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Devourer of Words 021: Choosing What’s Next

Marc Bernardin

There comes a time for every writer when she or he is done with whatever it is they’re writing. When you’ve tweaked your last sentence, when you’ve addressed your last note, when it’s off to your editor and out of your hands.

You’ve had your celebratory scotch and $50 steak—how you celebrate victory over the blank page is up to you; me, I want booze and meat—now it’s time to decide what’s next. If you’re a writer on a monthly book (or five) then you do the next issue. Simple enough. Keep the tracks in front of the train and keep the schedule working.

But let’s pretend that you’re in the position where nothing needs writing, where no one expects something of you by the end of the week to keep your creative partners working. What should you write when you can write anything?

If you’re at all like me, you’ve got a folder somewhere on your hard drive for loose ideas. Fragments, snatches, the barest wisps of stories. (Mine is named “Ideawerks.” It was the ‘90s, when Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen started a studio and I had a Volkswagen and misplaced Es were cool.)

Everything goes in there, everything. There are things as robust as full treatments, just waiting for the time to execute, and ideas that are barely sentence fragments—“Othello but with jazz” is one that will probably stay put for a while. Some things are just not good—not every idea is a winner and a few should probably stay in the folder.

But they are all necessary. They are ideas you needed to have and get out of the way to make room for the next good one. Or they are ideas that alone are useless, but can be the connective tissue two other ideas needed to make the Three Amigos of ideas. And I think we can all agree that the Three Amigos of ideas would be the best.

For me, the next thing I write is the thing I can’t stop thinking about. If there’s an idea that won’t leave me alone—in the shower, during the commute, cooking dinner, playing with my kids, sharpening my knives—then it moves to the top of the pile.

The thing that is begging to be written is the thing that will yield the most juice.

But be warned: Trend-chasing is futile. Don’t write a thing because something else similar is a hit. Even though comics has a remarkably short incubation period (compared to other media), odds are any trend that’s popping today will wane by the time you bring your story to the market.

Keep filling that folder. Write what speaks to you. Write what’s insistent. Write what you can never let go of. The next big project I’m working on was an idea I first had in 1997. Nothing ever dies.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of each month here on Toucan!