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Nut In The Shell:
Writing Is Hard Work By Keith Giles
One of the main things that working with artists has taught me is just how much freaking WORK is involved in turning my scripts into art.
I can pound out a script in a week or so, but the artist has to sit down and spend hours on every single page just to get the pencils down. Then he gets to move on to the inking. And after that, the coloring too.
It’s a lot of hard work, and I don’t envy them one little bit.
But then again, maybe I think writing is easier because I’m not gifted as an artist?
Or, maybe it's an unfair question to begin with.
Both writing and illustrating are "HARD" in different ways.
Sure, when you're talking about comics, (the blending of art and writing), you can easily say that, "Without that script, nothing happens..,” but you could also say, "Without that art, nothing is finished".
The point is, neither is what you would call easy, and they both involve a lot of hard work.
A phrase my Creative Writing instructor in College always used was that "Writing is Work," and he's right. In fact, as I sat and listened to my instructor go on and on about how much work he put into writing his novels, and then pitching them to prospective publishers, I very nearly decided that a writer was something I really didn’t ever want to be. It was too much work, I said to myself.
My instructor was a guy named Kent Anderson, author of two fantastic novels; “SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL” and the sequel, “NIGHT DOGS.” I highly recommend both to any aspiring writers who want to read some incredible works of fiction.
Anderson spent hours, weeks, and years polishing his pages, hammering out his dialog and plotting out his story. But, in the end, his hard work paid off.
Before taking that class, all those years ago, I used to think that writing was just something that came naturally to me. Sure, in some ways it does, but the finished product is almost never the first thing I put to paper. It always involves re-writing, editing, research, re-writing again and then more re-writing.
I’ve even re-written some key dialog for a comic while I was preparing the final print copy!
One of the best exercises I learned from Mr. Anderson was the art of reducing the content into tight, compact, hard-boiled nuggets of prose.
The way he taught us was to assign us a basic scene to write.
A guy walks into a bar near the docks. He’s dripping wet from the rain outside. Only one other patron is in the bar, a guy in the corner who’s been drinking the same beer for an hour. The new customer walks in, asks the bartender for a drink, downs it, then turns to the other guy at the end of the bar and shoots him three times in the chest. Pays for his drink and walks out.
We had three pages to write this scene. So, as you might expect, we all went home and did our best to write a scene where we described the smell of the bar, the look of the guy who comes in from the rain, the music playing on the juke, and as much detail as we could squeeze into those three pages. We all wanted to impress the instructor with our obvious talent.
Next, the instructor had us read our three pages out loud to each other. This was the “Workshop” portion of the class. I have to tell you, I miss this more than anything else. It was a chance to get live feedback from other writers about what was working in your story and what was really NOT working. I’ll never have that kind of honest feedback about my writing again. At least, not BEFORE it goes to print, anyway.
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Anyway, after this portion of the class, Mr. Anderson sent us back home to re-write the exact same scene all over again, but now it had to be in one and a half pages. HALF THE LENGTH! But, we had to make sure that we kept the action, descriptions and detail the same.
At first, it sounded impossible. But you know what? After I sat down and started looking for wasted sentences and paragraphs, I found that it was easier than I expected. The point was, we had all included way more information and excess descriptions than was necessary to make the scene work.
That second class we all proudly read our high-density prose to one another, endured the workshop aspects and waited to hear our instructor’s next assignment.
He then told us to go back home and take that page and a half and condense it all to half a page.
We were all stunned.
But, believe it or not, we all went back, sat down with our work and realized that there was still more we could trim out.
The result was a compact, tightly written, sparsely detailed scene with all the best of what we were capable of, and none of the unnecessary crap we thought was cool.
I really would recommend trying that as an exercise for any aspiring writer. Especially if you’ve never taken a writing class of any kind. Write a short scene, about three pages long. Then condense it to one and a half pages, taking out all the “fat” and leaving the lean and mean words to fend for themselves. After that, try taking it down to less than a single page.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that this is how you should write everything you produce. Not at all.
I don’t do this in my writing. Ever. But, the lesson I learned was that, while I’m writing, I need to be aware of only what’s necessary. I remember to keep it simple, condense my words, target my details, and shoot for the “less is more” approach.
In the self-editing phase that inevitably follows, I do often trim out the redundant and unnecessary bits.
However, there are times when I also circle a section and make a note to expand the details within. But, if you always shoot for a tightly written prose, then going back to expand on a section is a nice reward, and it gives you room to write about the stuff that really does matter, and avoid writing about the stuff that really doesn’t.
Writing is work.
Get used to it.
Keith Giles is one of the world's greatest enigmas. Ruggedly handsome, and yet surprisingly gentle and compassionate with small animals, Keith actually has a very weak grasp of reality and often talks to himself in the bathroom mirror. He's currently writing his own original sci-fi novels and putting together a few comic books of his own in his spare time. Visit him at PlasticAnimal.com.