What Does “Writing” Mean?

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,┬árequires 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.

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Snowballs vs. Tumbleweeds

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…

Let Me Explain.

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:

  • Wrote Book #1 and got an agent.
  • Wrote Book #2 and got the attention of some Hollywood folks.
  • Wrote Book #3 and…my agent wanted me to rewrite the second half.
  • Tried to rewrite, then gave up, then tried again, then gave up.
  • Tried to write Book #4 and gave up after one page.
  • Tried to rewrite Book #3 again and gave up.
  • Started writing a different Book #4, got halfway through, and hit a wall.

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.

 

Writing and Talking.

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…

End of Summer Summary

The trip to Portland was eye-opening. We’d move the family in a second, if we could. A few things need to work out first.

School is back in session. That means my schedule has changed. After surviving high school and doing some creative course selection in college, I never thought I’d be a morning person again. Welcome to adulthood. I hope I won’t be staying in this weird place too long.

As far as writing goes, there’s some bad and worse news…

After my last check-in with the west coast branch of my agency, they decided to close the place down. My book has been relegated to Hollywood limbo, most likely forever. I begged my agent to submit the manuscript to a couple smaller publishers in a last ditch effort for publication. Nothing else to report there right now.

As soon as I’m done here, I’m going to finish typing up the last few pages of Book #3. My agent then asked me to sit on it a month and re-read it to make sure it’s as good as can be before we try to throw it at editors. We’ve surmised that this is the most mainstream thing I’ve written (and plan to write at least for the next two or three books), so it’s best to take our time and perfect it.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some research materials for Book #4. It’s going to be a fun one, so I want to take my time with it. Always need to have something in the pipeline to distract me from the crushing emptiness of reality, right?

Keeping the Plates Spinning…

One month later and there’s still no word from the West Coast. All I know is that the producer has given the book to the director. From what the agents tell me, this is Step #1 on a list of steps that continues to grow as the days go on. Apparently, from here, the two of them decide if they want to pursue the book as a movie without paying me up front for it. If not, then we’re back to square one and my agents will re-submit it to the next producer on their list.

If, however, this producer fancies it, then we move on to the next step which also does not involve me getting paid. In fact, I’m not exactly sure where on this list of steps that payment to me actually comes into play. It’s the thickest onion, layers-wise, and it’s already making me cry.

From what I can gather, the producer then shakes my script at some studios, some investors, maybe even a famous actor or two, and sees who is willing to throw money at it. Then there’s a screenwriter involved. Some casting decisions. Maybe a caterer. I dunno.

I won’t lie. It’s both a fun process and an infuriating one. When book #3 stalled a bit, the non-action on Sleep Suits Irish was driving me crazy. I have no patience. Now that I’ve gotten back on track and only have about 100 pages left in the new book, my focus has returned and I feel better about things.

Plus, you can’t help but be excited when you know that the producer-director team responsible for one of the most famous late 80’s action-comedy movies is considering adapting your book for the big screen. I mean, the film these two did basically created a new genre when it exploded onto the scene. It was the biggest box office success of the year, even garnering an Academy Award nomination.

We shall see.

In other news, I’ve got pages of notes for book #4 and I’m very excited to start writing it. I’m going to be exploring some new formatting and digging into some of my favorite childhood pasttimes. Book #3 is rounding the last corner and getting ready to hand off the baton.

Also, the wife and I are heading to Portland, Oregon at the end of the month. We’re on a bit of a recon mission, hopefully considering a relocation at some point. If anyone has any places we should check out, please let me know…

Irish on the West Coast

Quick update: The west coast branch of my literary agency liked the rewrites on Sleep Suits Irish and have submitted it to a producer.

I won’t give any specific details, but I will say that this producer is a former studio head who helped shepherd, develop, and release some of the biggest movies of the eighties and nineties. He now has his own production company and,┬áinterestingly enough, I’ve been told that he’s looking for a project for a director who’s trying to make a comeback in the industry.

Could be a win-win for everyone involved.

THEN, if the film rights sell, we go back to the publishing houses with that small trophy and wave it around a bit hoping that someone will want to publish a book based on a possible movie that’s based on the book itself.

I think I need a drink.