandora’s Box – Part 2
Before that hits stores in February, January sees my The Darkness one-shot, Shadows and Flame with art by Jorge Lucas and colors by Felix Serrano on shelves.
Last week saw my first writing work published by DC Comics with a Ragman yarn in the DC Holiday Special 2009. Newsarama’s Best Shots crew gave it the following review:

Wow, a Ragman story. You don’t come across these much. I love how this goes back and forth between the story of the Maccabees and Ragman handing out some street justice. Rob Levin really delivered on the script and Brian Ching just nailed the art.

Look for that in shops everywhere, and special thanks to Michael Atiyeh, who has done some of the best work of his career on this short story. Mike, I owe you one…
I also cut my hair, proving I lied about my promise not to cut my hair until I finished my screenplay. I didn’t finish it, but 6.5 months worth of reminding wasn’t doing anything to get me going. A challenge from The Hill Administration will hopefully get me on the right track there, but that’s a post for another time.
I’ll be better about everything soon, it’s just been crazy times and I’ve felt my creativity sapped at times, so I need to put it into work instead of wasting my time writing about who knows what on the blog. Money’s still a little tight and there are no new checks in sight…
That’s all the plugging I can stomach for right now. If you’re still reading, thank you. 2010 really feels like it’s shaping up to be a break-out year for me. If you’re curious as to why, stay tuned to this space and the twitter.

Bang on my roof, why don’t you…

And that’s what the workers above me did, from about 9am until around 4:45pm.
I answered emails (I think I checked them about 62 times today), went to a meeting, and a had a call. But I couldn’t get any writing done with that damn racket going on. I tried and I tried, but to no avail. I thought the people above me were noisy, but them moving out and carpeters (carpeteers?) were even worse. Hopefully they finished today and won’t come back ever. Every room I tried to hide in they found me.
I don’t like a day spent working in which nothing gets done. Makes every project feel like an albatross.

2.5 Weeks?!?

Insert interrobang here.
I had no idea I’d been gone this long. Got crazy busy with things, and frustrated with an inability to complete one of them. Didn’t seem like the right time to blog for a bit.
I’m back now. Woke up with a killer title in my head. It’s a pun, sure, but puns can be great titles if the material backs them up.
Things that have kept me busy that you can check out now or soon listed below.
Now:
Tumor (issues #1-6 available on Kindle, free issues and extras on TumorTheComic.Com)
Days Missing (issues #1-3 in stores, #4 out next month)
– Twitter (@roblevin, as usual)
Soon:
DC Holiday Special 2009 (featuring a Ragman/Chanukah story by yours truly with jaw-dropping art by the amazing Brian Ching and a cover by good buddy Dustin Nguyen) [Previews Order Code OCT09 0223]
– New book to be announced any day with Bryan Edward Hill
– New creator-owned book that revives a long dormant idea
As always, my screenplay is not done and haunts every waking minute of my life. But it will be soon. And once I break the seal… It’s over.

Pro Time is Go Time (and LBCC details)

One of the struggles of being a freelancer is known as the “Freelancer’s Dilemma.” Simply put, it states that you never say no to a job for fear that they will stop asking. And that’s why, looking back on the first 9 months of 2009, I wonder if I haven’t made some mistakes.
I had a miniseries on the table as soon as I was done with Top Cow. The creators were all about me being on board, but it was a complicated project and I had to make sure I had the right take on it, or I’d be doing them and my career a disservice. Ultimately, while I liked the project, it wasn’t the right thing for me because I knew it wasn’t something I had the ability to make great. With a heavy heart and diminishing funds, I turned it down. Luckily I’m still talking to the same crew about other work, but I have no idea if/when that’ll materialize. For the record, the writer who did take the gig is a much better choice and I think can make it a great book.
I’ve turned down two full-time editing gigs. They weren’t the right fit. When I went freelance, I told myself that this was a no looking back sort of thing, and I’d push as far as I could until there was no writing work out there to be found. I was only going back to staff editing if I got some crazy job (a high level editing gig with Marvel working out of the LA office for example). I was going to make it writing.
I did a treatment for a feature film/series on spec. The intention was that if I nailed it I would write the feature or be a staff writer on the series (they were pitching it both ways). So when the call came in at 5pm that they needed something the following morning, I stepped up big, wrote something pretty damn good (with a twist I’m still really proud of) and delivered what they needed for the meeting. And then they sold the project. The people that bought it wanted to use other writers (I wrote about this in my ‘Be a Professional’ entry way back), so that meant my services were no longer needed. It sucked, but it’s also totally understandable. Especially for this guy, who’s now developed treatments for two projects that have sold, and then he’s been asked off them. It happens, it’s Hollywood, deal.
It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve had Marvel ask me to pitch on projects (which will lead to an upcoming feature in December when a certain book is out – I didn’t get it), I’ve gotten my first story with DC, a new series with Bryan Hill and some fantastic artists at Top Cow (as well as some one-shots), and a long-gestating project at Archaia. Plus another publisher and I have been trying to find something for me to write through some weird circumstances, and it looks like that’s finally happening. I also started a consulting business – Comic Book Consulting. For a guy who was known primarily as an editor before this calendar year, I’m not doing so bad.
I’ve also said yes to a lot of things that never happen. People tell me they’re hot on something or want to do X, and then I’m left holding the phone (usually for months). I say yes, I wait, and then nothing happens. No one told me freelancing was like hustling. And it’s like that 24/7 even when you think it’s going to be smooth sailing after Y. But I’ve read Iceberg Slim, so I’m handling it.
Each mistake leads to another opportunity. I’ve hit every deadline and kept every door wide open. Just need a few more of them to make it through the tough times. Hopefully the Long Beach Comic Con will lead to some opportunities for me. I’ll be attending the show all three days, and hope to see some familiar faces and catch up with a lot of friends.
Here’s my schedule for the show:
Friday
4pm – 5pm Top Cow booth #365

Saturday
2pm – 2:45pm Editing in Comics panel – Room C
4pm – 5pm Top Cow booth #365

Sunday
1pm -2pm Top Cow booth #365
Other than that I’ll be floating, so give me a buzz if you’d like to meet or hook up.

I’ve Said It Before, I’ll Say It Again…

I’m a big efficiency guy. Not that I’m the most efficient person, but I’m far from inefficient. In fact, the reason I’m able to waste as much time and procrastinate as much as I do is because when I’m actually working I am highly efficient.
I get distracted by the Internet, TV, twitter, and my own inability to focus. I’m no different than anyone else. But the more I spend my days organized around meetings and phone calls (which are not entirely useless, but often planned poorly and even more often without an agenda), I just want to take people to school.
Here’s a good place to start:
Get with the program, world. We can do better, even if it takes us more than 4 hours per week to do it.
Additional resources:

How to Handle a Missed Deadline

In the five years I spent at Top Cow, and even the ensuing months entering the freelance world whilst straddling both sides of the desk, I’ve seen almost everything. No, no one ever pulled a fast one like fake tracking numbers or empty boxes, but I’ve heard the entire gamut when it comes to excuses for why things don’t coincide with the initially agreed upon deadlines.
One of the things I’ve been careful to remember, and hopefully succeeding in doing, is that as a freelancer you are your brand. Your company is you, represented not only by your work, but by your actions. On your personal projects you can screw up as much as you want. You’re the only one that suffers. When you’re working for someone else, there are no excuses.
And yet, things happen. You mess up, a crisis can’t be averted, etc. Read this article tonight about how to handle missed deadlines, and I think plenty of comic PROFESSIONALS and freelancers in other industries would be wise to brush up on their client-freelancer etiquette in the event they find themselves missing a deadline for any reason.
Sometimes just these simple acts go a long way.

So That Happened…

Thursday was an interesting day.  I began the day trying out a new energy drink, going for a walk, writing for half an hour, and then going to work.  This could have been any day, though I don’t write as much as I would like, until about 4pm.
Matt came into my office and closed the door.  He told me had just let Mel go.  Then he said he was eliminating my position.  And just like that, roughly five years to the day, my time at Top Cow was over.  He talked to me about some options in terms of future work, and gave me the option to tell him to go to hell.  He left and I spent about 30 seconds going, Okay, that really did happen.  And that’s when it got weird.
I didn’t get upset.  Not sad or angry.  I skipped all the stages of grief and went right to acceptance.  I stared at the computer for those 30 seconds, then called a buddy to follow up on a freelance editing gig he had mentioned.  I had a phone call about 8 minutes later, so I just sat there with the door closed and waited for the phone to ring.  I thought, Sink or swim time.  You want to be a writer.  You complain that editing doesn’t give you the time.  Here’s your shot to do it and make a living.  And I felt totally okay.
I spent almost an hour on the phone, talking about that, other things, and pretty much that.  Talking about it didn’t make the prospect of chasing my next paycheck any scarier.  It didn’t make me feel undervalued or unappreciated after being dropped with no warning or inkling it was coming.  I remained okay.
I was planning on spending 2009 getting my writing career going so that at the end of the year, or later if I wanted, I would have the option to leave editing behind.  It’s not that I didn’t love it, but it definitely has its drawbacks and can be very frustrating.  The thing is, it was never the end goal.  I’m a writer, and I want to tell my own stories, not just shepherd those of others.  Ultimately this speeds up what was at best a tentative plan by about 11.5 months.  And I’m totally fine with that.
Some of the creators I let know are kind of sick to their stomachs over the whole thing.  My mom is probably freaking out, my dad is worried, and my sister is probably pissed.  She went through the same thing a few months ago, but she’s also still in school for her Master’s.  I’m feeling oddly okay with the whole situation.  The hardest part is walking away from creators and projects.
I’ve come to feel a real sense of ownership on a number of books.  Of course I’m talking about Witchblade and The Darkness.  They’re the flagships, the only perennial ongoings, and I have longstanding working relationships with the creators involved, especially Ron Marz and Phil Hester.  They were also the only creators who got the call yesterday.  I got pretty choked up on both calls.  I called, feeling as solid as I was feeling, but then you start realizing that you’re not going to be on the phone or IM or even email with these guys all the time, talking about work, life, and whatever else comes up.  I’ll definitely be in touch with both, but…  A big part of their lives is what they do to make money, as was mine, and I won’t be their creative midwife anymore.  Phil killed me by trying to blame himself.  I kind of cut the tension by telling him it really was his fault.  Ron did it when he said, “I’m not going to say that it’s been a pleasure, or anything else like that,” and then the phone just went silent for a really long beat.  I’m sure my voice was shaking a bit when I finally spoke again.
There are other books I’ve really loved and felt a strong connection to like Genius, which I championed like no other near unsellable book, and Madame Mirage, which probably didn’t need me too involved but I’m still willing to take any credit for its successes.  It’s really tough to just make a clean, immediate break from projects and creators I’ve spent the last five years working on and with, respectively.
The remainder of Thursday was spent at Busby’s, commiserating with Mel (who I should probably talk to more since we’re in the same boat) and the rest of the gang.  It was a little weird having everyone tell you how sorry they were to see me go when I was already busy thinking about how great it was going to be to finally be able to devote time to my writing career.  The power of positive thinking (and framing), I suppose.  Perception truly does dictate reality.
I spent all of Friday calling and emailing creators, letting them know my status and that Filip would be taking over all of my responsibilities as well as Mel’s.  Lots of shocked creators out there.  I won’t blow smoke up my own ass…  But there are many who would say I’m the best editor they’ve worked with.  It’s nice to hear that I had an impact on the work and lives of at least a few of them.  I can self-aggrandize all I want, but hearing it in a genuine way really does mean a lot.  It’s really weird to just be done with all that.
I take solace in the fact that for five years I gave all I had to give.  From working for free for a year, to telling Matt I was up for whenever when Renae left, and him putting the faith in me to run editorial (at 22, I think).  I left it all out there on the court, to borrow from my sports vernacular, and there’s very little I would change.  Would I rather have my job when I wake up tomorrow?  Absolutely.  There was plenty I liked about the gig and the people I worked with that I wasn’t ready to walk away from.  Am I okay with being unemployed and being forced to embark on the next phase of my life?  Absolutely.  I think this is one of the best things to ever happen to me.
I
still have a ton of creators to notify, and I’m sure lots to catch Filip up on.  I don’t know how that guy is ever going to sleep again.  I’ll be doing some freelance writing and editing for the Cow, so hopefully anything I do in both capacities will alleviate some of his stress rather than add to it.  And I still need to figure out how to disconnect from all the books and people I’m so used to being around and involved with on a seemingly hourly capacity.  The 4-Hour Workweek is helping…  One of the things Ferriss goes over is people who are addicted to their station in life.  They’ll make every excuse in the world about how they can’t leave their job because it’s not the right time, they’ll never do as well, etc.  And the whole book is about people, including him, who have done all the things others are scared to.  One exercise is to imagine the worst-case scenario.  If the worst is you losing your job, how bad is that really.  It happened to me on Thursday, and I’m living proof that I lost what was one of the most important things in my life and I didn’t crumble.  Still here, still standing, still going strong.
***
I’ll be at the New York Comic Con next month, and sticking around NY a few days after (thanks to Elaine).  I hope to see a lot of the friends I’ve made over the last few years there and catch up, as well as score plenty of gigs.  I’ve gotten a lot of offers for help in whatever capacity I need, I just need to spend next week pounding the pavement and lining up some work, seeing if freelance is a viable option for me to make a living via.
It’s an interesting time for me because the only responsibilities I have are rent, car payments, insurance and utilities (plus the never-diminishing school loans).  I have no familial or relationship obligations to lock me down, and my lease is month-t0-month.  I can literally go anywhere and do anything if need be.  It’s kind of liberating.  Well, except for the thought that I might disappoint some dodgeball teams if I take off… I haven’t traveled much outside of for conventions the last couple years, and already I’m thinking about where I’d like to go, and how easy it’ll be to work from there so long as they have an Internet connection.  I think Japan is definitely high up on my list right now…
I don’t know what the future holds, but for today that doesn’t scare me at all.  Stay tuned to this space for updates on whatever I’m up to.  And I’ll have to make sure there’s a link in the sidebar to contact me.  In case you’re wondering, the email is the blog name @ gmail.com.

The 4-Hour Workweek

I’ve started reading Tim Ferriss‘ book again.  I have the audio, and I got about halfway through last time before it threatened to destroy my life.  It pointed out all the inefficiencies and time wasters of my world.  It made me want to be a more productive individual.  Work smarter, not harder.  That sort of thing.
Anyhow, I’ve started at the beginning and I’m going to finish it this time.  I’m going to become a life hacker.  I’ve added Tim’s blog to the list at right, and you can find more about him and the book HERE.
Also, if anyone knows where I can watch the pilot of Tim’s show, Trial by Fire, please let me know.