Want to get the creative juices flowing, but not interested in writing the Great American Novel or being the next e.e. cummings? Why not a try a frequently-derided yet secretly awesome writing medium? Here are five somewhat unconventional ways to hone your skills and share your art with the world.
Zines have been around for ages, but the field has expanded dramatically in the last twenty years. There’s a zine for just about anything you can imagine, from political rants to personal stories and fiction, but they generally have a few things in common. Zines represent a return to the handmade aesthetic, a reminder of a time before multinational publishing companies and fancy packaging. They’re little booklets, often quite beautiful, that are usually photocopied at your local Kinko’s on the sly and distributed through independent bookstores.
Interested? Diary-style personal zines or “perzines” are a perennial favorite in the field, so if you have a wealth of crazy anecdotes about life in Chicago or your romantic adventures, consider making a zine! Fun, easy, and cheap, these mini-books are the perfect outlet for the hands-on writer.
Resources: For some great examples of zines, visit Quimby’s bookstore in Wicker Park. Many writers also publish their zines on the web, so a quick Google search should turn up more gems from the genre. After that, with pen, paper, and access to a copier, you are ready to go.
Not just capes and tights! I mean, unless that’s your thing…
Comics, like zines, have exploded in the last few years, and the graphic novel has become an art form in its own right. Memoirs like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Craig Thompson’s Blankets are a popular choice for writers, as well as sagas of daily life and loves, and, of course, plenty of sci-fi. Good news for those of you nervous about your drawing skills, too: style is a personal decision, now more than ever, and the minimalist aesthetic is really taking off. Many writers now stick to the basics of pen-and-ink, and idiosyncratic drawing is seen as a sign of personality, not incompetence.
Practice by constructing a story about the people around you. What would you put in each picture? How would the panels look on the page? Try writing a bare-bones prose story and then attaching an image to each section. Have fun with your art and don’t worry about messing up.
Resources: Scott McCloud’s how-to series about comics are a great way to learn about figure drawing and cartooning. Remember to choose your tools carefully – visit Blick’s Art Supplies and ask someone about pens and sketchpads!
For the more digitally-inclined, webcomics are another option. Webcomics are a lot like traditional comic books, in that they’re usually serialized stories that update on a regular basis, with a few new panels each time. Some writers might have an easier time with the smaller scale of webcomics (many only add 3 or 4 new panels each time), and a regular updating schedule is a great way to build discipline and develop a sense of pacing in your story.
Resources: Try visiting a few successful webcomics, like Hark a Vagrant, XKCD, or Penny Arcade. If you love traditional drawing, think about checking out a digital drawing tablet or other tech from the CDM Cage.
Hear me out – fanfiction is a great way to practice storytelling with characters that are already sketched out for you (and usually popular with your readers). If you’re just getting into creative writing, fanfiction can help you develop your dialogue, plotting, and characterization in an established fandom. Plenty of fanfiction writers go on to write original characters, or “OCs,” too!
5. Curated Tumblrs
If you really, really don’t want to write long-form, try Tumblr. Making a themed Tumblr is an opportunity to practice discipline (again, readers appreciate regular updates) and many Tumblrs rely on photos over writing anyway.
Make sure to pick an idea and stick to it, and also to tag clearly so other people can find your work. Who knows, you may even get a book deal out of it!
Resources: For two very different examples of successful themed Tumblrs, try Oh My Tweedy Steed, or ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS. If you need more help, there are plenty of style guides pertaining to the site floating around the web.
Now, go forth and write!