Learning From the Best by Jenny Arndt

This post is part of a series featuring students at UMD who completed a project interviewing regional authors for David Beard’s Theories of Writing Studies class.

In professional writing there are all sorts of elegant ways in which the professional writer can accommodate the business end of it while also finding themselves fulfilled.

Every writer has faced the intimidation of the blank page, woefully staring back at you, simultaneously begging and daring you to adorn it with all the words you don’t seem to have at that moment. Even professional writers like Terrance Griep struggle to overcome the challenge of beginning, luckily for us, he has developed tips and tricks over the years to turn writer’s block into the perfect story.

Stephen King says it [the process of starting writing] is like death. Something I saw him say, stuck with me and it’s that the idea of starting writing is really difficult, so the way he approaches it is to just think of an interesting situation and play it out.

Storytelling comes with many intricacies, a fact Terrance knows all too well after spending his career fine-tuning the craft. Structure is important, every story must have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, but beyond this, it is important no details fall through the cracks between these points lest the story not reach its fullest potential.

They’re [stories] likened to fossils, and it’s your job as a writer to dig them out as carefully as you can, if you’re not careful you’ll break them to pieces. It’s an interesting metaphor that speaks to me, so I thought ‘alright, I’ll try the Stephen King way.’ and it went exactly as he said it would. I ended up with this really cool story and felt like I had really done the work of dusting off that fossil, and then it just came right out.

It can’t be that easy, in fact, I’m almost positive it’s not, at least not all the time. This is where we as writers can learn from Griep as he has learned from his peers. Maybe you wrote a piece you really loved but your editor didn’t or spent countless hours pouring yourself into a story only for it to be passed on. The sting of rejection seems to power the intimidation of the blank page.

Even when writing projects don’t work out – which will happen often if you freelance – it’s often not your fault – it’s usually not your fault. There are a lot of factors if you’re doing this professionally that are out of your control. In creating that story you became a better writer, you’re however many thousands of words more experienced than you were before, and there’s real value in that.

Beyond knowing how to write a good story, knowing how to sell a good story, and yourself as an author, is half the battle. Terrance stresses the importance of soaking up any business acumen possible, you have to talk the talk as well as walk the walk.

I would encourage you to take business classes, figure out the business end of it. Always remember, whatever creativity, whatever inspiration, that wonderful symbiosis that writers have with their work when it just all starts to come together, and it just feels like you’re dancing with your own words, all of that happens in the greater sphere of business – If you want to make money at it.

Much like telling stories, selling stories has many intricacies, lending itself to the same Stephen King metaphor Griep mentioned earlier. There are many aspects to the practice that must be observed and carefully excavated in order to unearth a successful career as a writer. To this point, Griep passes along some wisdom for writers working on breaking into the field, as well as well as a reminder for those who have already broken in.

Just remember, it’s about people creatively speaking, and it’s about people in a business sense. Between you and your dreams there will always be somebody, and you’re going to have to learn how to manage – not manipulate – that person because in writing, one of the cool things about doing it professionally is, there are plenty of scenarios where you get win-win instead of win-lose.

In professional writing there are all sorts of elegant ways in which the professional writer can accommodate the business end of it while also finding themselves fulfilled.

As you enter and exist in the world of professional writing, it is important to learn from those who have come before you, to learn from the best, the way Griep learned from King, and how we may now learn from Griep. I wish you luck as you embark on your next writing endeavor, and pray the intimidation of the blank page will not defeat you but empower you to use your voice, and may you talk-the-talk in such a way that your voice is heard.

Terrance Griep is a Minnesota native author who, over the course of his career, has garnered many D.C. Comic credits for his work on the Scooby-Doo, Green Lantern, and Batman series respectively. Beyond comics, Griep has written for such publications as Lavender, Instinct, and The Advocate as a journalist. Aside from being a professional writer, Terrance is also a professional wrestler, holding over 20 titles under the alias Spider-Baby.

Jenny Arndt is fresh on the professional writing scene, channeling her writing abilities towards pursuing a career in the public relations or copywriting field. Aside from writing in a formal sense, Jenny also enjoys exercising her skills in the creative fields. This overlap between the interest in business and creative writing led her towards Terrance Griep as a peer and source of inspiration and authority on maintaining proper business-creativity balance.