Sunday, June 21, 2015

We've Moved!!!

I've started my own publishing company, Wannabe Press ( and we have relocated this blog over there, complete with tons of new content and all the great content from the past.

I hope you'll join us. It's been a great run. 

Russell Nohelty

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


The craziest thing about my writing life is how insignificant every day seems.

There aren't startling revelations, or juicy secrets, or late nights, or missed birthdays, or bare knuckle boxing matches with my publisher, or all-night coke binges to hit deadline. I work, get home, write, eat dinner, spend time with my wife, and go to bed before 10pm; every night.

There is really nothing worth writing home about at all about my "career". It's boring. It's routine. It's stable.

My "career" is built on putting in 1,000 words a day, or five pages a day, or one issue a day, every day; every single day.

My "career" is built on the idea that there is nothing worse that putting a goose egg on the board and not writing anything for a day. That's it, plain and simple.

And yet, doing that (nearly) every day since 2010 (and really back to dark days of 2006 when terrible writing abounded), I've produced 2 fully realized graphic novels, one published book, and three more novels set for editing.

All from taking small bites every day. Sure there are 10,000 word days in there, and cram sessions, and days when I wrote nothing, but they are rare. Mostly it's just small gains every day over a long time.

Most days it's a slog. Most days feel worthless. Most days I want to give up.

Glad I didn't. Because looking back on it, I'm amazed at how much I accomplished one small bite at a time. Onward!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Free work

I've done a few comics; a couple published, a couple not. I've always paid my artists on a per page basis pre-negotiated; always coinciding with prearranged deliverables.
And while it doesn't offend me to see people time and time again asking artist for free work, it does show a lack of understanding of the time commitment gives to any given page of art.
For example, my book KATRINA HATES THE DEAD took two weeks of man hours over several months to write.
That's 80 hours of time, give or take. I'm not including editorial, rewriting dialog on the page, or anything like that. So lets say all in all I spent 200 hours on Katrina Hates the Dead from conception to finished product.
I'm also not including breaks for lunch, surfing Facebook, or days off. I'm saying it took me 200 work hours in front of my computer writing or editing to get Katrina out the door.
That book was 112 pages long. So if I give myself a 24 hour bump in time just for giggles, I spent 2 hours of writing/editing time for every page of content in the book.
Comparatively, I estimate my penciler spent at least 2 hours on even the simplest page of Katrina, not including sketching and research. Think about it; if the average page has 5 panels, he did five drawings for every pages of art. That takes a grip of time!
Let's for sake of argument say it took an hour to do sketching and research, even though it often takes much longer. So 3 hours just for pencils all in on a normal page. Already 50% more than my time and effort.
Then, my inker spent at least 1 hour on even the simplest page of Katrina. My colorist another hour for flats and a second for detailed colors.
On top of that, the letterer spent a good 30 minutes on a simple page, and we'll sprinkle 30 more minutes per page overall for redraws, uploading, formatting and the whole nine yards.
That's 6 HOURS for even the simplest page of Katrina. I'm sure many pages took double that time. But even if every page took the same amount of time, that's triple the effort I put in on the book.
Now, does asking them to work for free really seem fair?
Not saying it doesn't happen and not saying it's not successful. Not saying an artist asking for a free writer should pay 1/3 of what I'd pay an artist. I think everybody should be paid.
Not saying a writer's work isn't as valuable as the artist's; after all, I am one.
I'm not even saying you shouldn't keep doing it.
I just want to be sure you know what you're asking, since it seems like many of you are aspiring creators who haven't done a book before.
It's a lot of work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


One of the reasons I write so fast, and get books done as quickly as possible, is because it's much easier to beef-up, tear-down, rewrite, or rework something when it exists -- when it has a skeleton, or at least a backbone.

I find that so often writers will tinker with their first 20 pages for months or even years; or not even get that far and just work on a treatment for way longer than they should.

Thing is that treatment, even if it's perfect in every way, isn't going to help you slog through writing the novel. Yes, it will definitely guide you, and move you along, and keep you on the right track, but the months you spend writing that treatment aren't getting you any closer to putting 70k+ words into a document before you can begin rewrites.

I was talking to a friend the other day who's a VFX artist. His favorite part is really the concept stage where he can draw or doodle or construct the image of what the character is going to look like that he needs to create for whatever piece he's been contracted for that week.

This is kind of like us as writers doing treatments; it's the sketching, the doodling, the erasing and crumpling things that don't work.

But here's the thing, even after he'd fully done with that sketch and it's 100% perfect to how he wants to construct the character, he still has to CONSTRUCT the character. And that takes hours, weeks, months depending on the complexity of the character.

And that's the slog of the work; creating the frame; building out the joints; making sure it looks right, walks right, talks right. All of that is the boring part. That's the work.

And it's the same way with writing. Concepts are great, treatments are exciting, but that first draft is a slog you just have to get through. And it doesn't get any easier or more fun the longer you work on all the steps before that first draft.

But the cool thing after the first draft exists is that you can tinker with it. And it's just like VFX. Once the rough body is constructed; once it's in the system, then my friend and play again. He can make noses bigger, or butts smaller.

But he needs that bankbone, that skeleton first, before the fun can begin again.

It's a struggle and a balance. You have to do some prewriting. You need to make sure you're gonna make the right character; but you don't want it to guide you for too long. Because at the end of the day, you have to put 70k words into a document -- sooner the better.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Green Time, Yellow Time, Red Time

Yay, another sales based lecture. I know you guys can't get enough of these.

In sales, there's a lot of bull you have to deal with during the day. Things that take you away from selling, which is what you're there to do, which is sell. There's administrative BS, there's personal BS, there's all sorts of BS, and most of them are WAY more fun than making a cold call.

So I learned early on how to schedule my day. It was something I learned at my first real sales job at AFLAC. It's very simple. You just have to schedule your day into GREEN TIME, YELLOW TIME, and RED TIME.

  •  GREEN TIME: The time where you are doing the thing that will make you money. This is actually selling, writing contracts, prospecting, and having appointments.
  • YELLOW TIME: The administrative stuff that has to get done but doesn't make you money. These are things like responding to e-mails, filling out paperwork, and doing tech support for your clients. 
  • RED TIME: These are all the other things in your day. It's calling your mother, making doctor appointments, and singing in the car on your way home. 
That's how we do it in sales, and this is how we change it up for writing. 
  • GREEN TIME: Actual writing. And eventually selling books, meeting with publishers, negotiating contracts, etc.
  • YELLOW TIME: Writing e-mails, sending out query letters, meeting with agents and such. 
  • RED TIME: Everything else. 
I suggest you literally schedule your day and color code it so that you know exactly when you plan on doing these thing. At AFLAC we had yellow time from 8-9, green time from 9-4, yellow time from 4-5, and red time after that when we went home. 

And by having it blocked out it told me what I should be doing at any moment of the day. So if you know you get home at 5pm, but it takes you an hour to get comfortable and respond to emails before you write, schedule 5-6pm as Yellow time, 6-8pm as Green time, and 8pm onward as red time. 

It's really helpful to visualize your day like that for some people to keep you on track. At this point I have it in my brain and it's internalized, but you have to make it a habit before you get there. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Thick Skin

I know you are a fragile creature. Lord knows I've heard it enough from artists, or about artists. We are delicate butterflies. We are timid. We can't take criticism. Our art is our soul.

ANNNNND -- that's bullshit.

If you feel that way -- you need to get over it. Because you will be criticized. You will be blasted. Even if 99 people out of 100 love you, that one guy that hated your work will stick with you more than the 99 that adored it.

And I'm certainly not telling you not to take it to heart. I'm not telling you to push it away. I'm not saying that when I get a bad review, even if it's 1% of them, that I don't stew about it for days, weeks even. I still think about my worst reviews.

But what I'm saying is you have to grow a thick skin, because if you can't take criticism then your artistic life is going to suck. You'll never put anything out. You'll never leave your cocoon. And you'll never grow as an artist. And right now you have a lot of growing to do.

I remember when I first started I was having lunch with a writer friend. He'd just read one of my scripts and said "This is okay. Nothing special."

It crushed me. Hearing him say it was like he'd just said the last 18 months of my life were worthless.

Because back in those days it would t me forever to complete a project. And I would craft every word until it was perfect.

And if he only thought it was okay, then my idea of perfect was terrible. And I was a terrible artist for thinking I was good. And that I'd just wasted so much time. Thinking about it now I still have anxiety about it.

But as I started showing my work to people little by little, they started saying things that I didn't think of, and they all would say one thing "This doesn't sound like you."

And it was because I was scared to show myself. I was scared to show who I really was. Because if they didn't like this fake me and it hurt me, if they didn't like the real me it would just kill me.

I couldn't take it.

But then I started showing around this small project. This project I knew would never sell. This project I really really cared about. And people started to tell me how much they liked it. How authentic it sounded. And they would keep asking about that project, that project I cared about and loved and nurtured.

"I can hear you when I read this." My one friend said, which to me is the greatest compliment.

And I started thinking that maybe if I wrote more things I cared about, and torpedoed everything I didn't. Maybe I would be happier. And maybe my writing would be better.

But that would mean developing a REALLY, REALLY thick skin. Because these things were really me. They were personal. I bled them.

And when I wrote them, or showed them around. People really responded to them. It affected them in a way my old writing didn't.

And I was able to take the things they said as criticisms and build them into my story. And my next story. And my next story.

And with each criticism I learned about my stuff. I got more confident. I knew where my weaknesses were, and I built them up, maybe not into strengths but certainly not into detriments anymore. I used those parts of my brain I didn't think I needed because they were atrophied.

And I started moving into new mediums. And each time I made sure to involve people early, to get their thoughts. I would show them chapters. And snippets. And see what they thought. And I would incorporate the good and throw away the bad.

And suddenly my thick skin was working to my advantage. Because I wasn't letting the criticisms bounce off me. I was absorbing them. And anticipating them before I got them to change things to make them stronger.

But it takes work. It takes a thick skin. It takes screaming at the world when they don't like your stuff, and taking an hour, or a day, or a week, to reel from a bad review or bad notes. And then to get back to it. And realize those notes -- maybe they weren't so bad after all.

And having an a ha moment from a note you didn't even think about. I remember I had a note about one of my characters not existing for about 45 pages of a movie once. And I thought about where he went, and what he did. And it started to build my idea of a world, and how to make three dimensional characters.

And every bad note I've received has helped me more than the praise. It's made me better. And now I welcome it.

So how can you do this?

  • Show your project to people -- FRIENDS, not industry people -- before it's ready. Make sure you've done one or two revisions, but show it early. Get real opinions. 
  • But please don't expect them to read every revision you've done. They are friends, not slaves. And they have lives. 
  • Once you finish a couple revisions, and you think it's good, don't hold onto it. Get it into somebody's hands. And hope they are honest with you. 
  • When you get back notes, especially if they are bad, be pissed off for 24 hours. Don't look at them. 
  • Then, try to incorporate every single one of those notes without thinking about it. I guarantee at least 25% of them will be worthwhile and another 50% may help you. You'll probably disregard the other 25%. 
  • Don't get callused. There is a difference between a thick skin and a callused skin. You still have to let things in. Don't block off everything. Feeling the pain or rejection will make the next time easier. 
And you just have to keep doing it. We are people are not built to handle criticism well. Like everything else it is a muscle that we train. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


As much as I break down pages, and word counts, and chapters, and get really into the weeds on that sort of thing, I truly believe that the best writing is ephemeral.

Yes the pages last forever, and we would hope as writers that once we are dead our words live on. However, when you're talking about actually writing down the first words are usually the best words.

Of course, I find myself rewriting all the time. I'm not a crazy person. Except on this blog I spend time revising my work. On this blog it's often what you see is what you get. I don't do much rewriting here or on Facebook.

But thinking about writing as ephemeral helps me be a prolific writer. It helps me write whole books in a month. And screenplays, web series, etc fast.

I don't spend time going back and fixing every comma. I don't spend time aching over every word. I'm not that writer. I'm not a speak easy or a gastropub. I'm a journeyman. I'm an In and Out. And I believe the only way to get better is to put it out into the ether and massage it later.

Except that I don't massage it that much later either. I'll do a few rewrites and then send it off to beta readers to find out what's wrong with it. Then I'll get it back made those changes and send it out to others.

Because to me, there is so much time spent on crafting it and not enough time spent on people actually reading it. And if people reading it is the end goal -- then you have to just plow through. You have to finish it.

So how did I get this way?

In the beginning I was writing screenplays. And I would meticulously write every word just to have a producer, or director, or actor, change it completely.

Once that happens enough you kind of give up on the word being sacred argument we all hear all the time.

And I learned something. If your audience doesn't feel it, then it doesn't matter how beautiful it is -- it just doesn't work.

And in order for my audience to feel it, I have to show it to them earlier than I probably want to, or should. Because if I wait, then it's going to be too late to change something.

I'm going to get too attached to the words and I won't be able to change it. But if I throw something out there and it's terrible, I know I can change it. Because I'm not attached. I didn't spend a year constructing a masterpiece.

And I find way too many writers that have that problem. And hopefully after this and next week you'll be able to kick that story out into the world.