Monday, 25 June 2012

How I Learned To Stop Putting Things Off And Love The Grind

I hate writing.

Seriously.

Not the fun part, of course. Everyone loves the plotting, the brainstorming, the throwing ideas against a wall to see if they stick. That part is capital-A Awesome, and is covered amazingly well by Garry McLaughlin over here. No, the part I hate is the actual physical act. Sitting down in front of a computer with a blank word document open, knowing that the next few hours of my life will be devoted to transferring the solid gold in my head on to the page in front of me, where it undergoes some reverse-Midas transmogrification into barely acceptable dialogue and clumsy panel descriptions.

It's not writing I hate, really, it's typing. It's order and formatting. When you're all plot-happy in your head everything is quite nebulous and free-flowing. Once you start typing you need to start applying rules and standardising everything. You need to watch your spelling and your grammar, and that's not half as fun as scripting your main character's oh-so-witty verbal tete-a-tete with the primary antagonist. The trouble is, the typing, the formatting, the standardisation, right down to the spelling and grammar - it's all just as important as the fun stuff, and might even get the fun stuff published somewhere. So here's my take on how to beat the overwhelming lethargy that comes as the price of productivity. Procrastination-busting 101 or How I Learned To Stop Putting Things Off And Love The Grind.

The first thing to remember is that you’ve done the lion’s share of the work already. You have the ideas, you know your story. All you need to do is get it out of your head and you’re home free. This is nothing but a sacrifice to the gods of productivity, and when you’re finished you’ll have written something. The typing might be arduous, but the satisfaction from having a complete piece of work ready to go is immense. So don’t go into your next typing stint with dread. Look at it as the last lap before the finish line. You’re about to be a writer.

If you use any of my personal methods, it may well be this next one, because it skirts dangerously close to procrastination. Here goes. If you know you’re going to write something soon, say, within a day, and you know the thought is awful, then you need to get inspired. For me, this consists of watching The West Wing or the Wire or reading anything by Grant Morrison. Expose yourself to the writing that made you want to write. Think about being that person, who wrote that thing. I’m a competitive sort, so I imagine being in competition with these guys. Sorkin, Morrison…they’re who I’m out to beat, and I’m WAY behind schedule. If you can avoid getting sucked in to your chosen inspiration, this one can work wonders.

For me, the biggest obstacle to writing is Time. Between working full time and having a general life that doesn’t involve a computer screen, the time to commit 24 pages of comic to screen is often in short supply, so the only real option is to exploit any time you have to write to its fullest. Spare hour? An hour is better than nothing. Train journey? Bust out the notepad. Even if you can only do a little here and there, all the littles add up to a lot and the long road is better than no road at all. Write what you can, when you can.

My last point is related to presentation, and I think it’s an important one. Any of us who aspire to be professional writers are going to have to submit work to an editor. We’ll be weighed, measured and often found wanting, so the most important thing is to show ourselves in the best possible light. That’s where the formatting and the standardising and the spelling and the grammar come in. Submitting work to an editor is like going for a job interview. The first thing an interviewer is going to know about you when you walk in that door is how you look, and they’ll draw inferences from that. Turn up unkempt and scruffy and you’ll just appear disinterested and unreliable. The same thing applies to your written work. Spelling mistakes, misuse of punctuation and a lack of consistent formatting are all going to make your work look messy, make you look uninterested in it. If YOU don’t care about you work, why should anyone else? So the next time you’re dreading sitting down at the computer to write your next script, think of it like you’re getting ready to interview for your dream job. Shine your shoes, iron your shirt and put your best foot forward. You know you can do this job, you don’t need the convincing. If you give yourself the best possible chance and present yourself as well as you can, no one else will need convincing either.

The typing isn’t a chore, really. It’s more of a distillation of all your ideas, creativity and potential, and if you throw yourself into that final process with as much enthusiasm as the brainstorming then the rewards can be huge.

Now go write!

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