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.

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.

No One Said It Would be Easy

They say that writing is an old man’s game.  Sure, we exalt those wunderkinds who break in early or fast and jump straight to the head of the class, but by and large the old men get the jobs and the accolades.  It takes a lot of life to become a great writer.  Same reason most writers get better as they age, not worse.  Writers, in effect, are the reverse athletes.  Or, to borrow from comic parlance, the Zoom to their Flash.  Okay… that’s a stretch, but comics are my constituency and I don’t reference them enough.

So what’s life like until you get all old and great?  It’s tough.  Damn tough.  It’s a constant, unending grind of doing all sorts of things, some of which involve writing. My days are packed from start to finish.  Usually they start something like this:

  • Wake up
  • Feed the animals
  • Eat breakfast while checking E-mail/twitter
  • Blog
  • Walk the dog

But those are about the only constants I can count on.  After that I might have to jump into a script or a re-write, or work up ideas based on discussions with artists who are willing to collaborate on an original project.  Other days I hop in the shower and head to work at CBR, but not before making sure all of my emails are answered and my editorial work for various companies and creators is taken care of.  Or when the bank account is low, searching for and reaching out to line up more work to keep the roof above and the lights on.

I end up spending as much, if not more, time looking for work and setting up meetings to try and line up future work.  And it’s exhausting.  Looking for work is a lot like being a running back in the NFL.  You have the ball and you know where you need to get, but often times there’s no hole.  You just have to run the play and hit whatever tiny opening there is in the hopes that you can break some tackles or someone will lay down a block that allows you to get to the end zone.

There are any number of reasons it doesn’t happen.  Timing, politics, random act of random.  But more often than not, the only thing standing in your way is talent and experience.  You’re not good enough because you haven’t written enough good stuff, and you haven’t written enough good stuff because you haven’t lived enough.

But you keep running.  Yards per carry don’t matter.  You’re not going for average.  You have to score.  So you keep pushing and pushing, and at the end of every day you’re exhausted.  Sometimes you’re fortunate enough that you’ve done some writing before you’re ready to pass out.  Other times you take a tally of the day’s work and it feels like a waste, but you know you’ve done exactly what you have to do to maintain some financial stability.  For my money, I have more of the latter than the former.

I don’t write every day.  Plain and simple, I fail.  I’m not making excuses.  I need to write every day, and it’ll be the subject of a future blog, but I often fail at this.  I’m either too spent or too lazy, or sometimes I’m able to convince myself that doing the paid work justifies not advancing my career by writing something just for me (or a pitch that can be for the world).

But here’s the thing.  You can’t just wait around and expect things to happen for you.  Only you can make them happen.  Just because writers get better as they age, doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly be great and successful at some later date.  You have to put in the work to get there.  I’m not talking about Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of perfect practice; I’m talking about putting in the work on the days when you’ve got nothing left.  Pushing, striving, moving forward.

I’m a firm believer that most people need to write the bad out.  Early projects are like the drafting process for your career.  On any specific project, you write a draft to get it out there and see what works and doesn’t.  Things are much easier to adjust once they’re done and on paper.  You write another draft and it’s better, and another and another.  So it goes for a career.  Your first published work is often shit.  Why do you think Marvel and many others don’t hire first-time writers.  But then you do something that isn’t completely wretched, and the next thing shows just a glimmer of hope.  Sometimes things align and you break out, and from there it’s all champagne wishes and caviar dreams.  Other times you fall right back down to earth because it was a fluke or an editor/artist/influential review carried you farther than you were ready.

Point is, you can’t fake it.  Every day is a grind.  Life gets in the way.  Making money gets in the way.  Exhaustion gets in the way.  I’d much rather spend time with my girlfriend at the end (and often the beginning) of a busy day than sit down in front of the computer.  I’d much rather ensure my longterm healthy by hitting the gym than type up a new proposal.  But I also have a plan.  I want to be able to write for a living.  I’m in a place now where writing does pay some of my bills, but that’s not enough.  I want to wake up and not have to look for work, or take on part-time jobs out of necessity.  I want to wake up and write, and write all day, then write some more before I go to sleep.  It’s not just what I want to do, it’s what I’m supposed to do.  I can feel that in nearly every fiber of my being except the lazy ones.

It’s not easy.  No one said it would be.  I can throw in the towel any time and get some square job that puts money on the table and give up this crazy dream.  Or I can do whatever it takes to keep pushing, write out the bad, and turn myself into the writer I need to be to get where I want to go.

I’m not there yet.  I’m not even close.  So for now, I have to put in work and stop making excuses.  It’s not easy.  Nothing worth having comes easy.

Time to write.

Rob Levin, Liar

Writers write. It’s the one simple, undeniable fact of their existence.  But that’s not me.

I don’t make a living as a writer.  I make part of one – between editing, consulting and various odd jobs, I put together enough to scrape by.  Part of that’s necessity.  I’m two and a half years into writing “full-time,” and it takes more than that (in most cases) to advance a career far enough to just make money doing one thing.  But I’ve also let that make me comfortable, and hold me back.  There’s some kind of mental block that holds me back from diving deeper into the writing and allowing it to be my sole gig.

I see people all around me getting what they want (and deserve) as writers.  One friend is getting his features career off the ground after years of near misses.  Another just co-founded a production company.  Another finally got his big break in comics and I’ll be beyond shocked if this doesn’t help him finally turn the corner and become one of those big names.  As much as I’d like to write features (says the guy who has yet to complete a screenplay), that’s not my immediate goal.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I would kill to get into a writers’ room.  On a good or a bad show, the writer’s room is where you not only find out what you’re made of, but get an insane education from some of the best and brightest working in television today.  And this isn’t just getting a job on “Lost” or “Sons of Anarchy” or “Treme.”  There are great writers working in television with a wealth of experience even on shows that aren’t brilliant.  Young writers, old writers, guys who just broken in and those that have been doing it for thirty years.  The writer’s room is the ultimate learning experience for a working writer, and I’ve know this a long time.  It’s exactly where I want to get.

With shows for the Fall season getting staffed up right now, more and more people I know are getting on shows.  Friends, acquaintances, and all those writers with massive piles of experience I mentioned.  So where am I?  Not writing screenplays.  Not writing pilots or specs.  Barely writing comics.  And that makes me a liar.

I know what I want (personally and professionally).  I’m a very goal-oriented person and I structure my life accordingly.  But less and less, I’m not writing.  I’m busy chasing work (writing and otherwise) and letting that consume me, or I’m doing writing that, as the always astute Joshua Hale Fialkov termed it, is “editing, even when it’s writing.” I’m sitting on the sidelines and making excuses (“I’ll write more when I have a full-time job that takes care of my expenses,” “I have to do this thing that pays before I can work on personal projects.”) instead of putting pen to paper (fingers to keys) and just writing because it’s what I have to do.

Writers write.  There’s not more to that sentence.  It’s two words and a period.  No caveats, no footnotes, just a simple, honest fact.  Writers write.  Once more for emphasis.  So what’s wrong with me.  Why am I not writing.

The only thing standing between me and my goals professionally is my limited body of work.  My lack of samples.  My commitment to excellence.  I know this.  The problem has been identified and is easily correctable.  I’ve known this truth for months if not years.  I have people in my life who want me to succeed – friends, family, other writers.

Apparently I’m a liar.  Apparently I don’t want to get into a writers’ room. Apparently I don’t want to follow a stint in television with a lengthy career in features working in multiple genres.  If I wanted either of these things, I’d be writing. Plain and simple, make no bones about it.  If I wanted to solve my “problem” I could just write my way out.  But I’m not writing.  Not nearly enough or as often as I need to write the bad out let alone build a career.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, right. I’m blogging again, for the first time since mid-March, but this is only my 8th post of the year.  Some writer… I’m hoping that letting whatever crap is in my brain out on the page each morning it’ll loosen me up to make some progress on anything.  I’m hoping that by blogging again I can psych myself up enough to take some positive steps toward the future.

I don’t want to be a liar anymore.  I know what I want.  You know what I want.  Let’s get to writing, shall we.

 

The Best Laid Plans…

I watched “The Dialogue: Sheldon Turner” and, like most of these inspirational (or soul-crushingly depressing) how-tos on writing, I took it with several grains of salt.  Writing, like most creative endeavors, is not simply a matter of hearing how (and often not why) someone does something in a certain way of copying them.  While that might work, it’s not guaranteed.  You have to figure out what works for you – your style, your habits, your life.

Turner mentioned that he gets up at 4am every day (or more accurately 3:57) and writes for about an hour.  He then works out, gets his day going and goes back to writing.  I’m going to keep working out at night (for now) because I have a sexy training partner – no, it’s not me in the mirror – and I have these animals who get up when I do and need care and maintenance, but I liked the idea of starting my writing day before the rest of the world is even awake. Maybe this is the answer to boost my writing metabolism.

Lately I’ve been lamenting the fact that even when I sit down early and try to focus on just writing, things crop up or I’m just not on.  It may take me anywhere from two to ten hours to really get the juices flowing and get into a rhythm where I can write more than fifteen words without declaring them complete and utter shit.  How do I make more consistent progress?  Maybe Turner had the answers.  He mentioned that he rarely sleeps more than 4-5 hours a night or he’s off, and I average about 4.5-5.5 hours a night on weekdays.

Last night I set two alarms.  One for 6am and a backup for 6:37.  I wasn’t ready to dive right into the 4am wake-up call, and it was just after 1am when I hit the sack.  My early alarm went off.  I hit snooze.  Rinse. Repeat. Ad nauseum. My backup never went off.

I woke up this morning just north of 8:30am…

Not saying I can’t train myself to make it work, but it’s looking like I’m just a better afternoon-evening-night productivity person.  My next step (MWF when I have “writing” days) is a full electronic pinch.  I will turn off all Internet and other communications during the standard 9-5 workday, leave my phone on silent – not vibrate – and not turn on the TV for any reason.  My only allowed distraction will be music.  The Black Box work environment.  As much as we blame email, twitter and facebook for being the biggest distractions, when writing I will often get hung up on research, particularly for visual reference, when I should just plow through and fill in later.

I’ll continue to try to do the early riser deal, and if the distraction-free thing doesn’t work, I can resort to the Creativity Elixir. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you have any particular hints or hacks to get up and get going earlier, or how to turn on the creative juices, please leave a comment.

The Problem with “LYP”

“LYP” was a screenplay I started and never finished.

It hatched from nothing on New Year’s Eve 2008 and six months later I actually got around to writing it.  For 9 working days across a two-week stretch I wrote with the goal of completing 10 pages a day.  9 working days and 81 pages later, I don’t think I was doing too poorly considering the longest thing I had written before that was 51 pages.  Although, now that I think about it, that particular abandoned script was written in less than 24 hours and begun with no real story or planning involved.  I just got home from dinner and wrote, then did a little more the next day.

My goal was the Tony Gilroy school of writing as passed to me by Bryan Edward Hill.  Write ten pages a day, every day.  Each day you start from Page 1 and revise what’s come before so when you get to a final draft it’s really tight and really polished.  Or at least that’s what I remember of it.

“LYP” was a story that needed to get out.  It came to me in a flash while I was getting ready to go out, I typed up a one-page synopsis and fired off to Hill.  I then spent almost 7 months figuring out the story, and whether I could pull the trigger on actually writing it.  It was about murder and relationships and feeling lost and time travel (sort of), and I wanted to write it.  So one day I sat down and promised myself I’d write ten pages a day until I finished.

I wrote 81 pages, stopped when I couldn’t write any more on that last day and never picked it up again.  Outside of first drafts of comics done in an unrestricted screenplay format, I haven’t written a word of a screenplay since.  It wasn’t because I couldn’t keep writing and power through to a bad first draft.  It wasn’t because I ran out of steam or got “writer’s block.”  I even sent the unfinished draft to Hill and got some great overall notes and a way to fix some things I didn’t even know were wrong about the opening.  I couldn’t get back to it for some reason, but as of today I think I know.

I’ve been reading “Story” by Robert McKee before I go to bed and sometimes on the can.  It’s my third or fourth attempt, having previously been derailed by Stephen Gaghan and boredom.  This morning I read about how a character making a simple choice – to lie or tell the truth – ends up creating two very different stories, and a different character.  I let this sink in on all day, nothing I didn’t know, and then had this epiphany a few minutes ago.

Stories are supposed to build so that each successive choice (or obstacle) for a character is greater than the last.  His final choice should be the toughest thing he’s ever had to do, and a real test of who he is as a person.  The problem with “LYP” is that the choice my protagonist makes doesn’t work for who he is as a character.  I made what would be the biggest decision of his life the first real choice in the screenplay and what spins us off into Act 2.  The decision is made so lightly, and the choices he has to make later on don’t exactly escalate.  I screwed my story, and my protagonist, in one fell swoop.

I think that’s why I started not liking the story as I got into Act 2.  It wasn’t because it didn’t have the “Fun and Games” trailer moments Blake Snyder talks about in “Save the Cat,” but simply that there was a major structural (and character) flaw that I didn’t catch until 50 pages after it happened.

It feels good to know this, but I’m also not going back to “LYP” any time soon.  It’s not the right story for right now, both for my life and for my writing samples.  Question is…

What do I want to write?

Adios, 2010

I’ve neglected this blog.  There are a lot of reasons, and they’re the same reasons I didn’t accomplish many of my goals over the past year.  It really only comes down to one thing.  Excuses.  I don’t want them anymore.

I have two goals for the next year.  1) Eliminate excuses and 2) Do the things I’ve never done.

The first part is hard, the latter is easy.  There’s so much I haven’t done, and I’m just talking professionally.  Finish* a screenplay.  Write a novel. Write a TV pilot. None of these require anything but time, effort and solid ideas.  I don’t have to rely on artists or publishers or anyone else to get them done.  So a year from now, when the curtain closes on 2011, I hope to look back and put a check next to each of these items on the to-do list.  Otherwise I’ll know that “Eliminate excuses” didn’t stick, and for that I will also only have one person to blame.  Me.

***

Looking back on 2010, personally it was a great year.  I’ve been surrounded by amazing friends (even though my best friend in LA and a newer buddy both left town, jerks), spent a little time with family, and of course I have this ridiculously amazing girlfriend who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping me sane and motivated.  Professionally, it was a bit of a mess.

I’m about two weeks shy of two years in the freelance trenches.  It’s been harder than I ever imagined, but not quite as satisfying as I once believed it would be.  I’ve been all over the map in terms of what I wanted creatively, and what I needed financially.  It’s made it abundantly clear to me what I want to do moving forward.  I’ve spent so much time chasing paying work that I haven’t taken the time to really develop and get my own ideas out there.  Part of (semi-)resolution #2 above is about getting my ideas out there, but I’d also like to do that in the comic space.

I’ve just recently begun working with a talented new artist – I’m nowhere close to announcing or marketing this one yet – on a project unlike anything I’ve ever done, and that’s the first step in the right direction for comics.  I’m also hoping to begin developing original IP with one of the best, most versatile and most underrated artists in comics in the next few months as well.  There’s always the hope that Bernard Chang and I will finally jam on something as well, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of my biggest frustrations with comics over the past two years has been distancing the guy who worked for a publisher and ran an editorial department Me from writer Me.  I see publishers dropping the ball in terms of behind-the-scenes stuff and marketing.  I see editors making everyone’s life tougher because certain little, basic things weren’t done earlier.  This is an industry-wide problem, but having been in that position during my tenure at Top Cow I know how easy some of these things are to avoid, but as an industry there are systemic problems.

One of my greatest hopes is to find an editor who is on my wavelength – someone I’m completely sympatico with – to really support my ideas and make the whole working relationship smoother.  That’s not a knock on any of the editors and creators I’ve worked with thus far in my career, but I’m always striving for better in myself and others. I’d like a working relationship with an editor that feels more organic and free-flowing, the way my relationship with Bryan Hill is.  We connect, plain and simple, and there’s always another layer (or twelve) to make sure I’m speaking the same language with some of the people I work with on WFH projects.

All frustrations aside, I’m very happy with the actual writing work that came out in 2010. The Darkness: Shadows and Flame, Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box (#1-4), Abattoir (#1-2) and 7 Days From Hell.  On these books I got to work with Jorge Lucas, Felix Serrano, Bryan Edward Hill, Alessandro Vitti, Facundo Percio, Sunny Gho, Tommy Lee Edwards, Bing Cansino, Phil Noto, Brian Stelfreeze, Darren Lynn Bousman and, of course, the one and only Troy Peteri (as well as a few others I’m forgetting).  I couldn’t be more grateful for all of my collaborators and the work they’ve done to make me look like I have some idea of what I’m doing.  This includes the editors, designers and marketing folk on these projects as well.  If they don’t do their thing, nothing goes to press and no one hears about it.  The unsung heroes (Phil Smith being a prime example) are heroes to everyone inside a project, every time.

I’m especially grateful to Top Cow (Filip Sablik, Phil Smith and Matt Hawkins in particular) for taking a chance on 7 Days From Hell and for the readers and critics who really responded to what we did on the book.  Bryan and I were talking about it earlier today, from his initial thoughts getting down on paper to how the book was received, it really did what we hoped it would and people understood it the way we wanted.  Well, technically we designed it to win Pilot Season, but 39 Minutes managed to swing the voters in their favor (hats off to Bill Harms, Jerry Lando, Jay Leisten and Brian Buccellato).  The support we received – solicited and spontaneous – really meant a lot to me.  Having friends who don’t read comics tell you they dug something, or having your contemporaries in the industry give you an earnest pat on the back… it really helps make all the hours alone at the computer a bit more palatable.

This was supposed to be a short post, but not writing for a couple months makes it tougher to be concise.  2011 is going to be a much different year for me.  I’m weighing a number of options in terms of my immediate future, and I might be doing some very different, unexpected things both in terms of my writing and other ventures.  No news yet, but I have many fingers and toes crossed.

Thank you to everyone that’s been a part of a very good year, and I wish you and yours all the best in 2011 and beyond.  I’m gonna kill it next year.  I hope you do the same.

 

*The idea for LYP was hatched as I got ready to go out on NYE two years ago , and I haven’t touched it since July 2009.  And no, it won’t be the first screenplay I finish in 2011…

Scuffling

This post has nothing to do with baseball.

I’m scuffling when it comes to writing. I blame a lot of things, but it all falls on my shoulders in the end. The biggest problems I’ve faced in the freelance jungle are delays and false promises. You have to deal with a lot of the latter just to get in the position to suffer through the former. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can always write.

Most days I don’t earn a dime. I let that consume me. I spend more time looking for work than actually working. When the lights turn green and deadlines are set, nothing stands in my way. I hit deadlines, because I understand the notion of the “creative team.” It’s like an eco-system, and every member of the team has to do their part at all times, even when things go awry, or the whole thing falls apart. So I hit my deadlines.

And then the wait for approvals start, and everything goes to shit. I put off starting something else in the hopes that I can get quick notes, re-draft and fire back corrections. This invariably leads to days without progress. Then I start fretting over the days and worrying about when the next check on the already approved project is going to come, so I start the search to line up more work, and the cycle perpetuates itself.

What happens at the end of the day is I let people (and these are people who pay me, mind you) decide when I can and cannot write. It’s June, and that means it’s been about a year since I wrote anything I haven’t been paid to write, or at least something that wouldn’t potentially get me more paid work.

I got 79 pages into a screenplay and never touched it again. Every time a project hit the skids I could have noodled away a page or two. I didn’t. I could have spent the free time – not shifting gears and brainspace entirely to something to else concurrent – coming up with new concepts. I did a little bit of this, but not to make a difference.

Since late November or thereabouts, I’ve been really unhappy with much of what I’ve written. There have been some highlights, but on the whole my production has dipped and I haven’t liked what’s come out of it. In some cases Hill and I get things up to snuff. In solo work it just means a lot more drafting until it’s good enough to send to whoever’s paying. But in terms of the stuff I do for me… It’s all but dried up.

I keep trying to kick my ass into gear and I can’t do it. This week I’m already stressing over yet more empty promises not coming to fruition and the bread line on the horizon. I’m so unhappy with my work there are times I think about packing it in. Writing isn’t easy. I know this. It shouldn’t be easy. I know this too.

I have to find a way to get back to where I was, Sixth Man of the Year on the All-Hustle Squad. I used to write for me. I did it when I could, around other writing and editing work, but it happened. Now I get the chance to write for me (be it a blog or a concept list or a spec screenplay) and I freeze up. I’m not scared of the blank page, just the shit I ruin all that white with.

There’s this stupid part of me that keeps thinking a breakthrough will just come – out of the blue, minimal work required. And I say, “Hey, stupid part of Rob, shut it!” But I’m still not writing. Maybe if I can fill my day with enough WFH gigs that them stalling will just mean I can jump on another one and move on.

Or maybe I can stop being an idiot and just write. Day in, day out. Maybe that means I buy a battery for my busted laptop. Maybe it means a new laptop, and I drive somewhere and just jam. Maybe I replace my fitness mornings with writing time, and shift the former to nights (when I should be writing but don’t do much).

I have to stop worrying about other people, financial instability and anything else that’s just a distraction from the goal at hand. But I keep looking for a magic pill to make that happen. Effort and time. That’s the pill.

Time to get a taste of my own home remedy…

Distractions

Some people let video games, side projects, and procrastination get in the way of their work.  While I’ve been guilty of the latter my whole life, the former have never really held me back.  And yet I find myself distracted by a number of things.  I thought I’d get on track after my move, but new things have popped up.

My fish is sick

A few months back my girlfriend and I bought a betta fish.  His name is Sushi, and he’s one of the prettiest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  He was doing fine and dandy until I moved into my new place.  I changed his water on the 16th, but due to my second distraction (see below), I’ve been unable to do it again since.  This past weekend we got around to changing his water and he looked awful.  His tail was ratty as hell, his fins were all tucked in, and he was hiding.  He would end up face down under the decorative rock and gave me quite a few scares that he had ceased to be.

It breaks my heart to see him go from majestic to sickly in the span of a few short weeks.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with him the past few days, talking to him and making sure he eats his food.  I’ve also got him in super warm water via a heater.  Seeing my fish sick like this is taking a toll, so I can’t imagine what will happen if Future Dog ever takes ill.  Sushi is now blowing bubble nests left and right and appears to be on the mend, which is easing my conscience a ton.

I broke a finger and got stuck in a cast

I jammed my finger playing dodgeball.  Two days later I was in a splint, playing again.  I had a great game and knew I couldn’t take a sabbatical from the sport I love.  The X-rays came back negative two days later.  A week after the initial injury, I was playing at the site of the initial injury and took a shot to the finger.  It knocked the splint clear off and I could feel my pulse in my finger.  I jammed it back in the splint and kept playing, somehow managing to have an ok game despite wanting to chew my messed up finger clean off.

I didn’t think that a rubber ball could break my finger if jamming it into a wrought-iron grate hadn’t.  The fact that it moved just millimeters and had out of control bruising didn’t dissuade me.  Alas, I was wrong, and had suffered a fracture (in three places if I’m not mistaken).  But I didn’t find this out for another 10 days.  Luckily my finger’s alignment was pretty good, so I’ve only been in a cast for three weeks.

I go to the doctor in the morning (not the shitty one, the good one with the digital X-ray machine).  I’ve got every non-broken limb left crossed and hoping I get this thing off.  They say I might need to undergo some physical therapy to regain full mobility in my index finger.

This is the second injury to my left hand in the last year.  The last one was bone in my thumb and a splint, this year my index finger and a cast (forcing me to wear a vacuum sealed rubber glove in the shower).  Each injury has made me appreciate how good I have it just to have been born free of any disabilities.  Everything is harder with one good hand.  Bathing, putting in contacts, tying shoes, buttoning, washing my hands, cutting up food, pleasing multiple erogenous zones simultaneously, typing and more.  I just want to get back to 100%.

(And there was also the added bonus of tearing up my good knuckles on pavement removing a melted bag from my car’s exhaust last week, and cutting my good thumb on the blade of my Ninja whilst doing dishes tonight.  I feel like a handless wreck.)

More than anything, I’ve allowed these things to distract me from my writing (the move whilst broken didn’t help either).  Twice in the last two days I’ve had the heads of companies tell me they really like the work I’m doing for them, and had my editors at each ask what else I want to do.  I looked at the last round of (solo) pitches I sent out and wasn’t happy.  There wasn’t a lot of passion in them, and none of the ideas really stood out.  I’ve been having a really hard time answering the “What do you want to next?” question.  Not what I think they want me to do, but what I want to do.

I know I want to tell stories.  Way more than I want to edit, as various setbacks this week alone have proved over and over.  Letting these distractions get in my path and hold me back has made me ask some serious questions about my next step.  I’m getting close to clear, and closer still to zeroed in on what the next move is going to be.

Everyone has distractions.  Some of their own making, some that can’t be avoided.  It’s how you handle (and learn from) them, and how you triumph in the face of adversity that defines you.  That makes my next step very clear in terms of my career.

Now is the time to define myself.  Get some original IP moving and get back to LYP or a new screenplay and get that 12,000 pound gorilla off my back.  I’m replacing distractions with action.