Every morning I get up and write for an hour. I’ve been doing this for about 2 years. I used this regular routine to write the script of my Sneaky Goblins comic (my first piece of creative writing since school). In this post I’m going to talk about the kinds of writing I do and how I stay motivated to write.

 

Script writing

I came across the idea of writing my own fiction listening to Chris Oatley’s Paper Wings podcast. He makes these podcasts with co-host comic creator Laura Innes. Chris and Laura recommend creators making their own projects, whatever they might be: short films, comics, kid’s books, etc. Not waiting to get picked up by a publisher, just start making your own thing.

This follows Seth Godin’s advice about how to promote your skills: ‘projects are the new resumes’. If you’re after a job, a reputation, a place in a creative field, make that project that displays what you’re into. Something people can be emotionally invested in, rather than just spruiking a portfolio of random pieces around, trying to get a job.

The way Chris and Laura discuss this made it seem so achievable. Collaborate with a writer, or write your own story. If you need help writing your story, they have podcast episodes about that, too. Not to mention great books on plot and story structure! That inspired me to contact an old friend who was writing and self-publishing comics. I heard a podcast interview with Karen Beilharz after her first few print runs of Kinds of Blue had sold out.

I thought, here’s someone I could collaborate with and make some comics. So I emailed, she remembered me and sent me a short script to draw. She intended to create more collections of stories (on Monsters! And Fashion!). So after we’d made a few short comics together, I started working on my own script.

I started writing ideas in my sketchbook, beginning with a scene of a goblin and an orc teaming up to get back home, in a country filled with humans (like a reverse Mordor situation). Then I started thinking about how the goblin would enlist the help of the orc. And the story grew out of that.

 

 

I took on board some of Chris and Laura’s advice on writing structure and started writing. I knew the morning was a good time to write, so I did it then. Every morning: one 60-minute writing session, every day.

Some days I was just reading over and editing what I’d already done- checking for grammar and continuity. Some mornings the ideas would pour out. Other mornings I barely get anything written down.  I asked myself- why is this so unpredictable? But I kept my anxiety down by reminding myself: I will always have this time. I’ll have the same hour block tomorrow. I’ll make a little more progress. And in about 4 months it was written.

I was sending pages of script to Karen, and she would give great insights into story craft, and problems with my story: why is the character doing this? It’s not in character. Why does the character say this? Doesn’t make sense. Such-and-such is confusing….

It was confronting to get this feedback, but so valuable to get another perspective, especially since I was still green when it came to writing. After a while the feedback became a part of me. Like the art teachers when I learnt life drawing. They would give feedback in short phrases, that became part of my interior dialogue. I began to ask questions of my script.

Sometimes it became a little over-whelming: I don’t know what I’m doing! The script is terrible and I’ll waste months of my life drawing it! Then I’d remember that the important part was getting it finished. And then making another one. I’d improve with time. Just keep writing a little every day. And eventually the script was finished!

 

Writing a blog

It seems like these days everyone has a blog. There are too many. Cartoonists have already made blogs about how they made the comic. How they learnt to draw. There’s even a blog about cartoonists with depression!  Why would anyone care about what I had to say? I wondered if I was wasting my time doing this.

 

 

There are advantages to having blog entries on a comic website. People spend more time there. There’s more words for Google to use in searches. People get to know who you are- they’re more likely to invest in you and your comic. You become more like a real person they could trust.

But there are other reasons. So far I’ve written about 7 or 8 significant entries on the blog. Each one of them has explored an important part of my creativity. It’s been valuable to get it out in a systematic way. Since I’m already in the habit of writing every day, it didn’t seem like a big step to move on to blog writing.

But is it enjoyable? When I wrote assignments at school and at Uni it was painful to get the words out. I would stress about every sentence and paragraph. That’s probably because I didn’t know my subject well enough. With blogging I’m basically writing about myself- my life experiences, what I’ve learned, improvements, failures.

At school, I noticed that some students could sit down and write and write and the words pour out. I’m not like that. I think about every sentence. I edit before it comes out. This also slows down my process. But I’ve found it’s easier to get into a state of flow when I’m writing about subjects very close to me, like I do on this blog. Telling stories also makes it easier to get the words out.

Wait a minute: state of flow? What’s he talking about? So what’s so great about flow? Author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says it’s an indicator of an enjoyable pastime or job. If you lose track of time while occupied with a certain activity, you can stay with it for longer. People report experiencing this with drawing, writing, fixing an engine, mowing the lawn.

With me, I wish I could get to the point of having such a flow of ideas that getting it down on paper was more automatic. But I guess that’s something I can work up to.

 

 

 

 

Sermons

My job is a Church pastor! So I write a sermon every week for my congregation. These days I speak for about 15 minutes, so that’s around 2000 words. I didn’t get any formal instruction about how to write sermons, I learnt it on the job. I studied theology for 4 years to get up to speed on the content. This included a bit of Greek and Hebrew, some Church history and Ethics and Philosophy.

But the core of it was the Old and New Testament studies. These include the stories of the Israelites and the biographies of Jesus. The historical context of the events. How the whole story of the Bible fits together. How Jesus fulfils the promises of the old covenant. And this is pretty much at the heart of what I preach about.

What we didn’t learn about so much was how to apply these events and prophecies and Psalms to the lives of Christians today. This is what separates preaching from just teaching. Preaching is an attempt to persuade someone to either stop doing what they’re doing (whether that’s thoughts, beliefs, speech or actions), or to keep going with what they’re doing, or to do something different.

Preaching  technique is something I’ve pretty much had to pick up along the way. I try and divide it into parts: a main point, an introduction to the theme, a description of the part of the Bible I’m talking about today, an explanation and an application.

It can be a lot of pressure to know that people are giving up time to listen to me every Sunday. I wonder if what I say will be helpful. Will it be interesting? Uplifting, even? Will I speak the truth? I used to feel this pressure as I prepared my weekly sermon. I felt a lot of stress on Friday and Saturday evenings, when I finally buckled down to work.

That wasn’t working for me. I needed an approach that was less stressful, less haphazard.

The best technique I’ve found for writing is to do a bit every day. Then if it’s not great, I can fix it the next day. If I show up to write at the same time every day, by the end of the week it gets done.

If I do the writing first thing in the morning, I can approach the rest of the day knowing the most mentally challenging part of the day is behind me. There’s satisfaction in beginning the day with that kind of achievement already under your belt.

(edit: since my first draft of this article, I’ve started the practice of blocking out time to write in the morning at a cafe, with my second cup of coffee. This has the advantage of being in a place free from distractions, for a dedicated length of time.)

 

 

Writer’s block

So far in this post I haven’t really dug into writer’s block, but as far as I can tell, it’s a form of procrastination. I’ve already talked about the value of getting your ideas out your head on a regular basis. For me, it’s about an hour every day. That’s not a solid hour of final publishable material, it can be notes: information and ideas, it can be a quick story synopsis, I might go back to re-read and edit what I wrote yesterday.

Self-censorship is a big problem for writers. If you’re always thinking: ‘I can’t write that, it’s no good’ then you won’t ever get anything down on paper. The trick is to just start writing. In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advocates writing several pages every morning, just to get things out of your head onto paper. I tried this routine for a while and I found it exhausting, and it stopped me from writing what I wanted to write about, because I’d run out of time.

But I think the general idea is sound- to write you have to write. If you can’t write (because you think your stuff is rubbish), then just write rubbish. After a while you can go back and take the rubbish out, or re-phrase it.

Make the appointment with yourself to go and work- at the same time every day, in the same place, if possible. Daily Rituals is a fun book because it catalogues the eccentricities of great writers and artists as they go about their work. They are creatures of habit. It seems that the more predictable the habits, the more likely the work will be done, and creative ideas will follow.

Make the appointment, show up and work. Just do something. Then come back the next day. This is critical. For myself, I need to make it a daily habit for anything to happen. Once a week, 3 times a week doesn’t work as well.

Sometimes you need some extra guards in place to make sure you’re really working in that daily writing time. Leave the phone in the other room, so you won’t be tempted to check it. Turn off the internet for an hour. Sometimes I use the ‘Freedom’ software: you can set how long you want the Internet blocked on your laptop, then you can only get your connection back by restarting the computer or waiting out the pre-set time. I can’t tell you how many times I go to check my email or blogs during this time! Then I remember I have no internet and get back to what I was doing.

Of course you don’t have to work for an hour, maybe 10 mins a day is more practical for you. That’s fine. It’s amazing what you can get done in 6 months if you write for 10 mins a day. Just so long as it’s every day. If you skip one day, make two 10 minute time slots to make up for the skipped day. You need to train your brain that it can’t get away with skipping that appointment with yourself.

Remember, it’s consistency  that we’re after: showing up every day to work. Don’t worry about the words per minute or even the quality. You can always use tomorrow’s time slot to go back and edit.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my progress- why can’t I get this down faster! But I figure- what’s the rush? I have years and years left that I can give to this. Why does it have to be finished right now?

Sometimes I ask- Why didn’t I start this comic sooner? Don’t let thoughts like these stop you from making your thing! Think of yourself in 10 years’ time- would you be glad you started now? Or will you wish you spent more time watching Netflix instead?

 

So I hope these thought were helpful in some way. Is there any other advice you’ve come across about writing or writer’s block? What’s the hardest thing you’ve found about writing?

Thanks for reading!