Q/A Writing Advice

blood_penI get a hit with questions about writing every day. I thought I’d post a recent Q/A session with one young person wanting to write graphic novels. This is not my field of expertise, but what follows are a few pointers that apply to writing in general. If comic professionals want to chime in, I’d appreciate it.


1) What’s the first step to getting in the world of writing graphic novels? 

You might want to start by writing your own comic (and finding a partner to do the art (unless you’re an artist as well). There are several avenues for getting self-published, but in any event, this will serve as a calling card when you start talking to comic industry experts. If you approach them without such a sample, well, no one is going to take you seriously.

I got involved in a few comic projects because people approached me to write them after reading and enjoying my novels.

Regardless of the media, you need to show people you can write before you’re going to get a job as a writer.

SIDE NOTE: I believe artists are the real heavy lifters in the graphic novel world. They put in 10 times more work than writers. They have my respect. And “successful” ones tend to cripple their hands and burn out their eyes by the time they are 35.

2) What books should I read (if any) to help my writing?

Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
The 38 Most Common Writing Mistakes, James Bickhamm

3) What cities are best connected to the graphic novel scene; or is it not quite like screenwriting in Hollywood and New York? 

Marvel is the only holdout, staying in New York City. DC is now in LA,  Oni is in San Diego, Dark Horse and others are in Portland OR.  All of them (ok maybe not Portland) are expensive places to live.

4. Do you know the process of how people interview/recruit/get connected for writing for comic books? 

No. I’d hit up the comic cons and talk to the writers and artist for tips.

5) In your opinion who’s the best new Sci-fi writer?

I like Earnest Cline. His READY PLAYER ONE  is wonderful. His ARMADA is not so wonderful. Lessons to be learned from both books.

6) What can I do to help prepare myself for a career in writing? I suspect it’s just writing, but I wanted to ask. 

ha. “Just” write. Like that’s easy. 🙂

Write every day so you make it a habit. Write from an outline so you don’t waste time. Try to learn something new about the craft every day. Write your first novel (or whatever) first, and then worry about how to market and sell it. Stay off the internet.

7) Are there organizations that could help me get a foot in the door for screenwriting or graphic novel writing? 

None that I know of. In fact there are many people and organizations that will happily take your money and don’t really help you.

8) How many pages a day do you write? 

500-1000 words a day. If I’m lucky.
Good luck!


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Getting Sucked In

I wrote a good lick today.

Before that I had to research what one character had said about a weird thing going on in their mind. (possession)

At first I didn’t find the passage I was looking for; rather, I started reading and got sucked into five chapters before I found the information I needed.

It’s a very good sign when your own writing no longer repulses you and entertains. 🙂

I’m sharing not to show off, but because the other, less-than-splendid moments in the writing process can be much more common. I’ve been advised by a more experienced writer to share my successes as often as possible. It’s supposed to be good for the soul.

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Outline Time (again)

So, I finished editing THE RESISTERS book #2 for Random House—and I finalized a new book proposal and my agent is sending it out to publishers this week.

… What’s a writer supposed to do now?

Start a new project, of course!

If you read the writing-process posts on my blog, you know I incubate book ideas anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. This particular project falls into the “years” category. I started kicking this idea around in 1994. I fiddled with it now and then… but I just recently figured out the last bit of the narrative puzzle and this story is rising from the grave and ready to be written.

While I could write an entire book on how I write books, my process goes a little like:

1) Collect notes and work the idea from a bad, cliched one–to an okay one–to one worthy of writing.

2) Herd those ideas into a primitive narrative arc.

3) Further refine ideas onto 3 x 5 cards according to Robert McKee’s methodologies. (see his fine book, STORY, on how to do this).

NOTE: If you’re an “organic” non-outlining writer, I have the utmost respect for you, but please stop reading this post now; you’re eyes are about to melt.






4) Assemble these story “beats” into a chapter structure. This involves spreading out all those 3 x 5 cards on the floor.

NOTE: lock up your cats/dogs/toddlers during this phase—trust me.






5) Write a rough outline based on these chapters.

6) Write the darn novel.

I just drafted to the end of the outline. I’ll polish that this week, work out a few kinks left…and then I’ll be off and writing fiction once more! Yay!

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So You Want To Write A Novel ….

Would you believe I have this conversation/email exchange on average about once a day?

So You Want To Write A Novel YouTube

Have you ever been on either side of this conversation?


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This is skill that you must develop as a writer.

(No jokes about making more money as a street juggler than a genre novelist, please…even if it is true!)

In the beginning you juggle your schedule. You have to make room for writing as well as family and friends and that pesky day job. It’s the easiest form of juggling—just decide you don’t need television or the Internet anymore.

Seriously, though, while you must make time to write, please shuffle things to make time for what is truly important—your family and friends. To paraphrase Stephen King, “Life is not a support system for your Art; your Art is a support system for Life.”

The second kind of juggling is harder.

Eventually you’ll need to have more than one ball in the air at once.

This means more than one project in play at the same time. One project may be in a development stage, another might be with your editor for revisions. It’s essential that you learn how to smoothly switch mental gears to keep up and make the most of your writing time.

Which brings me to the trickiest part of this metaphor.

…Letting go.

You must let go of the balls and let them fly on their own trajectories for a while.

I see too many writers lose time and energy obsessing over what editors think, or waiting to hear back from publishers or agents, or looking at their Amazon numbers every hour. I’ve seen beginning writers wait months…even an entire year to hear back from agents/editors…when they could have written an entire new novel in the interim!

You’ll notice professional jugglers don’t look and track every ball they toss into the air. They’re too busy catching and throwing the next ball—and the next.

Supremely confident. Fearless.

This is very hard by the way.

Insanely hard.

But you should try it. Let go. Get busy on the next thing.

Once you do it, you’ll find it liberating.

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