Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Table Talk - Get to Work!

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock discuss how they lay out their work schedules and the little things that go into writing many people who don't write don't get.

Question (Barry): A lot of people don't realize that writing is work. How do you go about the writing process? Do you try and write during the same time of day, every day? Do you aim for a specific word count?

Mike: A lot of it's a moving target for me that greatly depends on what I'm working on. I used to have a very streamlined, structured work process that was very efficient. Now, with the changing economic landscape, the jobs have changed and how I approach them has had to adapt as well.

When all I was doing was comic scripts, I'd get up early and start working on it before the sun rose and work until I was done. Now that I'm doing a wider variety of things, the process has become much more fluid. In some cases, where I'm writing for someone else (as with Joe Palooka and Fiefdom of Angels) I hit a point where I need the input of the property owner before I can proceed. With my own prose stuff, that often seems to flow the best in those times where I'm waiting for someone else so I can work the 'work-for-hire' stuff.

As for the word count, that's greatly dictated by the work itself, for me at least. Like my prose novels need to land in the 60,000 word range. The shorts range from 2,000-15,000 words. My column over at Broken Frontier usually falls just under 1,000 words. And word count is fairly meaningless with comic scripts, so that's more dictated by page count.

Chances are, there's a better way, but I'm just not smart enough to find it [laughs].

Barry: I write whenever I get the chance, squeezing it in between my day job, my marriage, spending time with my son, etc. I’d love to be able to say I write every day from 8 am until… but that’s not gonna happen. I just keep adding words to the page until I manage to get it all finished. I usually listen to music when I write – I like songs that move, that have some momentum to me. Keeps my fingertips dancing across the keyboard!

Bobby: I am constantly amazed by how many people I know or meet are surprised how much time is spent writing. My favorite comment was about writing comic scripts. “How hard is it to write Spider-man saying ‘ungh!’ after Doc Ock hits him?” Sure. It’s not a lot of dialogue, but the reader also doesn’t see the panel descriptions written for the artists. There are a lot of facets that go into writing. With comic books you have to plan for page turn reveals, pacing, panels per page, etc. With novels and short stories word count is important. If you’re hired to write a 10,000 word story then that’s what you have to write. If you can’t make your story fit that word count then you’re not getting the job done.

I’d like to say that I follow a strict schedule that never wavers, but I’d be lying. I do try to write at the same time, but it doesn’t always work that way. When I’m busy and my schedule is full, like it is now, I’m a bit more rigid and make sure I work every day. When things are not as busy I sometimes take a day off.

Another aspect of being a writer includes what I call non-writing time. In addition to things like plotting, outlining, and research, there are other things I have to do that are part of the job. Writing press releases, responding to fan mail/inquiries, networking with book stores, comic shops, and libraries about carrying your books or setting up book signings, setting up convention appearances, social networking for promotion, working on columns like this one or the articles I do for All Pulp and Earth Station One, and the list goes on. Each of these are important parts of my job, but at the end of the day they don’t count toward my word count.

Mike: Those are all really good points, Bobby. I always find myself wincing when I hear someone talk about story creation as if it's making a sandwich or something mundane and easy; more so with artwork, as I really detest watching an artist have to redo work. But, I also cringe when someone thinks I can just change something in a story quickly and easily, not realizing that pulling one thread out often unravels the entire fabric of the tale.

Bobby: Exactly. I once had an artist tell me that he wanted to make a splash page into a double page spread and couldn’t understand why I was against such a thing. I had to explain that adding a page eliminated all of the page turn reveals I’d put in place. They would no longer be on the correct page. And then there’s set up. If Character X is going to pick up an ax on page 10 to defend himself against an attacker, we need to see that ax before page 10. Of course, if the ax doesn’t show up in the art you have to get creative, but you have to plan for more than just the character’s dialogue.

Barry: I agree that the non-writing writing stuff keeps me pretty busy. Answering emails, setting up new projects, editing, doing promo appearances – they all conspire against me actually writing new stuff! I just try and tell myself that it’s all part of the dream: I wanted to be a writer. I’m a writer. So now I have to explain for the ten thousandth time who The Rook is and how I came up with him to someone who’s never read the material (laughs).

Bobby: Exactly. There’s a lot of writing that we, as writers, do that is never seen by the reader, but is still important to the process of writing.

Mike: Absolutely. It's funny when I tell people I know Joey's (from Lions, Tigers and Bears) favorite food, his favorite football team, etc. All the little details you need to create to make the character "real" that may or may not ever show up in an actual story.

Barry: Oh yeah, when you factor in all the prep work, too - outlining, researching and creating back story (and there's always plenty of that that never makes it onto the page), that's even more time that's eaten up.

But it's a great "problem" to have [laughs].
Bobby: How do you guys balance the writing and non-writing parts of the job? One of the problems I run into is sometimes the non-writing parts can sometimes take up a full day. How do you know when to say enough’s enough and get back to writing?

Mike: For me, it's just a lot of ebb and flow. I have so many things to work on that I can just go with what seems to flow at that particular point in time. Some mornings I dig working on the websites, posting on Facebook etc. Other mornings, I just want to dive right into writing. So, I kind of just let my muse take the wheel. Granted there are times when that doesn't work out, but more often than not, it does.

Barry: Yeah, it's kind of like Mike says. I try to write every day but I don't stress if some days it's only a few hundred words - especially if I'm accomplishing things in other ways (promo stuff, updating my website, etc.)

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