I am a Junkie

Information. Distraction. Innovation. Hesitation.
Procrastination.
I haven’t had the output I would like this week. From what I can remember, I don’t think last week was any better. Nothing productive other than exercise, eating, and email (also, as always, alliteration) has been accomplished before noon. I’m busy, but not so busy I can’t handle my business.
Yesterday should have been an afternoon dedicated to banging out a script after a call with Hill and setting up a few other things. But the afternoon came and… went, just as quickly. Not sure what happened. Even after dinner, rather than trying to work it was television and then messing around with various blogging/formatting stuff. I have a blog that works fine, but I’m always searching for the next/better/improved/scandalous thing that will somehow make me both a better writer and bring in more fans. Or something. I don’t even know.
And today, I’m typing this sentence at 1:07 pm and I haven’t written a lick. I can focus on the fact that I wrote a short pitch and sent it off to Hill on Wednesday and feel like I’ve gotten some iota of work done. But knowing I haven’t written a single sentence on the script I should have been working on for Monday makes that null and void.
I planned out today. I literally broke up almost everything I wanted to do today into blocks in iCal, leaving a few gaps for inevitable slips. It hasn’t helped. Nothing except for the basics (eat, exercise, email) has been touched.
I can’t stop procrastinating. My sleep has been bad. Some nights it’s because I go to bed with something playing on the laptop. Other times I go to bed in silence and it’s just as bed. NB2 suggested I start meditating. Two nights ago I thought I was listening to an beginner’s meditation audio track, but I was right and wrong about it. It was an Intro to Meditation thing, not an audio track to help guide me. Last night I listened to a different track that was actually what I was looking for… and fell asleep on it as well. At 9:11 (coincidence?) I woke up, groggy and frustrated after hitting the snooze umpteen times on two different alarms.
I’ll do some writing today, that much I’m sure of. But I need to figure out how to stop this information overload. I need to stop being a junkie for all of these things and write more. I still hit deadlines, so that’s not what I’m worried about. But I am worried about this being a familiar pattern. Fialkov figured out how to maximize his days, but I haven’t figured out my process. My brain isn’t constantly working over story problems when I do other stuff. My brain is like an accordion file, and when I’m looking in one tab, nothing is being accessed in any other. Unless I’m brushing my teeth, which is when all my thinking gets done.
Wondering why I’m blogging instead of putting the Internet on lockdown and opening up Final Draft or Pages? Yes, this too is procrastination. Figured you deserved an update just as much as I needed to put words on a blank white space. That’s progress. Sort of.
Edited: The always helpful Positivity Blog is going to be my inspiration today – How to Stop Procrastinating: 7 Timeless Tips
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Too Much Tuesday

I woke up to bad news.
An artist had missed a final deadline. It was time to make other plans. But we were so far behind that meant a whole lot of scrambling, favors asked, and logistics managed. I think I made the smart call, but it put me way behind to start the day. I didn’t even go for my run until about 12:30 in the afternoon. But the timing led to an impromptu chat with friend and writer Rick Loverd on Westwood Blvd., so no complaints there.
Hill and I traded scripts back and forth the rest of the day. The latest on Broken Trinity and a project I can’t talk about yet, but will make some very big noise very soon. Lots of little tweaks and formatting. I must have read each of them 4-6 times in the last 18 hours. But seriously, co-writing has so many perks. I definitely like the challenge of going it solo, but so far we’re getting some great stuff out of this pairing, so I hope it lasts a good long time.
Speaking of, Bryan’s twitter rambling got a Books section greenlit over at GeekWeek. It’s almost 3:30am and I’ve just finished a scathing editorial about my trip to the book store and the death of fiction. Maybe that’s a bit more extreme, but both of those things are discussed. I’m not sure it’s coherent so I’m holding off until tomorrow to post, but hopefully you’ll get a chuckle or two out of it.
Conan is going to come out of this late night debacle smelling like roses. Good for him. He’s been the funniest of all the hosts in addressing the situation, even though he’s the one getting jobbed. I guess misery is the other side of comedy. Remember what Mel Brooks said:
“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”
Also watched the Chuck premiere. I like the show, despite the fact that it gets stuck in a rut at times. They did some nice work at the end of last season, but they seem to be playing it a little too safe right now. And the action sequences are getting worse, but I don’t expect Cameron with my dramedy.
I think that’s it. Writing goes well in the new year. Ron Marz has been posting some good insights on twitter, as he always does. If you’re interested in his take on the comics industry, writing, or new ideas, definitely give him a follow. I need to remember to post something about Gamechangers here. Bug me if I don’t.

GSFTA

10 points to anyone that can decode the acronym in the title.
Didn’t get a blog out yesterday, but I wrote a column this morning for GW and an interview about BT is up, so I’m linking. Damn, all these abbreviations make it seem like I’m practically speaking in text.
Column:
Interview:
The interview was CBR’s top story at the time of this posting, so I figured I would take a moment to memorialize it in a screen grab.

Breaking the Seal

I don’t know what happened last year.
The last two months were incredibly unproductive for me in terms of writing. Sure I was finish up some editorial projects and they were giving their last gasp hassles, and yes there were the holidays (and me being gone in Ohio for a bit). But that’s no excuse. I just flat out wasn’t writing.
Given that I’m a writer, and a professional one since I’ve been paid more than once to do that thing I claim to do, I wasn’t cutting it. But I couldn’t do it. I would agonize over easy stuff (taking my polish/revision stab at the latest draft in the Hill/Levin saga), and flat out freeze when it came to other things (like that damnable screenplay). I just couldn’t get anything going. Sure, I could blame certain projects for not moving fast enough. I’d expel creative energy in one direction, get hyped, and then wait weeks (or longer) to hear what the next step was, or even if there would be one. But excuses are like assholes. No one needs ’em even if they come in handy once in a while.
When I made the resolution (on this very site), I was very clear not to set unobtainable goals. It wasn’t that I was going to write X amount every day. It was just that I was going to sit here and write every day. Chances are, between the 30 or so projects gestating at any given time, I’d be able to get something out there, even if it’s just notes for something I haven’t really thought out yet.
So last night I got a late start after dinner and did just that. I spent a few hours working and made actual progress on something that was already 3 weeks overdue. Tonight I worked on it again. A later start, and now it’s almost 3am, but I got more written than yesterday and that thing is inching closer to completion.
Is it good? Probably not. There are parts I’m not happy with in the slightest, but it’s just a draft. And as I’ve come to realize, the first step is getting something on paper. You can have the best idea ever, and in your head it may be genius, but a) it’s not real yet, and b) it’s much easier to fix something when it’s in some kind of form, rather than nebulous headspace. So I push on, trying to get this scene done, and then the next one, and then the next. And when it’s finished, it doesn’t have to be perfect. I can take a look and make it better. I can pass it off to a co-writer or a trusted reader. I can make it better on the next pass, but I have to get this one done first.
Aspiring writers, never forget that bit. You can always make it better, but you have to get it written first. Write, then edit, then write some more.
Writing is not a young man’s game. Most of what is written is crap. But the more you write, the more likely you are to get that crap out of your system. If I were a pessimist I would say all I’ve done the last two days is “get more crap out of my system.”
I’m constantly amazed at how consistent my co-writer Bryan Hill is. There’s a very high level to everything he does, and that could be the idea he just typed up after a phone call, or a screenplay he’s toiled over. It’s always there. And I believe his secret is that he’s written out his bad stuff. Sure, some stuff is better than others; that’s always going to happen. Not every idea can be a winner. But the overall quality is astounding.
I don’t like most of what I write. I’m overly self-critical, but I’ve learned to put that aside. Malcom Gladwell talks about talent in his book Outliers. He calls talent the result of several factors, the largest of which is 10,000 hours of practice. I don’t need the process of writing to get easier, and I don’t need to think that everything will make me feel happier once it’s on the page. But knowing that I’m getting more and more of my bad writing out of my system and getting ever closer to 10,000 hours/talent… that’s what keeps me going when I feel like I’m writing crappy pap and should put down the keyboard.
So what was this post about? Oh yeah, I’ve written a decent amount (and been very productive, despite watching three movies today) the last two days. I feel like whatever excuse hex I was putting on myself is gone, and committing to “something” is really paying off. I broke the seal, so to speak.
Again with the 2010… Totally feeling it.

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.

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.

Writing Rules + David Lapham

David Lapham is a hell of a writer and a pretty damn good artist. If you’ve never read Stray Bullets, you’re really missing out on some fantastic crime fiction. I had the pleasure of working on an arc of The Darkness that he wrote at Top Cow a few years back. I was low man on the totem pole at the time, so all you can really compliment or trash me for is the lettering placements. All me, baby!

Yesterday was a day filled with a lot of reading, a lot of notes, and me reminding myself of a couple of writing rules. I posted the following writing maxims on my twitter:

Certain writing rules can never be stated enough: “Action is character.” “Show, don’t tell.”

I thought I was just doing my thing, stating the obvious. They’re such basic rules that it’s really hard to find fault with them. But that’s the novice in me speaking (out loud, on the Internet, forever). As much as I like to think of myself as a pretty good writer, I’ve got miles to go before I proverbially sleep, and there’s ALWAYS room for improvement. I’ve got a ton to learn.

David, having written or written and drawn more books than I’ve edited (I’m guessing) chimed in with the following advice, and he is absolutely right.

While they essentially say the same thing I like the first and not so much the second saying. The second is dicey for two reasons. One is space. For practical purposes sometimes shit needs to be told to conserve panels or time. Second and more importantly. Characters have dialogue and in good writing every word of dialogue is telling.

So there you go. It’s late and I won’t remember any of this in the morning. G’night.

SCREENPLAY OVERDRIVE – Day 9 Update

Another day, another 10 pages. For those keeping score, that puts us at 81 pages. And yet, I’m not happy. I feel like the whole thing is spinning out of control. I’m off the beat sheet, pulling things out of my ass, and it’s just not quite where I want it to be.
Here’s what the last (almost) two weeks have taught me about screenwriting:
Screenwriting is easy. Good screenwriting is hard.
Progress is progress, that’s about all I know. Tomorrow I’m definitely going to go back through the last 15-20 pages and see what I want to throw out. Things really got out of hand, to the point where certain scenes I know I want/need to have aren’t really appearing on the horizon. This isn’t a kill your darlings situation, this is a “fix this mess” kind of deal.
I’m tired, definitely need to start earlier tomorrow. And yet, I have potential paying work due first. Which I should put some more time in on now. No rest for the untalented…