The Write Stuff: Developing Drive

My biggest regret in life — so far — is not having more drive when it comes to my writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer of books, comics, movies and whathaveyou ever since I can remember and used to spend my days coming up with characters and writing stories in notebooks. When I got to college, I started taking creative writing courses and was forced to actually sit down and create full stories from beginning to end. That was great because it actually made me finish things, something I’ve had difficulty with since.

I think the reason I stopped focusing on my creative writing so much was because I got the job at Wizard a few months after graduating from college. That was a dream job of mine for quite a while, even before I scored the internship there the summer previous. Attaining a long-time dream like that so young was such a great thing, but also kind of slowed me down in other ways. I lost a lot of because-I-had-to work ethic I had from college and just let it slip away a bit, focusing more on my job, new friends and picking up whatever freelance writing I could score in the magazines.

Essentially, I lacked drive. I hear stories about directors, actors or writers who spent their childhoods making films with their friends or writing plays (like the kid in the wonderful Son Of Rambow).  I never did that aside from drawing and creating random superheroes here and there. I didn’t even THINK about doing it. Part of that is because I’ve always been more of an internal person. I keep most of my ideas and thoughts to myself (or did before I started blogging) and didn’t think other people would be interested in what I was coming up with. I think that’s one of the reasons I leaned towards writing, because you can do it all on your own while still creating anything you can dream up.

Now that I’m married and have a kid, I wish I could go back in time and kick my younger self in the butt and say, “Take advantage of this time and get working!” Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. I love my wife and daughter and the fact that I get to stay home, take care of her and write for a living. That’s all very rad, but I wish I had just been more organized and smart with my time back then because it feels like I have so much less of it these days.

Actually, my daughter helped kick my butt into gear before she was even born. When we found out my wife was pregnant, I had an internal clock ticking away that told me I should finish something by the time she was born. I can’t remember if I succeeded in that exact time frame, but I did write a horror script that had been kicking around in my head, something I’m hoping to read through and edit this weekend. I’ve also written an entire crime/action novel, a short comic story, an outline for the first arc of a a comic book series and am currently working on a horror novel that I really hope to finish the first draft of by the end of the year. I’ve been surprisingly creative and productive and it’s because I know how limited my time is now.

So, I’ve got a better handle on my drive to write, but I still haven’t mastered it. I’m still lazy more times than I should be. Hell, instead of blogging about writing, I should be taking this time to write, right? I feel the same way every time I decompress in front of the TV or with a comic, book or video game, but I think it’s also important to give yourself time to relax. I like to think that if I had all the time in the world and money wasn’t an issue, I’d spend the average work day writing and researching, but that’s not in the cards for me right now as other responsibilities take precedence.

It’s cool though. I may lack over-drive, but I still have hope, which is equally important. I try to be realistic about things. I don’t want to be a guy who wants to be a writer for the next ten years, I want to become a writer and more importantly, I want people to actually read my stuff. What’s the point otherwise? I take some comfort in the stories of writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling who both worked until they hit it big with books, the former working at it for a long time and the latter turning the stories she told her children into books for everyone.

At the end of the day, it’s a delicate balance between allowing myself to decompress and forcing myself to write. Sometimes the latter wins out, sometimes the former, but I keep getting things done. Now it’s just a matter of reading through them, editing and making sure their worth putting out there.

The Write Stuff: Staying Focused

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a lot of trouble staying focused on any given story. Part of the problem is that I don’t plan or plot out my stories ahead of time, I just start writing, come up with things as I go and hammer it out. It’s the hammering part that can be difficult, especially as new, completely different ideas pop into my head. I’ll get a good 10, 15 or 20 pages under by belt, but then get distracted like Homer Simpson any time a dog with a poofy tail runs by.

I’m not a complete failure when it comes to these things though. I actually used my wife’s pregnancy as a kind of deadline, kind of like the ones I used to have to hit in college or the ones I make every day in my freelance career. I wanted to start and more importantly FINISH something by the time my daughter was born. I had nine months. I succeeded after a fashion. I finished my second ever horror screenplay, but that was pretty early on in the pregnancy. I wanted to finish something else, but it didn’t wind up happening. For what it’s worth I have that horror script and another one sitting in binders waiting to be read and edited. I need to attack them with a red pen and maybe some tape and glue to work it out. I wanted to give myself a breather from that material, but also wanted to move on to something else.

One of the problems I have is a fear of failure combined with a lack of knowledge of what to do once I actually do finish something. A million people have scripts sitting around, right? What makes mine stick out? How do you even get it in front of the right person? I probably have a bit more of an edge than a lot of people because I’m kind of in the geek genre business, but even with that, it seems difficult to make things happen. I have the same fear/worry when it comes to books, comics, the whole shebang. Of course, since I don’t have hardly anything finished, I can’t be judged, told I’m not good or denied.

The funny thing is that I actually love to write and don’t tend to get writers block. Given the time and a lack of distractions (many of which are self imposed), I feel like I could write something from start to finish. Maybe those are excuses. Maybe not. Maybe sitting at the computer all day writing about comics and movies makes me want to ditch the ol’ laptop and just hang out with the wife and kid. Maybe I should be writing one of those stories right now instead of doing this blog post.

In addition to having other ideas pop into my head, I also get kind of bored with stories, but in an unusual and very specific way. As I mentioned, I don’t plan my stories out in advance. I’ll write to a certain extent and then walk away. Between stopping and the next time I sit down to write that story, I usually think about what will happen next and hopefully have a few eureka moments where new story ideas or further adventures pop into my head. The problem comes when there’s a lot of time between that ideas popping in and me actually writing. If I’m sitting there, running through the scene or whatever a bunch of times, I get bored with it. It’s like it’s already been written even though I haven’t written it. By the time I sit down to pound the keys, I’m bored with that scene or sequence because I’ve already spent so much time with it. I realized this in the past year or two and have tried to avoid thinking too hard about the details of a scene when coming up with new ideas. It’s hard and I don’t always succeed, but I think it’s helped.

I’ve read a few books on writing as well as interviews and listened to just as many in podcast form. I know some people will give themselves a page or word count they need to hit every day while others give themselves a specific amount of time. I like those ideas, but have trouble sticking with them. As I mentioned, I spend all day with my computer and need something of a break (he says as he continues to write this blog post on the same computer he spent all day on). I feel like those regular work hours should be used for work, but my schedule isn’t always consistent, so I should just say something like “At 10AM every day, I’ll write for an hour.” I really should have done that before the baby was born because, as it is, depending on the day, things can go really well or really poorly.

I’ve got a lot of excuses, but what I need are pages finished. Maybe I’ll get a few in now before heading to bed (I’m writing this at 12:17AM but posting at 10AM.

The Write Stuff: The Formative Years

What’s this, you might be wondering, another post about writing? How is this any different than Adventures In Freelancing? Well The Write Stuff will focus on my attempts at writing fiction and other works that I’m not getting paid for (yet). Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to create things. When I was a kid, I made up all these little superhero characters like Birdman (an actual bluejay with all the weapons of the Ninja Turtles, not the popular Hanna Barbera creation) or White Out Man. My superhero universe might have been a legal nightmare, but I had a lot of fun drawing them and coming up with their origin stories. Even before that I would stage these epic, intricate battles with my action figures. I’d continue this habit into high school (the writing, not the toy playing, though I was still collecting them), coming up with all kinds of different characters and giving them the Marvel Handbook or DC Who’s Who treatment with run-downs of their powers, abilities, weapons and whatnot.

For the longest time I focused my creative energies on characters that could be found in comics. It wasn’t until maybe high school that I realized I could write something other than comic book characters. Like a lot of kids, I wound up writing some shitty poetry that I scrawled in all manner of notebooks, with those marble composition ones being a favorite, of course. I wound up always carrying a notebook around with me and still have the majority of them. I’d like to scan them all for posterity’s sake, but who has the time? I also took a few stabs at short story writing, including a pretty fun little vampire tale which was published in my high school’s literary magazine. I was part of a group that helped restart the mag at the end of my sophomore year and wound up being a co-editor my senior year, a distinction made because four of us had been around for the same amount of time and all wanted to be editor.

I mostly wrote things as they came to me, never really sitting down with the intention of writing. If I was at home, I’d grab a pen and paper, maybe hop on the computer, but I’d also write in school a lot. I was generally a good student, but if a good idea popped into my head I’d spend most of a class writing it in the margins of the notebook or on a different page all together, flipping back and forth between notes and story. I know what you’re thinking and yes, my school notebooks looked like the kind of thing you’d find in a serial killer’s house after he’s brought to justice. Most of that stuff is laughably melodramatic. I’ve groaned a LOT while flipping through those notebooks, but some of my longest gestating ideas were born in those bored days sitting in Latin or geometry class.

With an eye towards learning more about writing–whatever that means–I focused on colleges with strong creative writing programs. I started out looking at big schools like Ohio State and Miami of Ohio, but realized those would be way too huge for me and then narrowed the search down to a trio of small liberal arts schools in Ohio: Ohio Northern, Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon. There’s a much bigger story in here, but I wound up going to OWU, where I studied both creative writing and literature as well as humanities (defined as literature originally written not in English). As such, I read a lot of books and did a fair amount of writing of all kinds.

I’m sure I don’t remember all the classes I took, many of which were in Sturges hall, but all of them involved writing of one kind or another, even the science classes. Here’s what I do remember. I took an essay writing class with the wonderful Rebecca Steinitz where I not only learned the benefits of editing (something I never bothered to do before out of sheer laziness) but also some tricks that have helped me write these very blog posts. I took a Journalism 110 (OWU’s equivalent of a 101) class and realized I hated that basic, boring kind of newspaper writing. There was a screenwriting class I took with Robert Flanagan who not only taught me the basics of the form, but also how cutthroat and by-the-rules the movie business can be. Plus, he’s from my hometown of Toledo, so that was awesome. I was far too shy and nervous to talk to him, or any of my professors really, more than was required which I regret. I took two or three creative writing classes with Robert Olmstead, another professor I wish I still talked to. I always liked the meetings I had with him, assuming I was doing alright in class. Him telling me my writing had jumped up a level one day is one of my all time academic highlights. The Roberts were very different, with Flanagan more realistic and brutal and Olmstead more dreamy at times, but both had a good deal of experience and helped us learn the craft. Having class with both really balanced me out, I think. I also became a member of the English board and wrote a few things for The OWL, our college literary magazine.

Depending on the class, there was always something creative I had to work on and, as far as I can remember, I liked it. Sure it was tough at times to balance writing a 20 page script while also reading Invisible Man and studying for an astronomy test, but I did it. I definitely miss that structure and schedule nowadays. Since graduating college, I still write, but there’s no immediacy to it. I’ll start writing something, get distracted by another idea and then move on to that one. I have a million unfinished and half-started files on my computer and even more notes written on scraps of paper and, of course, in notebooks around the house. I really do miss having the creative structure that my classes gave me. Being pushed and forced to write might not sound good to a lot of people, but that pressure kept me on top of things.

I’m going to stop here and focus the next post on my attempts to stay focused when it comes to various stories or scripts I work on and how the birth of my daughter acted as it’s own deadline.

The Write Stuff: Hitting The Wall

I have a problem with inventing these really big, broad stories that sound like a ton of fun and I get really excited about, but have to do a lot of research to actually finish. For instance, I had an idea that would cross my versions of a pair of pretty famous characters who never actually met in their own adventures. Pretty cool, right? I thought so. The problem was that making that story seem legit would involve a ton of research because it was a period piece.

I’m a stickler for accuracy. I hate when something little takes me out of a story that I’m reading, so I want to make sure I’ve got the details of certain things right. When dealing with a different decade or time period, that can get pretty sticky though. I know what it means to fly in a plane now, but how different was it in, say, the 50s? What kind of book do you look that up in? I wound up spending a ton of time in the library looking through books and then reading through a few. I’m a slow, slow, slow reader and it turned out I got a few books that weren’t actually pertinent to my course of study so I wound up wasting a lot of time.

I started this project while my wife was pregnant, hoping that it could be something I would actually finish. I had the characters pretty well in mind and how they would interact. I even started writing and came up with a few surprise characters that I really wound up liking. I got 45 pages into that one before hitting the wall. I even tried writing through my problems with the intent of going back and replacing those scenes or making them more accurate after doing my research, but it was just too much to deal with. I couldn’t get it out of my head.

On another occasion, I had the idea to write a young adult-type book that would play off of my personal experiences with music in high school. It was pretty fun reliving a lot of my memories and putting them on to someone else. I also used a different style of storytelling than I’m used to, so that was a fun experiment. This time around, though, I hit the wall based on a setting detail, something small, but important. I couldn’t answer the question of whether I should set the story back in the time that I went to high school or in the modern day. On one hand, it would be more authentic if I set it back in my day, but would it appeal to kids now? If I set it in modern times, I’d have to act like I know about what goes on in high schools now, which I absolutely do not. Wall, hit.

I know these probably don’t seem like huge issues and should just be skipped over, but not to me. I look at writing as creating a whole world, either completely made up or based on aspects of history/reality/whathaveyou. Your characters are the most important part, but if you’ve got the best damn characters around running around in a world that doesn’t make any sense or distracts the reader, they’re not going to get into the depth of your characters.

Thankfully, the project I’m working on right now is right in my wheelhouse. It’s set in the real world–my world, really–and I know the characters. The most research I’ve had to do with this one is looking up a few things on Google, mostly place names around where I live. I’m hoping that by doing all this, I’ll not only avoid hitting the wall, but also set myself up to succeed a little better than my other fun-yet-way-too-ambitious-given-my-current-circumstances. Wish me luck!