Who are you?
I’m Palle Schmidt, a Copenhagen-based writer and artist, published in Denmark and in the US (graphic novels The Devil’s Concubine and STILETTO, and Thomas Alsop from BOOM! Studios, dubbed “best mini-series of 2014” by USA Today). My latest project is a non-fiction book called SOLO — Survival Guide for Creative Freelancers. My attempt to pass on all the lessons I’ve learned in the past 20 years of working freelance.
What do you write?
These days I write mainly crime fiction, but I’ve also written a handful of YA novels and a few kid’s books co-written with my wife. I’ve previously written for roleplaying games and some movie scripts, none of them produced except an animated short film I was hired to write. In 2012 I took a Master Class in screenwriting at the Danish Film School which really honed my writing skills, especially in terms of structure. People outside of Denmark will maybe know me from my comics work and see me more as artist than a writer.
What I love about making comics is I can avoid lengthy descriptions and just show the damn thing. Much like a movie script, a comics script is all action and dialogue. I’m fairly good at both and pretty good at drawing. The downside is that it takes longer to draw a comics page than it does to write five pages of a novel. I’m not tied to any one medium, I just want to tell stories.
Where do you write?
I have an office at a studio in town, about a 15 minute bike ride from my apartment but I often find it hard to really dig in and focus there. It seems I do my best work when I go away by myself for a week at a writing refuge or even just a hotel room. I’ve managed to crank out a week’s worth of writing by locking myself in a hotel room for two days.
To me writing is like a big engine that needs to be started up every time, and if I have short work days, meetings or other other obligations I tend to not ever get started.
When do you write?
Man, I wish I knew! Somehow the books come together although it feels like I’m never working on them. As mentioned above, the ideal writing day is when I have a full day ahead of me and no obligations whatsoever. Obviously that doesn’t happen very often!
When I’m working on a project, I tend to set a really low bar for success, like writing a thousand words a day. I usually go over but the low bar get’s me started. I also go back and forth between working on the computer and taking notes in a cafe or on a train. The notes help me get started when I go into the actual writing.
I wish I could say I have a writing routine, but I really don’t. I try to cram it in whenever I can or when I can’t hold the stories in my head anymore.
Why do you write?
As a fellow writer once said, writing is a gateway drug to empathy. I really believe this to be true and I feel like empathy is desperately needed in this day and age. You could argue my crime stories and comics don’t live up to this lofty idea and you could be right. But I always strive to put the reader in someone else’s shoes — even if that person is flawed or despicable. I mean to invoke empathy, not sympathy.
It’s always hard to explain the why, I’m not even sure I know the answer myself. All I know is I like to tell stories and I’m obviously influenced by a lot of hardboiled American noir, from Chandler to Ellroy.
My new book, SOLO, is a departure from anything I’ve ever done before, since it’s a non-fiction book. I try to cover every aspect of the life of a creative solopreneur, from getting clients to dealing with bad ones, from creative mindset to business tactics, from philosophical ideas of independence to email templates that are cut-and-paste. Again it ties back to the idea of feeling like you are not alone, the empathy. I’ve been there, I’ve screwed up, will screw up again in a minute. But if another freelance creator can learn from my mistakes, it’s all been worth it.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I don’t know that I’ve ever had writer’s block, unless you count all the years I was putting off writing fiction. I’d made a living as an artist for more than a decade and written my own comics and a lot of other stuff, but a novel seemed daunting. Writing a novel felt pretentious and self-absorbed and I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until I asked an editor friend to give me her honest opinion and she told me in no uncertain terms that I could write. I still doubt myself and feel like a fraud but I try to put that aside and just work. It’s like walking a tightrope; Don’t look down!
In my daily writing I come up against doubts all the time but I’ve learned to drown it out either by plugging in the right music — soundtracks from movies like Drive, Mandy or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — or by pretending I’m only writing a shitty first draft. I just need something on the page so I can edit later. As it turns out, my shitty first draft isn’t really that shitty once I re-read a month or two later. But had I aimed for a great first draft, I would never had gotten anything done.
Research is another great way to get momentum going, finding bits of description or dialogue is a double-edged sword; You need enough information to feel confident in writing about any topic, but it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of research that feels like procrastination — and it likely is! But I’ve often found myself stuck in front of the computer and become un-stuck by going to the location my novel took place, going for a walk or reading for an hour.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I enjoy good conversations with friends, seeing new places or just hanging with my kids. But I have to admit I’m probably most happy when I am creating something.