From the E-Mailbag…

Someone who goes by the handle of Oswald (and is presumably neither the rabbit nor the lone assassin) writes to ask…

I marvel at the ability you or any professional writer has to sit down at the keyboard and just work, work, work until the script or article is completed. When I'm walking around, I think I could write and I think of many things I would like to write. When I sit down at the keyboard and try it, I get restless and distracted and can only write for about 20 minutes at a time before I have to jump up and go do something else. Needless to say, I can't get much written that I could ever do anything with. Is there a secret to sticking with it for a long stretch of time until you get something finished?

This will sound too glib but the secret is to just do it. You can always find something else you want to do when you could be or should be writing. In fact, the writers I know who get a reputation for missed deadlines and undependability share this common trait: They're all real good at finding something else they have to do, thereby giving them an excuse for not writing.

I write for any number of reasons, starting with the fact that I liked the whole concept and process well enough to make it my life's work. If I'd decided my dream was to work at an Arby's, I wouldn't wake up any morning and think, "Oh no! I'm expected to go in and slice faux roast beef all day!" I'd change professions if I felt like that. So one of the things you have to say to folks in your position, callous as it may seem, is "Hey! Either be a writer or don't! If you don't have the skills or motivation to do it, don't try to do it." There are thousands of professions I don't attempt because I know I could never do them. I sometimes tell people who ask that I became a writer because of all the occupations I could have chosen, that was the one at which I figured I might be the least incompetent.

I also write because I have things I want to buy, food included. And I write because I have things I want to say and I like the satisfaction that comes with packaging them into a format that someone else out there will read or watch. I like those things so much that sitting down here and working on something never feels like a chore or hardship.

That was one of the main things I learned being around the late/great Jack Kirby. Jack had an incredible work ethic. You would not believe the long and intense hours he put into writing and drawing comic books. I looked at him and I more or less thought, "I may never be able to create anything half as memorable as what he does…but it may be possible to work that hard." And his secret, I came to believe, was that he did not view the word "work" as a negative; that he defined it as something he wanted to do for himself as well as for remuneration. If you can't view your work that way, maybe you need to find a trade where you can.

My father hated his profession and couldn't find anything else…and I saw what it did to him, physically and emotionally. Often, he told me how happy he was that I seemed so happy in what I did. It dawned on me what the difference was in our "chosen" professions — or maybe it would be better to say the difference between the one I chose and the one he got himself stuck in. If no one was paying him or he didn't need the money, there's no way he would ever have done any of the things he did in his occupation, which was with the Internal Revenue Service. He would not have gone out and dealt with delinquent taxpayers in his spare time.

On the other hand: If no one was paying me to write, I might be doing something else to make a living but I'd still make time to write. I think that's why it never feels like a job to me. It's just what I do and it's nice that sometimes, checks arrive after I do it.