To put it mildly, when it comes to writing, I am quite literally my own worst enemy. The little voice in my head that feeds me ideas, brings characters to life, shapes stories and creates worlds, has an evil twin. His voice is almost identical, but rather than inspiring me, he feeds on every ounce of negativity in my psyche and blows it considerably out of proportion, until all that’s left is a black cloud the size of a Michael Bay explosion. When I’m at the keyboard, there’s a constant battle between the Michael Knight and Garthe Knight figures that share space in my increasingly addled brain. As somewhat of a perfectionist, who believes that if something’s worth doing then it’s worth doing as well as is humanly possible, the more demoralising voice often wins. If the more positive voice was the more dominant one, I’d probably have had more comics on the shelves by now, along with some shorts, some TV work and even a film, for that matter. I give up writing, in my head at least, about twice a month. But it’s been an important part of my daily routine, and something that’s a major part of me, since I was 4, so I’ll never actually go through with it.
I’d always kind of assumed that this roller-coaster of emotions, these sharp twists and turns from elation to despair, were reserved just for me. Well, ok not just for me (how egotistical), but certainly just me and other writers at the same stage as I am, published but not particularly well known or well established. It turns out that I was completely wrong. Recently I was made aware of an excellent talk by writer Anthony Johnston, who discussed something similar at on recent Thought Bubble convention panel. I’d urge you to watch it before reading on.
Around the same time that I discovered this talk, I started listening to old episodes of the Austin Film Festival “On Story” podcast. It features highlights from the TV show of the same name, and they’ve discussed the writing process with people like Damon Lindelof, Lawrence Kasdan and, one of my favourite screenwriters, Brian Helgeland (largely, but not only, due to the vastly under-rated Conspiracy Theory). I stated listening to the show after searching the net for a Shane Black interview, having watched Iron Man 3. Shane Black is one of my all-time heroes. The fact I was turned down for an MA in Screenwriting at Cardiff University, because my writing was “too commercial and likely to sell” ,probably attests to this. I have loved his writing, ever since Lethal Weapon, with Last Boy Scout as a personal highlight along the way. The only film he’s written that I haven’t seen is Monster Squad, and I’m hoping to rectify that very soon. I’ve often wondered why his list of credits is so short, especially as someone who broke records for the amount of money his scripts sold for. Was it because he’d earned so much that he didn’t need to write any more? No, it was all down to fear and his sometimes crippling lack of self belief. I think he’s even more of a hero to me now, have a listen to the podcast here, to hear his frank confession.
So, where were we? That’s right, I’d finally woken up to the idea that anyone who’s creative has bouts of insecurity. So how do I keep my own inner writing demon in check? Another recent event gave me the chance to reflect on this further. I’d found myself stuck in a writing cul-de-sac, unsure how best to tackle a particular scene, so I turned to the staff on the Comic Experience Forum for their sage advice and guidance. Within a matter of days such luminaries as Chuck Dixon, Brandon Seifert, Andy Schmidt and Paul Allor had all come back to me with advice. One thing rang true from all four of them, “You’re over-thinking it”. So, that’s one of the things I need to do, stop thinking about things so much that I can’t see past them. Because when I do, when I wrestle with something too long that’s when my inner Garthe returns, complete with fake beard and a truck load of pain. But, when I switch off, relax and go swimming for example, the other side of me rears his head instead. Throwing up the light of inspiration, with clarity, with serenity and without malice or the fear of getting things wrong.
So, what have I learned about fear? The key is to know when fear has a vice like grip on my throat, and more importantly on my typing fingers, to know when to channel it so that I push myself to improve. But also to know when to ignore it, turn it off, stop thinking and just enjoy writing as I always have. More than I anything I need to remember, I’m not the only one who goes through this, for everything a reason.