Writers are so often viewed as tortured, solitary creatures who spend their waking hours hovering over the keys of their battered laptops in a dank basement or in the corner of a coffee shop, agonizing over their words. While it is true that the act of writing is mostly something one does on their own, it can also be a very social activity under the right circumstances. I am thankful to know many very talented writers from all walks of life, and I began this segment on my blog as a way to not only celebrate those friendships, but to also maybe learn what makes my fellow writers tic.
It’s my pleasure to introduce to you another one of my writer friends, Shawn French.
Shawn is the lead writer of the video game Epic Tavern by Hyperkinetic Studios, a co-creator of the comic book series Escape from Jesus Island, and the writer/director of indie horror flick The Wrong House. A former newspaper sports editor, Shawn now spends his days writing epic quests in the land of Beor, while playing the occasional monster in bad indie movies you’ve never heard of.
ME: What personally drives you to write?
SHAWN FRENCH: Writing is how I organize my thoughts. It’s how I process my emotions. Also, how I pay my bills. That whole not-starving thing can be a great motivator.
ME: Who are your influences?
SHAWN FRENCH: Stephen King was a big creative influence growing up, but I think I really learned storytelling through role-playing games. The Forgotten Realms story world and books, particularly R.A. Salvatore’s stuff, was a big part of my childhood. I also attended an after-school program run by a game designer who is one of the most skilled storytellers I know, so I always understood the power of a great tale.
As a writer, my biggest influences are probably Joss Whedon, Tarantino and Kevin Smith.
ME: What’s your technique for escaping Writer’s Block?
SHAWN FRENCH: I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. I think it’s exactly the same phenomenon that happens when working out. The first 10 minutes are fucking awful because your body is getting adjusted to an unusual amount of stress. Then your body calms down and you settle into the flow and it becomes enjoyable.
Your brain is no different. Many writing sessions start off feeling terrible and it takes willpower to slog through that initial lethargy. Then you settle into the rhythm and get the work done. I think a lot of people hit that first hill, mistake it for a wall, and blame some sort of mystical phenomenon for holding them back from greatness. Writing isn’t supposed to be easy, though. It’s work. If you want to be a writer, put your ass in the chair and write every day or your dream job will go to someone who did.
ME: What’s one must-read book you can recommend?
SHAWN FRENCH: On Writing, by Stephen King. His process is completely alien to me and I do almost everything exactly opposite (I’m an outline freak), but there’s so much good advice in the book and his love of the craft is infectious. To show how a story evolves from draft to draft, he wrote up the first few pages of a traditional ghost story for the book. He eventually went back and finished that story, which was released as 1408. I think it’s valuable for a young writer to be able to watch this original seed of an idea sprout and then see the movie it eventually became.
ME: What’s one piece of advice you can give to a new writer?
SHAWN FRENCH: One of the most valuable things that stayed with me from my years as a stand-up comic was the understanding that your peers are also your rivals. You need to be better than they are or they’ll get the gig. I don’t mean that in a negative or combative way at all, but the reality is there are a whole lot more writers than there are writing jobs.
I write video games for a living, which is a dream job for many people (myself among them). I am constantly aware that there’s a line of writers wrapped around the block three times, eager to take my place. That’s what fuels me. That’s what drives me to absorb as much as possible every day and diversify my skill-set. I’m forever trying to increase the distance between me and the next-best option.