Saturday, October 16, 2021

A New Comics Writing Essay: FINISH THEM!

 One of the things I have in the prose tier of my Patreon is an essay series on comics advice I've given when asked.

I've posted one a few months back on this blog, and hey, it's time for another! After the jump, you'll see the best way to improve your work as a storyteller. (As noted, I'm not the only one to shout this piece of advice from the rooftops. It's as rock solid as you'll find!)

One of the prompts I got for these essays was for some of the advice I give to people who approach me at cons. You know, the quick-hit, bite-sized stuff. That sounded simple on the face of it, and I came up with a good list of stuff... but I quickly realized that if I compiled it all into one piece, it’d be easier to gloss over something.

So, I decided to split the advice up into one-a-week entries. Each thing will get its time in the spotlight that way, and nothing will be glossed over.

That’s not to say that every piece will resonate with every reader; heck, I don’t even give every piece of advice to every person who asks. That said, I’ve given all this advice at one time or another, whether it be over the convention table, at a Q&A, or via email.

Hopefully, by the time this series is all said and done, anyone reading it will have found something to aid them in the writing of comics.

Now let’s get after it.

First things first, I’ll tell you one of the best ways to improve, especially as a storyteller. It’s deceptively simple, too:


I see this advice coming out of the mouths/websites/twitter feeds of more successful writers; I know filmmaker James Gunn has said much the same about screenplays. In fact, to paraphrase his tweets, “there is nothing that will teach you better than finishing a project.”

It really is helpful advice across-the-board, no matter what it is you happen to be writing; comic scripts, screenplays, novels, short stories, articles, poetry...

It’s also one of the hardest things to do.

Having the idea? Easy! Starting? A snap! But getting to “the end” is often a bear, not the least of which because you gotta go through the middle to get there, and not every writer pulls off that trip with every idea. (I’m no exception; I have bunches of unfinished work sitting in notebooks or floating around up there in the cloud somewhere.)

But when a project is finished, and by finished, I mean something with a beginning, middle, and ending... you can mold them. Rework them. Improve them. (The easier parts!)

And, of course, if you’re in the business of writing, you can then pitch them and hopefully sell them.

Let me reiterate; it’s not easy. A Shiny New Idea appears all the time. It’s what they do! Jot down enough of the new idea to come back later, and then get back to completing the incomplete!

As an aside, it’s also funny how—when you’re on deadline with Project A—another project can unfold itself to you in such a way as to make it irresistible to work on. Maybe it’s a spec gig; maybe it’s another deadline that is nowhere near due; maybe it’s another form of art (you might also be a poet or musician or line artist or painter or sculptor or...) the pull of the other project is like gravity. I know. I’ve felt it. I’ve never written so much as when I have a drawing due, and vice versa. (I understand that this is a digression from the main point of finishing what you start, but it sure underlines how easily creative focus can be yanked away from you!)

Since spec work is harder to get yourself to finish than WFH with its firmer deadlines, I suggest giving yourself a deadline on spec work. Try to hit it.

But like Gunn said, you’ll always learn more by finishing.

I won’t speak to screenplays or prose; but let me give you a little trick for turning the comics scripting process into a well-oiled machine and getting more finishes.

We’ll start with 8 pagers; short, efficient, and if you need to hire an artist, much more affordable to complete.

All you need to do is write two pages per day. Monday to Thursday. On Friday, give it a look and edit it.

Ideally, if you’re churning out a story a week, your schedule will look like this:

Week 01: M-Th, write Story A. Friday… nothing.
Week 02: M-Th, write Story B. Friday... EDIT STORY A.
Week 03: M-Th, write Story C. Friday... EDIT STORY B!

...And so on.

Giving the week between writing a revision, especially while working on a different story in between, gives you a little distance and allows you to see flaws to sand away or diamonds to polish.

But if you feel you must edit a week’s story on Friday, you know, go with God. You can always revise further in the future.

Do this enough, and in no time, you’ll have yourself an anthology’s worth of stories... and you’ll get better with everything you finish. (Practice does make perfect.)

I shoot for this same schedule when writing a standard sized comics script; 5 pages a day gets me the script done in 4 days, and then time to revise from there.

(I don’t recommend going for more than 5 pages a day – which is perfect for single issue comics and chipping away at OGNs – if for no other reason than to avoid burnout. That kills progress dead for a good long while.)

Good luck on finishing early and often!