Monday, July 13, 2015

Lessons from Comic-Con 2015

I returned from the San Diego Comic-Con last night.  It was, I figured out while there, my 20th Comic-Con in a row.  It was my eighteenth as a registered professional.  
That’s something of an accomplishment.  I’m happy to have maintained enough published work to keep up my professional status, even if I’m not writing full time as I hoped.  A credit to my persistence if nothing else.  
My relationship with Comic-Con has changed over the years.  The eager hopefulness I took with me when trying to get my first comic book script published gave way to a sense of accomplishment and validation when I got in wearing my first badge with “Professional” printed on it.  That sense of belonging was replaced by frustration in time, as the projects I worked on failed to reach the level of success I’d hoped for.  In recent years I’ve wondered if my participation has been more out habit than a genuine desire to go.  
But one thing that has remained constant is that Comic-Con has taught me things that I’ve needed to know.  At least it has reaffirmed things that I was on the verge of forgetting.  Or worse, about to turn into unfelt platitudes.  This proved true with this year’s convention.  The lessons included...
Writing is an art form.  Publishing is selling copies of art.  Don’t confuse the two.  Be good at both. 
This came from a panel on writing hosted by Jonathan Maberry.  It was something he heard from Ray Bradbury when he was a youngster.  His wasn’t the only panel that touched on the business of writing, Maxwell Alexander Drake spoke about it in his panel on Plot Structure that I attended Sunday morning, and the two were in close agreement with each other.  I liked Maberry’s succinct way of putting it.  The fact that he attributed it to one of my favorite authors growing up didn’t hurt either.  He also said that you should write the book you love, then edit the book you can sell. 
I have not been good at the business side of writing, at least not for some time.  In the early days of going, when I was focused on comic book scripts and working with an artist as a team, I think I was better at it.  I left this year’s convention feeling that I need to get back to that level of participation in the business side of writing, and go past it.  I want to get good at the business side of writing.  
Write from your Core. 
This is not the same as “write what you know,” which would actually be quite hard to do for a fantasy/science fiction writer.  As Drake mentioned in his Plot Structure panel, he’s never in his life been a dragon, but he has write from a dragon’s point of view.  
I think it’s about writing from the inside.  Writing the stories you want to tell.  The story you would want to read if you were buying a book or a magazine or comic.  Brandon Sanderson in the panel on Fantasy Literature called “chasing the market,” the effort to write something you think will sell, a waste of one’s time.  “All work is worth your time,” he said, because if you write something you love it will be a step on the path to make you someone who can write great stories.  
A little antidotal evidence, I found out that the Expanse Series, by a pair of writers using the combined pseudonym of James S.A. Corey, grew from a role-playing adventure they ran for the game Traveller for friends years before.  Even some of the characters in the books are named after their fellow role-players that participated.  I think that’s cool.  
I think I get stuck most often while writing when I start wondering if I can get the story or script published before I finish it.  I need to think about that AFTER I get done with it.  After I write something I really love. 
Good work inspires More Work.
I make a point of checking out the Science Fiction entries in Comic-Con’s Independent Film festival.  I usually try to see as many of them as I can.  This year I stopped after the second one.
The film was entitled “Dust.”  It was the best movie I’ve seen at the Comic-Con Independent Film Festival.  I can even say its the best movie I’ve seen, period, in the last six months.  
After the presentation was over, I followed the creators out into the lobby to talk with them.  I gave my card to the director and got his in return.  I was so jazzed by the experience of watching this short movie that I turned to the friend that had accompanied me to the presentation and said, “I want to write something.  Anything.  Now.”  I was so turned on by this feeling that I decided to not watch the rest of the entries, because I didn’t want to lose that feeling.  
“Done is the Engine of More.”  I heard that at a panel entitled Kill Your Idols, about how to get past the works that inspired you to write your own work without being derivative.  The best thing one is working on should be the current thing you’re doing.  Yeah.  I’ve said this myself, but feeling the inspiration from the viewing of Dust reminded me just how good it feels to do something good.  I want to finish what I’m doing now so I can go on to do something even better next.  
At the first Comic-Con I went to, back in 1995, I was a bit unsure of myself.  I had one short story published a few years before.  I was getting to the halfway point of my 30’s.  I was wondering if I could ever get something else published again.  
I went to a panel on writing, the first I ever attended.  I can’t remember who was the writer, though I remember his work was mostly in comic books.  After opening it up to questions from the audience, someone stood and asked him how one could know that the could “make it” as a writer.  
The panelist hemmed and hawed for a bit.  Then, he said, “Look...  If I were to tell you that, in order to ‘make it’ as a writer you had to write...  Let’s say, ten million words, and all those words would be absolute crap, but that after you got done, you could start writing words that could be published, would you do that?”
Sitting against the wall, off by the door in the crowded room, I immediately answered his question under my breath.  “Yes.”  I would do that.  That was the lesson of that first Comic-Con.  
On the first day of the convention, I wore a tee-shirt with the Japanese kanji for “Dream” on it.  On the last day, my tee-shirt bore the kanji for “Samurai.”  That is the nature of the convention.  A place where you go to dream, and get the drive, and weapons, to fight for it.


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