Dissatisfaction with Writing

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The writing process has been analyzed, dissected, and discussed to death. Obviously, everyone has their own style, and many successful folk have written books about how to write. Some have gone on to great acclaim and are worthy reads.

My process is one born of training and a chance to channel my undiagnosed hyperactivity (trust me, I would have been the poster boy for ADHD in the 1960s, according to my extended family). Inspired by Clark Kent, I wanted to get into journalism, be a newspaper or magazine writer of some kind. It’s what drove me through junior and senior high school and truly made my experience at SUNY-Binghamton formative.

Our newspaper, Pipe Dream, came out Tuesdays and Fridays. Our page count fluctuated between 24 and 48 pages depending on advertising, and every column inch needed an article, an ad, or a picture. When Armin Schwimmer arrived to pick up the mechanicals, usually right after the sun rose around 6 a.m., those mechanicals had to be ready so printed papers could be distributed that afternoon.

Richard Price

As a result, the blank page never was a barrier. There was no such thing as writer’s block. There were articles to be written, captions to craft, and sometimes filler created on the fly to plug a gap in a page design.

The only creative writing I did was in the self-same named course taught by visiting professor Richard Price, the novelist. He was funny and encouraging, and the one time I was asked to see him, he was very nice. He told me he liked my spare, lean writing style, one hewn from journalism.

I didn’t try anything creative for over a decade after, focusing instead on journalistic pursuits, which brought me to Starlog Press, and that periodical experience helped position me for success at DC Comics. It wasn’t until possibilities arose at Pocket Books and their Star Trek line that fiction became a possibility.

Ever since my journalism training has made certain I made each and every deadline I was given. It was becoming clear that I wasn’t a gifted writer but more a middle-of-the-line journeyman writer. Some of it is definitely ascribed to the limits of my skill, and other times I think I needed stronger editors earlier in my fiction career to helping me hone my stories and storytelling.

I admit I needed to work more on the craft than I allowed myself since fiction was also a side job, something to exercise different creative muscles and scratch the itch.

As a result, I really like writing fiction, but as I work on a project, I often go through crises of self-doubt, thinking maybe I should stick to nonfiction, edit, or give up. I’ve been going through this mental funk pretty much all the way through the writing of the third novel in the Above the Ground trilogy (co-written with Matthew Medney). Some of it was born of the compressed time, devoting July to the manuscript and getting a first draft written, reminding myself the pulp greats managed twice as many words in a month than I concocted.

That first draft was completed, and there were moments in my head that didn’t translate to the page. Characters and dialogue felt flat. It just wasn’t singing to me. So, I put it aside for a week.

In the meantime, I switched back to nonfiction and wrote text pieces for Urban Comics’ Batman Chronicles 1989 Vol. 2-3 and an essay for a Jim Beard collection. After that, I wrote a story for the Crazy 8 Press anthology Grandma Kidnapped by Aliens (the Kickstarter campaign for this continues and really could use your support). That story came together very quickly, and it made me happy, especially after my consultants, Michael and Nomi Burstein, both had good things to say about it.

So maybe I can write entertaining fiction after all. As I dig back into ATG 3, we’ll see if I can find what’s missing and make this more satisfying to me. Because if I’m not happy, I’m pretty sure you, the reader, won’t be happy.

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