Writing Excuses

While surfing through iTunes for new podcasts, I discovered the Writing Excuses podcast series by  Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novelist), Howard Tayler (Cartoonist), Dan Wells (Horror Novelist). Just so you know, I NEVER want to be a fantasy or horror writer; and while I might like to be a cartoonist because it looks really fun, I would have to train a very long time to do it well. But it is precisely because these authors’ topics are so far outside my genre of writing and expertise that I have the most to gain from their entertaining style and  down-to-earth advice. The first half-dozen podcasts have already surprised and inspired me to look at the same-old/same-old in my work (mostly academic teaching, writing, and blogging) in a new light.

For example, the Writing Excuses Tri-Gurus take turns giving out writing prompts like “write a comic…” as possible exercises for listeners. Just for fun, and because I cannot resist a quirky experiment, my teaching colleague and I challenged ourselves to use the cartoon medium to “write” a definition for a very often misunderstood concept — “affirmative action.” It took us longer to write four perfect, short sentences for our cartoon image than it would have if we had defined our concept in a paragraph of writing. But our finished cartoon definition, rocks! It is simpler and far more memorable than any paragraph ever could be.

Experiment results: Now that I have seen one success in crafting a cartoon instead of writing standard prose, I am challenging myself over the next month, to try to “write” (e.g., university course material, emails, my creative writing, journaling, etc.) using cartoons and comic strips, whenever possible. For my “Writing Excuses” cartoon posted here, for example, I “scooped” Brandon, Howard, and Dan’s photos off their web site, opened up Photo Studio, and scribbled black “pen” lines over their images; then I imported that pen-drawing into Comic Life (free 30 day trial) and added the speech bubbles. And Voila! This cartoon process my be rough in my unskilled hands compared to a professional’s, but the big pay-off is that this comic-style of writing forces me to think long and hard about my core message. Indeed, cartoon writing makes self-editing an extreme sport that is both painful and exhilarating!

If you can get over the need for perfection, and get comfortable speed-scribbling your images to respect your practical time constraints — I would highly recommend super-condensing your prose and giving cartoon and comic writing a try. Who knows? By cartooning, you just might arrive at a deeper understanding of your own work.

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Image credit: Cartoon by jamm at wordwhacking.wordpress.com

Podcast mentionedWriting Excuses at http://www.writingexcuses.com/

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word whacking, copyright 2010 – Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, Ph.D.. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)https://wordwhacking.wordpress.com