November 26th, 2013

Writer’s Block and the Comics

by Terri Libenson

Most of you know that cartooning is my full-time job. Only some of you know that I have another gig: writing humorous cards for American Greetings. I’m a contract writer, and I work on cards once a week. I love it, and have been doing it for 20 years. In fact, that’s what brought me to Cleveland in the first place.

As all creative types know, artist’s block comes with the territory. With cards, if I have a bad writing day, the editors simply reject my work and nothing gets published. The end. I move on and hopefully have a better writing session next time.

With comics, it’s different. There are daily deadlines. Daily. If I get sick, have an emergency, or simply need a break, I still must meet the deadline. No one wants a blank spot or rerun in the funny pages (well, not reruns of mine, anyway). Of all obstacles, writer’s block has been my greatest enemy. I mean, think about working when you’re sick, worried, etc. Of course the end product won’t be up to par.

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I’ve often mentioned that I write about 4-5 months ahead. Why? I can do my work and then put away the strips until it’s time for publication. This lets me scan the strips more objectively down the road and make necessary changes.

Rarely, I’ve removed strips after reviewing them. I try not to do this because when I take one away, I need to replace it with another. That means more work in less time.

Now think about wanting to remove entire months’ worth of cartoons.

Back in the March-May time frame, I wrote my Aug-Oct strips. A lot was happening in my personal life. Good things. I was preparing a presentation for the Reubens. My daughter was having a Bat Mitzvah. With the latter, I was doing most of the event planning and it felt like another full-time job on top of everything else. My writing suffered from constant distraction. I planned ahead to try and avoid this, but…well, I’m human.

The strips from that time frame recently ran in the papers. I don’t think they were terrible, I just don’t think they were up to my personal standards. They’d been changed and tweaked to be suitable for print, but in all sincere honestly, I cringed. I was just riding it out until they went away. Since summer, I’ve been able to focus again, and I’m much more proud of my writing.

Why am I posting this? It’s not because fans have blatantly said anything, thank goodness. It’s not because I’m really ashamed. It’s because I think readers should understand that when creators have hiccups in their personal lives combined with unrelenting deadlines, there can be a direct bearing on creativity. In the best case, it may not even be very noticeable.

But the next time you read the comics and think to yourself, “What’s up with my favorite cartoon? It just hasn’t been as funny/clever/entertaining as usual. This sucks”…remember that most likely the creator knows it and is just going through something. Be forgiving, because other than an audience, there’s no one the writer wants to please more than him/herself.

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