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B&N Week 71: Your Work Ethic

| May 1, 2012 | 8 Comments

It be Tuesday! And that’s about all the preamble you’re going to get this week. Let’s talk about the Bolts & Nuts of your work ethic, shall we?

(My work ethic is fine… Well, fine-ish. Yes, fine-ish.)

Fine-ish, huh? We’ll see… Let’s talk about me for a bit, and then we’ll come back to “fine-ish.”

Currently, I work a job that is a twelve hour day, on my feet. It also swings to nights, so the “weeks” alternate. One week of days, one week of nights, and my body barely knows what’s going on. On top of that, I also have to sleep, be a husband to my wife, be a father to my kids, and I still find time to make comics.

Here’s what’s on my plate, as we speak: this column, which in 70 weeks, has never been late. No skipped weeks, no missed days. Next is The Proving Grounds, which also has never been late in 70 weeks. Since ComixTribe is also an imprint, I directly edit three titles that we produce, and “chief” the remainder. I also look at pitches, even though we aren’t actively looking for submissions. I also privately edit several clients. I have just taken up a co-writing project, I have to rewrite a project, and I have to letter five issues of a different project I wrote for a different publisher. All of that is in addition to Runners, which will be coming off hiatus soon. I’m also plotting out a project that I want to write this year.

That’s a lot of stuff on my plate. Two columns, various editing responsibilities, various writing responsibilities, and some lettering. All while holding down a job that is a time-sink, and spending time with my family.

How do I do it?

(Sacrifice!)

No. Sacrifice is a part of it, though. No, I do what all of you should be doing: I sit my ass down and do the damn thing.

I see it like this: if you can sit on your duff and play Grand Theft Skyrim or World of Halo until your butt goes numb, then you can sit on your duff and do the work you’re supposed to be doing—making comics.

There are lots of things that call for and eat up your time. Besides friends and family, there are the television shows and movies you want to watch, either scheduled or on something like Netflix, and the omnipresent lure of video games and the internet.

All of that is nothing more than an excuse to procrastinate, and that is keeping you from creating. If it’s keeping you from creating, it’s making you a wannabe. “Yeah, I wanna create a comic book called Frankenstein, but I want it to be as historically accurate as possible. But I have to finish Skyrim and Final Fantasy: Neverending, first.”

Instead of it saying Kletus Jerkovitch, creator of Pen-Man, it won’t say anything, because at the rate you’re going, it will never get made. You’ll be on the outside looking in, wondering what the magic formula is for breaking in to comics.

I can tell you. Ready?

100% Drive
100% Effort
100% Discipline
100% Determination
15% Creativity
2% Money

(Why so little creativity, and even less money? You went over the numbers, Steven, and that gave me nightmares! Here you’re only saying it’s 2%? Doesn’t sound right. )

You may be right. Money may be a bit high. It might be somewhere around 1%. Although tough, you can get quality work through collaboration [back-end pay]. But none of that matters if you don’t see the thing through to the end.

Creating something from nothing takes willpower and effort. You have got to make it your number one priority. You can sit around and daydream all day and all night long, but if you don’t put your desires into action, that’s all they’ll ever be.

“I wanna win the lottery!” Did you spend your dollar for that dream? Same thing for comics. You have to be in it to win it, and being in it means doing the work.

Think of comics like shoveling a hole: you only get out of it as much effort as you put into it. If you don’t put much effort behind the shovel, you don’t make a lot of headway with the hole. People with ideas and drive who are sitting their asses down and doing the damn thing may have been at it for a shorter period of time, but are passing you in terms of recognition and jobs.

Want a visual representation of your work ethic? Look at your output. The things you’ve created, seeing them through to the end. That will tell you how much work you’ve put into a project. For most of you, that output is going to be pretty flimsy.

Want to strengthen your work ethic? Cut down on all the distractions. Disconnect from the internet for a few hours, turn off the phone, turn off the video games. There is nothing on Twitter that is so uber-important that it can’t wait. The emails aren’t going anywhere. Neither are the television or the video games.

Friends and family are different. Friends you can tell you’ll get up with them later. Family is another thing entirely.

Family has to understand what it is you’re trying to do, and they have to understand that they cannot interrupt you when you’re working. Carve out a time and a place where you can get work done, and only do work in that place. Your family will have to learn not to disturb you while you’re in your work space, even if it’s in a corner of the kitchen, or a chair in the living room. Put on some headphones to drown out their noise, and get to work.

Sitting your ass in the chair and doing the work is what will separate you from everyone else. (I thought listening to you would do that.) [If you listen to me and put everything I tell you into effect, you be so far ahead of the pack that it won’t even be funny.] Sitting in the chair and doing the work is where it begins. If you don’t write/draw/color/letter every day, you won’t get any better. You want to create for Marvel/DC? Sign an exclusive contract, and be a name on everyone’s lips? Then you’ve got to do the work.

You’ve got to do the work, even when you don’t want to. I’m not talking about someone calls you up and invites you to lunch or says you should go to the movies with them. I’m not talking about missing sleep, even after being up for 18 hours. I’m talking about just plain not wanting to do the work. There’s something on television to watch, or there’s some video game that needs playing. There’s that book you always wanted to read. Something, anything, to get away from creating.

But here’s the thing. You tell everyone you know that you’re in comics. After asking you if you draw [they always ask that question, even after you tell them what it is you do), and giving the appropriate response, they will then ask you for something. They’ll want to see a finished product. Something you don’t have, because you didn’t sit your ass down and do the work like you were supposed to.

Get a work ethic, if you don’t have one already. Then do the work. That’s the only shortcut in comics.

Sit your ass in the chair and do the work.

Homework: Bum. Chair. Work.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (8)

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  1. Haha!!One of the best posts yet. I really enjoyed this one. This needed to be said. There are too many cases (myself included) where this is true.

    You hit the nail on the head many times, Steve.

    We let people know what we’re into and what our plans are but there’s nothing to show for it.
    We even get the opportunity to sit down and work but we then fill our time with some mundane activities.

    Dave Petersen gave some similar advice at London’s Super Comic Con; “Get the book done, get a finished product”.

    It’s so simple but so profound and it IS what separates someone from WANTING to be in the Comic Book Industry and ACTUALLY being in the Comic Book Industry.

    Your analysis of the formula required was also spot on and this tallies up with an interview I read some time ago with Jonathan Hickman.

    He admitted that his art was not the greatest but what made him stand out was that he was able to get a complete book together (albeit a great book with good story telling) but this is what stood out in his mind against the competition.

    This topic has been on my mind for some time as I am going through this process at the moment (even bringing my sketch book to work to plan page layouts at lunch in order to progress to the finished product) and its great to see a well written article on what is needed to seriously progress.

    Taking your homework a little further. I have until May 19th to get a 7 page lettered preview of my own comic together (complete with a mock up cover) for the Kapow Comic Book Convention in London. Many editors will be there and I’ve already signed up for a portfolio review.

    So what was it again? Right… Bum, chair, work. 😉

    • Tyler James says:

      As added incentive, Sebastian, I’m sure Mr. John Lees, who is also attending Kapow, will happily kick you in the groin if you don’t get your preview done in time.

      Ass to chair!

      • I’ll also add that I’ve read some marvelous well written groin-kicking scenes from the esteemed Scot gentleman. Hence I believe he has put a lot of field research into that subject.

        His must be blows that shatter dreams of entire future dynasties.

  2. I don’t tell anyone really that I’m trying to write comics. I dont want to look too foolish if I fail.

    But I’ve always been good at putting my bum in the chair and working. I produce more work then I show, and that is a problem. But currently, I write comic scripts, I have my Blog, and two web comics. All of which was on a week long hiatus since, I was too busy (I helped a friend and his wife move, Mc’d a wedding, moved my girlfriend back home from school, moved from home to Toronto), but now I have time to write.

    During the day I’ll be Job hunting, night, I’ll write, and work on improving as an artist.

    This isn’t really on topic completely, but I highly recommend that if you anyone doesn’t have a blog, or web comic, start one. My grammar and spelling has always been shit. My teachers all through school always told me my content, ideas, and execution was good. But my spelling was always holding me back.

    Writing by yourself can help you improve, but the moment you have someone else reading it, is the moment you begin to panic. You’ll begin to double check your work, and worrying about the quality of your content. That worrying, that wanting to not be embarrassed, it will improve you tremendously.

    It may just be me, and I may just know myself, and see my own faults more sharply, but with every new thing I put up on my site http://gnarlyyarns.weebly.com/index.html I see a tiny bit of improvement.

  3. Kyle Raios says:

    I’m sure we’ve all seen this, but I thought it was pertinent –
    Alan Moore’s Five Tips for Writing
    1. Don’t
    2. No, really don’t
    3. DEFINITELY don’t — I mean it.
    4. Whatever you might be imagining about a life of writing, it’s not like that.
    5. OK, if you’re going to anyway, if you’re going to be a writer of any quality, you will have to commit yourself to writing — which is something that, when you’re young and idealistic, sounds incredibly easy to do, but you should commit yourself to writing almost as if you were some ancient Greek or Egyptian commiting yourself to a god.

    If you do right by the god, then the god may, at some point in the future, reward you. But if you slack off and don’t do right by your talent or your god, then you are heading for a world of immense and unimaginable pain. If you have a gift that you choose to pursue, then you have to pursue it seriously. Don’t be half-assed about it, but realize what that commitment means.

    Committing yourself to writing will mean, to a certain extent, your writing will become the most important part of your life — and that’s a big thing to say. It can have a distancing effect upon other relationships. It can be sometimes quite a solitary life. If you’re committed to your writing, you’re going to spend most of your life indoors in a silent, empty room, concentrating on a pen and a piece of paper or their equivalent. Be prepared to take it seriously and be prepared to follow where it takes you, even if that takes you to some very strange places.

    This is by no means the most glamorous profession.

    Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
    – Alan Moore

  4. I used to keep one of those Jerry Seinfeld ‘Chains’. It has numbered boxes for each day of the year and every day you write, you mark a red x in that day’s box. The point is to never break the chain. It really helped me in completing my first screenplay and was a valuable tool.

    I still write everyday, even if it’s just one page or fleshing out notes on a title. I work on something everyday. Even if I wanted to stop, I couldn’t. I just have to write.

    Anyway, another good article, Steven.

  5. Steve Colle says:

    Steve, thanks for putting things into perspective with your time management. I used to work the kind of hours you’re doing (the whole 12 hour swing shifts) for 9 years and I know it’s hell on the body, man. I admire your work ethic and determination, but I think, at this point, I like your kick-assedness more. A great article that needed to said and even more, to be read.

    I’m lucky in that I’m off work pretty much permanently due to incurable disabilities. I have my wife at work and son at the day home during the day, so I write either my book or get on the forums and critique. I’m in the process of teaching an aspiring writer and am ready, as you know, to add a few of my two cents here.

    In the evening, I’ll wait for my wife to go to sleep and then get up and write some more. TV is basically a thing of the past for me now as I have no interest other than my weekly new episodes of NCIS, which only have new ones up to this past Tuesday’s episode, so I’m pretty much clear.

    Great motivation, Steve. Procrastination, after all, is curable.

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