Story Concepts & Development for Novels, Comics, Games, Film and TV

Honor the Struggle

If you aspire to be in the business of writing or creating, you’ve probably heard that you need to have a thick skin.

There is value in that statement. The world is too diverse to think you can please everyone, and not every project you get is going to be easy.

If you’re like me, you feel like you put your heart and soul into each piece of work. And, like a proud parent, when you finally let it out of your hands, you believe the work is perfect. But unless you are self-publishing, your work will go through other peoples’ hands.

Often, it’s an editor, and that means story notes.

In a perfect world, your editor is seasoned and passionate and, like a surgeon, knows exactly how to bring out the best in you and your writing.

But it’s not a perfect world.

My process of dealing with story notes tends to fall into a pattern. First, I am annoyed they didn’t think my work was stellar. Creative people are often the most sensitive and writers are certainly no exception, so I allow myself a short brooding period. But I don’t get stuck there.

Instead, I see these moments as opportunities to make the work better.

This is when my professional writer side takes over and I scour the notes a second time. Some changes can be quite exciting, when you recognize how they improve the story. Others… not so much. You’re getting paid to do a job, so know when to stand your ground and when to concede (never taking for granted that these guys are the ones who signs your paychecks).

Some of my best writing skills came from addressing unexpected or unwanted story notes. Early in my career, I tended to write long first acts, which didn’t read well with my managers. Their insistence taught me to get to the action faster.

When I transitioned from comics to screenplays, my dialogue – which worked well in comics – read as melodramatic in a film script. If I had never been challenged by my mentors about that, I wouldn’t have worked so hard at making my dialogue sounds more natural. [I’ve had the opportunity to hone my dialogue even further when I moved into games, where every word costs money (in voiceover).]

I learned “pitchy” writing when I was doing comic book summaries, game concept pitches, and series bibles.

If there is anything I’m learning with Alien Confidential, it’s about dynamic pacing and getting to the heart of the conflict as quickly as possible.

Understand that even notes from less-then-perfect editors can be helpful. More than likely, they are pointing out a solid flaw in the work, but expressing a weak solution for fixing it.

I have been lucky in my career. I have worked with some truly excellent editors.

If you’re considering a career in writing, remember that it’s not about being right. It’s about making the work the best it can be.

I would argue that it is in the struggles, and even failures, that you become a better writer.

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