3 Years of thoughtballoons

by ryankl

Three years ago I was no one with nothing to do. So I changed what I could.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And I did write. Sporadically. Then about a decade ago I wanted to take it more seriously. So I tinkered. And it was fun.

But then I wanted more. I wrote short stories – even self-published two which was great fun. And then I worked on novels. My trunk runneth over. But comics are a lifelong love so I dabbled there, too.

Problem with comics is you need a partner. Or partners. These can be hard to find for a no one with no credits to his name at all. And I get that.

But I wanted to write and I felt held back, like I was waiting for permission. Like the validation would come first and then I’d tickle the keyboard.

I was doing it wrong.

If you keep waiting you’ll probably always be waiting. Keep doing the same thing and you’ll always get the same results, y’know?

I wanted to write comics. And I needed to get better. So I needed to just write. And I wanted to. So I gave myself the excuse and the permission.

I created thoughtballoons, a site where each week a character is chosen and everyone writes a one page script on that character. I invited some people to join, a few did. And we began. Three years ago.

tb logo1 - 700

It was liberating and a hell of a lot of fun to write a page a week. Writing something that’s just one page and that needs to stand alone is a skill. It’s fun to plan a sixty issue opus but let’s all be honest and admit that’s a crazy place to start. You need to start by refining your craft and three years ago my craft was okay. Just okay.

Over three years ago I started putting raw writing online at thoughtballoons and I had to stand behind it and it would be judged by the other writers, and the few fantastic fans of the site, and I would receive feedback. You can’t get enough of that early in your writing career, before all the rough edges became permanent.

In addition, I’d also got to see scripts from a handful of other talented individuals each week. I could learn from them. You should learn from your peers.

Over the first two years, I wrote at least one script page a week. I never missed a week and sometimes I’d write more than one script. That means I presented 104 scripts over two years into the world. I am still immensely proud of that fact/effort.  Over that time I learnt many things. So many things.

Write every day. It was around this time I was finally starting to do this. Having anything to help motivate you to do this is perfect. Consistency is key. It’s like a muscle, exercise it.

Think away from the cursor. Don’t stare at the blank doc. Go for a bike ride, a shower, a walk. Cook a meal. Read a comic. Let your subconscious wrestle it into shape because it will. Some of my best breakthroughs came when trying to put the kid down to sleep. Just trapped in a dark room with your thoughts. Those were halcyon story breaking days – may they never return.

Revise. Your first draft is trash. Even if its good, it can be better. Tighten everything. Make two panels into one. Cut excessive words. Only prescribe panel layout where really necessary. Sometimes I’d finish a page, wait a day, then write it again from scratch. See which beats are so solid they are born whole again and watch the detritus dissipate. I always found when I polished a piece it got a better response.

Try a few different things. Write an idea three different ways. From three different perspectives. Use omniscient third person captions. Make it silent. Every story and character requires their own storytelling devices. Explore before settling.

Read scripts. I studied my fellow tenures. I sought out scripts online. I started sharing with people I trust and respect. My scripting style has evolved dramatically over the past three years. I’ve scooped things from Tyler James, Greg Rucka, the IDW house style. I’m still tweaking to get it just right. Even then, I recently sent a short to an artist in Marvel Method. Exciting but scary.

Writing for thoughtballoons was one of the best things I ever did. It made me a way better writer over time. I honestly believe it’s important to just write for fun and as a learning exercise. Experiment, innovate, study, learn, watch, listen, fail, write.

A year ago I sadly had to quit thoughtballoons. I just didn’t have the time. But I miss that weekly challenge. I miss the comments and the process chatter. I miss my friends. I’ll be catching up with Ben Rosenthal – the guy I handed the keys to the kingdom to – very soon at SydNova. I’m currently putting together a project involving three of the current thoughtballoons writers. It will always be my learning ground, a place special to me.

I needed to write every day so I made it happen. And now it happens for others well after me. That makes me incredibly happy and proud.

I hope you find your thoughtballoons. And appreciate it every day.