A few months ago, an editor at IDW reached out and asked me if I’d be interested in contributing something to their 400th issue of the Star Trek comic. I told her I was VERY interested, but wasn’t sure how much time I had in my schedule.
I offered a few options, presented in order from easiest (and least desirable for me) to most time-consuming, but most exciting for me to do: I could give them an essay that already exists, I could write a short, new essay, or I could write an entire new story.
She was like, how about that new story?
So I pitched something, and told my team that I was going to be working on this for a couple of weeks. One of them wrote back that I didn’t have time to do this. I told them I was creating time out of thin air to work on it, because it was that important to me. And that’s what I did.
My pitch was accepted, and I set my brain upon the task of developing it. It came in little pieces, out of order, until I woke up in the middle of the night about a week in, with an idea that was orders of magnitude more interesting and challenging. I got out of bed, transcribed what my brain was delivering, and hoped it would make sense in the morning. When morning came, I saw the shape of it, and I saw The Thing that I really wanted to do, The Thing that makes the whole story worth writing. (For shorts, there is always A Thing I want to tell in the story, and that’s why I write it. When The Thing revealed itself to me, it happened to be about 4 in the morning. It happens like that pretty frequently.)
We had to get approval, but time was already short. So I got to work before I even had permission and hoped for the best. I was fortunate to get broad approval, and the notes ended up being about small things that didn’t affect the narrative arc.
So a lot of the process to bring this together was watching and consuming Star Trek (thank you for your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time) so I was steeped in the universe. Think of living abroad for so long, you have to relearn what your cultural and language norms are before you go home.
It was the most fun I have ever had writing something. From the very beginning, I just had fun. I didn’t second guess myself. I didn’t worry. I didn’t let my anxiety or the relentlessly critical inner voice of the man who was my father speak up and distract me. I worked hard and without fear, and it was the best thing, ever. I have no idea how this will be received by the audience. I hope other people like it as much as I do. But even if they don’t, I love this story and I loved writing it. That’s all I care about, and WOW let me tell you what an incredible feeling that is!
I’m so grateful I learned how to separate the joy of doing the work from the anxiety of how it will be received. The rest of this post is collected from daily posts I made on Facebook as I tracked my progress.
I am having the BEST time writing this thing that’s due on Friday. I love EVERY SECOND of this process, even the parts where I don’t feel like I’m making progress the way I want to. I’m still making progress, and I’m learning to embrace that process so I can enjoy it more.
I’ve been at it all day, and I want to keep writing SO MUCH, but I am just totally out of gas and it’s time to go play NHL 22.
I love this. I love this so much. I love being a writer and a storyteller. I am so grateful for this life.
It’s another day on this project that’s due Friday. I’m on pace to wrap up tomorrow, have Thursday to polish it, and turn it in on time.
I think I’ve overwritten it (I usually do) and I may have to lose a substantial chunk, but that’s cool with me. I’ve learned how to save things, how to let go of my original idea when the collaborative process begins and the work starts to develop into its own thing. It’s pretty great.
I’d love to keep going, but just now, in the middle of a sentence, I ran out of gas. It happens, and I’ve managed my time responsibly enough to go ahead and call it for the day.
I’m still having the best time doing this, and I’m super excited to release it into the world.
I’ve been working on this thing that’s due on Friday for about a month, but I didn’t start actually writing it until last week, because WOW HAVE I BEEN BUSY.
I just finished the first complete draft, and I’m walking away to let it breathe until tomorrow, when I’ll rewrite. I am exhausted, but this has been so much fun. It’s going to kill me when I have to cut at least half of it, but I’m actually going to make this deadline, like I’m an adult and a professional, and everything.
So that thing that’s due tomorrow? Finished it and turned it in a couple hours ago. For the first time in my career as a writer, I actually got something in AHEAD of a deadline.
It wasn’t easy. This morning, while I was working on rewriting, tightening it up, raising the stakes, and all that, I hit The Valley of Despair. This is a part of my creative process, very close to the end, when I feel like everything I’ve done is terrible, I’m the worst writer in the world, they’re all gonna laugh at me, and I should just give up and quit right now.
When that happens, I know I’m close to the end, but too close to be objective and see the words among all the letters. (This took many painful years to learn.)
So I reached out to a friend I respect deeply, who has EXTREMELY relevant experience, and asked for notes. They gave me notes, some INCREDIBLE ideas that I absolutely LOVED adding, and they got me across The Valley of Despair. Once I was on the other side, everything came together so effortlessly, it was kind of rude.
It’s so interesting to me that I can struggle for so long to see where the cuts need to happen, never seeing them, feeling like each precious bit is too precious to cut, right up until the moment they are all suddenly so obvious, I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote them, and I never miss them when they’re gone. I cut a lot of stuff today that I enjoyed making up and writing, but I don’t miss it at all. The story didn’t need it. I’ve heard some writers talk about that stuff as the scaffolding they use to hold the thing together while they work on it. I like that metaphor.
Maybe the Valley of Despair is what happens when I take the scaffolding down. That’s a neat metaphor, too.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to get into details about this. Until then, I’m going to stay safely vague. But I’m super excited for this to be a thing in the world that all of you can read. It was really fun to imagine.
So I turned this thing in on Thursday last week, knowing it was overwritten and needed deep cuts that were going to hurt. That’s okay. It’s part of the whole creation process.
On Monday, I made some deep cuts. The manuscript sank into the swamp. Then I made more deep cuts yesterday. THAT sank into the swamp. I just finished ANOTHER round of extremely deep cuts today. If it follows, it will burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp. BUT the next one will stay.
It’s fascinating to watch this happen in front of me. When I see the cut bits behind the green “cut this” suggestion thing, I REALLY miss them. But when I accept the cuts and read it all without the stuff I’ve cut, it still works and I don’t miss it at all. That is so WEIRD.
But it is so much fun, and so satisfying, to play with these toys. I still can’t believe I get to do this for my job.
Also, could someone get that guard a drink of water?
That thing I’ve been working on? That I couldn’t get specific about?
“IDW Publishing is celebrating 400 issues of Star Trek. This September, IDW will release the oversized Star Trek #400 one-shot featuring new stories from across the Star Trek universe. The stories include a brand new Star Trek: The Next Generation by series star Wil Wheaton, who recently reprised his role as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: Picard’s second season finale. “
I think this drops in September, around Star Trek Day. If you want to get one, tell your local comic shop so they can order it for you.
14 thoughts on “I wrote fan fiction for my job and got paid for it and everything.”
I can’t wait!
I have a cousin who paints, and he sells his paintings. He tells me he has a huge collection of different kind of brushes – some with steel bristles, things you would not normally think of as being used for painting. With a new canvas, he just kind of attacks it with these brushes, just sort of scrubbing paint onto the canvas into an interesting texture until he knows what the painting is actually supposed to be. Which he then paints on top of the texture he’s been scrubbing.
Now, this scaffolding you speak of with writing, it seems a bit like the scrubbing my cousin the painter does. You do it, it helps your brain get in the right place for the actual stuff, but when the actual stuff is done, you don’t really need it.
Sounds great! I have had a couple really great ideas I’ve woke up with myself. Odd how that works.
Looking forward to it. The comicbook.com article you linked to says September 7.
Given the publisher, I assume this will be illustrated? Curious how/if writing for comics was different for you than writing for other mediums? (as a comic reader/fan but not yet a comic creator, I imagine that it is easy to overwrite for comics and that writing for the artist is a separate yet crucial part of the overall text, but something that the readers usually never see unless the scripts etc eventually get published – from what I’ve observed great comic storytelling is a collaboration between the writer and the artist (and letterer & colorer) which make it more similar often to TV or film or animation than to short story/novel storytelling.
everything came together so effortlessly, it was kind of rude
I love/hate when that happens, whatever the endeavour is. XD
I am so excited to get this! I can’t wait to see your story.
I’ve found that the things that were fun to make, whether it turns out to be good or bad, that energy shines through. That’s why movies like Army of Darkness and Pitch Perfect perservere.
I’m having a really hard time choosing between cover A and cover B (although all the covers are amazing and I may just have to get one of each). Also, if you do come up with a solution for cerebrosomnus interruptus, can you please share it? I’ve tried talking to my brain about it and I think now it does it just to spite me.
Been waking up in the middle of the night lately too. Not for creative reasons. For personal mental issues and searching for peace of mind. Mostly about my mom (currently dead). Abandonment at the core. And rejection in the outer core. And censorship. To a point I felt like we were strangers when we use to converse.
Long story short your words inspire me subliminally I guess because even though we’re both separated by space&time. Individuals somehow connect unconsciously via sleep rem. Maybe. I do feel connected after reading your creative process, excitement and feeling of accomplishment when life seems to be fitting together. Thanks for sharing. So I’m sharing too.
Authors whose stories I like reading.
Requesting new a read.
Any ideas author/book on what direction I should try?
Mark, I think you might enjoy Christopher Moore, with such titles as “Island of the Sequined Love Nun”, “Coyote Blue”, and “Practical Demonkeeping”. Also, have you encountered Douglas Adams as a novelist?
This is just lovely. I’m so glad it came together for you. I’ll add this to my pull list. Thanks for letting me know about it. Qapla!
Definitely going on my preorder list. I cannot WAIT to read this.
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