So, today I set out to answer the question: Can I cut it as a freelance comic book writer?
I've given myself 12 days to write a full draft of a 60-page, 3-issue miniseries. If I stick to my schedule, it should work out to an average of 5 pages per day, and 5 good pages in a day is something I've been able to handle with ease for close to two years. These pages don't even need to necessarily be good pages, just good-enough first draft pages.
The real challenge here is discipline and consistency. Can I do 5 pages a day for 12 days uninterrupted? Can I handle knocking out the longest story I've ever attempted on a finite schedule?
Let's find out...
Day 1 (5/10/18)
Today, I doubled my daily goal. The extra progress was a combination of two factors. The first factor was that four of the ten pages were low-panel/low-info pages, which flowed out pretty easily (#1: 1, 2 & #3: 17, 18). The other factor was that I knew my ending (#3: 19, 20) very well already and those pages sort of wrote themselves. The other four pages (#1: 3, 4, 5, 6) each introduced one of my four main characters and were high-panel/high-info pages that characterized, gave a sense of home life, had the character interact with their parent, and gave each character something to do. These took more doing and accounted for most of my time spent writing this morning.
To help with accountability (and general record keeping) I whipped up a simple progress tracker in Excel.
Update: I knocked out solid drafts of #1: 17, 18, 19, and 20 since I posted this morning, so the total page count for Day 1 now sits at 14.
Day 2 (5/11/18)
Stuck to the allotted 5 pages for my morning writing session (#1: 7, 8, 10, 11, 13), which means I should finish up Issue #1 tomorrow and put me just shy of a full two days ahead of schedule, if I don't sit to write any more today.
I should note that part of the pace with which I've been writing has to do with that fact that I haven't inserted any of the narration yet. When I go to revise, there will be 3 sort of high-level items I'll be looking at / working on: First, I'll look to see if the whole thing functions. Do the pages work and flow. If that checks out, then I'll work on inserting narration where necessary and revising dialogue to make sure the characters have their own voices.
What's been interesting to see with writing this project has been my willingness to play with panel density. Previously to this project, I'd try to keep pages to 4 panels and very rarely go up to 6 panels. This was probably a byproduct of Andy's teaching. And it was a good rule to live by because it forced me to write balanced pages that didn't try to do too much. I think this is one of those "learn the rules first so that you can break them later" kinds of things. I'm still keeping my major actions to 5 or fewer per page, but I'm inflating my panel counts as high as 8 (with plans for a 9-panel page soon) and I'm using the space to service the characterization of my larger cast and make sure every one of them gets a chance to shine. Another part of it is making sure everything that I've planed fits within 20 pages. So far, it's been a good experience and I feel comfortable being able to decide when a page needs more space and when it can be leaner, which is something I struggled with for a while. There's a confidence I feel in executing on a page as a whole that wasn't necessarily present before.
Day 3 (5/12/18)
Knocked out 5 more pages this morning and tied-up issue one.
The document is 24 page (cover, credits on the interior of the cover, 2 sequential pages, a title page, 11 sequential pages, 1 all black page to keep my left and right pages where I want them that also serves as sort of a pause after a big moment, and 7 more sequential pages).
Today was probably the hardest day of writing so far. I had to tackle two very complex pages. The first was a fight scene that featured 5 characters that I had to make sure were doing something relevant / adding to the story while making sure that my bully character, Bulmer, came off not completely one-dimensional. The other page was a 9-panel page that was just a conversation between two people over walkie-talkies, which didn't give me a whole lot to work with in terms of keeping the scene visually dynamic. I compensated for that by having it be a deeply emotional scene that, I think, is really engaging.
This script won't be without its revisions, but I don't think that it will require as much reworking as I'd been imagining it would. There are a couple of places I've highlighted where I know that there is real reworking needed, though.
I also have slightly modified my Excel tracker to include color-coding so that I could more easily see at a glance which pages got done on which day.
Day 4 (5/13/18)
After allowing myself to sleep in until 7 this morning (woo!) I hit the halfway mark on this first draft. I wrote #2: 15, 16 ,17, 18, 19, 20 ; #3: 1 in about an hour.
I wrote the page one of #3 first this morning because I knew I would be working on 15-20 of #2 and I wanted to sort of know where/what I was writing toward. The writing flew more quickly than usual because most of the pages were pretty light on dialogue after #2 15-16. I mentioned a couple of days ago that I won't be writing any of the narration during the first draft, and these largely action and reveal pages will have a decent amount of narration come the second draft.
Update: I wrote three more pages this afternoon. They were each one-page flashbacks that don't have page numbers yet. I'm not sure where they'll be placed just yet--I'm still trying to figure out where they'll be the most impactful. Regardless, that brings the total page count to 33/60.
Day 5 (5/14/18)
Today was a LONG morning of writing. I knocked out 9 more pages from #2 (2: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11), which puts me one page shy of closing out the first draft of this issue. More than likely, I'll come back later today and write that page because it feels wrong to leave just one page hanging like this.
Part of what made today's session long was reworking my pages outline for this issue. I had planned to include 6 one-page flashback scenes, and while I knew the purpose and the beats of each scene, I didn't necessarily know where each would fit in the issue. So, I spent a decent amount of time figuring where they fit best (i.e. where they had the greatest impact, where there's was a good moment to playoff of, what seemed poetic, etc, etc).
Once that was done, I went on a little bit of a tear for about 7 pages, which was nice. Then, I slowed down about writing two of the harder-to-write flashback scenes. So, it was a bit of an up-and-down writing day, but a very productive one nonetheless.
Day 6 (5/15/18)
Page Count: 50/60
I never ended up going back to finish off that final page of issue 2 yesterday, so I started there this morning.
After that, I spent about an hour re-working my outline for issue 3. It was tough to try an fit all of the beats I want to into just 20 pages, but I think I cracked it. Once that outline was ready, I knocked out the pages 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
It was a busy morning outside of writing, but in total, I hit 6 pages. I had wanted to do more, but I reminded myself that it was a marathon and not a sprint and just because I am ahead of schedule that doesn't mean I need to rush.
Day 7 (5/16/18)
Page Count: 60/60
Boom. It's done.
This morning, I knocked out the last 10 pages of issue 3 and rounded out the first draft. And reading over all 60 pages, I'm pretty happy with what I've got. There are definitely some specific pages I know I want to revise and there's stuff that I'm holding off on tackling until I pick this back up for the second draft in two weeks, but all and all I'd say this is a solid, solid start.
I think it's also worth noting that I finished 5 days ahead of schedule. Part of what I wanted to do with this exercise was test myself. I wanted to know if I could have the discipline to handle a freelance pace. And I feel pretty good about that right now. Looking back, I wish I'd kept track of hours so I had a little more data and could see which days/page took me long. It'd be nice to know if there's a particular kind of scene that I struggle more with, but there's always next time.
My plan is to take a couple of weeks away from this story and come back to it with fresh eyes and a fresh mind. In the meantime, I'm going to proof all 60 pages tomorrow and then share it around with a few people for some feedback.
When I do come back, I think I'll make it a point to tackle the first round of revision in a sitting for each issue (i.e. Wed #1, Thurs #2, Fri #3). And for the second round of revisions, I think I'll take a day and marathon edits and revisions for the whole series.
In the meantime, I am going to get started working on a one-shot I've been sitting on. I want to stay sharp while I gear up for the revisions on DEK.