What am I working on?
Mostly I’m trying to buy a car, cutting back the conifers overhanging the pavement, and raising a three year old. That kind of stuff takes up half of every week. When I’m not fending off Edinburgh’s shadiest auto dealers or wiping sick off the bed I also write a bit. Specifically I’m writing the new volume of Death Sentence, which I’m trying to make better than the first. I’m about half way through and it’s going surprisingly well so far. The first issue’s all drawn and it looks absolutely beautiful. I also got some gorgeous X-men art back this week, so I looked that over and tweaked the dialogue and captions to match all the cool ideas the artist had. That’s enormous fun and quite surreal, looking at Wolverine and Storm doing what I told them to do. Finally I did some work on a brand new series I can’t discuss just yet – other than to say it’s dark and twisted and funny and beautiful and I’m hugely excited to be doing it.
How does my work differ from the others in my genre?
Hrmm. I try and make whatever I write unique to me, my personality, my way of seeing the world. All good writers do that, I think - and if you’re true to yourself you can’t help but create something original. I didn’t get into comics to work on other people’s characters, or earn a living, though I’m happy to do either where it intersects with my own passions. I just wanted to express something personal, and create something special, and damn the consequences. It’s a lot like jumping off a high cliff into thick fog and hoping there’s a soft landing. It takes balls – or desperation – or both. I’m very lucky that, right now, I can keep doing that to the best of my abilities – such as they are – though whether it’ll last is anyone’s guess. I’m just enjoying it while I can.
Why do I write what I do?
Complex reasons: Partly because no-one was writing the kinds of characters I wanted to see. Partly escapism - a reaction to settling down. Partly the sheer joy of having an idea and making it tangible, transmitting my thoughts to others. Partly because I’m a Dad now and I love the flexibility writing brings as my daughter grows up. Partly because it was a childhood dream to write these kinds of stories, and fulfilling that dream makes me very happy. Partly because all these ideas just keep popping into my head and I have to get them all down. Partly because it’s what I’m best at in the world, for whatever that’s worth. And partly ‘cause I’m lazy. I mean, I can wrestle with the interior monologue of a character with the best of them but I used to wipe old people’s bums for a living so, in that sense, writing is very easy - an honour and a joy. I just roll out of bed and start jotting things down. There’s no hassle with writing. It’s just you, in a locked room.
How does my writing process work?
Well, there’s a much longer step-by-step in The Guide to Making Comics (in the back of Death Sentence 1 to 5) but in a nutshell I simply note down ideas all the time. Every week I read them back and one or two will stand out as interesting. I’ll write them up into little synopses, which are mini stories a paragraph or a page long. While I’m doing that all kinds of character moments, visuals, scenes, and dialogue will occur and I’ll jot them all down in a freeform way. I come back and read it all after a break and if it grabs me I’ll continue. But I also reject a lot of my own stuff at this stage too. A lot of good writing is editing, in my humble opinion – binning and amending all the rubbish. There’s a lot of plotting next, turning the notes into individual scenes with a sentence long description as to what the scene does and why. I write those on little cards and shuffle them around on the floor, change them, combine them, replace them until the story really motors. If I get stuck at any point I go for a run, or go swimming, or driving, or wash up and after a while my subconscious figures it out. When I’m happy with the scene flow I just grab each card, read what it says, and write that segment of the story. I’ll try each scene a few different ways until the characters and the situation ring true. I tend to do dialogue first, no panel descriptions. The dialogue triggers the other stuff like a mnemonic, so I don’t write that bit till the very end. When I’ve got something that makes me happy I go back and edit it, which usually means chopping the meandering guff at the start of every scene. I always try and come in as late as I can. Then I write up the scene descriptions, spell check and format it all properly, and send it off.
Prose is similar, but more metronomic. I write about 5000 words a day. Every morning I read it over and fix whatever I don’t like, then write another 5000. That leaves plenty of time for thinking, usually while I’m doing something practical away from the computer. All the clever works done in the head, and all the graft is forcing yourself to sit down and churn out the words. I’m very much of the ‘create a pile of chips’ school. Inspiration’s great but you can’t sit around waiting around for it.
Writing isn’t rocket science. I mean, you need talent and to study the craft - the mechanics of what makes a compelling narrative or character - but after that instinct, heart and discipline are much more important. And you have to live a life beyond writing – otherwise there’s nothing to write about. Then you just throw down all the ideas in your head with as much passion as you can muster - and fix it later. There is no empty page. Though I’m no master and I don’t ever want to be. The day I stop learning is the day I’ll stop writing.
Who to pass this on to? So many great writers, so many wiser heads. I could have nominated a score of people but the three writers I admire who got back to me first were...
INJ CULBARD: Writer/Artist and the author of some wonderful Lovecraftian adaptions and Celeste from Self Made Hero /http://injculbard.tumblr.com/
SI SPURRIER: Novelist and scribe of ace works like A Serpent Uncoiled, X-Force, and Six Gun Gorilla http://sispurrier.tumblr.com/
MIKE SIZEMORE: Screenwriter and producer of Mercia Adams, Caper, and comics like Avalon. http://www.sizemore.co.uk/