Ryk Stanton writes to ask...
I wonder if you'd be willing to briefly describe your writing process for those of us who have some idea of someday trying to become writers in our own right. By "process," I mean when do you write, and where — do you have anything specifically atmospheric (e.g. music, incense, some sort of omnipresent artifact) that you use consistently?
Well, there are two answers to this. In one, I'm writing all my waking hours and even an occasional moment asleep. Whatever I'm going to write is always buzzing around in there somewhere and I'm getting ideas and filing them away for possible or probable usage, particularly on what I hope to complete in the next few days. But that's probably not the kind of answer you want.
To the extent it's possible, I get up and write all morning and all afternoon and all evening, way into the early morning hours. That's the default and everything else I do — going to a show, dining with friends, going in to direct a cartoon voice session, pausing for a nap, tidying up the kitchen, etc. — is subtracted from that. My natural habitat is here in front of this computer...or over in front of the back-up computer in my office...or if travelling, working on my laptop. For certain projects (poems, lyrics, sometimes comic books), I'll utilize a pad of paper with one of those old-fashioned things they call a pencil. (You can Google the word to find out what that is.) Before the Internet, I liked having nearby but did not absolutely require a small shelf of certain books— dictionary, thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, an almanac full of useful lists and info, etc. Now, Google and a few programs on my computer have replaced the books.
Depending on whether I'm in the mood where it will focus my concentration or impede it, I may or may not have the TV or some audio source on...a podcast, say. On a whim, I may turn it off and on or pause it or jump from one show to another. I usually leave those things off when someone else is in the room because it would drive them nuts to have it turned on and off and on and off the way I'm wont to do. Not much else seems to matter much. There's no omnipresent artifact and I'd rather smell bat guano than incense. The main thing is not to be distracted, which is why my most productive hours are late when the phone is less likely to ring. Regardless of when they're time-stamped on the website here, most of my longer postings are composed either first thing in the morning (when I'm warming up) or just before bed (when I'm winding down). This one was warming up.
I write in quick spurts and if it's going too slowly, I become suspect of what I'm writing and I go back and find things to change. Between spurts, I'll take a walk, get a snack, surf the web, go check for mail....things like that. Other than that, its pretty simple. I sit and write. I know writers who have to have the chair a certain height, have to have water to their left in a certain kind of mug, have to have the room at exactly 71.3°. Not me. I think I was inspired by my friend Sergio Aragonés after seeing him draw the most incredible cartoons on the fold-down table on an airplane or on any kind of desk or surface in a hotel room. He doesn't let not having the ideal working conditions stop him from getting his work done and I decided I shouldn't, either. What I write may not be Aristophanes — in fact, I have this nagging sense it isn't — so the least I can do is to get it done.
But that's about it. Whilst teaching, I told my students at U.S.C., "The secret of writing is to write. Stop inventing excuses not to write. Put all that inventiveness into writing." I'm hardly the first person to offer that advice. I think most writers who've had success by any measure or standard have learned this. "I can't work without my favorite sweater" is not a quirk or a superstition or a cute eccentricity. It's a means of avoidance, probably due to fear. A wee bit of fear and avoidance can be a good thing if it stops you from charging into the wrong battle or the right one before you're ready. But when it keeps you from writing at all, that's just you planting land mines in your own life.