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Rick Spears on “Breaking the Writer’s Block”

Rick Spears is the writer of Teenagers From Mars, Dead West, Filler and currently The Pirates of Coney Island. He is also the publisher of Gigantic Graphic Novels, which just published two new books, Rotting In Dirtville and Hellcity. His website is www.giganticgraphicnovels.com

Man, with deadlines trying to crush me and scripts due, why did I ever agree to this–? Gah, the answer is always the same, COMICS! Yeah, I’ve got a new book out today, The Pirates of Coney Island #2 (you should check it out!!) and this is what passes for PR for us indie kids, any time someone gives you a platform to talk to the masses, ya gotta take it. See, I make comics with my bare hands– I’ve got no money, no staff and well not a lot of things– but what I do have if a computer, a DSL and some awesome friends in the same boat. But back to the topic, if there is a topic yet, I’m not sure– Oh yeah, this thing here– Brian Cronin asked me to write a bit for “Comics Should be Good” and so that’s got me fighting the writer’s bitter enemy, The Blank Page. I guess actually for my generation, it’s more likely a computer monitor –that endless white bastard and the ever-blinking black cursor! But look there, I’ve been rambling now for 185 words and the page is blank no longer, huzzah!!

The above is a good trick for breaking writer’s block, you know, just write something, anything, and eventually you will work yourself out of the rut– As I just have now in finding my topic. So it looks like we’re gonna talk about writer’s block, a subject near and dear to my heart.

I’ve had my fair share of blocks and in the end they always seem to stem from the same thing. I’ve missed some detail or somehow don’t know something about what I’m writing– it might be something about a character, or the setting, or the location but it’s something key to the further progression of the story. Does that make sense? Are you guys with me? The block is a story detail that I need to understand in order to move forward. The good news is that once I hit upon that understanding as to why I was locked up it gave me a way to work it out.

The answer, without fail, is always back in what you have already written. It will be there every time, I promise its sitting there just waiting for you to find it. So, I go back and reread everything I’ve written and read it over and over searching for connections or gaps in logic. Where did I get lazy, where did I skim over something that needed more depth– were did a character do something odd that was left hanging and should be explored? Every time I do this I always find amazing things. I find I’ve subconsciously laid in all kinds of material that I can mine to keep writing. I also find surprises I never expected and unintentional connections that set up bits I can capitalize on later.

One of the most recent examples of this is in The Pirates of Coney Island where I needed one of the Pirates to have something in common with Bubbles a member of the girl gang, the Cherries.

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Bubbles’ shtick is that she is always chewing gum and blowing bubbles, hence her nickname. Now I was dying at one point– totally blocked. I had no idea what these kids could have in common that would work the way I needed it to. So I did my thing. I went back and I started rereading the old scripts over and over until like a magic trick, the answers just appeared right there in front of me. I had named one of the Pirates “Black Jack” a cool pirate name, sure but it’s also an old school brand of chewing gum. I couldn’t believe it– MONTHS ago I had named 2 characters after gum but I never saw it.

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It was totally subconscious and I was blocked because now I needed to realize what I had done to move forward. I was floored, but better yet I was writing again and I busted out the rest of the script for that issue in record time.

I hear some writes say they don’t believe in writer’s block and I guess I don’t either, at least not as some sort of mythical beast stalking your page, waiting to strike. A block is simply your gut helping you stay honest. The trick is just not to panic, not to freak out. Just kick back, make a drink, relax and read what you’ve been writing. I bet you’ll find the answer sitting there just waiting for you– right where you left it.

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www.giganticgraphicnovels.com

5 Comments

Nice advice! That first tip, the “write anything” policy, is always gold. The realisation that not everything that spews from your fingers is going to be polished genius is always a tough hump for new writers. And nice work on the Pirates, by the way. First issue was a surprise for me, and I’m eagerly looking forward to devouring the second, which should be some time in the next two hours. :-)

Only one comment so far?

Very good advice Rick. I loved Teenagers from Mars and Dead West.

That’s beautiful.

Until comics have creator commentaries like DVDs — and I know a few attempts have already been made in this direction — this kind of stuff is indispensable for us “process junkies.”

And this is also the best advice ever for writer’s block.

Great Advice Rick, just what I needed to read.

thanks for sharing,

i dont usually buy serial comics (just GN or TPB) but POCI is so amazing, that i cant resist myself in put my hands on it every number & i want more… i mean, every minute the creators put in the process to do something better make it something greatest in the end, or something like that.
congrats from mexico city of pirates mwahahaa…

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