Find your voice. And by that I mean, find the type of story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. You know, find what’s important to you and stick to that. Don’t give in to the temptation of shaping yourself around some sort of perception of what the market wants or what people out there want, or, god forbid, what critics want. What anybody wants, but you. Really- find your thing, find what makes your voice unique and stick to your guns. Because in the short term it’s gonna seem like that’s what’s holding you back - it’s going to make it seem like that’s why it’s difficult to break in. In the long term, though, that’s what’s going to make your voice unique and that’s what’s gonna pop you up above the crowd and get you noticed. And on a more fundamental level, that’s what’s going to sustain you creatively, is being honest about what you want to put out there in the world
I’m not asking you to describe the rain falling the night the archangel arrived; I’m demanding that you get me wet. Make up your mind, Mr. Writer, and for once in your life be the flower that smells rather than the chronicler of the aroma. There’s not much pleasure in writing what you live. The challenge is to live what you write.
Human life is basically a comedy. Even its tragedies often seem comic to the spectator, and not infrequently they actually have comic touches to the victim. Happiness probably consists largely in the capacity to detect and relish them. A man who can laugh, if only at himself, is never really miserable.
Garth Marenghi, Juggers
This is the one truth: anyone who writes genre fiction professionally, in some small part of their heart, fears they are actually Garth Marenghi.
It means that no matter what you write, be it a biography, an autobiography, a detective novel, or a conversation on the street, it all becomes fiction as soon as you write it down.
How can you change something if you won’t even acknowledge its existence, or if you downplay its significance? White supremacy is the great silence of our world, and in it is embedded much of what ails us as a planet. The silence around white supremacy is like the silence around Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or the Voldemort name which must never be uttered in the Harry Potter novels. And yet here’s the rub: if a critique of white supremacy doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction. There’s that old saying: the devil’s greatest trick is that he convinced people that he doesn’t exist. Well, white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.
Read comics. All comics. And then cut them open to steal their power.
- Warren Ellis
From MACHINE VISION 009: ON WRITING, an installment of Ellis’ email newsletter that featured an excerpt from a “writing about comics” book he’d worked on that he’s since abandoned. It features some really good advice for writers of all stripes, comics or otherwise.
You do not characterize by telling the reader about the character. You do it by showing the character thinking, speaking and acting in a characteristic way. You simply show it and shut up.
I tend to have a fairly loose approach to plotting in that I know kind of what I am doing, but it’s the kind of what you’re doing if you know you’re starting out in Seattle, and you’re going drive to New York, in an old car, and where you’re probably going to stop on the way, but you don’t know everything that’s going to happen, you don’t know where the car’s going to die on you, and you don’t know what’s going to happen with that hitchhiker. And so you try to put that stuff in and that makes it interesting.
With Anansi Boys it went great making up with a sort of general plan until I got half way through and then something unexpected happened and I stopped for four months. Either I could throw out those last two pages in which something really interesting but unexpected happened that shocked even me or I could keep them and keep going but then everything had to change, it had to get deeper and darker and I liked the idea of the latter but it took four months of walking around, walking into walls, and having the kind of conversations with my assistant where she’d come over and say “I’ve put a cup of tea in front of you.” and I’d go “Great.” All of my head was off somewhere figuring it all out.
I would spend hours in my bedroom drawing. I could never get my hands to do it the way I had it in my head. I always used to go, “Someday you’ll have the skill to draw exactly what you see in your head, and then you’d be able to show it to somebody, and if they like it, then you will have been able to transfer this thing through this apparatus to this, and then you’ll truly know your worth.
Steal like a writer
This is a list of ideas from Steal Like An Artist remixed for a talk on writing (for design/art/music folks) I gave at the Weapons of Mass Creation festival in Cleveland. Posting it here along with a list of books/websites I recommended to the audience:
Excerpt from an interview with Ray Bradbury, via Bruce Sterling’s Beyond the Beyond on Wired.com.
That’s the character who makes a brief appearance in Something Wicked This Way Comes, right? And you’ve often spoken of a real-life Mr. Electrico, though no scholar has ever been able to confirm his existence. The story has taken on a kind of mythic stature—the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies calls the search for Mr. Electrico the “Holy Grail” of Bradbury scholarship.
Yes, but he was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.
The next day, I had to go the funeral of one of my favorite uncles. Driving back from the graveyard with my family, I looked down the hill toward the shoreline of Lake Michigan and I saw the tents and the flags of the carnival and I said to my father, Stop the car. He said, What do you mean? And I said, I have to get out. My father was furious with me. He expected me to stay with the family to mourn, but I got out of the car anyway and I ran down the hill toward the carnival.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I was running away from death, wasn’t I? I was running toward life. And there was Mr. Electrico sitting on the platform out in front of the carnival and I didn’t know what to say. I was scared of making a fool of myself. I had a magic trick in my pocket, one of those little ball-and-vase tricks—a little container that had a ball in it that you make disappear and reappear—and I got that out and asked, Can you show me how to do this? It was the right thing to do. It made a contact. He knew he was talking to a young magician. He took it, showed me how to do it, gave it back to me, then he looked at my face and said, Would you like to meet those people in that tent over there? Those strange people? And I said, Yes sir, I would. So he led me over there and he hit the tent with his cane and said, Clean up your language! Clean up your language! He took me in, and the first person I met was the illustrated man. Isn’t that wonderful? The Illustrated Man! He called himself the tattooed man, but I changed his name later for my book. I also met the strong man, the fat lady, the trapeze people, the dwarf, and the skeleton. They all became characters.
Mr. Electrico was a beautiful man, see, because he knew that he had a little weird kid there who was twelve years old and wanted lots of things. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and he treated me like a grown-up. I talked my big philosophies and he talked his little ones. Then we went out and sat on the dunes near the lake and all of a sudden he leaned over and said, I’m glad you’re back in my life. I said, What do you mean? I don’t know you. He said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.
Now why did he say that? Explain that to me, why? Maybe he had a dead son, maybe he had no sons, maybe he was lonely, maybe he was an ironical jokester. Who knows? It could be that he saw the intensity with which I live. Every once in a while at a book signing I see young boys and girls who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.
When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.
Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.