Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Writer's Block" Tips for Cartoonists

If you check "writing" as a category on Stumble Upon, one thing that comes up a lot are articles about beating writer's block. Many are yawners, devoid of real help. My own experience is distinct enough from many of those articles that I might share some tips.

  • Don't write when you can't. That's writer's block, and it's your brain telling you the timing is wrong. If you can't write when you do feel like it, a career change may be in order.
  • When you can't write, read. Return to favorite books and comics to be re-invigorated. Don't watch TV; it has a negative effect on writing.
  • Harvest all your ideas, but only go to print with the best. Even marginal ideas may marinate in your notebook and transform into something much better.
  • Go to the bookstore and read some crap. Read stuff that is so irritatingly bad that it gets your dander up, and inspires you to prove you can do better.
  • Thumb the dictionary, preferably a musty old one rather than something online. Every book ever written in English is in there, after all; I'm sure there's room for more.
  • Be a ruthless, savage, editor. You haven't tested yourself until you've edited something for two years. (They say you're done when you have removed and replaced the same comma three times.) Learning to cut and compress your prose brings it alive, and you may find that material you had forsaken can be salvaged and polished.
  • Writing letters to people is great practice for writing, and helps you brush up your anecdotes.
  • Write some three panel comics, especially if that is not your field. There is something about the timing and execution of a story in three panels that is writing at its most distilled and direct: start/dilemma/resolution. Write some one panel comics, which I find even more challenging.
  • Read comics written before you were born. Fantagraphics has them, among others.
  • Use your computer to its best advantage and organize lots of work so that you have things in various states of production all the time. Visit, review, edit, repeat. A sound editing process usually takes a long time. (I rarely get to edit my blog writing properly, so don't consider it a good example.)
  • Save your files and notebooks. Over time you find you re-tell some of the same stories, and you can go back and compare versions for accuracy, or marry them to make a superior account.
  • Don't be a writer. Be an adventurer who writes. Get out of suburbia, shopping malls and video feeds and live a life that teaches you hard lessons.
  • Right now the great theme of humanity is that we are cementing our paralysis as if it will prepare us for crisis. Get out and do battle with our stupor.