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Keep Going

| May 23, 2011 | 6 Comments

Keep going.

It seems I’ve been dishing those two words out as advice to a lot of people lately.  And it’s something I continue to tell myself, as I pursue my comic creating goals.

Keep going.

It’s easy advice to take when you see you’re making steady progress toward a worthwhile goal.  When you finish that script and are confident it doesn’t suck.  When you’ve found a collaborator who is psyched to work with you.  When that big box of books with your name on them show up at the door.  When you set new personal sales records at conventions.  When you hear people you’ve never met talking about your work.  When your books are on the shelves of retailers across the country.  When your emails to editors you respect are returned.

When things are going well, it’s a no brainer to keep going.

But what about when they aren’t?  What about when you are banging your head at a keyboard and the words don’t come?  What about when you’ve drawn and redrawn a pose a million times and it’s still not right?  What about when you finally release your book and it just doesn’t sell?  What about when the collaborator your were psyched to work with disappears without a trace? What about when you’re told by someone whose opinion you respect that your work just isn’t good enough?

When things aren’t going well, that’s when keeping going gets tough.  But most of us are doing this for the love of the medium. We aren’t so presumptuous as to think it the road to success in comics won’t be full of setbacks and lessons to be learned.  So even these comic related setbacks can be viewed as a part of the process, and usually aren’t enough to derail a resolute creator.

But what about when life really piles it on?  When you get hit with a huge financial cost that you just didn’t see coming?  When you’re out of work or the future of your day job is uncertain?  When your relationships are struggling?  When your health (mental, emotional, or physical) isn’t what it should be?  When you just can’t shake the nagging question, “What’s the point?”

In such situations, creating comics can seem pretty damn trivial.  And in such situations, keeping going can, and will, be tough.

Now, there may be a few of you wrestling with the “should I keep going” question at this very moment.  Most of you won’t be.  But I guarantee that at some point all of us will have our commitment tested.  That’s just the way the universe works.

Seth Godin has a theory that virtually everything worth doing is controlled by a phenomenon he calls “The Dip.” Be it becoming a world champion speed skater, CEO of a fortune 500 company, happily married to the girl of your dreams, or a creator on one of the Big Two’s flagship titles, the progression from starting to success looks eerily similar. “The Dip” is the long march between just starting out and mastery. Between wanting success and actually being recognized as successful. It’s the grind. And it looks like this:

If you graph the time and energy you put into a pursuit vs. the reward you get for your effort, it looks like the image above. The basic premise is that in the beginning, when you first start something it’s a lot of fun. Everything is new and interesting, you’re getting feedback and encouragement, you’re learning new things rapidly, and you’re seeing improvement. All of which keep you engaged and feeling rewarded.

Then, at some point, that luster starts to fade. Suddenly you stop improving as fast as you once were. You start hitting obstacles. You start losing. You start hearing NOs. You start getting criticized and rejected. You start to feel the sting of missing out on other things that this pursuit is causing. You start to doubt your abilities, and other pursuits start looking like a much better way to spend your time and energy.

A while back, I took a stab at chronicling what “The Dip” looks like for an aspiring comic book creator. Obviously, your personal Dip might look a little different.

For the aspiring comic creator, the Dip is when you’ve released your second book and it sold worse than the first. It’s walking out of your third convention in a row where you didn’t even break even. It’s watching your webcomic’s traffic flatline, as it seems like everyone is reading someone else’s stuff. It’s having a third artist bail on your project.  It’s when you’re up late at night, slogging through pages, and wishing you were in your bed. It’s when you feel like the return on your investment of time, money and effort is so miniscule, you question why you’re doing this at all.

It’s The Dip, baby. It’s real. And it sucks.

But as Godin asserts, “The Dip is also the reason you are here.”

Sidebar: For more on this concept, check out Godin’s book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick)

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two good reasons to toss in the towel, and stop creating comics.

1) You have no real interest in them any more.

2) You have no talent for making them AND are unwilling to do the work to develop that talent.

If neither of the above are true, then surprise, surprise, I’ve got two words for you:

KEEP GOING

It will get tough.  Things will get hard. Life will dish out some punches, and sometimes comics will have to take a back seat.  But if the fire is in you to create, you’ll never be happy if you let that fire extinguish.

So don’t.

Keep going.

Napoleon Hill has a great saying that the best way to overcome obstacles when they are numerous and out of your control is to simply focus on what you CAN control. As he puts it, “When you focus entirely on what you CAN DO, the CAN’T DO tends to get out of the way.”

In case you’re wondering, I am writing this post for someone in particular.

I’m writing it for me.

Because I know, sometime down the line, things ARE going to get tougher.  There will be another dip or two along the way.  I hope this post will serve a reminder that it’s all just a part of the process.  And that the best advice I can take is simply to keep going.

And if that’s not enough, well, I hope you ComixTribers will also be here to give me a kick in the pants and tell me to get back to work.

***

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy. His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.

Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.

Contact Tyler via email (tylerjamescomics@gmail.com), visit his website TylerJamesComics.com, follow him on Twitter, or check him out on Facebook

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About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at tyler.james@comixtribe.com.

Comments (6)

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  1. I think the dip can be apply on motivation alone as well, not necessarily when a book doesn’t sell or anything similar. It comes a time in life when everything is pure bad luck besides your comic and these bad lucks affects your motivation to keep going.

    I see myself in the dip (for quite awhile) because of health and family issues and honestly, it wouldn’t take much for me to call it a day. But being part of an active comic collective is the reason that kept going so far

    I got that book right after I read this article, can’t wait to read it.

    thanks Tyler!

    • Tyler James says:

      Yes, Antoine, it’s usually not the creating itself that is the problem. It’s all the other stuff that piles on and gets in the way of creating that, when you’re at your bleakest point, can make you question whether or not you’re on the right path.

      I think “The Dip” will be a book that will challenge you a little bit. Seth Godin is one of my favorite thinkers.

      All I can say is, when one aspect of your life seems to be going off track (relationships, health, financial, etc.) the best thing you can do is focus on what you can control, that will move you in a positive direction.

  2. Tyler, I printed out two copies your comic version of the Dip graph. One copy is going on my cubicle wall at work and the other is getting on the wall facing my desk at home – right next to Wally Wood’s 22 Panels.

    Thanks for sharing this invaluable reference!

    By the way, am I the only one who immediately thought of Roger Rabbit when I read “the Dip”?

    • Tyler James says:

      Wow, next to Wally’s “22” huh? That’s good company to be in!

      Also recommend jotting down some of your own Dip-symptoms. After all, while it’s a universal phenomenon, how it manifests is always personal. Recognizing the process, and acknowledging both the highs and lows of it, is one key to pushing through “The Dip.”

      And no, I didn’t think of Roger Rabbit. I did think of Freak Nasty, though.

      “When I dip, you dip, we dip!”

      • Great. Now I’m going to have that stuck in my head all day… unless I don my earplugs and do a “Rick Astley Purge”.

        Personally, I know I’m “dipping” when I spend more time researching and reading reference works (e.g. Scott McCloud) than actually writing.

        I also get down with that feeling of “I’m French-speaking guy from a backwater province trying to get noticed in a primarily American business. What’s the use?”

        But then I start writing again and it gets better.

  3. Great post. I really needed this one today- Between ComixTribe and Comics Mentor I see a self-help book/lecture series for DIY comics creators. thanks for the boost.

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