I’ve been compelled to write in one genre or another for most of my life. I caught the bug in Mrs. Hopkins class during 4th grade.
Every few weeks she would have a creative writing exercise where we were given a simple prompt and had to tell the story. The one I remember was “It’s a rainy afternoon.” Mrs. Hopkins would pick the five best stories of the bunch and read them aloud.
Rarely even finished them. It came down to not having a clue how to start. Then I read my friend Ian’s winning story which started out, “My name is Ian ______ and I’m the world’s greatest _____________.”
I immediately stole that opening. Word for word (Well, I did write Kevin Joseph instead of Ian ______). The simple act of having a place to start changed my life. My stories immediately ended up into that group of best stories and have longed to write ever since.
So my first tip, mostly from this for anyone wanting to write (or for those with family members who do), is to find a place to start. You cannot create momentum for your story until that story is started. And don’t be afraid to start in a way you’ve seen before. You can always find a more creative beginning when you sit down to edit.
But I’m not a writing guru. I’m more of a guy who’s taking the plunge himself, so I thought maybe I’d lay out the best writing advice I’ve heard from actual smart people (if I can remember who I heard them from, that is).
#1 READ AND WRITE EVERY DAY – STEPHEN KING
In his book “On Writing,” King pulls double duty. One part is a memoir and another is a writing “how to.”
He lays out the importance of reading and writing every day.
I’d love to say I diligently follow his advice, but life is always creeping up and snatching the time I would give to that.
I try to read or write every day (probably 70-30 reading if I’m honest). I figure I’m at least hitting that part of the brain so it’s better than nothing.
#2 PARK DOWNHILL – AL FRANKEN
Try not to finish a chapter and call it a day. If you do, when you sit down to write the next day, you’ll have the same problem fourth grader Kevin had, where to start.
Instead, write yourself into a flow and either stop before you complete your thought, or start into the next thought and make some headway before stopping.
If I remember correctly, Al even said he’d often stop in the middle of a sentence so he could start the next day with full momentum.
#3 FINISH – NEARLY EVERY PROFESSIONAL WRITER, BUT MOSTLY NEIL GAIMAN
750 completed pages of a 1,000 page epic serves you less than a completed 3 page story. You can only learn from completed works.
What you did right and wrong. Where your narrative sang, where your dialogue dragged. Which cliches you lean on, etc.
A bad finished story is wonderful, a wonderful unfinished story is… well it isn’t bad, it just isn’t anything. Yet.
#4 IF A BETA READER TELLS YOU SOMETHING IS WRONG, THEY’RE PROBABLY RIGHT. IF THEY TELL YOU HOW TO FIX IT, THEY’RE PROBABLY WRONG. NEIL GAIMAN
Weird, my favorite writer supplied two of the tips. Coincidence?
When you’ve got two or three drafts down, it’s time to bring in your beta readers. In comics, that’s probably your editor, artist and a few close friends or family members. Be open to their criticisms and try not be get defensive.
Gaiman says (which pretty much makes it gospel in my book) that these beta readers are exceptional allies when informing him of points that aren’t working in the story. Where they are less helpful is in telling the writer how to fix a problem.
Basically, let your beta readers tell you if you’re lost, but don’t let them give you directions on how to get back. (Bonus tip on beta readers from Steve Martin – You can expect your friend to read your first draft to give you tips. You can not expect anyone, no matter how much they like you, to read a second draft to see if the changes worked).
#5 DON’T PLAN AN EPIC, PLAN A SERIES OF MINI SERIES INSTEAD – Ryan K. Lindsay
When I started in comics, I wanted to write a Sandman style piece. Both Tart and UnderWars have a defined endings in mind. But we planned 40 plus issues to get to those ends. After I’d already gotten running, I came across a Lindsay writing workshop (he’d done the panel at a con and shared his notes with readers) which explained not to do that.
It’s great advice. It is hard enough to do one independent comic. Much less 3 dozen.
This doesn’t mean you can’t build toward something big, just separate the chunks of that big story into smaller parts. Instead of writing your five issue character origin arc, write a five issue limited series which introduced your character’s origin. Creating in the “series of Limited Series” model allows you to take longer breaks between issues than if you’re presenting them as arcs within a maxi series. It also allows for the art team to rotate better.
I know this now. And will act on it from here on out.
That’s what I have for today. Any best writing tips I left out that work for you?
PS – I orginally wrote this for my email subscribers, but really wanted to share it outside that group. If you want first look at content like this, as well as 5 free Kechal Comics pdfs, please join up: https://app.convertkit.com/landing_pages/99802