What do you do?
I make up stories – lots and lots of stories, mostly for the comic book medium. I’m currently the writer of Daredevil for Marvel Comics and the Star Wars Poe Dameron comic, but I also wrote the New York Times bestseller Death of Wolverine, a long run on Swamp Thing for DC, Superman, Wonder Woman and many more, including my own stories – the most prominent of which is a long-running sci-fi story called Letter 44. My work is published all around the world, and takes me all over, from comic cons in Auckland and Dubai to book signings in Austin and Dublin.
What does your work space look like? Where do you like to create?
I create my work in two phases – there’s a lot of initial story-breaking that’s done longhand, in notebooks. I can do that anywhere. Then, the actual scripting usually takes place in my office/studio, which contains a big, open desk without a lot on it other than my laptop, a lamp and a (struggling) plant. Opposite the desk is a couch for when I really need to do some intense thinking and a few instruments (I’m also a big music guy). The walls are covered with beautiful, framed pages from some of the books I’ve worked on over the years.
When I’m doing the work to start a story, I like to be in places that feel alive. Coffee shops, bars, parks, hotel lobbies… any of those are good. They tend to be noisier, especially those bars, but it all turns into sort of a white noise machine for me that helps me free-associate and pull together the ideas that will eventually be a full story. When I’m scripting, though, it’s the opposite. I need to be able to jump into a flow state, with no interruptions, so scripting usually happens in my office. If I have to be somewhere else, I’ll put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones and get to work.
What role does the pencil play in your process?
Virtually every single page I’ve written over the last fifteen years began in longhand. The first draft of my first novel was written by hand, and every story I write now begins as a series of handwritten notes and an eventual detailed outline. All of that’s done in pencil, and at this point we’re talking thousands and thousands of published pages, all of which started with a pencil and a piece of paper.
Why do you choose to work with pencils and, specifically, Blackwings?
I like the tactile experience of pencils. For whatever reason, using a pen disconnects me from the flow of ideas – I think a big part of that is that my idea-generating process involves a lot of free-association. Seeing where ideas lead me. Pencils feel right for that in a way that pens don’t. Pens feel like a trap, because you can’t erase. You can only scratch out. Pencils, though… they go with you wherever you want to go. Look at me, getting all mystical.
As far as Blackwings specifically – the 602s are my favorite pencils of all time. The weight feels a bit more substantial than most pencils seem to, and I love the way the eraser works, with its ability to get extended over time (and replaced) as it gets worn down. The lead has a nice hardness that allows for a precise line that lasts a good while before it needs to be sharpened. I even like the color – that cool slate grey.
It goes back to that flow thing – I think in a perfect creative situation, you aren’t thinking about your tools at all. They’re just working with you, getting out of the way to let the ideas appear. The Blackwing 602 does everything I need, and never gets in my way.
What other tools are essential to your process?
I do most of my longhand work in Moleskine notebooks, usually the 6″x8″ size, with unlined pages. I buy a new one for every story I write, so the notebook becomes a record of the creation of that specific book. It’s almost an artifact of the story’s history – the genesis of the good ideas that made it into the final version and the bad ones that didn’t. I even color code them – my Daredevil notebook is red, for example. Beyond that, since I’m a writer, I don’t need much. A laptop, a big music library and some great headphones will do the trick. Easy access to coffee and something to eat every once in a while doesn’t hurt. And my brain. Not much happens without that.
How do you overcome ______ block? Writer’s block, artist’s block, etc.
I don’t get stuck that often, which I realize is a unique blessing in my business. I’m also fortunate to be working on many stories at the same time, so if I do get blocked somehow, I can shift gears to something else and come back to the “problem” story feeling refreshed rather than just obsessing about not being to make progress of any kind. Beyond that, I love to run – I go for decent-length runs 3-4 times a week, and nothing’s better for letting my subconscious do whatever work it needs to do.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Never explain your work, and for god’s sake, even if the entire world seems to hate it, never, ever apologize for it.