Friday, July 6, 2012
Guest Post by Author Dominick Domingo
Many times parents read a book with their child and know that deep in their heart they want to write and may even be able to write a better story. Here is some wonderful advice on the process of becoming a published author by the author himself. Please welcome Dominic Domingo who has written the book titled The Nameless Prince. You can find out more about this graphic novel at http://www.namelessprince.com/
ADVICE to those seeking PUBLICATION by Children's Author Dominick Domingo.
When asked to give my advice to aspiring writers seeking publication, my reply is often along the lines of ‘but I’m no expert. I’m new to all of this!’ Sure, I received my very first manual typewriter at seven, and have been writing ever since. ( I’m forty-three now… ) But my chosen profession was Illustration, in which I earned my degree from Art Center College of Design. My first film at Disney was a then unknown original treatment known as ‘the Lion King.’ I stayed on there for ten years, working on Pocahontas, Hunchback, Tarzan, Little Match Girl, and One-by-One. It was only by transitioning into live-action film that I stumbled into ‘original screenplay’ credits on two SAG/IMDB films that landed distribution. I realized this is what they call a writing resume, and I decided to indulge my lifelong love of writing. It may have been an early midlife crisis ( an acute awareness of my own mortality ) that inspired me to pen a collection of narrative nonfiction essays titled ‘Jesus Shoes,’ two of which were accepted into anthologies, and one of which won the Solas award in the humor category for ‘Best Travel Fiction.’ The Nameless Prince marks my foray into YA Urban Fantasy.
But I am still learning the ropes. In the same way that I methodically learned the festival circuit in my filmmaking, I am now navigating virtual book tours and guest posts and blog interviews. I’ve done the agent search and the publisher search and have the same collection of rejection letter that many other authors retain as a badge of pride. I have no magic formula to cut to the finish line. Indeed, I am no expert.
What I am an expert in is perseverance. And faith. I feel blessed to have made creative ventures my livelihood for my entire adult life, and equally fortunate to have been able to shift focus and even transcend genre more than once! So my advice on the practical aspects of crafting a career will come from my own experience, with the understanding that there are similar challenges in all ‘risky’ or competitive ventures. And my advice on craft will come from what I’ve learned about the creative process itself, to which I have devoted myself all these years. I‘ve gained a deep understanding of the artistic journey at large. Whether one considers himself a writer, a sculptor, or a painter, the journey is arguably the same. The commitment one makes to his craft.
In advising aspiring writers, there seem to be two separate conversations- the one having to do with nurturing the craft itself, and the one about turning that into a career, which is something altogether different. The two objectives seem to involve different skill sets. However, in my opinion, the former should include the latter. That is to say- the seven accepted models of the creative process fail to acknowledge what happens after the execution of a piece. Does it land with others? Does it get published or hang in a gallery? Is it given as a gift? Does it change the world or collect dust under the bed? I hope one day there will be a step in the creative process known as ‘completing the circuit,’ in which the work finds its audience. Or readership. Or is simply given as a gift, affecting one heart.
Understand the Creative Process
I know many artists and writers who hit a wall in their own creative process due to the apprehension of ultimately sharing the work. Fear of failure often leads to paralysis. Or procrastination. Or even perfectionism. I know many creatives who prepare and prepare and research and germinate and never really get off their butts and produce anything. On the other hand, there are those who dive in without any preparation, which can also self-sabotage. My advice to all writers is to understand the creative process. Not just how one best works, but the universal model for creativity. If fear of rejection or even falling short of ones own expectations leads to never completing anything, the best way to diffuse the fear is to understand the process. Some creatives experience ‘writer’s block’ because they feel inspiration has waned during the execution phase. But if one understands that some phases of the process are intuitive, while others are intellectual and analytical ( my friend, animator Dave Zaboski, calls them ‘hot and ‘cold’ phases ) one can have faith that inspiration will return later during one of the less technical steps. The best example I can use is the following: while drawing from the model, it is well-known among artists that one vacillates between ‘feeling’ the pose- expressing its sadness or pride or sluggishness with every energetic or lazy stroke. Then there are other moments, even within the same drawing, that engage the left-brain. For example, trying to visually communicate forshortening or overlap or perspective through problem-solving. Only by accepting the hot and cold phases and having faith in the value of each, can one forge ahead with momentum. The bottom line is that fear creeps in when there is too much mystery. And understanding the creative process makes the fear melt away.
Dispel romantic notions about your process
In fourteen years of teaching, I’ve often seen resistance to over-analyzing ones own process. The fear is that by being lucid about it, it will lose its power somehow. That by bringing the mystery into the light, its magic will drain. This may be true in the short term. But every artist, writer and musician in history who has chosen to take his or her potential seriously, has worked through that fear. We all wish for the ‘rules’ to be second nature, for our process to feel direct, unencumbered, and intuitive. And this will happen. Even after studying academic principles and internalizing ‘rules’ that feel inhibitory. Everything will click and come straight from the collective unconscious, but with a bit of technique. The trick is having faith in the mean-time, that all the puzzle pieces will fit. And in the case of my students at Art Center, I gently remind them. ‘And you are paying $15,000.00 per term for your education. Now is the time to be analytical!’
Just as an atelier painter should always be painting from the model or going out plein aire painting- practicing his craft in some capacity- a writer should always WRITE. Even while sending out during the agent or publisher search. Rather than waiting for validation or permission, or worse yet being debilitated by rejection, continue to WRITE! Your voice as a writer is like a muscle- always keep it warmed up. Not just the mechanical part- the motor skills, but the flow of ideas. Inspiration strikes daily- but if you’re not in receptive mode, you may not recognize the mini-inspirations that visit you each day. The act of putting pen to paper ( or finger to keyboard ) will allow these seemingly fleeting grains of ideas to bloom, perhaps into your greatest works!
Know where you’re headed
Recognize inspiration when it strikes. This often happens after germinating on something for some time. But it may be triggered by an image seen during the day- a contrast, a juxtaposition, an interaction. When it does strike, get it down. I’ve been known to scrawl on a cocktail napkin using whatever I can find short of my own blood. Allow the gut-level expression of the concept to flow. I say, allow yourself to indulge it in the moment, fleshing it out as much in the initial moment of recording it as possible. There will be plenty of time for technique later, but here is where much of the meaning will be established. By the time you’ve jotted down you will know if it’s a parable, or an allegory- you will know what the concept says about the human condition.
When concept is solid, when you know what’s driving it, outline the HELL out of it. Only by taking the time to have a solid foundation, down to the scene, can your subconscious be free in the execution process. Instead of laboring in an attempt to solve structural problems, the intuition will be free to add layers of resonance, even happy accidents in the writing of each scene.
Understand Western Storytelling Structure.
Outlining involves an understanding of storytelling structure. The skeleton you build will likely be composed of pivotal scenes, turning points, and other milestones in the traditional story arc. Conventional western storytelling arguably informs storytelling from ancient verbal tradition, thru mythology and religion, to the latest Matrix film. Story arc and character arc directly result in thematic content. Readers are emotionally invested in the want and need- the outcome of the conflict. It is in this resolution that any themes ( whether dogmatic and pedantic and moralistic, or showing flip-sides of the same coin ) are imparted.
The setting is there to support this emotional arc. Even the greatest historical dramas and romances ( think ‘Gone With the Wind ) use political landscape as the backdrop for something much more human on the micro level. Focusing on the political agenda of a potentially human story can make for a dry read.
Know your characters well
Consistency and dimensionality of characters, even incidental ones, is what will create authenticity and cohesiveness. But more importantly, it is what will keep readers invested. If anything can happen at any time, there is no grounding in which to establish affinity. I like to know my characters so well I can guess what any two would say to one another if stuck in a room in isolation. I sometimes write out conversations between two characters as an exercise, knowing full well the scene will never appear in the finished piece.
One of the greatest hurdles for many writers is dialogue. I tackled this one early on and gained confidence through actor readings. Being a writer and a storyteller is largely being an observer. I hesitate to repeat the almost hackneyed advice spouted by writers about sitting in coffee shops with dark shades on, listening. Taking notes. Really paying attention to how people speak to one another. All characters, whether broad or naturalistic, will have their own way of expressing themselves, through choice of words, cadence, infliction, etc. The bottom line is, it needs to ring true.
Write INSPIRED concepts- don’t write to fit a mold.
My advice to all writers is to honor their initial inspiration. It will dictate its form, its genre. Once these are clear, I do recommend researching the trappings and conventions of the chosen genre. Knowing what is typical. Even if one wishes to break the mold of a given genre, or push the envelope, they will know what they are up against. But for the most part I personally tend to honor my concept, and figure out how to market it later. Writing with the goal of conforming to a particular genre to me is putting the cart before the horse. The motivation is all wrong. A love of writing ( and the desire to establish a career as a commercial writer ) could theoretically drive one to create within a given mold. But the result may lack resonance and even literary value. More often than not, the objective in observing formula is commercial success. Just my opinion, but worship of the almighty dollar is what’s wrong with the world today!
My advice in terms of the long journey of choosing any creative venture as ones livelihood- ride on faith. Find the balance between having humility and being open to learning from feedback, and holding up your middle finger to doubters. There will always be someone to tell you ‘no.’
Writing can be painful if drawing on extremely personal experiences, but in the end even this cathartic act should feel like a release. There can be a deep satisfaction in the act of creation, a feeling of zen. There can be a profound sense of productivity, even pride, having birthed something that takes on life. And there can be great satisfaction in sharing the work and moving, touching, or affecting others!
Now, go write!!
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