28 April 2010

Multi-Moving On

by guest columnist Mike Elrod.  Follow him on Twitter.

This past week I hit the road headed down to the coast of Georgia for an old college friend’s wedding. While I had the time, I visited my alma mater to see some of the faculty and staff that were pivotal in my elongated time there. It’s no secret that I wasted much of my time in undergrad. Spending a whopping six and a half years there I experienced two defining moments in my life.

The first was to finally know what it was like to fail. My first few years in this small town attending the private college there saw me take my initial breath of freedom. Or at least what I saw as freedom at the time. It’s not a unique story of a person who leaves home and experiments with what is waiting out there for him. It’s not even a good story to be honest with you. If there were to be dramatic twists and turns to it I would just be making them up. The truth is, looking back on my time there I was rather boring.

There was no great romance that ruined me, no drugs that took over my life. The only thing I really discovered those first few years was that beer was quite fun. And yes, I still think it is. But, to fail, for the first real time in my life, was something that has both haunted and pushed me since then. The reason that I took so long to graduate was due to the fact that I skipped class, I partied, and in short; I acted like an immature college student. Eventually I was booted out of the university.

And rightly so.

Upon working for about six months I “quickly” realized that the freedom of not having homework or papers to write was not what I wanted. I was scheduled to have a meeting with one of the Deans and discuss whether or not I’d be allowed back in. Somehow I was, and I spent the last few years of college trying to become someone I’d never been before; someone who actually worked hard. It didn’t happen all at once and it wasn’t without plenty of repeating the same mistakes I had made before.

This lead to the second defining moment in my life: the realization that failure at the hands of laziness was absolutely and without a doubt, pathetic. I had always thought that the moment I started out on this path would be much like that of my heroes I had grown up watching and reading about. I thought there would be a moment when I looked up from the defeat of life and said “no more,” the music would queue up and I would start blazing a path through that climactic battle scene. While I’m not saying that this isn’t something that happens in reality I think that there is a common mistake many of us make in assuming this is the big moment in which we become the heroes of our own stories.

What I realized upon my return to my old stomping grounds was that I spent many of my days there waiting on this moment to occur. The fact of the matter is that I hadn’t earned this moment. Instead, this time in my life was the place where I was to start earning it. It was a limited world view that was behind my reasoning. I thought that these initial years were all the world had to offer. In actuality, it was just the tip of the iceberg and I was too lazy to see my way through it at first.

Writing is that next phase for me. It’s a task that for now, has to be done on my own time. It is something that requires one person to accomplish; me. It comes from me, it is me in certain ways and it is only valuable to me. At least at first. I’ve not yet garnered the kind of audience that waits on every word I put to page. Like I was saying earlier, this has to be earned. I can’t excuse myself just because I’m tired. It’s that lesson I had to learn when I went back to school. It’s the lesson I still learn every day. I can’t see myself as the hero in the climax of the story because the climax isn’t here yet. I have to be the man who has silently begun to walk.

The adventure is still happening, and if I were to overexagerate the situation I would be lying to myself. It’s the writer’s job to learn to walk. If you don’t you’ll just end up being lazy, and to quote one of my favorite stories on this subject, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” (Bobby Singer, Supernatural Season 3 Episode 1) You haven’t earned a vacation just because you’ve gotten some positive reinforcement from readers. If that’s your reasoning, then you shouldn’t be writing. Appreciate the compliments and keep moving on. Being creative isn’t for the reward of some kind words. It’s for getting your stories into the world. Whether they be for some message you wish to convey or for the shear sake of entertainment it doesn’t matter. They have to come out. They have to breathe and take on a life of their own. Don’t be concerned with coming off as the hero of your story, be concerned with getting your story out.

I say all this because I’ve had a few days to think about it as I’ve been on the road and subsequently been sick. There is a part of me that still to this day enjoys lounging about but it is constantly met with a sense of unfulfilled purpose when I entertain it. I’m not saying that taking a few days off to get over an illness is a bad thing. I’m just saying that it’s a similar feeling to that of being lazy. In a way, both are a sickness. Both are something that must be fought by the immune system and the creator within.

But to get back to my original point, one must first learn to walk silently. Without this first and most important step a writer will never reach that climactic moment. Though the climax is often the most enjoyable part of the process in writing a comic, the payoff of it would be nothing unless the characters started their journey long before, not being concerned with what fame and fortune would come at the end. (There are plenty of stories that involve such a premise but you get my point.) If all you’re writing for is the climax where your music plays and you look your nemesis in the eye with dreadful determination you’re never going to get there. It’s the in between moments that bring you there and the determination that you develop along the way that shows up on your face in the end. Don’t sit around waiting for this moment because it will never come on its own. Don’t confuse your beginning with your end; you simply have to become your beginning (i.e. the type of person who walks the path) and your climax will be waiting on you when you earn it.

Mike Elrod is an instructor for a small college in the North Georgia Mountains where he spends his days helping students research their papers as he pines for the city. By night however, he reviews the show Supernatural for Pulptone.com. He also writes a graphic novel, All That Lives, along with Michael Carpenter - who produces amazing artwork -  about growing up and the zombie apocalypse in the South.


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