All right so we’ve finally finished this series of articles. Hopefully you’ve been working on your own comics while you’ve been reading through these posts one-by-one. Now we have a choice. You can continue to sit on your duff reading or watching Daredevil on Netflix, (which is a great show by the way to watch after your work is done) or you can go and make something. Go and make something.
A long-distance runner wouldn’t stop and stare at the finish line while the rest of the pack caught up to him and went through it and neither should you.
Focus on the target
The key to success is making targets, aiming for them and achieving them. To make one huge target like “draw a graphic novel” is too big. Break it down into smaller chunks. Set goals. Make a series of small achievable goals. Take your entire project and break it down into bite-sized chunks. Then approach each one systematically. Achieving small goals and putting them on a checklist and checking them off as you go is incredibly motivating and helps build your confidence. As they say, “you can eat an elephant one bite at a time.”
Remove distractions: This is probably the hardest one for me. I have a very extensive movie collection. Ones I’ve looked for over years and that I love to watch 100 times over. Plus there’s the Internet, Netflix, friends, relationships, dogs and everything else. Some of these things are a good part of your life, but they can be distracting. Other ones are just distractions. It’s fine if you get into a better workflow if you have music or the TV playing in the background. If you find yourself passionately singing along with that music or staring intently at the movies or TV shows you’re watching for hours on end, then there’s a problem. Work in a room that doesn’t have a television and don’t play music. Some people work well with those things for background noise and some don’t. The compulsion can be so tempting, it’s very hard. Turn those negative habits into positive ones. It took me a long time to be able to come into a room and work and not turn the TV on. So I had to start working in a room with no TV. Now I’m able to work in my living room and keep the TV off. Instead of watching it, I walk on the treadmill that I have next to the couch and voice dictate my work into my iPad while walking at an even pace so that I’m able to do both without either one suffering. It can be hard. Sometimes the person in your life is a distraction. You have to create a boundary between your personal life and work time. Sometimes that means explaining to a loved one that when you are working and you have set a work time in your schedule, then that person has to respect and keep themselves entertained or occupied. Sometimes I can’t be in the same room. It’s as simple as that. Every once in a while you will come across a person that cannot maintain a relationship with you without your constant attention. It’s hard, but if you seriously want to make this work as a professional writer in a concrete manner, then you may have to sever the relationship with the self-centered time leech in your life
Make a routine: As I mentioned earlier, use a calendar or schedule and plan in advance what times and what days you are going to be busy working and where you have free time to do other things like errands and socializing. Make sure that you stick to that routine. Have an anchor day, where even if it’s only an hour on that day every week, that is the one part of your schedule that can never be changed or rescheduled and you should always stick to that. I’m not saying only work an hour a week. You can definitely make time in the other days of the week to fit in your work, but having an anchor day, whether it’s an entire day or the hours from 9 to 10 every Friday, you are set in that schedule and those around you are aware that you’re unavailable at that time. If you find yourself breaking that anchor day more than once in a row, then you may have a problem. If you miss your anchor day once, forgive yourself, things happen, but if you miss it two weeks in a row then it’s time to re-evaluate your schedule and your priorities. Change your schedule if you have to. Make your day a block of time that you can stick with.
Get it done, then make it great
The biggest thing to remember is that reorganizing or making changes and corrections as you go along is the biggest way to slow down your progress in writing or drawing a book. Get it done first. The most successful writers and artists are able to complete work at a much faster pace than others because they get it done first. That means they don’t try and make it perfect. You need to understand something. There is no such thing as perfection. Especially in the publishing world. Yes, you should care about the quality and edit the book and have someone else edit it as well, but even blockbuster books with multiple editors from major publishers get errors in spelling, grammar, art and other elements. But they got it out. People know what the books are by title and who made them. If they had held back until that book was actually perfect, it would still have never seen the light of day. If Bob Kane and Bill Finger had waited until the very first Batman story was absolutely perfect before it could’ve been published in Detective Comics, we still wouldn’t know who Batman was today. Batman is a household name because the creators were able to get in the mindset that they were doing the best they could and they got it done and moved on to the next story. That’s where recognition and longevity come from—getting it done, making it great and then moving on to the next story. How can you do that? Simple. Get it done first, don’t overanalyze and don’t go back. Work on it until it’s finished, then go back and see what you want to change. Some great ways to do this and save time are to use modern advancements in technology like voice dictation functions that are available on all Apple devices. Whether you use a Mac an iPad or an iPhone you can voice dictate into nearly any software environment or place where you would want to type. If you’re not a quick typer, that’s okay, no judgment, simply take advantage of the time saving functions available to you. Keep in mind, just like any app, voice dictation isn’t perfect, so it may take more editing than typing by hand. There are also similar functions and software that you can use on PCs and other devices. There’s a piece of software called Dragon Speaking Naturally that you can install on your hard drive and speak through your microphone and have it typed out on screen. Keep in mind that like any technology, this in itself is not perfect. There are going to be instances where it misses words or miss hears words and uses a different word than what you intended. It’s all just things you can fix later. Right now just get the book done. Same if you’re drawing a comic or graphic novel, you can always tweak it, work and refine it as you work through the different stages. Do your best. I’m not saying half-ass it or rush it because that just causes headaches down the line, especially if you have other people involved in the various art stages. Do your best, but don’t overanalyze and erase an image five or six times and redraw it. That’s not productive. Accept that you created the image to the best of your ability and move onto the next panel.
Don’t edit as you go: I know I’ve made this point already, but I really must stress it. A great example is if you’re writing and let’s say you’re working in Microsoft Word and as you’re typing you can see those little red squiggly lines that appear under those words that are misspelled by its automatic spellchecking detector. Many people will stop and go back and fix those words and then go back to where they were on the manuscript. This is a mistake. It breaks your writing flow. It makes you stop your train of thought, go back, correct the word, then go back to where you were at and probably read the last sentence or two before you can start again to refresh your memory as to what you wanted to write. Just keep writing. Ignore the red squiggly lines. You can focus on those later in the editing stage.
Focus on left and right brain activities separately
The point of this section of the book is really all interrelated, and the idea of left and right brain activities are no exception. Let me explain. The idea of creating a story, writing a script and drawing are all right brain activities. The right side of the brain is the side that controls all the parts of your intellect and personality that are involved in creativity. They flow and gel and create better when they’re allowed to focus uninterruptedly. In fact, focus is probably the wrong word. You have to allow the right side of your brain to explore and expand, collecting cool ideas from your environment and then put it down on paper or screen. That’s why self-editing during the creative process is generally a nightmare. The process of editing is important. You should analyze and critique your work. You should make sure you edit it, even go through and do an edit in your script before you pass it on to someone else to edit for you. I do that all the time. Especially because, as I mentioned before, voice dictation is not a perfect form of writing, so you have to go back and fix errors. The idea is that you get the entire story done first and then you let the creative side of your brain flow. Then when it’s done, go back and re-analyze your creative work with the left side of your brain. That means judging whether storyline or plot point makes sense and even things as simple as checking spelling and grammar. The left brain loves those activities. Editing is a left brain activity. The left brain excels in things like analytics and numbers and corrections and critiquing and it is equally as valuable as your right brain but at a different time. Trying to switch back-and-forth between the two and make them both perform at the same time will just slow down and impede your overall progress and prevent you from getting your work done.
Outlines are your friends
I have never written both fiction and non-fiction as quickly as I do now, only because I recently adopted a very effective outlining system. People told me for years to use outlines and I thought “Why? I don’t need that. I’m a professional writer and creator. I teach this stuff to students of all ages and levels and in some very respectable educational institutions. I don’t need any stinking outline, because I haven’t needed one so far.” How wrong I was. At this stage in my career, I finally gave in and adopted an outlining system, and I have never produced so much quality work so quickly. I wish I had done this years ago. Here is a quick and simple way that you can develop an outline for your book:
Grab a notebook, spreadsheet or other method of getting ideas down in front of you. Now think about the narrative in the story that you want to tell. Write or type down 15 major events or scenes that would take place in the narrative. Now analyze and determine the importance of each scene and cut that list from 15 down to 10. Yes, condense them. What, are you crazy? You think you can fit 15 major scenes in the story? Also you’ll find that some of them overlap and will be related or repetitive, so cut them down to 10. Now in your notebook or spreadsheet, break down those major events. Come up with a list of 18 ingredients that make that scene possible such as things that need to happen or things that have happened previously in the story that have led to that point. Now cut that list down to 15, again likely because you find some of them are redundant or repetitive or just not important enough to fit in. Now of those 15 key factors that made your major event possible, write down a sentence that boils that key into a significant statement. The sentence can be short or slightly longer but should be one self-contained sentence that explains why that element is significant to your story. Now, beside each of those statements, transform that statement into a question as in how this helps your story and why it is necessary. Turn the statement into a question about a character, setting or scenario whose answer will reveal things about character or thus-far undisclosed details on plot points. You may find that during this process that some things are unnecessary and eliminate them. You should still have a number of questions left. Think about making the questions about the characters and how the elements of the story reveal details and elements of the character’s personalities. This is called characterization. Now take your list of character related questions, one for each statement, and come up with three answers for each question. They can be very short, one-word answers or slightly longer. The idea is that you are delving further into your own world, universe, environment and characters and fleshing out your story concept further. Now you’ve thought through your story much more thoroughly than just an idea. You don’t have to make up every story as you go along. Keep this notebook or spreadsheet handy and analyze it as needed while you write. Your 10 major events can be considered chapters. Arrange them in chronological order if you desire. Now, when you sit down to type you have a wealth of notes and ideas. All together this is an outline that you can refer to and follow while you’re writing the story. This gives you a plethora of content and ideas to draw from, especially when you get stuck, making writer’s block all but impossible.
Ask for help: Every good writer needs to build up reliable and trustworthy friends, acquaintances and contacts. If you find yourself halfway into a story and not sure which direction to go in or you’re not sure if something fits with the theme of your story or characters, then ask for help. Approach a fellow writer or family member or loved one. Get them to read over the story and explain it to them if you have to. Answer any questions they might have. Don’t be emotional and remember to take their responses objectively. They may raise some questions or points that you hadn’t considered before. It’s up to you whether you take the advice or not and if you feel like something is very off-base, you don’t have to take the advice, but at least you’ve opened yourself up to the opportunity. You may get some feedback that spurs another idea that takes your story in a whole new and exciting direction.
Stop talking and start doing: Sometimes we get caught up in the social aspect of creativity. We like to go and see friends or gather at fan conventions or hop on social media and talk about how much we are going to write an awesome book or draw something awesome, and then we don’t do it. We get caught up in feeling great about ourselves. It gives you a boost of self-confidence to tell your friends and loved ones about all the great things you’re going to do and have them be impressed by your ambition. Your ego will soar with each new “like” on your post. But the feeling will quickly fade and then it turns into the sharp edge of depression when you haven’t been able to accomplish all those dreams and goals that you’ve been telling everybody about. Stop talking about it and start doing. This is all part of making a schedule. It’s great to tell people about your dreams and ambitions, but it should make up a small percentage of the time in your daily and weekly schedule. Talk is cheap and work is hard. Be a hard worker and not a cheap talker. Focus. Take the time and use that time drained by the social vampire known as social media to your advantage. Instead of spending hours upon hours picking apart minutia and debating validity of other people’s creative projects, simply announce that you are going to be working on an amazing book. Set a deadline of several months in the future. Give yourself anywhere from three months to a year. I recommend six months for starters. Don’t go more than a year or it’s too far away to give you a real push. Personally, I set my deadlines on a monthly basis. Yeah, that’s right, I complete at least a book a month now. Often more. But if you’re not there yet, then give yourself some more time, especially if you have a day job. Scheduling and deadlines are great, but don’t set yourself up for emotional disaster by setting a deadline of drawing an 80-page graphic novel in a month around your 60-hour-a-week day job. That doesn’t work. It’s unrealistic, and we all learned about being realistic earlier right? So use that announcement you made on social media as an inspirational reminder that every time you’re about to go on to your Twitter feed or your Facebook page that you should instead be putting your time into making your book and instead of logging on, go and do some writing or drawing.
Stop reading and start doing: Yep that’s right, you could spend all your time reading every how-to guide in the world, including this one. I’ve done it too. I have spent weeks on end reading all of those how-to books by all of my colleagues or not getting my work done. It’s a mistake. Just because you are not an expert or a professional yet does not mean you shouldn’t be doing what you love. Devote your time to creating and telling the stories you want to tell and carve out smaller chunks of time to read the advice of others. Even if the others are myself.
That awesome graphic novel that you want to share with the world and tell your story to fans will never happen if you don’t do it, so go out and do it. Go and finish your book. Get into it right now. That’s exactly what I’m going to do, too.