On Writing: Just Do It … But Smartly

Aug 22, 2011 by     Comments Off on On Writing: Just Do It … But Smartly    Posted under: Brian Wrote This, Nonfiction, On Writing
Brian: More thoughts on the challenge of writing, and Adam motivating himself to draw outside the scope of paying work. It takes a lot of will, with very little that encourages or promises reward. And yet, we find we must.

My new day job (and occasionally into-the-night-job, ahh, deadlines) gives me occasion to read marketing blogs—a selected minority of which are actually smart and entertaining. A guy named Chris Brogan writes a pretty good one, and I was interested a week or so ago when he started a series of posts about writing a book. He notes himself that he’s talking mostly about nonfiction, business-oriented books, but he definitely has some points worth noting for us fiction-lovers. I jot some thoughts here to memorialize them for myself. If you’re a struggling creative type, maybe they’ll do you some good, too.

Pick a Card …

His first piece, “Finding Time,” may be the most valuable. He offers specific advice about taking notes, using any spare minute. “Write notes about your book into something like Evernote,” he says, “which can be accessed from your phone, your desktop, and any web browser (meaning you have no excuses to take down ideas).” For the lower-tech, he recommends 3×5 cards. It’s a lot easier to build a breezy how-to book that way, but if Vladimir goddamned Nabokov could write Lolita (best novel ever.) on index cards, then I should shut up. I like the traditional long, skinny reporter’s notebook, but that’s also a couple decades of journalism talking.

I like his advice about outlining, taking “loose but useful outlines” and “shading them in” whenever you can steal 20 minutes. That, too, is more a nonfiction thing, but I find that I need to learn to outline more, better, and smarter.

Brogan goes into the art of finding time, even if you have kids, even if you have a job. And it comes back to the advice every writer gives. I recall novelist/comics writer Greg Rucka, whose stuff I really like, being asked the “advice for writers” question at Wondercon a year or two ago while on a DC Writers panel.

Write,” he said.

Discipline. Not the Kinky Type.

The next post goes into discipline, and that’s my failing. The more time I have, the less I use it. I’ve been working on a short story with a goal of 500 words a day, which isn’t much, and while I’ve missed two days in the middle, I came back after, yesterday, with about 1300 words. I doubt I’ll work on it today, because of 13 hours at the office and my creative time going into this post here. But maybe. It’s not even 11 p.m. yet.

Adam: The Art of Being an Artist

So…finding time to work on your own stuff. I have to be honest…storyboards are all-consuming. When I am working on a board, that is ALL I am thinking about. I would think about a scene when I wake up, in the shower, on the drive to work, at work (where I should think about it) on the way home, during dinner, during conversations and when I’m falling asleep at night. There are SOOO many drawings in a storyboard, the last thing I want to do is more drawings. If I do drawings, it’s usually a thumbnail to help me remember an idea for the board when I get in to work the next day.

But when do I get to my own stuff? I squeeze it in where I can. I draw in the car. I draw at lunch. If I get to a movie early, I have a sketchbook to draw in. If Jeni falls asleep watching tv, I stay up a little later drawing. I try to always have paper and pen on hand … because you never know when you’ll be stuck somewhere. For me, the reality seems to be this…if I have a sketchbook with me, there will be no time to use it. If I forget to bring it, somehow I wind up waiting somewhere with nothing to do.

Before I started doing storyboards, I did all kinds of art for myself. I came up with silly stories, sketched people, spaceships, robots, zombies, etc. I came up with ideas for movies, video games, comics, etc. Once I started doing storyboards full-time, that became really difficult. The boards take so much energy and time…there is very little left afterwords. But I am trying…trying to squeeze in the little bits of drawing for myself where I can…

— Adam

Maybe Brogan’s best piece of advice is to find someone to hold you to your goal, to badger you. I’ve often thought that I need someone not just to check that I’ve met my quota for a given day or week, but to read the pages. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find someone willing—and qualified—to give you solid feedback on such a regular, time-consuming basis.

Hang Yourself From a Scaffold

Next post discusses structure. It strongly recommends Robert McKee’s Story, and at this point I may just finally buy that oversized, well-loved tome. Anyone out there read that one?

Structure’s a bitch. I certainly can’t write more than a short story unless I have a firm idea where it’s going and how it’s getting there. I run out of steam, I get a third or two-thirds through and realize the writing has gone flaccid. Too much structure, though, and you’re just “shading in,” and that kills the fun. I’ve got most of a novel written (say, all but the last couple of chapters) and I got that far only by having the strongest structure I’ve ever put on a project. Of course, the writing itself ain’t what I want it to be, so both structure and prose need heavy revisions …

In Imitation of my Draft Novel, I Just Ramble and Fizzle

Brogan goes on to discuss marketing and the likelihood of remuneration from your writing. I suggest the faint of heart do not read those posts.

Where does it all leave us? The essential advice remains “Just do it,” but the caveat, or the bullet point underneath that headline, is “Do it smart.” It takes effort to block out the time, creativity to put loose bits of time to their best use, and an ability to impose structure, both on your life and the work.

For Adam and me, this blog is part of that effort. It takes time we could be using on our other projects, both the graphic novel we’re producing together and other interests, but it seems like a wise investment, because the blog keeps us energized and engaged with these “side projects” that are too easy to simply abandon.

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