Writing Advice – Bakuman-style

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but I could never find the right words to properly express myself. So in true Austin Kleon style I am going to steal like an artist. And my first victim today is a manga called Bakuman.

I’m not going to waste your time explaining what the manga is about – Wikipedia works just fine. Better yet, head over to mangareader.net and read it for free. The reason I love this manga is that it inspired me to keep going, having seen myself as both protagonists of the story.

The creators (the same duo who gave us Death Note bdw so you know this shit is cool) wrote down some rules which they had the characters struggle with.

Here’s the original 5 (from chapter 5, page 17):

  1. Never create a superficial work. Pour your blood into the ink! – this is fairly easy to understand. Be your own guy, or gal. The key word here is ‘superficial’. Believe in your work and that will show. Better yet, it’s like leaving a mark on your work. Feeling, passion and love are transmissible, and it is your job as a creator to touch the lives of your patrons.
  2. Never chase after popularity, which is as transient as a flower. Dig deep in the earth and put down roots. – Rules and tropes don’t make a genre. In fact, nothing makes a genre. Stop being anal and just do whatever you want. So long as you ‘keep it real’ both to yourself as a person and yourself as an artist, that work is SOLID.
  3. No matter how much status you attain, you must never have regrets. If the choice is between peace and the storm, chose the storm. – Don’t settle for anything. If something feels wrong, upset it. Flip that table, explore the scary black hole. Always chose the storm, because only withing the very heart of the storm will you find true peace. (Some Shannon Thompson-esque poetry going on here.)
  4. If you should fail, never cry. Study your failure and let it give birth to success. – Remember a few posts ago when I said there are no ‘overnight’ successes? This is what this rule is all about. It took Tolkien (the original dude) a lifetime (no kidding) to get the Lord of the Rings world in shape. Failure is imminent and there’s jack shit you can do about it. When you fail you have 2 choices: Cry and stay down, or cry and get up again.  

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” – Samuel Beckett.

5. Even if you obey the previous rules, never think you alone are right. Learn         from everything and everyone around you. – This may be a little tricky for us             Westerners to grasp, but the gist of it is to not let your ego inflate. Adopt a bit of Tibetan Buddhism in your life and question everything. Go into this with an empty cup so to speak. Accept everyone’s advice and then judge for yourself. Let me give you an example of this, fresh from yesterday’s emails. My proofreader emailed me with a few updates and stated what some of my weaknesses are. I got the email at 8 am and was still in bed since I had gone to bed 4 hours earlier. So I read the email and went back to dreamland. My mistake was that I forgot to email back, which she took as a sign that she may have offended me. It was a genuine mistake mind you, and I instantly emailed back to excuse my scatterbrain and reassure her that no, she did not offend me by pointing out my mistakes. At one point I reply with “any writer who gets offended when someone tries to help them with their weakness, should not be in the business in the first place.

Moral of the story is: open your mind to success.

However the protagonists of the story take it a step further and dilute it. I quite like the diluted version because they are the universal rules of not just drawing manga, but creating art in any way shape or form.

Rules to Create (from Ch 5 Page 18):

  • Be Conceited. Believe you can do better than anyone else. – OK yeah, I get it. You’re confused. Let me explain. This is referring to believing in your work and in your talents. Believe that you CAN reach the golden apple. Believe you CAN become #1 on the Bestseller List. If you act like a successful person, then inevitably you WILL BECOME a successful person. It’s all about attitude: don’t be a dick, just be a believer in yourself.
  • Work Hard. – I’m not going to explain this. In fact, if you need someone to tell you that being an artist is HARD fucking WORK, then you should just quit. If you think that doing this as a hobby (hate that word!!) will make you successful, then please click the red X button on the top right and get the fuck out of my blog. Unsubscribe even – I have nothing to tell you. Art, in whatever you do, takes hard work. If you’re not pouring your blood, sweat and soul into it then there’s no point in doing it. This is a lifestyle, not a cheap way to make a buck. And a true artist never complains no matter how hard it gets, because we LOVE what we do.
  • Be Lucky. – This is tricky. It has nothing to do with actual luck, which is just a bullshit societal notion to explain the Law of Large Numbers and Probability to the masses. And no, it has nothing to do with bribing people to do your shit for you. Here’s a little life lesson – YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK. This is one of those few times that the Maltese language I grew up with makes sense. We have a lot of sayings along the lines of ‘help yourself, and the universe will help you’. Point is, no one is gonna give you success. You gotta go and grab that sucker with your two hands. No gives you opportunities; you make them happen. Take control of your life and you will be able to guide yourself to your goals.


Requirements to Maintain your Publishing/Success (Ch 50 pg 18):

  • Physical Strength. – Your health will determine your productivity. Simple fact, true fact. I have a lot of friends who maintain an artist’s lifestyle, somehow confusing it with the student’s lifestyle. All of that is a bullshit excuse to eat junk food and vile processed shit. The idea that artists sit down all day and work is WRONG. Do yourself a favor and set yourself a schedule. Exercise (at the very least it’s a break from your routine and it does wonders to clear your head, kinda like a ‘refresh’ button.). Go out on walk. Enjoy the damn sunshine. Eat right. Your diet makes a significant difference in your thought process. Personally, I don’t consume alcohol in any way and am a vegetarian. Now, for fuck’s sake, I’m not telling you to imitate me. I don’t need you to be me – I do a wonderful job of that myself. I’m just saying, stop getting wasted, high or bloated from McDonald’s squalid necrotic concoctions. Take your fucking life seriously. 
  • Mental Fortitude. – This thing called a brain is very fucking useful. This is where all of your ideas come from. Take care of it. Being an artist has one prime requirement: GROW UP. You’re gonna have bad days. You’re gonna have missed deadlines. You’re gonna argue with your editors, managers and others who tell you that no you cannot publish everything right the fuck now (that got a little too personal). Worst of all, you’re gonna find people who will be utter fucking trolls who deserve to be on the receiving end of a Dothraki army invasion for being so goddamn mean. Just GET OVER IT. (Bdw did anyone catch the Game of Thrones reference?)
  • Guts. – Perhaps the most important one of all! Find the courage to not only find your voice, but scream in that VOICE from the top of a mountain so that everyone below can hear it and wonder in awe. Have the guts to go in your own direction, to sound your voice and to be yourself as an artistic mark in history.


And on that note, I shall conclude today’s post. I hope all of you enjoyed it, and I hope this inspired some of you to start engaging with the gremlins in your head. If you are already going down this rabbit hole, I hope you are inspired to go deeper. If you’re thinking of quitting or giving up, think again. This is a wonderful life and it only takes a few adjustments to make it work.

All you need to succeed is some willpower. 

Till next time. Peace out,


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