Embracing Your Inner Grogg, Zog, and Groot!

There are so many aspects, so many parts to the process.  An idea strikes, giving birth to a story–perhaps it’s a short story that can be crafted in a day; perhaps it’s a novel that will take months, even years to complete.  But here, now, at the outset, that’s not important.  All that matters is the desire, the need, to write.

idea

 

It doesn’t take long for that to change, and for the situation to become more complicated.  I know, for me, if I have written a short story, there is the initial euphoria of finishing it.  A job well done.  But now–where to submit it?  Will anyone want to publish it?  A dozen rejection slips later, a crisis of confidence hits.  Who was I fooling?  It isn’t any good.  Maybe it’s not as polished as I thought–so I go back, edit it some more, and then resubmit to a dozen more magazines.  Eventually, I have so many rejection slips and form letters, I can wallpaper my office with them.  But I keep submitting, keep believing.  It just takes one . . .

rejectionslips

 

And as for the novel . . . multiply the above by a thousand.  Whereas the short story is a sprint, a forty-yard dash, the novel is a marathon, a test of endurance.  At some point, I know, I will question the entire project.  There will come a low point, when energy reserves have been depleted, when ideas hide underneath rocks and behind thick, impenetrable walls, when I ask myself–“Is this story going anywhere?  Where do I take it?  What do I write next?”  Writer’s block, while in the middle of a novel, is a grim feeling.  All the work already put forth now appears for naught, stuck in the middle of a chapter that refuses to cooperate.

index

 

I had to confront this middle-of-the-story crossroads while writing The Eye-Dancers–the point where the novel will either take off and infuse me with a literary second wind, or die on the vine, withering under a sweltering summer sun, thirsting for ideas that never arrive.  For me, and for The Eye-Dancers, this defining moment occurred in chapter 18.

I was slightly more than halfway through the novel, and felt pretty good about what I had so far.  But chapter 18 was a quagmire.  It was a pivotal chapter, and one of the longest in the novel.  I couldn’t seem to get it right–everything I wrote came up flat, like soda left out on the porch all night long.  I wrote a first draft–ugh.  Lifeless and forced.  Reluctantly, bemoaning the wasted effort, I deleted every word of the chapter and began anew.  The second draft proved no better.  I threw my hands up, literally.  Was my concept wrong?  Should I take a step back and rethink the whole thing?  I remember taking a long walk, thinking, figuring, looking at the impasse from all angles.  But nothing came to me.  Nothing sounded right.

crossroads

 

It brought to mind something George Orwell once said:  “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

orwell

 

Later that day, at a total loss, I flipped through some of my old comic books, looking for something, anything.

I found it.

**************

When I was in junior high school and began collecting comic books seriously, I never thought I would buy any issues that weren’t superhero-related.  The Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, and later Batman and Superman were my focus.  But as I learned more about the history of the medium, realizing how rich and layered old comics were, I decided to branch out.  One of the gems I later discovered was what collectors often refer to as “pre-hero Marvels.”

spiderman

 

Prior to The Fantastic Four number 1 (November 1961), Marvel Comics published a small line of adventure and sci-fi comics–certainly not unique in those days.  Even DC, creator of Superman and Batman, incorporated a quality line of non-hero comic books.  But what made the Marvels special were the monsters . . .

ff1

 

With names like Grogg, Groot, and Zog, just to name a few, these larger-than-life creatures jumped off the page.

st83grogg

 

tta13groot

 

I can easily imagine an exuberant ten-year-old in 1960, at the height of the phenomenon, spinning the comics rack at the local corner store, trying to decide which monster-book to plunk his dime on.

jim56zog

 

The stories, with titles such as  “I created Sporr, the Thing That Could Not Die,” were formulaic, silly, and, frankly, ridiculous.  But they were magic, too.

goliath

 

What’s more, they were fun.

tta34

 

*******************

That particular day, seeking something of an escape from the writing process, I opened Tales of Suspense number 29 (February 1962).  Tales of Suspense is the same title that, ten issues and just over one year later, would introduce the world to Iron Man–but I wasn’t thinking of the Golden Avenger as I flipped through the story, laughing and smiling all the way through “The Martian Who Stole a City.”

TOS29

 

The story was dated, predictable, and by no means a masterpiece.  But it was just the tonic I needed.  It made me feel twelve years old again.  It infused me with optimism, a sense of wonder, and it instilled in me a belief that anything was possible, and that any obstacle to creativity can be hurdled and left far behind in a sun-streaked rearview mirror.

Energized, invigorated, I went back to the book, dared to key in the first word of the revised and revised and revised again chapter 18, which expanded to the first sentence and then the first paragraph.  Two pages later, I paused, pumped a fist.  The logjam had broken.  The mind-block had lifted, disintegrated, like smoke on the wind.

smokeonwind

 

It was a necessary reminder that, no matter what our Amazon sales ranking, no matter what or how many reviews we have, no matter how hard it sometimes is to get our thoughts and visions onto the page, when it’s all said and done, we are doing something we were born to do.  Something we need to do.  Something we love.

Ray Bradbury once wrote, “Zest.  Gusto.  How rarely one hears these words used.  How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them.  Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto. . . . For the first thing a writer should be is–excited.  He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.”

As I continued to type, the words now pouring out of me like lava, the classic issue of Tales of Suspense number 29 still lay there, in full view, on my desk.

enthusiasms

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

51 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shehannemoore
    Sep 27, 2014 @ 22:05:02

    Mr Orwell so knew the writing struggle and the many stages of suck. Great post.

    Reply

  2. teagan geneviene
    Sep 27, 2014 @ 22:06:36

    Here’s to Grogg, Zog, and Groot — and Ray Bradbury. Huge hugs!

    Reply

  3. John W. Howell
    Sep 27, 2014 @ 23:06:12

    Words flow out like lava. That’s living. Great post.

    Reply

  4. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Sep 27, 2014 @ 23:25:11

    I think I might just need one of those comic books right now! Thanks for the inspiration…I feel the log-jam loosening already.

    Reply

  5. Rosaliene Bacchus
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 00:49:04

    I know the feeling. I struggled this week with Chapter 20 of my second novel. Yesterday, while reading an article in the Writer’s Digest, the scene exploded into life.

    The magic of the writing process.

    Reply

  6. jjspina
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 02:54:08

    Keep writing these fantastic posts. You are truly talented. Xo

    Reply

  7. 2embracethelight
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 06:26:58

    Very good and always enjoy the wonderful images you put up with your muse.
    Yisraela

    Reply

  8. jenniferkmarsh
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 12:13:18

    All very true. The simplest things can sometimes clear the fog, and that’s the beauty of it!

    Some chapters while writing and just the WORST. Chapter 5 in Book 2 for me was just…. torture. To this day, I still refer to it as ‘the hell chapter’, it scarred me that much. In fact, the whole process of writing Book 2 has been torture. Someone remind me why I’m doing this again…? haha

    I have such an affinity with that Orwell quote. He was a literary genius.

    Reply

  9. kelihasablog
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 14:12:22

    I come up with bits and pieces of poems (since I don’t write stories) but when my pencil touches the paper to write down my ideas…. the wall comes up. I can’t think. But then I’ve had so much else I’ve needed to do, or felt I had to do before I allowed myself the luxury of trying to write. You Mike are very talented… I’m sure you probably have already done so, but if you haven’t joined any of the “writers” groups on FB, you might want to check them out. Many of my other author friends will post their books there for free advertisement or a 99 cent special. Once they read your book, they will love it, as did I. There are even some epub pages you can subscribe to that will publish for you and not be a huge company, but helps one move up. Keep writing my friend, as often as you can.

    Reply

  10. Andrea Stephenson
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 14:57:26

    A great description of both the excitement and the challenges of the writing process, I love the way you bring in a range of sources to enrich your posts Mike.

    Reply

  11. Sonya Solomonovich
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 17:46:18

    Ray Bradbury was correct! I love reading his stories, and I think he inspired a lot of my “early writing”, the stuff I did in my teens.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 30, 2014 @ 19:01:59

      You’re certainly right about Bradbury, Sonya! Even to this day, I sometimes read some of his stories again and again for inspiration when the old well threatens to run dry . . .

      Reply

  12. Violet's Veg*n e-comics
    Sep 29, 2014 @ 06:42:42

    This is a brilliant post! I didn’t know about those adventure and science fiction comics 🙂

    Reply

  13. Tarl
    Sep 29, 2014 @ 15:20:54

    I’m working on finding my zest and gusto. I know what it is, and I know that I have to reach the current horizon before I truly find it. Writing is one part of it. The other is art – in various forms. I have to complete my current projects (which I love, but they are a lot of work) and then I get to the projects that I have been looking forward to for years.
    I recall Bradbury also saying something about he never has a shortage of inspiration because he lives on a diet of science fiction, comic books, movies, television, and more.
    This is good advice for me–he feeds the muse and then listens to the siren song and writes. Often I get too busy with the work to recharge my own energy. Then writing starts to drag, and I am forced to take a break. How much better to schedule in inspiration breaks.
    Great post, as always.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 30, 2014 @ 19:04:25

      That’s a great point about finding inspiration beyond the writing itself, and it’s certainly proven to be true for me. I am sure I’ll be pulling out those old sci-fi comics again . . .!

      Reply

  14. Lyn
    Sep 30, 2014 @ 09:03:41

    Writing is not for wimps. There’s a book or two written that topic. In fact, I’d say writing is more for the courageous with just a touch of masochism thrown in 😉

    Reply

  15. AGentleandQuietSpirit
    Sep 30, 2014 @ 12:49:03

    I love it when it finally all comes flowing out, like lava. It’s so important to take those breaks and examine what it is that’s going on: boredom or refueling. I have several things I turn to when I feel the muse running low on gas. They help me get back on track and remind me that it is love of story that drives me. Thanks for this encouragement!

    Reply

  16. evelyneholingue
    Oct 01, 2014 @ 02:24:18

    This is so good to read about other writers’ struggles to move on with a draft and then revision. I like how you tie this to your love for comics and how you get your spirit up. Of course, thank you for Orwell too.

    Reply

  17. Sherri
    Oct 01, 2014 @ 20:41:37

    Bravo Mike! This is an excellent post and I love both quotes. A wonderful encouragement for all writers 🙂

    Reply

  18. Wendy Macdonald
    Oct 05, 2014 @ 01:03:19

    Thank you, Mike, for the writing encouragement. I had no idea what a grueling marathon novel writing would be–nor how much I would enjoy living part of my life in an imaginary world. But I’ll keep editing until I think it’s ready to query or self-pub.

    I started reading The Eye-Dancers last night, and I’m looking forward to reading it again this evening. You hooked me on the first page.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

    Reply

  19. jackiegmills
    Oct 06, 2014 @ 08:15:39

    Awesome post!

    Reply

  20. Shery Alexander Heinis
    Oct 09, 2014 @ 01:17:01

    I wouldn’t want to remember George Orwell’s words before attempting to write a novel. Simply deflating! This is a very well crafted and enjoyable post!

    Reply

  21. Holistic Wayfarer
    Oct 11, 2014 @ 00:22:23

    HA – that a wolf or a dog? Glad it broke loose, Mike. =) You’ll do it.

    Reply

  22. Julie Butler
    Oct 19, 2014 @ 15:36:38

    Inspiring stuff, Mike.

    Reply

  23. stormy1812
    Dec 10, 2014 @ 16:02:53

    Writing really is an art and a battle. In news writing it’s about finding that balance of being creative without infusing opinions or editorializing the piece. It’s difficult to always feel excited or inspired because sometimes it feels like it’s always the same, tired words over and over being used in order to avoid editorializing. in some ways, it is invigorating though because it forces one to be more creative to make that article interesting within certain confines. It’s challenging. Finding that one combination of words though can be liberating. I’ll be doing my best to embrace my inner Grogg, Zog and Groot from now on though. 🙂

    Reply

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