Devourer of Words 054: Sometimes, the Going Gets Rough

Toucan reading a comic

There will come a point in your career, if you are lucky, where you will have something to write that you don’t really want to write. Sure, you might be the kind of comics scribe who does only creator-owned work. Or you might be fortunate enough to be writing the character you’ve loved since you were nine years old. Even in the best of circumstances, there might be a scene you know needs to be in there which you hate or an issue you’re not in love with that’s still gotta be there.

And if those circumstances aren’t the best, you just might be confronted with a story you just can’t get invested in. The reasons can be legion. The character doesn’t speak to you, but you can’t change it. The parameters of the story don’t leave you with any room for creativity. The content of the story is reprehensible, but you’re stuck with it.

Writing is, for many of us, a passion. But it’s also a job. And not every day or week or month or year on the job is going to be awesome. So how do you make the words flow when they absolutely don’t wanna?

Find something.

It might be difficult, you locate some aspect of the gig you can find interesting. Maybe it’s not gonna be a big thing. Maybe it’s not gonna be an important thing. Maybe it’s a single character. Maybe it’s the tone. Or the world. Or whatever. But there have to be a couple of redeeming qualities in the job, even if they’re covered in excrement. Find ‘em and rally behind them.

Make it adversarial.

This isn’t a long-term solution, as this kind of motivation burns hot and fast, but the same way boxers can convince themselves to hate their opponent in order to win, you can do the same. Make the story something you need to conquer, defeat. Make it personal. Put the story in the ground and move forward.

Remember what the money is for.

In other words, pull a stalemate from the jaws of defeat. Maybe you can’t win if you make it adversarial. Maybe you can’t find something to rally behind. Maybe you just have to write it because you’re being paid to write it. So write it as fast as you can.

Have the conversation.

Talk to the person who assigned you the job and explain your problems. Maybe she or he can help you find your way through. Maybe they’ve got an idea that can help make the work easier. Talk to some trusted contemporaries—if they’re pros, they’ve been in the same boat before, and if they’re still floating, they can help you navigate the waters. Ask for help, maybe help will arrive.

Walk away.

A.K.A. the Doomsday Protocol. Make no mistake, this is the choice of last resort. Because if you do quit, that’s likely an editor you’ll never work for again, and a publisher that won’t line up to get you paid. If you’ve done everything above and you still can’t find your way—or if the subject matter has shifted into a zone that goes against everything you believe in—it might be time to nuke the site from orbit. But, again, only if you’ve exhausted every other avenue. Word will spread and you’ll have to explain your decision. Some will understand, others won’t. But if this is the only way you can live with yourself, so be it.

Writing can be a ton of fun. But you’ll know that you’re a writer if you can do it when it isn’t.

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

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