Damon Winter / The New York Times
Scott Snyder is not only a talented creator, he's a nice guy, too. Often on Twitter he will go on tangents, giving out advice and telling stories about American Vampire, his completely fantastic book for Vertigo. He also had an amazing run on Detective Comics, and is currently writing Severed for Image, Batman and Swamp Thing for the DC reboot.
Friday night he took some questions, and, because he doesn't have a blog, I'm going to quote him here so any interested writers out there can take a peek at his process. The following is all Snyder, and is very long (which makes it sort of impressive that he did it all on Twitter.)
"Okay - so if the question is: how much of a story do you need to know before hand - my answer is this: Everyone has their own process, and the important thing is to write enough - frequently enough - that you come to understand yours. For example, I have a friend who CANNOT write a story if he knows the ending. It's just too boring for him. And he's one of my favorite writers out there. For me, though, I need to know a few important aspects of a story in order to begin.
First, above all, I need to know what it's about for me, personally. Like on TEC, that was about the idea that Gotham challenges its heroes by generating villains and challenges that speak to their worst fears about themselves. For Dick, that meant the city was constantly trying to prove to him that his compassion and his empathy - his lack the pathological drive that Bruce has - constituted an insurmountable flaw in him.
Once I know that - the core idea and engine of the story - what it's about for me, personally, and it always has to be about something I find troubling and exciting to me, personally, I have my compass. Then I try to figure out the best way to start - how to create an opener that hints at that idea and everything to come. Then I try to figure out an ending that embodies what I really think about that idea. And once I know those things - the core idea, the beginning and the end, I'm ready to start and I like to leave the middle somewhat open to exploration and personal freedom and surprise. For me, so long as I know what the story is about though - and that that idea is in every issue in some for or another, building steam - I'm okay with leaving wiggle room for plot.
Again though - that's MY process - yours might be different. The key is to write every day, or as much as possible, so you can figure yours out with confidence. Like playing a sport - you practice enough, you learn your strengths and weaknesses.
Another good question - how often do you write? I write every work day of the week for the better part of the day. Sometimes that includes editing or lettering, but mostly, it's writing. And I'll say this: the best advice I can give to aspiring writers comes down to two suggestions:
1. Write the story that you, personally, would like to pick up and read more than ANY other at that moment. Meaning, write the BATMAN story that speaks to everything you love about Batman. Not what you think is the darkest or most twisted or high-concept or anything. Not the best, not the smartest. Not anything except the one that would be your personal favorite, corny as that sounds. It's the golden rule of the class I teach - I don't care what the story is you're writing - funny, dark, political - so long as it's your favorite right now.
And 2. The thing that stops most people from becoming writers, in my opinion, is the fear of writing something shitty. Meaning, they wait til they're inspired and only then do they write, on rare occasion. If you do that, you'll never ever finish anything. You have to be able to sit down every day and write like a job. Even when you know - you KNOW! - what you write will be shitty. I promise that is true. Lots of people have great ideas, and I don't think it's even THAT hard to learn how to write well enough to do this professionally for most people in the world.
For example, if I wanted to be a lawyer, and I was determined enough, I could probably be one, despite the fact that I have very little fucking aptitude for it at all. But if I was a pitbull about it, I could likely do it to competency and have a career and that would make me happy, if it was my dream to be a lawyer. In my opinion - and maybe I'm totally wrong - it's the same with writing. Some people have a natural aptitude for it (I likely was NOT one of those people) and it's easy for them, and they can be great, the greatest... Other people don't have an aptitude for it, but if they try hard enough, they can learn it to competency and have a great life doing what they love, even if they're not the greatest or whatever.
But I promise, as a teacher, I've seen people with tons of natural talent fade away and never write anything because they wrote sporadically. And people with (what I thought was) very little natural talent write great books for having taken years to work on those books while working crap jobs to give them time to write. I could tell you stories, believe me. So what it boils down to at the end of the day for me, is this:
You have to love your stories in your head enough to be happy if they never make it big, but you're able to just write them for a tiny audience. And you have to work on them like they are your real job, even if you have a real job.
@charltonsect asks: My problem is trying to get people to look at my work, because I'm essentially a nobody writer. How do you get that chance?
You have to just get your stuff out there however possible - meaning, do your own comic and sell it through your local comic book store on commission. Literally do whatever you can to put your story on the shelves somewhere - no matter how small, black & white, xeroxed. Get the thing into the world because comic companies are looking for good people all the time. Here's how they found me:
I wrote a short story - prose - for an anthology in which lit. writers made up original superheroes called Who Can Save Us Now. I wrote one about a teenager in the 1940's who's exposed to the explosions in the Bikini Atoll tests and comes back with these strange dark abilities. And two comic editors - one from Marvel and one from DC - came to the reading/launch for the book and asked me if I was a real comic fan, and I had comics in my bag that night. I told them I was a lifelong comic fan and how until college I'd wanted to be a comic artist.
The Marvel editor the great Jeanine Schaeffer invited me to pitch for some one shots and I pitched my head off and got a Human Torch one-shot. That led to pitching for IRON MAN: NOIR and that led to pitching to Vertigo. But each stage was a LOT of going back to the drawing board. Anyway, my point is this: They found me from a short story - a prose short story, not even a comic. So put your comic out there - they're looking for good writing.
But again, I came to comics with a strong sense of what I like to write about from prose (I went to grad school for writing and wrote a book of stories called Voodoo Heart) and I think that's part of it, too - you have to come to it with something you love writing about. Be it your political issues, your personal issues or interests... You have to have a voice by the time you start at a big company because there's a lot of pressure when you're using iconic characters, you know?"