Preparing to Write

Between 1998 and 2001, during those first years where it was painfully obvious that I was going to be a writer, I wrote five screenplays: three horror and two comedies.  Only one of them was any good, really, and a movie that came out and tanked in the last year pretty much guarantees a lack of interest in that story.

Around 2000, I started writing more comics scripts.  If I couldn’t pull together the cash to shoot a film, I’d pull together the cash to publish a comic, by God!  Obviously, this tactic worked better than my screenwriting efforts.  When 2003 rolled along, and I started writing short stories, I rolled with the punches my writing evolution brought with it.  On January 1, 2005, when I began writing my first novel, A Family Matter, I knew I was doing what I was supposed to.  It took me two-and-a-half months to finish the first draft of A Family Matter, about the same amount of time it used to take me to write a screenplay.  It was a great time, and I can’t wait to get started on my second novel in the next month or so.

But how does somebody get ready for that?

Let’s not kid ourselves, here.  This is a big commitment, a large chunk of time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears we’re settling down for.  How do we do that?

Well, here’s how I do it . . . or how I used to do it.

First I write an outline, a bunch of numbered bullet points, one for each scene, running down no more than three pages.  I’d love to be able to write like Stephen King, starting with a blank page and just marking down character names as I create them.  I’d love to work like Brian Keene, using an outline no longer than a single paragraph.  I can’t do that, though.  I’m not there yet.  I need that framework. Now, I’ve never actually stuck to that framework; veering off is half the fun, but I have that sucker printed up and taped to my wall before word one gets typed.

Used to be, I’d take two weeks off at this point.  I wouldn’t write a single word.  By the time I was ready to sit down and write, my fingers were itching to pound the keys. It’s a great exercise, and I wish I could still do it, but I’m writing enough now that I can’t afford to take that time off before each project.  Besides, I’m in a relationship now, and it would be tough to explain to the girlfriend why, after two weeks of sitting on my ass, I decided to start writing on the day she wants help cleaning the house.

These days, I’m forced to create mood.  I usually do this through movies, music, and comics.  All are forms of fast entertainment, and I can use them to start thinking in the general theme or mood I want to write in.  Jail story?  I’ll read the Hard Time collection of Hellblazer issues and watch a few episodes of Oz.  Small town story?  I’ll listen to Guy Forsythe’s Hometown Blues.  Creating mood, y’dig?  It’s not always easy, but it can be very fun.

And on that note, I have some music to go listen to…