Hey, folks. Time for that much beloved, semi-regular feature: Q&A Friday.
If you have questions you’d like me to answer, feel free to send them to me via Twitter (@aleemartinez), Facebook (A. Lee Martinez), or email (email@example.com). Feel free to ask me anything. If I don’t feel like answering, I won’t. But if you have questions about writing, dinobots, or anything and everything in-between, you know where to find me.
How often do you start a new novel/story and then stop because you don’t feel it is working?
This is a tricky one, and it is a different question for an aspiring writer versus a professional novelologist. Let’s put the novelologist’s concerns aside for a moment and look at it purely from an artistic point of view.
Yes, I have stopped working on stories now and then when I felt they weren’t working. I have written my share of first chapters and have twenty pages here and there of stuff that I didn’t feel was working properly. Some of this stuff I throw away. Most of it I keep in hopes of coming back to it later and discovering something worthwhile about it that I originally wasn’t connecting with.
Both A Nameless Witch and Too Many Curses were born of this process. Both started as abandoned first chapters that I revisited later to create full stories out of. I can’t say why, but perhaps it was simply the passage of time that allowed me to overcome whatever stopped me in the first place. In both cases, I thoroughly enjoyed writing the stories once I got going on them, but it just seemed to take time for them to click.
Starting and abandoning a manuscript is a common problem among aspiring writers. Sometimes, with good reason. Some ideas just aren’t meant to be stories or, if they are, aren’t ready to be told by the writer. But if you do this too often, you’re prone to never finishing anything. And an unfinished story isn’t usually worth much in the end.
The fact is, no story flows from the writer in an uninterrupted stream of genius. Or maybe it does for some writers, but it’s never been that way for me or for any writer I’ve ever met. A novel is a big undertaking, and it’s easy to mistake speed bumps in creativity as that most frightening of writer boogiemen: Writer’s Block.
I’ve already written about how I refuse to accept writer’s block as a concept. I certainly don’t always feel like writing, and there are times the words don’t want to go onto the page as easily as I’d like, but if writing was easy, everyone would be doing it. It often appears as if EVERYONE is, but for every thousand aspiring writers out there, there really is only one or two that are taking it as seriously as they should. Basically, even if you’re not getting paid for it, if you’re a genuinely aspiring novelologist (and not just someone who writes for a hobby), you need to treat it like a job. And while we’re all allowed sick days and vacation now and then, we all have to perform our jobs with some responsibility and reliability.
Once I’m far enough into a story, once I’ve invested enough time and effort in it, abandoning the project is not something I take lightly. It varies, but once I’ve written a few thousand words, have a fifty or sixty pages of a draft, I usually feel like stopping and starting something new is out of the question. Time is too precious, and as a professional, I try to stick to something of a reliable schedule. There just usually isn’t time to start a new story from scratch to keep to that schedule. I often already have a hard enough time sticking to deadlines without doing that.
More importantly, when you force yourself to continue a story that you feel “isn’t working”, you’ll often find that what you thought was a block was actually just the birthing pains of storytelling. When you’ve been doing this for as long as I have (25 years or so), you begin to see the recurring patterns. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I feel lost three or four times in any novel on average, but I also know that, by sticking with it, I will end up with something worthwhile.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t abandon a manuscript if I felt it completely unworkable, but chances are, if I’ve written fifty or sixty pages worth of material, there’s something worthy in there. I don’t feel discouraged simply because it’s not always eager to jump off the page at me. Digging it out is just as often my job as anything else.
Have you considered drawing and writing your own comic book given you have been doing so much drawing recently?
While I feel I’m a competent cartoonist, there’s a huge gulf between competence and being able to do such a project. I have a lot of characters I draw (mostly ducks with violent tendencies for some reason), and while some of them are fairly well developed ideas that could be crackerjack comic book material, I just don’t know if I have the dedication and ability to pull something like that off. Especially considering my other professional obligations.
I would love to do something with my drawing. Even if it was as basic as creating character designs that more talented artists did something with. And I think writing a comic book would be awesome, all the more awesome if it could be based on my original characters, but I don’t have much experience in that field. Nobody’s come knocking yet.
But one day, I’d love to do something. My dream projects include a Mallargg the Conqueror animated film, and a Dead Ducks comic book and / or animated series. Both are characters and stories I’ve had rumbling around in my head for decades, and I’m convinced that I can’t be the only one who wants to watch a giant kaiju duck monster fight evil aliens or duck vampire hunters slay creatures that stalk the night.
When are we going to see one of your books on the big screen?
Your guess is as good as mine. It’s all a matter of convincing someone with the clout necessary to make it happen. If I knew how to do that, you wouldn’t have had to ask the question in the first place.
If you agree with someone you hate, do you: continue to hate them, reevaluate your hate, change your mind on the original question, or don’t believe that they ever agreed with you in the first place?
If someone I hate (as in someone I find obnoxious and unlikable) says something I agree with, I tend to reevaluate first. Not because they’re necessarily wrong but because, well, it never hurts to double-check our own opinions now and then.
In the end, I often find there’s no conflict. Humans are complicated creatures, and as much as life would be easier if we were all cookie cutter, I find that this just isn’t true. If you can show me two human beings who agree or disagree on everything, I’ll show you an exception, not a common occurrence. I have friends (who I respect very much in terms of their taste) who still believe The Dark Knight was a good movie. They are obviously wrong, of course, but that’s their right.
It is more unusual though when someone we despise agrees with us, and it can be shocking to our sense of self. Still, I won’t simply change my opinion just because of that. After all, if the only reason I believed something was because I was convinced someone else held a different opinion, then my original opinion probably wasn’t that well thought out to begin with.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,