I can’t believe it’s been over a year since my last post. I only wrote about 100 pages of Book #5 before giving up. And then I ran out of ideas. I haven’t written anything for six months or so.
But I can tell that I’m getting close to starting Book #6, because I’ve started thinking of a writing soundtrack. So far, this is what I’ve come up with…
For the first time, I’m trying my hand at a little magical realism. The two main characters are a self-isolating girl seeking attention and a loudmouth conspiracy theorist who wants anyone to believe him. The two meet in group therapy and set off through their small town to discover where all the animals went and why everything seems to be buzzing. Should be a fun distraction…
I used to beat myself up over the fact that I didn’t actually write words on paper as often as I thought one was required to do in order to call oneself a writer. The simplest advice anyone offers when faced with the question “how do you become a writer?” is to say “write.” They imply that it should be done every day, that you can’t BE something unless you DO that thing regularly. I mean, sure, you can call yourself an astronaut, but unless you’re in outer space, you’re just a person in a funny suit.
Writing, they say, requires repetition and volume and schedule. Writing professionally takes practice. Writing is an acquired process, it doesn’t just happen.
This last part is the biggest truth out there: WRITING DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN.
When I sat down to write my first book back in 2011, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a main character and a vague plot with a rickety outline. I wrote the thing like I was talking to a guy at a bar who had a vague interest in what I was saying. I tried to describe action movie scenes on paper. I figured as long as I wrote two or three pages a day, I was being a writer.
Granted, that first book got me an agent, but it didn’t get published. The second book got a bit of attention, but it didn’t get published either. The third book excited my agent but I couldn’t get through the rewrites. Finally, even I lost interest in the fourth book, with its nonexistent conflict and unsympathetic characters.
A month or two ago, I sat down to start book #5 (though, honestly, it might as well be called book #1 at this point). I’m nearly 40 pages into it and it doesn’t even have a title yet. I wrote out character histories nearly two years ago. Scenes were scribbled out on index cards over a year ago. Bits of dialogue and ancillary character names and suggested quirks and idiosyncrasies were jotted down on backs of scrap paper and other paper-clipped forms. I even wrote the first page a while back.
Then I chucked it all.
Why? Because I wanted to slow down. I wanted my writing to take up more space. I didn’t want to rush from one thing to the next simply for the sake of getting it done. This book is going to be written on my terms, no schedule, no outline, no pressure.
Sometimes, I go to the library and sit there for an hour, scrolling through Instagram photos until something inspires me. Sometimes I hop on the treadmill and run a couple miles, singing songs in my head, stirring emotions that can be harnessed. Sometimes I’ll chop up vegetables for a salad, the rhythm of the knife knocking ideas loose. EVERYTHING I DO IS WRITING.
I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
My new book, the nameless one, deals with a Hollywood has-been trying to get his groove back. He’s offered the job of a lifetime and tries his hardest to screw it up. He’s the proverbial square peg being jammed in a round hole, except in this case, the round hole is life itself and he’s had enough of it.
Pressure and expectations and self-loathing are powerful forces. Sometimes you just need to do it your own way.
For anyone interested in podcasts and comic books and podcasts about comic books and, specifically, The Avengers, my friend John and I have started a new thing…
We’re tackling the history of Marvel’s Avengers from 1963 to present, beginning with Issue #1 and working up to present day (by the time we retire, probably). We dissect the plots, discuss the heroes and villains, and apply a liberal amount of snark where required.
Give us a listen. We update weekly. And we’re on iTunes too!
WIFE: “I’m glad you finally got some of those ideas out of your head. Now maybe one of them will tumbleweed into something.”
ME: “Snowball, dear. SNOWBALL. I don’t want any more tumbleweeds. They just drift aimlessly, solitarily across vast deserts.”
And this is the problem.
I’ve been visibly frustrated the past week or so. The rewrites on Book #3 went swimmingly through the first 120 pages. Now I’m at the hack-and-slash phase where there are bits I can keep, but a whole lot more I need to resect, revamp, and redo. I sat down and tried to map out a new outline, tried to figure out what these characters were going to do to each other with all that other plot stuff now out of the picture. I tried to slow it down, to find spaces for each of them. I tried to play it safe.
Now I realize I can’t do that.
I need an idea that I can push off a cliff and watch it flail for its life. I need an idea that is willing to jump into a fire for me, to take a bullet and still finish the job.
I started reading Sean Howe’s great book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story last weekend. Coupled with the podcast I’ve been doing with a friend, and an overall reinvigoration between myself and the medium, I’m thinking about comics again, not only what they stand for, but how they’re made, how they’re perceived. I’m appreciating the art in tandem with the writing, the concepts. I’m trying to visualize some of these artists putting my words into shapes.
For those who don’t know, I used to own a comic book store. It didn’t end well. I don’t really like dealing with people, especially people who expect things from me. I think it was my way of getting into that world – sneaking in the back door. My wife tells me that she always thought I should get into comic book writing, that it was a better fit for the types of ideas I usually come up with…more cinematic than literary (which I think is a nice way of saying I’m shallow).
I started really getting into titles from Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer, and Ales Kot. In some ways, I saw them as parallels to my previous love of fiction from Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Bill Mantlo…some “out there” ideas grounded in a not too distant future.
Then I got mad at myself for not being able to match those ideas. I realized I have fragments in my head and, once I think about them, they disappear. They’re little squiggly bits at the corner of my eye that I can’t look at directly. They’re shadows. They’re fairy dust. And they’re clogging my sinuses like ragweed in deep April.
So I’ve started writing these tidbits down, bullet-pointed, in one of those steno pads like court reporters use. They’re all train of thought, unrelated, chaotic. Some are two words. Some are paragraphs. Some are job descriptions, or colors, or funny locations. But they’re all tumbleweeds.
After three or four pages, and twenty-some internet sites and cross-references and research, the last idea on the last page turned into a tiny snowball.
Now I will carefully shove it downhill and see what builds up…
I started this blog, like, seven or eight years ago as a repository for my pop culture musings while I was doing government work. It ebbed and flowed with activity as the years progressed, mostly resembling a dried up creek bed experiencing sudden flash floods. Things picked up when I turned my focus towards a burgeoning writing career. Then, somewhere towards the end of 2013, it ground to a halt.
The summer of 2013 hit me hard on the personal front. A lot of my relationships with people changed. Friends died. Others left. Everything suddenly fell apart.
It took a little over a year to piece myself back together. During that time, I didn’t write a word. I barely left the house. I drank a lot. Watched some soccer. Took to running and yoga fairly consistently. Slowly, and carefully, things gained some normalcy. My wife took the same job as me and we now work together every day. Our kids got a year older and more capable, more independent. I started caring what my home looked like. And I picked up a pencil again.
Before I go any further, here’s a quick cheat sheet for new readers:
NOW, I’m going back to rewriting Book #3 and…so far so good. It’s amazing what a little time and distance can do. The characters feel alive again. The setting feels like home.
I’ve also started reading more and doing a biweekly comic book podcast with an old friend. If that’s your thing, check out Super Comic Disco Party Time!
With things back on track, I hope to provide more consistent updates for that scant handful of people who read this. I’d also like to offer some quick advice: PERSEVERE. Things can get difficult. Life is full of obstacles. Just keep going. You can do it.
While nearly halfway into scribbling out my fourth novel, I’ve shared some attention with my other hobby: COMIC BOOKS. Though I only really read them in trade paperback collections now (aside from the occasional 1970’s back issue), I’m clearly still influenced by and opinionated about them.
To that end, my friend John and I have launched a new podcast called Super Comic Disco Party Time! that you can find on our website and also on iTunes. Our first episode went up last week and we’re recording #2 this Thursday. We basically talk about characters and storylines, both good and bad, and what we would do differently with them. We’re so humble.
Please take a listen. If you like it, let us know by email (SCDPTshow@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@SCDPTshow).
Meanwhile, I will continue writing this book and hopefully have some cool publsihing news to share later this summer…