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Thread: Week 28- The White Bull

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 28- The White Bull

    It's Tuesday, isn't it? Kinda sneaks up on ya, doesn't it? One day it's Thursday, and the next—bam!--Tuesday all over again. And yes, before you ask, I missed all of you.

    This week, we're going to talk about the White Bull. [I picked up that phrase from Speechless. I love that movie.] I'm talking about the blank page, and pushing through all the bad words in order to get to the good ones.

    Honestly, I'm not a fan of the blank page. I see it, and I just want to fill it up with all kinds of crap. Sometimes, my basic problem is a matter of where to get started. Beginnings are daunting.

    Take this week's column, for instance. I'm sitting here, staring at the white bull, and not knowing where to start. I have things I want to say, but it often comes down to not only how I want to say it, but in what order I want to say it in. So I have to get through all the bad words before I get to the good ones.

    When you're writing, this is going to happen to you as well. If you're lucky enough to have a writing gig, you're going to be sitting there, staring at the screen, calling yourself a fraud, and not knowing where you want to begin. It's going to be horrible, but you're going to get through it. I'm going to try to help you do it, too.

    And in this way, we can help each other.

    I guess the basic question is, how do you get out all of the bad words? And believe me, those words are bad. This isn't the 80s, so I don't mean bad as in good, either. They're not really the ones you want when you're working on the story...they're more the temporary ones you have to get through in order to get to where you want to be. That's how I want you to think of them, too. Temporary words, or as placeholders.

    Understand what those words are doing for you. Not only are they an outpouring of crap you don't need, they're also feelers of how to really begin, or how to bring the story to a close. Just because the words are bad doesn't mean that they don't serve a purpose. They are serving the story by helping you out as you flounder around, searching for what you need. And when you finally get there, you'll say “AHA!” Just don't try to stand up too quickly in the tub when you do it. You'll get water all over the floor. [That's a riff on an Archimedes myth.]

    (Steven, none of this answers the question of how do I get them out.) Sure it does. It just takes a little bit of time to get there. Haven't you learned by now that I do things in my own time, and we [almost] always get there? And then when you look back, you'll say “Aha!” Just remember what I said about the tub...

    The easy answer on getting the words out is to just type. Before you ask, yes, that's it. Just type. Notice I didn't say about what. I said just to type. Take about thirty seconds, and just type it out. What you're doing is getting the words flowing. Type out a sentence, and then type out the next one. Then the next. It doesn't matter if they're not part of the story you want to tell. You'll get there, but you have to get these words out first. So you type, and you continue to type for as long as you need to. There's no set timeframe for this, because everyone is different. Everyone is different, and everyone's backlog of words are different. Hell, you could do this three times in a day, and have one session that's three minutes long, one session that's an hour, and the third can be forty-five seconds.

    So you type as long as necessary, waiting for the moment when you want to slosh water out of the tub. You'll start to find out a couple of things as you do this. Usually, one of two things, but rarely are the two part of the same thing.

    The first thing you'll notice as you type out these sentences is that you have another story on your hands. Not necessarily a good story, but a story nonetheless. It happens. You can beef that story up later if you wish, or just write it to get it out, and forget it. [Well, not really forget it. Just store it somewhere. You may want it later.] The second thing you'll notice is that it'll become easier to get to the story you're supposed to be writing.

    To make a car analogy, getting those words out is nothing more than warming up the engine on a cold winter morning. You don't want to get in and just go, right? You want it to warm up so everything is nice and toasty, and firing on all cylinders. That's what you're doing. That's how it happens.

    And then there are the times when you just have to walk away from it for a while. [Never on a writing gig, though. You can't afford that. Not as a newbie.] Let me tell ya a story. (Groan...) No, this one is interesting! (I've heard that before...)

    I was in the military, on a small reserve base. [The reservists would come in once a month and wreck the joint, and we'd spend the rest of the time fixing their mistakes.] The base is in upstate New York, nestled in the Hudson valley. Beautiful, really. Mountainous and covered with trees. A decent hunting location. And there were a decent amount of hunters there, too.

    I'm listening to a conversation between two of my superiors as they discuss hunting and making their own bullets. That conversation sparked an idea about a guy who was killed, and had his ashes put into bullets that were supposed to kill those who killed him. I had the idea, and was excited about it.

    I wrote it on a post-it and put it in my wallet, initially. When I went to the barracks that night, I tried to start writing it, and I couldn't. It pissed me off, too. The harder I tried, the more the story away from me. I chased it, I hunted it, I tried to corner it, but it always managed to escape my grasp. After trying to write it for a few weeks [!], I left it alone. I left the post-it in my wallet, and literally sat on the story for ten years.

    Ten years later, I'm talking to a friend about a story that had eluded me for for a long time, and the floodgates opened up! I talked to her, and the story just poured out of me. I started writing it that night, and I punished the keyboard. My fingers flew, and page after page came out. I knew how I wanted to end it, and I knew what I wanted in the middle. I knew my framing device, and I just wrote. I kicked out five issues in three days, without a formal plot. [The discussion I had with my friend was my plotting session.]

    Ten years for one story. That's a long time, right? And I have another story that's taking me about as long to find a suitable way to tell it. Right now, I'm at about six years, maybe seven. But I'm not trying to force it, because I don't have to. It will come in its own time.

    And that's what I want you to do. If you're just trying to write a story and there's no timeframe to finish it, just let it percolate before you try to pour it out. It will let you know when it's ready. But if you have a gig, you have to sit down and get out all of the bad words before you get to the good ones.

    And if you're really behind, you have to hack it out.

    Let's face it, there are times when the Muse just isn't with you. You can beg and plead with her, but she's just not going to come to you. When those times come, you have to find inspiration in other ways. This is when you hack it out.

    I was at SDCC a few years ago, and attended a panel with a lot of Marvel writers. Chris Claremont made a joke about what he does for inspiration when it's not there. He said he finds inspiration in the mortgage, because it has to be paid. Yes, everyone laughed, partly because it was funny, and partly because he was serious! The mortgage, the light bill, gas and water...these can be your inspiration to get something resembling a story down because you're under the gun. If you're under the gun, then everyone else is, as well, so almost anything you write will be accepted. [Remember, no one else can move forward until they have a script, and you're the one writing it.]

    As a newbie, though, the times when you're wresting with the white bull should be few and far between. This shouldn't happen until you have lots of comics under your belt. You should be well into the double digits, almost hitting the triples, before you should worry too much about hacking it out.

    You also shouldn't have to hack it out too much if you have successfully plotted out your story. (I was wondering if that was going to come up.) Plotting is important, and should keep the white bull docile and in his cage. Notice I said 'should'. There are times when it comes busting out, no matter what you do. This basically happens if you've lost interest in the story.

    If you've lost interest in a story, there are a few options available to you, depending on outside forces.

    The biggest outside force is if you've already sold the story. If this has happened, you're going to have to wrestle with the bull and win. It doesn't matter if you barely win. If you pin him, even for a moment, then you've won. [Yes, I'm talking Greco-Roman wrestling, not the wrestletianment of today.] If you've sold it, and the bull gets free, you've got to wrestle and win if you want to continue writing for that particular company.

    If it's a story you're going to self-publish, you have other things to guide you. Have you gotten an artist? If so, are you paying them? If you're paying them, can you afford to take the loss? How many pages have they done? How far along in the process are you? And if you decide not to move forward with the story, be an adult and tell the artist as soon as you know. Being up front means you have the possibility of moving forward with that same artist at another time.

    If it's just a story you started working on and then decide that it has no legs, you can walk away from it without any problem. Just keep it on file. You may have another use for the concept at another time.

    That's a pretty important thing I want you all to do, as well. Something you should be doing anyway, but I just want to state it formally: never throw anything away. As a writer, you have to become a packrat of all your writing. If you're out at Denny's and had a great idea, and wrote that great idea on a napkin, fold it up and put it in your wallet. It'll keep there until you find a different place for it.

    That different place? A box with all of your ideas is fine, as is a folder. DON'T have them scattered all around the place. They'll get thrown out that way. It doesn't matter that your spouse knows exactly what it is, and that they understand, love, and support what you're doing—it's going to get thrown out. Don't let it happen to you. Get a folder at the least, and a box at the most. You can have anything in between, as well: notebooks, loose leaf binders, computer files; anything that can hold the information you want to keep. This prevents the likelihood of the idea being thrown away, and when you eventually go to revisit it, you can look at the story idea with fresh eyes and life experience under your belt, which will help you tell the story you couldn't before. So, get what you need now, and throw your scraps in there. You'll thank me for it later. (You say that a lot, you know.) [I know. Still waiting for you to thank me, too.] (Jerk. Just for that, I won't.) [Okay.]

    This should be an effective means of dealing with the white bull. Most of the time, it's just a simple matter of proper prior planning on your part. However, when it comes time to deal with it, this should definitely help. And notice, I never once said the words “writers block.” Writer's block is something totally different, and is not something I've ever really believed in. Then again, I don't think I've ever experienced it, not even with Bullet Time [the ten year story], so I'm not the best one to talk about it. For some, it can be very real. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones [so far].

    That's going to be it for this week. Your homework is to get a folder, start a new folder on your computer, get a binder, find a box, just get something to hold your "discarded" ideas, and then start putting all those scraps of paper you have floating around the house in there.

    There's the bell. See you next week!
    Any specific questions, ask them in this thread, and I'll answer them. If it's something of a more delicate nature, e-mail me. I check my e-mail constantly, and will do my best to get back to you within twenty-four hours, depending on the number of you who decide to flood my inbox. No attachments, please. They'll be deleted without being opened. (I know, I know, but blame the virus-makers.)

  2. Cary Guest

    good column sir. i write in spurts really. i'll go weeks without nary a word and then i can't quit for days on end till it all gets out. weird i know. but i found that's better than forcing it. i also tend to write on little scraps of paper, and since i know this, i carry around a little notebook so they stay organized. works better and makes it harder to loose. plus it's the same little note book a lot of guys in my field use for when i'm jotting down ideas i look like i'm actually working. it's the notebook that gives as well as receives! and i like that!

  3. StevenForbes Guest

    Heh. Thanks, Cary.

    I have all kinds of odd papers and notebooks from when I was in the Marine Corps and didn't have access to a computer at my fingertips. Notes, names, basic ideas, handwritten stories, parts of novels...I've still got it all, and think I may eventually get to use some of it. It'll be interesting, to say the least.

  4. tylerjames Guest

    A lot of this article rang true, Steven.

    I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine who has stated she intends to write a novel. A few months after she told me her intention, I checked in, to see how it was coming. She told me she's titled it, and saved the document on her desktop. And there it sits...blank page. Talk about a white bull.

    As I've continued to develop my own writing process, I've found facing the white bull has become a lot easier, because rarely do I ever sit down in front of a blank screen these days. I'm not going to write word one of a script until I have everything plotted before hand. And if it's just an idea I need to get out of my head, there's no pressure attached to doing that. Jotting down informal notes here and there is key. You need to get the ideas out of your head and into the world for them to ever take shape. While it may not have seemed that much at the time, the fact that you took the time to get that idea for your story onto a post-it, and then carried it around with you, was absolutely necessary. Had you not done that, I doubt you would have ever come back to it.

    It's funny how stories develop. More than ten years ago, I had the germ of a story idea, a big fantasy epic. All I had was two lines, "Once, there lived two dragons. They were in love." But it compelled me to draw this pin-up:

    In the next decade, I may have put a grand total of five hours into the story, filling up maybe two note book pages and sketch or two. And that was it.

    Then, a strange thing happened. About five months ago, while searching for artists for three other comic projects, I happened upon an artist who seemed to have a good fantasy style. And it got me know, I'd love to work with him on my fantasy story. With that motivation, I dusted off the idea, put a bit of work into it and contacted him about it.

    Looking back, I was thoroughly unprepared for working with an artist on this project. I hadn't done my homework. But I definitely lucked out, because with very little direction, my artist was able to knock out some killer character designs, which provided me with all the motivation I needed to attack this project head on and do the work I should have done. (The fact that he was willing to do the character designs gratis definitely helped.)

    Now that this project is finally coming together, I'm really happy I did that pinup and filled up those two pages way back then. I simply wasn't ready at the time to write it.

    Finally, I've found that now that I've fully embraced the necessity of re-writing, and then re-writing, and then re-writing again, it makes it a lot easier to "just type." It takes some of the pressure off. If you've plotted out your story and you know you have a scene where such and such needs to happen, just go ahead and write a scene where such and such happens. No need to worry about knocking out Tarantino-esque dialogue, or delivering the perfect sequence of panels. You're gonna have to rewrite it later, so just soldier on. Of course, you want to do your best the first time out, but as you said, the most important thing is just to start typing.

    Objects in motion stay in motion, and writers who write, keep writing.

  5. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks, Tyler.

    I've decided to write a novel as well. I have about 30 pages on it, before I decided to rewrite it into something better. I'll be getting to it eventually, though. I don't have the wherewithal to add writing a novel on top of all of my other projects and responsibilities. I'd NEVER sleep! It's bad enough I have to plot out my podcast/radio show soon. Add that to the webcomics (they're getting closer!), the columns, the editing, and the big project looming on the time. No time.

    And since you can draw, we really should do something together, or maybe you could do spot illustrations of my novel. (It WILL be done.)

    I can't even imagine the white bull as an artist...

  6. tylerjames Guest


    Having "serviceable" artistic ability is definitely a blessing. It basically means that I don't need to rely on anyone else to tell my comic stories. Having raised my skills in coloring and lettering to the "serviceable" level in the past few years as well, it is nice to be able to put together a complete comic from start to finish.

    That being said, when you do it all, there's a whole lot to criticize. When Super Seed was on Zuda, it was tough to hear every single aspect of the comic criticized in the comments, even if they generally enjoyed the comic. "Love the concept, but the inking stinks." "The art is decent, but the lettering sucks." And so on.

    When the comic is all you, you need to own all its shortcomings. Having had that experience, it actually encouraged me to focus on improving fewer areas...writing and lettering, and partnering with line and color artists far better than me. No surprise, the results have been better comics.

    Still, I'd encourage writers to do what you're doing, learn to letter, maybe learn to do flat colors, etc. Whatever you can to increase your knowledge and skill set when it comes to making comics. Definitely try your hand at the 24 Hour Comic challenge like Seb did. (Really enjoyed yours, Seb.)

    And yeah, Steven, I definitely owe you at least a pin-up or two. Let me know if you need some "serviceable" art tossed your way.

  7. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Good column as always, Forby!

    You have to keep them entertained without me this week. I can't breathe and my fever is climbing steadily.

    I was gonna post a link to this in Seb-standard with a simple message reading.

    I'm sick, re-read this.

    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  8. StevenForbes Guest

    Sorry to hear it, Seb. Hope you're feeling better soon.

    And am I entertaining to you? Am I like a clown? Am I here to amuse you?

    THAT'S IT!!!


  9. DavidPaul Guest

    Tyler, I've been keeping my eye on this column and I'd like to address what you said about being the all-in-one serviceable comics artist/creator, et al. Now of course, this is not the 80's so what I am about to tell you may not seem to have relevance but I assure it, it most certainly does.

    The most successful independent comics of all time, TMNT, was/is a two man creation that could be compared to an all-in-one serviceable creation. Okay, so you had two guys creating their own comics. Doing all the writing, the art and the lettering, and everything in between. By today's standards these guys would be ripped apart on the boards - and you all know it's true. Point is they did it. Was it the art? (meh.) Was it the cool concept? (I'm sure that had a good deal to do with it.) Was it the lettering? (Good God, no!) Was it the story-telling? Well, the previous questions could be debated at length and we would reach no conclusion, other than to agree it was cool. But the latter... you bet your ass it was the story-telling.

    As a writer I have been moderately successful. I mean that if you measure my achievements you can say, "Hey, that guy's a writer." If you measure my sells, on the other hand, you're going to say, "David Paul? Who the hell is that guy?" Before committing myself to working in comics I had it worked out in my imagination that this was an easy thing. "I'm an award recipient. Comics? Ha. I laugh in the face of comics!" Okay. I'm being sarcastic (or sardonic). But I was conceited. It was a valuable lesson that I should have to write numerous scripts before realizing, "Man, I've got some dues to pay." Well, if I couldn't get in the front door what about a back door? Lettering is working for me. The more I've done it the more I've noticed that not everyone can do it. I've got various scripts that have been sold to small indies and that's cool. But I have no idea if these things will ever see the light of publication. So I'm going to sit on the writing scripts thing for awhile and focus on being the best letterer I can be. But why am I telling you all this?

    The lesson of the TMNT (from my rambling here) is story! Artists, writers, creators, etc., are slightly removed from the reader. Take advice, yes. Learn from those you respect and admire. Indeed. But the one thing you must do, above ALL, is write a good story. Art can be forgiven. Lettering tolerated. But a bad story (or, at worst, a forgettable story) will never be accepted.

    The lesson from my own experiences is simply that there is more than one way to do what you love.

    Just my opinion.

  10. tylerjames Guest


    Thanks for your reply and thoughts. I whole-heartedly agree with much of what you had to say.

    Your TMNT example was a good one. However, I'll have to admit, my first exposure to TMNT was on Saturday mornings, and it wasn't until years later that I discovered the "cowabunga" dudes were actually first conceived as a somewhat serious black and white comic book. (And I was a comics fan.) So, calling it the most successful independent comic of all-time might be a little many copies did TMNT sell prior to the show and the movies and the toys, etc.? (Not that it matters to the creators, who are probably sitting pretty.) And were the TMNT stories really good? That I don't know either. Never read the comics.

    But I agree. If you don't have a strong story, it won't matter your medium. I think it's interesting that you've quickly found out writing for comics is actually a lot harder than writing for other mediums, at least to achieve a level of success.

    I also think your statement that art and lettering can be forgiven will depend on the genre you're writing. If you're doing a superhero book and your art is terrible...good luck. Story won't matter. A superhero reader will pick up Spider-man instead of your book 10 times out of 10. However, if you're doing an indie comic, and the art is quirky but consistent, your readers will be more forgiving.

    My reasons for moving away from the "one-stop-shop" approach were several:
    1.) I wanted to build my brand. For me to self-publish an issue of Super Seed (to date, 3 are in print) doing everything, it takes me roughly 500 hours. In other words, forever! It takes pretty much all of my comics time available. I decided I had more stories to tell, and I didn't want to wait until I had the time to tell them. In the same time it would take me to produce an issue of Super Seed, I could write, letter, manage, occasionally color, and do layout work on three to four other comics, so long as I had partners.

    2.) I wanted to make better comics. I decided I had hit a plateau in terms of artistic ability for myself. Instead of splitting my time working on both my technical and artistic skills, I decided to hone in on the writing, and leave the art to artists more capable than myself. The result has definitely been better comics.

    3.) I wanted the experience of managing a comics team. Working on a book yourself, it's pretty simple. It'll get done when you get it done. However, most of the successful comics out there (some notable exceptions, certainly) are collaborations. I wanted to prove to myself and demonstrate my ability to work with other creators to take a project from start to finish. It takes it's own skill set, and has been a rewarding experience.

    However, I don't intend to give up doing it all for good. In fact, this time away from the drawing table has me chomping at the bit to return and start working on a graphic novel project I've been writing and re-writing for the past few months. It's almost ready.

    I just need to make sure the story is good. : )

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