It is the New Year and, as one does when the calendar resets itself, it’s time to make some plans for a course correction. To change either things about yourself or establish new habits to make the coming year more rewarding than the last. Given that writers seem to be, by nature, sedentary creatures—excepting the few who’ve adopted the treadmill desk—being more active should be at the top of the list. But that’s not going to make you better at your chosen profession. Here are a few ideas that will.
It is vital that we stay current; that we know what’s currently being published and the people who are doing the publishing. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. See who is doing what well, and who’s doing what not so well. And see what no one is doing at all. One of the first conversations I had with someone about writing my own comics was with AiT/PlanetLar’s Larry Young back in 2005. I wanted to pitch him and when I asked him what he was looking for, he said, “Anything but superheroes. There are two companies that do a fine job of publishing superhero comics—I’m in the business of hitting them where they ain’t.” It will only help when it comes time to parade your wares.
What will make your voice unique is the totality of your experiences … not the fact that you’ve read every Batman comic ever published. Read as much as you can outside of comics. Travel. Meet people. Expose yourself (you know what I mean) to as much of the world as you can. Get in the car and drive. Take the train to the end of the line and see what’s there. Get lost. Then see what you find. Your writing will be better for it.
There is nothing wrong with a joke that is purely set-up/punchline. It’s pure and simple and it’ll get the job done. There are lots of ways to deliver a story in 22 pages—try something different. Step into a zone that makes you slightly uncomfortable and try something new. And that goes as much for content as it does for format. Comics thrive upon the new and it’s our responsibility to produce it. Sure, there are people—editors, publishers—who will tell you a particular story won’t work in the marketplace. Do it anyway. The marketplace is more diverse than it’s ever been—no one knows what will or won’t sell … until it does, or doesn’t.
This should go without saying, but writing is all about writing. It is about putting in the time and doing the work. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t actually write it, you’re just wasting it. Personally, I think of myself less as an artist and more of a craftsman. And if I’m not building chairs, then I’m not doing my job. And the more I do it, the better I’ll get. Being a writer is not about waiting for inspiration to strike, it’s about being able to do the work even when it doesn’t. So do it.
There are always great reasons for not writing. Life will always endeavor to stack things up that you could be doing—that maybe even you should be doing—instead of writing. Don’t buy into it. Do what you have to do, just know that you could be writing instead. Be honest with yourself and be your best motivator.
Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!