Chad has part 08!
DB: That links thing is a great idea. Gavin has a table of contents page, but that thing has hundreds of posts. I’ll have to do that… after I forget to do it for forever and then do it all one night at 2 in the morning because I feel guilty. Which is, in fact, more or less how I get my blogging done. My sleeping schedule went all off-kilter for a lot of 2009, and I pretty much had something like three to four hours a day for the latter quarter of the year, weekends excepted. So, you know, I got a lot of writing done.
Guilt helps, and it’s a pretty good motivator. People send me books out of the blue now, which is enormously flattering, but it tends to lead to a stack of unread or unreviewed books on my table. Ask Esther– every time she comes over to do a podcast, I’ve added half a dozen books to the stack and someone sent me a couple others. So, guilt makes me sit down and go “I need to talk about this so I haven’t wasted someone else’s money.” Sometimes it works out really well. Sometimes I don’t like a book until I re-read it with an eye toward a review, and the increased focus opens up new pathways in the text.
But the only motivator that really matters, the only one I really pay regular attention to (sorry deadlines, I love you but I don’t like you), is my personal feelings on a book. If it was a book that left me with nothing more to say than “Welp, that sure was a comic book,” I don’t talk about it. (Once I started applying that to my pull list, I suddenly started buying fewer comics.) I need to have some kind of strong reaction to a comic, be it positive or negative. Books that I care about, or hate, or that threw me for a loop, or provoked some kind of emotional response beyond “Whooo comics!” are the books that bug me like a splinter. I need to say something about them, I want to talk to people about them, I want people to tell me what I missed, and I want to organize my thoughts on them so that I better understand them.
A good example is that issue of The Brave & The Bold where the boring Flash goes back to World War II and has a good cry about how great the Greatest Generation was while they die all around him. I wasn’t going to read it at first, because that series had been a pit of mediocrity (with a couple highlights) for a long time, but David Uzumeri read it and egged me on. So, you know, I read it, and wow. I hadn’t hated a comic book like that in a long time. And I think it shows in the review.
Another great motivator is getting into the conversation. I tend to agree with Tucker on the subject of critical discourse: “who cares?” If I feel like I should say something because everyone else is doing it, I generally refrain from jumping in. I’d rather talk about what I like and let the discourse build organically. There’ve been times when I was going to write about something, some new book or hot button issue, but kept putting it off, and then Jog or Matthew Brady post about it and I just throw my hands up in defeat because they did it so much better than I would have. (More than a few times. I love those guys.) But if other people are writing about something, and it’s something I’m hyped about and have a perspective or point that they missed, I’ll definitely hop in. But never just because I feel like I have to.
Does that make sense? Is it hypocritical? I dunno. But I’m with you- I don’t want to write a lot without really having anything to say.
The thing about my process is that at some point, I think fairly early in high school, I realized that I hated writing drafts. You mean to tell me that I have to write something twice? So I’d basically write a finished essay for the first draft, save it, reverse-engineer that into an outline, then chop out a paragraph or two, intentionally botch some grammar (commas are easy to mis-use and easy to fix!), and turn that in as the first draft. I’d get feedback, incorporate whatever fixes whatever actually mattered into my pristine final document, and turn that in. So, yeah, I was a) an amazing underachiever and b) impossibly arrogant, but it worked. And that’s affected how I write for myself to this day, save in the day job. I have to do outlines for clients whenever I’m working on a new book, but my outlines tend to be these hyper-detailed monsters, several pages in length with every key point and feature and idea integrated into the mix. On 4l! and elsewhere? I just go at it.
At best, as far as planning goes, I work with brief notes. Just a couple lines of things I want to touch on, maybe a sentence I want to use, and a few quotes to springboard a paragraph or two. Normally, I start with a blank screen and just go. That usually ends up with me rearranging paragraphs in editing and chopping out a couple hundred words once I’m finished. In fact, I did that with this response. The high school story came after this paragraph before.
This method is easy for me because I’m generally thinking posts over for hours before I start writing. I know exactly what I want to say, just not how I’m actually going to say it. By the time I’m sitting down to actually do it, I can just pound it out and get it done. I try to be careful and source things I write about, like writers, artists, images, and dates, and that takes some time. The actual writing itself, though, is a pretty smooth process.
The Black History Month series every year are killers. I love them, and I like doing them (particularly because, as you said, who else is? precious few.), but they’re tiring and draining above and beyond the normal posts. This year I did something different, posting only about BHM during February (and focusing strictly on the positive), which I think helped my focus but increased my stress. I mean, that last weekend of February– I was awake for maybe twelve hours, total, across Saturday and Sunday. I was completely beat, just thoroughly drained.
By the end of each and every year of posts, I just want to quit talking about black people and comics entirely because it’s such an unpleasant experience. But that isn’t true– the experience is also wonderful and enlightening for myself. It’s just very stressful, because I’m trying to live up to whatever impossible imaginary standard I’ve set for myself. I generally just keep my head down and barrel through and things tend to work out okay. Have you ever had trouble writing something you wanted to do? How’d you get past it?
CN: I find that stress you feel a little hard to imagine since I have nothing like that. I’m a white heterosexual male, so I’ve never felt any pressure to discuss things from any of those perspectives and it’s difficult to know what it’s like to do so or to feel like you ‘should’ do so. No one expects anything like that from me — nor do I expect it from myself.
I do have problems writing essays and posts sometimes. I have a couple of documents on my desktop. One is a list of books to do reread reviews on for CSBG and the other is a list of topics for essays/posts on comics. And both lists just keep growing. I’m awful at actually writing things for the blog unless I either have a deadline or am trying to avoid doing other work. That’s why I like doing things like blogathons or themed months/weeks/whatever. By saying in public that I will be doing a series of posts on a set schedule, I can’t really put them off. If I say that you’re getting a new post every day, then I have to do that post every day. Without an external reason to do something, I’m really bad at getting things done. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, an idea will come to me and I’ll be so excited that I’ll just do it without thinking too much, but that’s rare. I’ve had a shortcut to a word document about The Programme and Thomas Pynchon sitting on my desktop for a couple of months and I just never work on it, because there’s always something else to do — or some way to waste time that doesn’t involve doing that.
One thing that I keep wanting to do is the write-up of Automatic Kafka as part of my examination of Joe Casey’s comics. I haven’t done some of his recent stuff, but this is the big hole in my analysis. It’s intimidating since the book is so important and central to his body of work that I’ve never felt ready to take it on. Of course, there’s nothing stopping me from doing it and then going back and revising my writing in a few years.
Then again, some ideas I have for essays are just good ideas that I know I’ll never do because they’re too big or don’t really interest me. One idea is for an essay on ‘the universe as a character’ when looking at Marvel and DC, which sounds great, but doesn’t really appeal to me as a writer. At least right now.
It’s also difficult to read books sometimes without feeling like I should then write about them. One thing I’ve noticed about blogging and reviewing is that it makes reading comics a bit of a chore at times. Not all of the time or even the majority of the times, but sometimes. Sometimes, I just want to read my books and not worry about what I think about them and how I can express those thoughts and opinions to others. So, I’ve been trying to read books at times just because I want to, not to write about. I recently reread Marvel 1602 for that purpose. I had the urge to reread it, so I did. I had no intention of writing about it and I haven’t. Has that ever been a problem for you? I think it’s affected me more as a reviewer for CBR where I’ll finish one week’s worth of reviews only for the next batch to begin and it’s every week without a break… then again, I have my own issues with the never-ending, ongoing parts of life (why can’t I just take a break from sleeping or eating or waking up once in a while? come on!).
Chad has part nine!