Life Without Writer’s Block

writers-blockI haven’t struggled much with writer’s block. Maybe in school I did. When I was forced to write against my will. But writing professionally and personally has always been a joy for me and a very fluid process.

I’ve been writing since the seventh grade (1987) when I took a Creative Writing class in secondary school. The first long piece of fiction I ever wrote was a spoof of Batman (a comic character I was a huge fan of at the time). My class published these stories in small, individual blank books that I got to design the cover of and paste type-written pages in. There was something about having a “published” book that filled me with great satisfaction and a desire for more.

In junior high, I spent one entire year writing a poem everyday. They were mostly all the same rhyming scheme — ABCB — and were usually about the latest classmate I had a crush on. I thought one day I would write songs in a band.

In high school, I started writing about my actual life, jotting down details about events I didn’t want to forget. I also joined the student newspaper staff and became a journalist.

My focus shifted to photography and video production in college, but I never stopped taking notes about story ideas I would one day flesh out and complete. I still have those notes — a huge well of story ideas from which to draw in the future. I also wrote occasional features and reviews for the newspaper, so writing never left me.

When I got into the workforce, I found that I needed a tool to improve and increase the speed of my writing. Online journals — precursors to blogs — were hot around 2000, so I created a LiveJournal that I updated almost everyday.

After the “dot bomb” in 2001, I found myself unemployed for almost a year and entertained myself with writing. I eventually launched a blog — sometimes multiple blogs on various topics that interested me — and this prepared me for future employment as an online content manager and blogger for several well-known companies.

I had a job where I blogged about computers and electronics for an online shopping website. Another job — probably my favorite — had me writing about dating and relationships (the research was quite enjoyable). In fact, blogging has been a part of every job I’ve had since 2007. Right now, I blog about military technology for a defense contractor in the Washington, DC area — among my other duties. Writing about bomb disposal robots in Afghanistan isn’t as interesting as writing about online dating, but it’s pretty close.

So, I write everyday in some capacity. I’m lucky that writing is part of my 9-to-5 job. I’m forced to write three blog posts a week — writer’s block or not. If I need ideas or inspiration for writing these, I check out industry media outlets or blogs to find out what’s hot in the military community right now. Then I figure out how one of our products relates.

Even if I didn’t write professionally, I would still need a writing outlet, whether it’s a personal blog or a novel. I’ve already done poetry, journalism, and blogging. Screenwriting, it seems, is the next step for me.

Generation X-Tract: ‘Zines

zine1This article originally appeared in my Generation X-Tract column for Broadside, the George Mason University student newspaper.

Are you sick of corporate media? Tired of reading the daily newspaper and watching the nightly news on T.V. only to find that absolutely none of it pertains directly to you? Sick of big-money, white-collar yuppy writers trying to speak for your generation, claiming to understand why you do the things you do, writing books on it, and getting rich at your expense? Tired of reading so-called “hip” magazines giving bad reviews on the music, movies, T.V. shows, and books that you like? Wish you could drop a bomb on the MTV Beach House and kill the station’s music director? Are you tired of disagreeing with every supposed spokesman of your generation? Do you just flat-out wish you could create your own media to inform the world of what it’s really like–what your generation really thinks, likes and does?

If so, my disgruntled friend, then my soul purpose in life is to tell you that, with the help of this special two-part column, you can transform those fantastic dreams of yours into bonafide reality. In fact, if you act now, you can begin this crusade to inform the world of your various views and opinions in just two weeks!

“How,” you may ask, “am I going to let the world know just how I feel? How can little ol’ me tell the world my inner-most heart-felt views and opinions and inform them of what’s going on in my life and where I live? How can I, of all people, have this great opportunity–an opportunity that previously existed only in my wildest dreams?”

Well, the answer, fellow college students, is found in a little thing known as a zine. Zines (small in size, but enormous in power) have enough potential power to cure this world of its corporate media and of the monopolies controlling the flow of the world’s information. “Zine”–only a four-letter word, but an object of incredible potential.

By now, you must be wondering what a zine is. You are surely fascinated by this outstanding tool of communication and are now wondering how one goes about creating a zine and getting it read by people all around the world.

There are over 50,000 zines currently being published in America. With topics ranging from Barbie dolls to government conspiracies, countless men and women are publishing their own zines and telling the world what it’s really like.

If zine publication is something that interests you as well (whether you hate mainstream media or are just fascinated with the notion of independent publishing), here is a 12-step process to zine publication. These steps will guide you through the zine-making process and will hopefully prepare you for the grandiose world of independent publishing!

1) First consider your daily schedule. Figure out if you have enough time to create a zine and to create one every month. If you’re going to school full-time and are working part-time, may want to publish one quarterly or twice-a-year.

2) Think about what your zine’s main topic will be. The word “zine” comes from “fanzine,” which itself is a variation of “magazine.” A fanzine is a publication that is dedicated to one over-arching theme. There are zines dedicated to T.V. shows, bands, geographic areas, age groups, and various hobbies and religions. Find something you’re very interested in, and tell people all about it. Remember, the only reason someone’s gonna read your zine is because they can’t find the information anywhere else. In addition, your zine can be all about you. You can use it as a cheep way to get out of writing personal, individual letters to your friends and family! Get it all done in one full swoop!

3) Next, if you don’t have a desk in your room, get one and clear it off (you can also do this in any quiet room in your house). You will need plenty of space to layout your pages and tape your stories together. If you have a computer layout program, you can do everything on the computer. If you don’t, then you will need scissors, lots of tape, and a bunch of white paper.

4) One thing you definitely need in your zine is pictures. Whether you take them yourself or cut them out of other magazines and newspapers, you’ve got to have plenty of visual elements in your zine. An interesting and eye-pleasing layout is 90% of a zine’s success.

5) Shop around for places to print your zine. Though Kinko’s is the most convenient, it can be quite expensive. Check the Yellow Pages and search your local shopping centers for printing houses. Note: Check with your parents and friends for free use of their office machines.

6) Figure out what size paper your zine will be printed on and how many pages it will be. The most common zine paper size is legal size (8.5′ x 14′) folded in half. The amount of pages really depends on how much it costs to print. A reasonable starting size would be three or four legal sized pages folded in half. For those seriously lacking funds, a single 8.5 x 11 sheet copied front and back can suffice as a starting-off point (but plan to grow in size relatively soon).

7) Obviously, a major step in creating a zine is writing the articles. Plan to spend a lot of time thinking about the topics you choose to write about. If necessary, research the topics as best you can before writing on them and allow yourself plenty of time to write and revise your articles. As an independent publisher, you can set your own deadlines. You don’t want to waste your money by publishing a zine full of rushed, badly-written stories. And remember, give insights into subjects you feel the reader lacks. Vehemently arguing that Alanis Morissette’s album is awesome or that Tom Hanks is a good actor isn’t exactly telling the world anything new.

8) The next step is doing the actual layout of the zine. There are a few general rules about layout. First, use a 10 to 12-point font (if you’re hand-writing your zine, print neatly). Include your name and address somewhere in the zine so readers can send feedback (an e-mail address would do nicely). If space permits, give your zine a cover and begin the articles on the second page.

9) After you layout the actual zine pages, you will need to do the physical reproduction. Go to the printer’s (or office) and get your pages mass printed. Depending on where you go for the printing, you may or may not have to fold every individual sheet of paper, when you get home, and staple the issues together. This can be very time-consuming and tedious. Plan accordingly.

10) Now you need a mailing list. Your list will most likely start off small, ranging from 10 to 100 people. Most of your distribution, however, won’t need stamps or addresses. You see many of your friends, classmates, and family members in person at least once a week. The remainder of your distribution list can be found in your address book. Once you have a mailing list, distribute your zines (by mail or by hand) and sit back and wait.

11) You will probably receive much feedback from friends and relatives fascinated with your recently-begotten zinely talents, but reader feedback will die down drastically after several issues. Be sure to respond to their letters right away (e-mail is the most efficient and least time-consuming means of communication) and take whatever suggestions they may have to heart. If you fail to respond to your readers (who are also your personal friends), they will think you’re a snob and will no longer read your zine.

12) All you need to do now is keep your zine fresh. Don’t write about the same thing in every issue. Consider various perspectives on the same topic. Do plenty of research into related fields, and include various styles of writing (prose, fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, interviews, etc.). Try, also, to get your friends to write articles for your zine. It’s always good to have other names other than your own in your zine article by-lines.

And that’s it! If you’ve completed all of these steps, you are now a bona fide independent zine publisher! You’re telling the world what it’s really like without the influence of special interest groups or big-money advertisers. You can now be satisfied that you are doing something positive for this world. Congratulations, you’re life is now complete.