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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My San Diego Comic-Con 2011 Schedule

I’m headed down to San Diego in the wee hours tomorrow with newly minted “Flash” co-writer Brian Buccellato, but I wanted to stop in and give you fine people (Hi, Mom!) an update on my goings on at the show.

This is the first time since my first couple shows as an intern that I’ll neither be sitting in on any panels nor having any announcements, so if you want to find me it’ll have to be while I’m loose on the floor or at one of my three signings for Top Cow (#2629).  I’ll be happy to sign anything (so feel free to bring copies of “Abattoir” to the Top Cow booth) any time if you were happy enough to buy it.

Friday:  Top Cow Booth – 1pm-2pm (with art juggernauts Whilce Portacio, Jeremy “Through His Head” Haun and Eric Canete)

Saturday: Top Cow Booth – 10am-11am (with David Marquez, who has gotten so damn good I may never be fortunate enough to work with him).  Whoever brings me meat-free goodies first (in case there’s no time for breakfast) gets something free…

Sunday: Top Cow Booth – 1:30pm-3pm (with Whilce and Jeremy again, who are still awesome)

Looking forward to catching up with friends, fans and future collaborators at the show.

“The Beer is Drunk”

Funny things can happen when art, commerce and editorial all mix. I’ve been through this a number of times on “custom jobs” when I (solo or during my tenure at Top Cow) have been approached to provide either custom comics jobs (usually video game and movie tie-ins) or advertising materials. I’m sure others have had it worse, since I can still manage to smile about it.

This is the story of a man who was asked to draw beer, and how it all went bad…

But lost in the story here is that the artist, Bill Mayer, mentions that he sent his art director “the normal forty thumbnails” for his cover illustration.  I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this.  Forty? 40?  Earlier in the article he mentions the illo paid $300, which is less than what the total cost of a comic cover is in most cases (depending on budget, publisher, etc.).  I always asked for a minimum of three cover thumbnails or sketches before we moved forward, and while some artists were happy to comply and provided more than that, others would barely offer one (or try to skip even that step).  Mayer does forty without batting an eye, for less than most comic covers cost.  Sure, his illustration may be seen as less intensive than a traditional comic cover, and that might be true, but it’s not really the point.

He knows it’s a job, sticks by the rules of professionalism, and does what’s needed to make sure he gets his work published and is paid for his effort.  Let that be a lesson to all of us.

Forty?!?

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.

Bad Tropes: Asthma

I have no problem with screenwriters using asthma as a means to give their character a flaw that the audience can relate to, that prevents them from achieving some goal, or as a means to keep them from being too perfect as is often the case.  But I do have a problem with how it’s done nearly every single time.

I can’t blame the scripts.  No screenwriter should bog down their description with a detailed how to about the proper use of an inhaler.  So I blame the crew.  Not the director, not the actor, but every single person who apparently has never come into contact with any functioning asthmatic in their entire lives. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 20 million Americans suffer from Asthma. That’s more than 15% of the US population.  I suppose there’s some chance that many of these crew members have never seen or interacted with someone who suffers from asthma, but I’m stretching to believe that.  Asthma misuse on screen is so prevalent that the doctor who gave me my first inhaler showed me how not to do it, “like in the movies,” before showing me proper technique.

As far as I know, most inhalers are still the wet kind.  These involve holding your breath after inhaling the medication for about 10 seconds.  Too often actors portray this like they’re popping a tic tac and are talking half a second after getting their fix.  Of course, there are an increasing number of dry inhalers which do not require the user to hold their breath.  But in most cases, these inhalers are more for maintenance than emergencies.  I’m sure only people with asthma notice, but I can’t recall ever seeing the correct usage of an inhaler in a film or TV show.

I don’t care why a character has asthma.  I don’t even care if it’s brought on by something that wouldn’t normally exacerbate the disease.  I’m just really tired of seeing someone who has already medicated twice (usually the max dosage you can take at a time is two puffs) in a scene losing their inhaler due to some freak occurrence and then struggling to regain it before their lungs collapse and they die before our very eyes.  Just try and make it at least somewhat convincing.  Make sure the character hasn’t taken too many puffs.  Make sure the aerosol has time to recharge (about a minute) between puffs.  Be realistic with the symptoms (if not the causes) of asthma.

If you’re wondering, the cause of this post was MTV’s new Teen Wolf.  Clearly, I am critiquing quality television.  I mean, the CGI deer attack did cause the CGI inhaler to come flying at camera.  On a 3D TV set, I bet it was orgasmic…

R.I.P. Sushi

Sushi Levinemus
01/09/10 – 06/01/11

Sushi,
you were one good looking Betta. Perhaps the prettiest we had ever seen.  We tried to give you a home deserving of your stature.  You were also a landmark – our first pet together.  Trying to keep you happy and alive eventually led us to Cookie Monster, and for that we will always have you to thank.

You were a great fish and we are really going to miss you.

Swim fast, little Sush.

 

Did the Internet Ruin Journalism, Or Was It Already Broken?

[The following post could, and likely should, be much longer and better researched, so please take it with a grain of salt and realize it’s largely a reaction to one incident, not an all-out attack on the world of journalism.]

 

I had another post all planned out for today, but as many of you reading this know, yesterday was a big day for comic news with DC Comics announcing they’ll be relaunching all of their DC Universe titles with new #1s in September.  Big news for sure.

The story was initially given to USA Today, and various media outlets ran with it after that.  Comic Book Resources (who, in the interest of full-disclosure, I work for part-time) ran an initial story that credited USA Today, and then a follow-up with added details their investigative team had uncovered ahead of more future DC announcements.  Last night I was scrolling through twitter and checking reactions from friends in the industry and saw that The Hollywood Reporter’s Heat Vision blog had posted their story fairly late in the day.

The initial post, which has since been updated, was poorly and improperly sourced. They mentioned Bleeding Cool’s work on the topic, but did not link to it, and then credited them for work that CBR had done.  Looking at the article now, they’ve fixed both errors, but for my money it’s too little too late.

I’d love to write a scathing critique of journalism and the ethics involved, but I don’t have the time or the space to do it.  But I will bring up a few key points.  Journalism is meant to deliver the truth to the mass, to educate and inform the public.  That’s job #1, but there are certainly responsibilities every journalist has.  One of those is to get their facts straight. That means checking (and double and triple checking) facts so you’re not reporting falsehoods and spreading misinformation.  There is a responsibility to the truth, the story and the reading public to get things right.

While THR’s blog didn’t get all that much wrong, they certainly could have done a better job.  And there is certainly a responsibility to properly credit sources.  THR didn’t have a man on the ground looking into this story; they saw the news elsewhere and crafted a story so that their readers could also have that information.  This happens all the time either because a news outlet is given a story, or an investigative piece discovers something and has the scoop.  But when you’re coasting off of someone else’s work, you must, with zero exceptions, give credit where credit is due.

Most people who read THR’s story last night aren’t going to go back and see that Bleeding Cool and CBR have been credited with links today.  It’s too late.  And that’s where my attack on the Internet aspect of journalism comes into play.  We want everything instantly. We want it now, all the time, regardless of what or why.  We don’t wait.  And unfortunately, this leads to errors and mistakes.

Internet journalism is great.  Anyone can now deliver news to an audience of billions. But the problem is a lack of training or understanding of the responsibilities inherent in being a journalist.  Don’t get me started on grammatical or stylistic problems…

Most of the journalism I read today is sports and comics, so my current lens is very small.  I do read a lot of film/TV journalism, and the occasional hard news or lifestyle pieces.  Some outlets have stellar reputations and stellar reporting across the board.  But as more and more voices rise, the signal-to-noise ratio gets harder and harder to combat.  It no longer matters who said it best or who did it the right way.  It’s about who said it first and who said it loudest, even if there are mistakes and factual inaccuracies.

I’d like to see journalism get back to basics.  Follow a code and live by it.  Don’t be the also ran or the noisy guy because you want to be heard.  I’m talking especially to you, comics journalists (and reviewers, who in the vast majority of cases don’t even understand what a review needs to encompass).  I’m not blaming the Internet, it’s just a tool, but it’s less the untrained and unscrupulous rise to – if not the same – similar levels as the true professionals.  That’s a scary thought.

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?