Priorities, Schmiorities

Real talk: I suck at prioritizing my creative projects unless there’s a hard deadline I need to adhere to. What I mean is, if someone else is depending on my portion of the work—an editor, artist, etc.—then hell yeah, I’ll churn that motherfucker out and give it top priority, no problem. Having collaborators depending on you (and you depending on a paycheck) makes prioritization easy.

But if it’s just a project that I’m working on “whenever” that has no publisher yet, no certain promise of a future? Well, that’s harder. I’m not even talking about finding the motivation or time to do it (though that is a very real struggle for many, and writer Delilah S. Dawson had a great thread on Twitter about that recently), but rather what do I do NOW vs. what do I do LATER.

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This Is How I Wrote My First Book

“Writing is hard and takes a lot of time.” – Amanda Pleau, my wife, via Susan Conley, her mentor

When you see writers giving advice on writing, it almost always includes something to the effect of “finish something.” Meaning, don’t just start a bunch of projects and never finish them. This is the struggle, because if you’re like me, you get excited about NEW ideas at the exact same time you get sick of working on the OLD ideas.

And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably got a solid 20 pages of ten half-thought out books that you moved to your Graveyard Folder at the very first brick wall, like Han Solo dropping his cargo at the first sight of an Imperial Cruiser.

It’s easy to go, “Well, Thing A isn’t going anywhere, so what’s the point? I’ll just work on Thing B instead.” Sometimes you abandon things for one reason or another, but it should never be because you think it’s not worth it, or that it’s not a good idea, or you just read something else that is kinda-sorta similar to what you’re doing. Those are excuses your brain uses to trick you into abandoning something you’re not yet confident about.

My first novel has just recently been sent out into the world in hopes of finding a home, which means the manuscript was as solid as my agent believed it needed to be in order to (hopefully) sell. While this doesn’t mean it’s done (the future editor will surely have some suggestions), it does mean that, despite feeling like throwing in the towel constantly, I finished a god damn book.

It’s not a particularly long novel, but it’s a hell of a lot more words than get put into making a comic. No super talented artist to do the heavy lifting (sorry, fellow comic writers, it’s the truth—we have the easy/less essential job).

What it’s about doesn’t matter much at this point (if it sells you’ll be hearing me talk about it relentlessly, so hang in there), but it’s period crime fiction, so there was a hefty bit of research involved along with the plot machinations that accompany a mystery, so, it was pretty overwhelming to me as a first-time novelist.

But if you’re struggling to make it through that first draft, I’ve got the secret for you. The sure-fire way to finish that manuscript:

Sit down and do it, man.

I know, sucks right? It does. It really, really does. But that’s the only way to get it done, because no one else is gonna write that story except for you.

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DC Comics Writers Workshop: What I Learned

This post is about my time in 2017’s DC Comics Writers Workshop, but if you came here looking for The Secret To Writing Superhero Comics, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place.

I don’t have anything to share in the way of specifics about the workshop or what I worked on  (but writing “EXTERIOR. THE DAILY PLANET” doesn’t get old, I can say that much). The big takeaway is obvious, but participating in a writing workshop—something I haven’t done at least since college—was invaluable.

First, I learned so much about my own work, style, bad habits, and shortcuts just by having a consistent feedback loop. Knowing that my colleagues would be involved every step of the way and seeing my improvements (or my missteps), throwing out ideas, going big, going small… it was an environment that, much to my shame, I haven’t had a lot of in my career as a professional writer. Making the process collaborative rather than solitary was a huge learning experience for me. Like, why don’t I do this all the time? I can see why a writer’s room is so appealing.

Which leads me to… the people. Of course, Scott Snyder and the Talent Development team at DC are fantastic, the best there is at what they do (I know, I know, I’m crossing the aisle with that one). But the best thing to come out of this, I think, is that I feel like I’ve finally got my own Breakfast Club.

(Top row, L-R) Sanya Anwar, Bobbie Chase, Sara Miller, Some Jabroni (Middle row, L-R) Ryan Cady, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Scott Snyder (Bottom row, L-R) Robert Jeffrey II, Magdalene Vissagio

What I mean is this: A small group of peers who have all gone through something significant together that few people can really relate to unless they were there, man. We’re already continuing to share ideas and work, meeting as a group on our own, and generally keeping each other sane as we get back to the real world.

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DC Comics Writers Workshop 2017, It’s Happening

Growing up a “DC Kid” or a “Marvel Kid” is something that, I think, is probably outdated in this day and age. At least, it seems that way, but that could just be the fact that I’m old now and kids have so much superhero stimulation from so many areas beyond just comics that it seems impossible to me that they could possibly commit one way or the other.

But growing up, I was most certainly a DC Kid, fiendishly worshipping anything with Superman’s S-Shield on it and deep diving into the well of Kirby’s Fourth World, Gotham’s underbelly, Bibbo’s Ace of Clubs, and the surface of the living planet Mogo. DC’s heroes were, and still are, aspirational; it feels like they have something to teach us. Marvel’s heroes are relatable in a way that makes you feel like, hey, that could be ME! But I didn’t always want to read comics to see the world outside my window, I wanted to peek into the window of the universe next door.

So it thrills me to say that I’m going to be stepping through window and exploring it first hand: I’ve been accepted into this year’s DC Comics Writers Workshop, an intensive writing workshop focused on comics—DC superhero comics, specifically—giving the six of us that have been accepted an opportunity to play in the DCU and learn from the best of the best. In this case, that’s writer extraordinaire Scott Snyder and the Talent Development team at DC.

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On Asking for Advice

I’ll put this out there: I love helping out emerging creators and giving advice where I can. I’m by no means an expert in the field, but I certainly have career experience and have been through many parts of the process that newer creators have not. I’m very available — my email is public, my podcast has a voicemail line, I’m active on Twitter and Tumblr; the point is, it’s not hard to throw questions my way, and more often than not, you’ll get an answer in a timely fashion.

I think it’s imperative that we pay it forward as a community and help each other out whenever possible. I was helped — still am — by creator friends that have been down the path before me, and I feel comfortable reaching out to them for advice or to address concerns about something going on in my career (and sometimes: life).

But asking for advice and asking for favors are two very different things. I read friends’ comics all the time. I love it. I love reading things in their early stages and offering my input. And they do it for me. Like most writers (of any medium), I have friends and loved ones that I trust to read shit and give me honest feedback. It’s invaluable and something I recommend for anyone to have.

I’ve also introduced friends and collaborators to people that they should know, and have had the same done for me, but these are actual in-the-flesh friends and people that I have a positive working relationship with. That’s “networking.” That’s how these sorts of things go. Engage in the community, be a part of it, and get to know people on a level deeper than “who can do something for me?”

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